(Editor's Note: Continuing our tradition of looking not only for the dead media of the past, but for possible dead media of the future, we're presenting a short entry on an up-coming handcranked laptop computer. Those of you who remember Working Note 07.1, The Bayliss Wind-up Freeplay Radio, will also probably remember Freeplay as the group who created that radio for use in remote regions of Africa where batteries and conventional electricity are in short supply. Now that Freeplay is jumping up the foodchain from radios to delicate organisms such as laptops, we may be looking at a significant technological chimera, combining elements of both Victorian-era power with digital-era applications. Is this a glimpse of the future or just another amusing little beast staring out at us from the Burgess Shale, just before the silt builds up and buries it?)
Last week we had a pocket sized web-server, now the South African firm behind the Freeplay windup radio expects to power laptop computers with hand-cranked juice by next year.
Freeplay Power Group said Wednesday that it is working with General Electric on a small "clockwork generator" that will power laptops with the turn of a hand crank. The power pack is also expected to include a solar panel.
"We expect to have it ready to power up computers in the year 2000," said Rory Stear, joint chairman of Freeplay.
Stear confirmed that Apple Computer has been talking with his Capetown-based company about using the technology in future Macintosh products. But don't expect a windup PowerBook this spring - the generator is still in development, and Stear said the companies have not inked a deal.
An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter. But that hasn't stopped Macintosh fans from salivating at the prospect of a crank-operated PowerBook at sites around the Web.
Adding fuel to the rumor mill, Freeplay recently demonstrated a prototype of the windup generator connected to an Apple Newton eMate. However, Stear said incorporating the generator into the laptop itself would add too much weight and bulk, diminishing its appeal.
Instead, Freeplay hopes to license its new highly efficient power packs to any computer manufacturer interested in including the device with normal laptop configurations. Stear said the technology is ideal for lightweight sub-notebooks such as the Vaio, where "everything comes as an add-on."
Sony spokeswoman Joanne Hvala said she wasn't familiar with the technology and expressed doubts that the world's largest electronics company would be likely to turn its computer into "a windup toy."
Freeplay's hand-cranked power supply can be adapted to any battery-reliant product. It works by winding a spring from one spool to another. The unwinding spring drives a gear train that provides energy to the device.