Google & IEEE Introduce The Little Box Challenge And Offer $1,000,000 In Prize Money

3 years ago by Mark Kane 5

Styling Aside, Google Has Made A Big Commitment To Autonomous Electric Driving - Over 100 To Be Built

Styling Aside, Google Has Made A Big Commitment To Autonomous Electric Driving – Over 100 To Be Built

Little Box Challenge

Little Box Challenge

Google and the IEEE recently announced the Little Box Challenge with a prize of $1,000,000 for developing and demonstrating the highest power density inverter.

This is not directly related to EVs, as Google would like to make miniaturization of single-phase 2 kVA unit (air cooled).  However, if someone will be able to make progress in this area, then new solutions could be transferred to 3-phase 100+ kVA (liquid cooled) units in EVs.

There is not too much time left for registrations in Little Box Challenge and the end of the challenge is scheduled for late 2015.

Who knows… maybe the prize for highest energy density batteries (under $150/kWh) would make for an effective challenge too?

Cooler-sized Isn’t Cool

Inverters are the essential boxes that take direct current from devices such as solar panels and batteries and turn it into alternating current for use in homes, businesses, and cars.

The problem is household inverters are too big—roughly the size of a picnic cooler. Making them smaller would enable more solar-powered homes, more efficient distributed electrical grids, and could help bring electricity to the most remote parts of the planet.

That’s where you come in: figure out how to shrink an inverter down to something smaller than a small laptop (a reduction of >10× in volume) and smaller than everyone else, and you’ll win a million dollars (and help revolutionize electricity for the next century).”

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5 responses to "Google & IEEE Introduce The Little Box Challenge And Offer $1,000,000 In Prize Money"

  1. Fabian says:

    Here is a start from CES 2014:

    The Power Dart:
    The World’s Smallest Laptop Adapter
    @ http://www.finsix.com

  2. BravelilToaster says:

    It’s kind of related, actually. The same inverters could be used to power your home from an electric or hybrid car in the event of a power outage. To be able to make one the size of a tablet would mean that it would be a cinch to install it permanently in your car.

  3. io says:

    “Making [inverters] smaller would enable more solar-powered homes” etc etc

    Er, no, I’ve never heard anyone mention inverter size as the reason they were not getting solar. It’s almost always system cost, of which the inverter is a only tiny fraction anyway.

    Not sure what Google is after here, but it’s certainly not smaller stationary inverters. High-power electronics weight and size reductions would matter much more for mobile applications.

    Oh wait… Who recently got into airborne wind turbines?.. http://www.google.com/makani/

    1. Spec9 says:

      The size doesn’t matter so much but I suspect the thinking is that if you reduce size, you reduce cost at the same time.

      But inverters are a significant cost . . . if you go with microinverters, the inverters can cost almost as much as the PV panels.

      1. io says:

        Reducing size doesn’t imply reducing costs. For electronics, often it’s the opposite. E.g. laptops vs desktops; hearing aids; cellphones (thickness, not screen size); etc etc.
        Packing the same functionality in a smaller volume requires higher-end components, more complicated assembly and so on, so can’t be made as cheap.

        Google IMHO isn’t after low-cost here, but high power density. I don’t see size as being critical for server farms (there, efficiency would probably be more important), or the power levels relevant for say consumer devices (handhelds, wearables).
        EVs, yes, but it doesn’t seem like Google will make its own vehicles.
        Therefore, my best guess as to why the company might be interested in this would be their airborne wind turbine acquisition. Flying 600 kW worth of inverters must feel needlessly burdensome at the moment.

        Re micro-inverters:
        except for very small systems, of course they don’t make financial sense. People not doing their homework should only blame themselves, not the technology.
        Converting DC to AC is cumbersome, requires large capacitors etc, so consolidating this step into one (or a low number of) large inverters naturally costs dramatically less than tons of tiny ones.
        Solving potential shading and mismatch only requires a much-simpler (and much cheaper) DC-to-DC at each module. That’s what power optimizers do.