Google is offering $1 million for you to come up with a solution to transform a power inverter into something suitable for home use. The tech giant announced the Little Box challenge in May. Google challenged innovators and engineers to take a power inverter, a device used to convert renewable energy including solar and wind before transforming it into suitable current for the home and vehicles, and shrink it. Entrants into the contest are asked to take a power inverter and map out a solution to make these large devices into the size of a small laptop, roughly a tenth of its current size.
Can you imagine 2,000 watts of alternating current electrical power coming out of a device no larger than a small laptop? For comparison’s sake, today’s 15-inch laptops consume a mere 40 – 65 watts (using an external power brick). Now Google wants something the size of laptop, hooked to a solar array, to produce up to 40 times more power in the same physical envelope. And the company’s betting $1,000,000 it can be done in about 18 months. Getting AC (alternating current) out of DC (direct current) is the job of a power inverter. Much of our domestic world relies on AC. And AC needs robust power distribution grids, huge power plants and either fossil fuel, nuclear power, or falling water. It’s not difficult to envision a world where AC comes instead from solar grids generating copious amounts of DC, which is then processed by inverters to run our homes, factories, businesses, and more. It’s green thinking. But is it also blue sky thinking? Today’s inverters take up about as much space as a good-sized picnic cooler, often larger. Why this large? Seeking answers, Google has partnered with the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers(IEEE) Power Electronics Society to mount a $1 million “Littlebox Challenge,” hopefully retiring the question with a new category of highly efficient power inverter.