An extraordinary amount of research, design, technology, and innovation goes into the creation of every Goal Zero product, from the earliest CAD drawings to the final phases of production. In our From the Engineers series, we get a behind-the-scenes look at the development of our portable power, solar, and lighting products, straight from the engineers who design them.
We recently added the Sherpa 100 to our line of products and are very proud of this new Power Pack. A few days ago we took the time to sit down with Walker Ford, the Project Leader for the Sherpa 100, and ask him a few questions.
What was your involvement with the Sherpa 100?
I was the project manager and lead electronics engineer and oversaw the development from prototype through to production. My technical specialty is electronics and firmware. We also have a fantastic team comprising industrial, mechanical, and electronics engineers. The project involved many trips over to Asia. It was a bit faster to develop than the Sherpa 50, because the concept was already developed. But we wanted to make it significantly more powerful. It was a major challenge to get it to power over 100 watts, because of the small space, but we figured it out, and can sustain 120W.
I also get to occasionally input on design details, which is pretty lucky for a hardware guy. The output ports that are colored, unique shapes and light up when on. You’ll notice on the Sherpa 100 that the light rings are even a bit improved over the Sherpa 50. So it is pretty fun to be that closely involved too.
What is the Sherpa 100 and who was it designed for?
The Sherpa 100 is the best lithium ion pack that we make. We had the passionate photographer/ Video producer in mind while designing it: people that need power in a small light package, wherever they happen to be. The Sherpa 100 is a better value than the Sherpa 50. It doesn’t take up that much more space and you get a lot more power. It’s really a fantastic product.
What do you think makes the Sherpa 100 unique to the market and to Goal Zero?
This pack can do 120 watts on its output, which is more than any other comparable pack. This high power capability is significant. It’s also the look, and it’s the fact that you get 12V, laptop power, two USB’s, and you’ve got the option for the inverter. I’m not aware of another pack in this size that has an inverter. You are buying a quality product. It was designed using quality components. The cells are brand name, LG Chem cells. They’re not just going to die after a year. This same brand is used in some of electric cars. I’m really proud of that. I have a lot of confidence in the product.
What were some of the challenges and what were the most fun parts of the project for the team?
The most fun part was making the user interface system as simple as possible. We had a lot of that fun with the Sherpa 50 when we came up with the shapes, colors and layout of the ports. You take one of our cables and you know where it should go, even if your eyes were closed. I mentioned some challenges above. Another challenge was structural. We wanted it as small possible, so we had to do a super thin case. There were a few revisions to strengthen the plastic in certain areas to make sure it would be durable if dropped. It’s fun to have a product line or an idea that can expand or scale. We went from the 50 to a 100, and we would honestly like to do a 200 but the big reason we haven’t done that yet is because of airline regulations. They will stop you if you have a pack over 100 watt hours. We could have made this thing bigger if not for that rule. We wanted the experience for our customers to be easy, we don’t want them to worry about taking it on the plane so we already thought of that for them.
Why buy the 100? What are it’s selling points?
It’s the best value in a lithium-ion pack. If you’re going to go Sherpa because its output and weight are what you’re looking for, go with the Sherpa 100. It’s more powerful and not much bigger.
How will you use it in your life?
It’s great for even just charging your cell phone. I don’t have an outlet near my bed stand so I use it to charge my phone every day. I charge (The Sherpa) up on the weekends so I don’t have to worry about leaving my phone on the floor charging every night. I also always carry it with me on the plane. You never know if your plane will have power. You might as well be completely backed up.
What do you like most about being a GZ engineer?
I like that we’re trying to create products that we’d actually use. These are relevant products. Also we’re technology agnostic. We are simply looking for the best technology that will give the best value for our customers and ourselves as customers. We get to research and stay on top of the latest technologies. We’re also fortunate to have a broad product offering – meaning we have everything from small battery to large home power systems. And we’ve got customers in every walk of life. It really makes for a great variety in projects. We also live in this great age where computers and connectivity are all around us, even in the smallest devices. Parts are getting cheaper, more powerful, and less energy consuming. We can brainstorm and literally implement almost anything we think of. This means we’ve got a long list of awesome ideas that we will make as soon as we have the time to do them. Really there’s no boundaries to what we do - that’s fun!
What else do you want to tell people about the Sherpa?
I don’t know if they’ve landed in the user guide yet, but there are a couple easter eggs in the Sherpa 50 and 100. For those who are bothered by the colored lights at night, you can actually disable them through a series of button presses. Press the power button three times, then hold it down on the fourth time until the lights go off. Another one is called “auto-on” mode, which can be useful in certain cases where you’ve set this outside to power something and it’s connected to solar. Let’s say it goes empty during the night, in the morning the solar will start to charge it, and then the Sherpa will turn back on. Hold down the power button for about seven seconds to enable/disable this mode. The LCD will indicate with a symbol that it is enabled. It’s just a good all around pack. Most of the relevant information is printed on its bottom side. You can also get to the user guide from the QR code printed there too. Maybe the best thing about the Sherpa 100 is that it comes with the Goal Zero team behind it. If you’ve got questions, technical questions, user questions, suggestions we are actually available and we welcome responses from our customers and we respond back where we can. We appreciate feedback about it. I look forward to meeting you in the airport carrying your Sherpa!