A Survey of the Edge

An update from the engineering bay.

This all started very simply.

Ben called me from Costa Rica and told me what he would be doing. I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of his trip, but quickly excited to jump in and lend a hand. Ben needed a simple voltage rectifier and regulator to charge AA batteries off of his bicycle hub dynamo. I've built remote control submarines from scratch, models of all scales, and simple engineering in just about every common material. I have spent my life working through repair and rebuild projects from automotive to sound production.

Still, this was new to me. Circuit design and electrical theory have always been weak spots in my tinkering, but I threw myself into the problem. I contacted the gurus and friends who are stronger in the area (Chris Bartenfeld was especially instrumental and irreplaceable in his assistance) and drew from their lifetimes of knowledge and experience.

After a couple weeks of design work, I built our prototype. Ben flew back into the States and we went up into the north Georgia mountains to camp and test the regulator. We spent about two weeks furiously working, testing, rebuilding and polishing the design. Ben was playing the role of test pilot/space monkey, I was in mad tinkerer mode. It was an emotional Tesla coil: excitement sparking off and charging everything around us.

Workshop at the Lake

Halfway through the process, we were stunned. The AAs were charging far, far faster than we had anticipated. We had three quarters of each day's ride on the dynamo left after charging our AA batteries. So, I installed a switch and added a regulator to charge the Brunton Impel battery Ben was using to power his laptop out on the road. We also added 9V charging capacity.

Ben left on his trip, and for both of us it could have been like most projects I do for friends and clients. A simple job, some fun new concepts to learn and put into practice and then finding a new project.

But we were not finished.

Ben had infected me with his dream, with his enthusiasm to step outside the lifestyle norms and blaze a new path. For every advance I made and new concept I learned working with the regulators, three more applications were spawned and grown as separate ideas. Soon I had concepts and blueprints for three other ways Ben could use the energy around him to power his nomadic cubicle.

In Ben's fight to be a productive, paid and self-sustaining member of the international workforce while living the lifestyle he'd always dreamed of, with the Andes as an office and ever changing cultures and vistas on his front porch, I saw an analogue for myself. I fully unfurled my nerd flag and we founded Last Man Power together. As Ben pursues his dream in South America, I remain here and pursue my lifestyle dream: to tackle, digest and defeat the engineering problems that bind us to our daily grindstones.

I was shocked to find in myself some very stodgy and stagnant stances on what was possible and what is sustainable in a lifestyle. I am knocking them down one stale rule at a time. Efficient, portable power without fossil fuels? Absolutely. Never having to plug into a wall socket? Within our grasp. Being just as productive a member of the workforce lakeside 3,000 miles away in a campsite? With a sat phone and a laptop, we're doing it.

The possible applications for the things we are building are astounding. The products themselves are robust, light and collapsable. Most importantly, we are making options. In building this company, I am chasing the life I love: one of constant learning, building and surmounting challenges. Ben is mapping his own dream in South America, one kilometer at a time. How would you live your life, all practical restrictions removed?

Tell us. We'd love to make it happen for you, too.

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