Grand Canyon Float #5: Solar-Powered Tech

The computer on the raft, midway through writing a blog post; Photograph by Andy Maser

In the information age it’s difficult to imagine isolated locations where cell phone service and common electrical sockets are non-existent. Yet deep in the base of the Grand Canyon neither exists, however technology does not entirely fail us. Over the years scientists have managed to manipulate light in clever ways, which allows us to transmit updates to you.

Playing glow-in-the-dark bocce; Photograph by Eric McNair-Landy

Our electricity is generated via capturing light using an array of solar panels. Combined they generate roughly 120 watts, which is enough to power our Macbook Pro, re-charge our camera batteries, and power our Globalstar phone. Impressive as that sounds it is not nearly enough energy to power a toaster oven. As there are few hours of direct sunlight due to the high canyon walls, we tend to use the panels during the day and save the electricity in a battery.

Climbing up through a slot canyon; photograph by Eric McNair-Landry

The Globalstar phone also uses light; when transmitting it emits short bursts of light towards the sky, which are intercepted by passing satellites (the light can’t be seen by human eyes, in the same way dog whistles can only be heard by dogs). One of the 55 Globalstar satellites re-transmits our signal back to a ground station, where then our blog post is uploaded to the Internet.


  1. Robin S. Kent
    October 9, 2012, 8:44 pm

    Why don’t you tell us about the canyon, the river, the sky? We know about computers. We all have one. When we rafted the Colorado, we immersed ourselves in what was happening before us.

  2. sandra elverud
    October 11, 2012, 5:33 pm

    I’m interested in which solar panel battery charging systems you used and what seemed to work best. Did you have different types?

  3. Ric Gibbs
    October 17, 2012, 4:16 pm

    Hi Eric!
    We met in Telluride. You continue to impress with your gear savvy. I don’t think I know a more passionate gadget hound in the outback. Have fun out there!