Four years ago, Sony launched its own crowdfunding platform to fund Sony-specific projects. First Flight was intended to help the company achieve profitability while still allowing it to explore business ideas and concepts outside its normal development cycles. The company recently launched a new project for a personal air conditioner, dubbed the Reon Pocket, and while the launch is currently Japan-only, the little device has already met its crowdfunding target of 66 million yen (approximately $606,000 USD).
If you walked outside during the Great US Heat Wave of July 20-21, or in Europe last week, you’re probably newly acquainted with the joys of heat indexes well above 100 degrees. I, for example, was unaware that breathing outside in these conditions feels not unlike inhaling soup. One reason for the Reon Pocket’s sudden flux of popularity may be that Sony launched the campaign when outside temperatures have literally been unsurvivably hot without additional cooling across a significant chunk of the world.
The video above shows how the device is meant to be worn. It slaps on the back of the neck and can reportedly reduce personal temperature by 13 degrees Celsius or increase it by ~8C. The device uses the Peltier effect to perform this task. The Peltier effect, also known as the thermoelectric effect, is the use of electricity to create a temperature differential across two sides of a device, raising the temperature on one side and lowering it on the other.
The Reon Pocket requires a mobile app to control the temperature at the moment, and the 24-hour battery life being advertised isn’t entirely accurate, according to Engadget. That time refers to the device’s expected time on standby in total, not the amount of time it can actually cool you. Cooling performance is reportedly less than two hours. That’s definitely enough time to spend some time outside, but we suspect it falls short of what people might want.
It isn’t clear if Sony will bring the Reon Pocket to the US or other western countries yet. The hardware is clearly designed to be worn under a T-shirt or suit coat and some of the available funding levels include shirts with a built-in pocket for the hardware. The Reon Pocket Light works only in basic mode and starts at $117, while the Reon Pocket standard includes “Auto” mode, “Air volume control,” and a customizable “My mode.”
Will projects like this catch on? That’s fundamentally unclear, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they do. Tour de France riders competing last week were wearing ice vests on their torsos to keep cool while working out. Japan has relatively high levels of air conditioning installation, but many nations, including a number of European countries, do not. Personal cooling products like this could be a means of staying comfortable in hotter weather. Importantly, they would help cool people without increasing CO2 emissions as much as adopting central AC. Whether personal cooling products can ever provide enough support is, of course, an open question — but the world is going to need high-efficiency cooling that works at every scale, from personal to communal, if we want to weather summer weather in the future.
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