It took Deep Thought (the supercomputer from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) seven and a half million years to calculate that the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything was 42. South Dakota's Peppermint Energy is hoping that it won't take quite that long to bring its personal, portable solar energy device named The Forty2 into production. The company has turned to crowd-funding portal Kickstarter to help it take the all-in-one power unit from working prototype to its first limited production run and beyond.

The Forty2 features two banks of photovoltaic panels mounted on opposing faces of the clamshell unit that can reportedly supply 180-200 watts of continuous power and Li-ion battery packs rated at 350 watt-hours (although higher capacity options are planned for the future) hidden within its polypropylene housing. Onboard power inversion technology is claimed to make enough power available to the unit's three built-in AC outlets to run a small fridge or a big screen TV, or simultaneously charge several mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.

"Most days, the solar power will flow directly to the electronics," CEO Brian Gramm told Gizmag. "Unlike most 'solar chargers' or 'solar batteries/kits', the solar power actually powers the electronics. The battery is kicked into service when the electrical load is greater than what the solar is providing at the moment. In that way the solar is the power generator, and the battery is the backup or extra kick. Obviously, when the sun isn't available, the battery is called on full-time."

The Forty2 has dimensions of about 2 x 3 ft (0.6 x 0.9 m) when closed and weighs 25 pounds (11.3 kg), and has been designed for ease of use. There are no buttons, dials or levers, users just need to open it up and plug in.

Kickstarter backers who stump up more than US$500 will be the first to get their hands on one of the first 250 units off the U.S. production line, but there are plenty of other incentives available for those who might not have such a huge wad of cash lying around. The team hopes to have the initial batch of Forty2 devices ready for December shipping.

Although very much a business concern, Peppermint Energy says that it intends to work with NGOs and charities to make the Forty2 available to the significant number of communities which don't have access to reliable power (or don't have power at all).

"Domestically, we will sell through our own website as well as through traditional retailers," said Gramm. "For developing countries, we will partner with (sell into and help raise specific funds for) NGOs whose mission the Forty2 can support. In that way the NGO becomes the distributor, and can then leverage their existing network to get the units in the hand of the end users. We are a business, but we will be working to give many of these units away while we are selling them."

The aims of the project are outlined in the following Kickstarter campaign video:

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