'Smart' solar palm trees power Wi-Fi, phones

Topped with nine leaf-shaped photovoltaic modules, a six-meter-tall Smart Palm can generate around 7.2 kilowatt hours per day, enough to operate without ever drawing off the grid.

Dubai's Smart Palms

A new species of palm tree has started sprouting around Dubai. But instead of producing dates, the fronds of the Smart Palm harness the sun's energy to allow people to look up city information, access Wi-Fi, and charge their phones, all for free.

The two prototype palms that have already been installed - one at a beach near the Burj Al Arab hotel and other at centrally located Zabeel Park - each carry a Wi-Fi hotspot, eight charging stations for phones and tablets, and a touch-screen panel giving local details on things like weather and transportation.

The company behind the device, Dubai-based D Idea, says connectivity is just the start of the Smart Palm's potential.

"Subsequent Smart Palms will have ATM machines and utility bill payment services," said CEO Viktor Nelepa. "Our team has also started to find new ways in which the Smart Palm can support other forms of sustainable generation, specifically through air and water purification modules."

Over the next 12 months, D Idea plans to install 103 Smart Palms across the city of Dubai.

The next generation of the device, due to be launched in September, will be created by 3D printer and have a different design.

Made from a combination of fiber-reinforced plastic and concrete, the new Smart Palms will also be better able to withstand Dubai's tropical desert climate.

"The device will not only look attractive, but would counter the extreme weather conditions," Nelepa said.

Nelepa would not say how much the palms cost, but said the project is receiving funding from the Dubai Municipality. The company plans to turn to advertising and branding to meet future costs, he said.

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