The fashion spotlight, or rather sunlight, shone on a new solar-powered jacket introduced last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Seemingly aimed at the technophile environmentalist on the go, the jacket has integrated solar panels that charge cell phones, PDAs, Game Boys, MP3 players and most any other mobile device its wearer slides into its multitude of interior pockets.

And despite its gadget-oriented accommodations, the jacket’s style resembles those worn at the slopes or on the hiking trails. Fashionista outdoorsy types are assured of cloaking their geek status as they lug Palms, iPods and cell phones into the wilderness without losing power.

“As we move to an always-on environment, how can people depend on their device if in three to four hours they are going to lose their charge?” said Scott Jordan, CEO of ScotteVest, which designed the jacket and its wiring technology.

The jacket has two small snap-on photovoltaic panels that fit onto its shoulders. These charcoal-gray solar panels convert the sun’s rays into energy, which then feed a hidden battery pack about the size of a deck of cards. The batteries are wired to all the pockets, which can have almost any mobile devices plugged into them.

The PAN, or Personal Area Network, used by ScotteVest’s Technology Enabled Clothing division provides jacket-pocket holes and fabric conduits that connect all the gadgets to each other without exposing any wires. So what appears to be an unassuming anorak jacket is really a web of wires and technology in disguise.

Inspector Gadget, James Bond and GI Joe fans: Please convene in the outerwear department.

The jacket’s solar panels use CIGS (copper indium gallium diselenide) technology, a thin, flexible, lightweight, energy-efficient and highly sun-sensitive type of solar cell. Marine vehicles that can’t use glass and military tents both use CIGS for power, said Sass Peress, CEO of ICP Solar Technologies, which licensed the solar system from GSE Technologies and is partnering with ScotteVest to create the solar jackets.

“And it will charge as fast as your AC (wall outlet) charges,” said Peress.

The prototype shown at the Consumer Electronics Show charged only one device at a time, but the manufactured version will be designed to charge as many devices as needed, say its makers. Of course, the more devices simultaneously drawing from the 5 to 10 watts of power the battery pack generates, the slower they will all recharge.

Intelligent battery-pack software, however, will identify and charge only those items that need it, according to Peress.

ScotteVest’s TEC division introduced a jacket with the Personal Area Network, but without any power mechanism, in 2003. That jacket, dubbed Version Three.0, is sold through Neiman Marcus catalogs, the International Spy Museum and ScotteVest’s website. Jordan also said the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security are TEC customers.

When the solar jacket launches this spring, Jordan said it will retail for about $300, a $100 increase over the nonsolar Version Three.0.

Since power cannot be transferred wirelessly, ICP and TEC designers were faced with different power-connector protocols for mobile devices. Consequently, the jacket will be sold with a small assortment of adapters to accommodate all major lines of phones, PDAs, cameras and other mobile devices.

ICP and TEC are presently testing different fashion styles with consumers before making their final selection.

“We are also working with (major outerwear manufacturers) to license the technology into a lot more products,” said Jordan. He said he expects 30 percent of outerwear to incorporate the solar and PAN technology combo within the next five years. That’s a long shot, but as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, there will be travelers with a jones for staying connected.

More here.