The Little Box Challenge: Design a Miniature Power Inverter

Enter the open competition with a US $1 million prize presented by IEEE and Google

1 August 2014

Image: Google and IEEE

IEEE members: Put your thinking caps on. Google and the IEEE Power Electronics Society (PELS) have presented a challenge to find the “next big thing” in power electronics technology. And by big, they mean small—miniature, even.

Launched on 22 July, the Little Box Challenge is asking innovators to shrink the size of a power inverter by about 90 percent if not more. Inverters convert energy from sources such as batteries, solar cells, and wind to electricity. By reducing the size of household inverters—which is about the size of a picnic cooler—the technology could be used to help build low-cost migrogrids in remote regions of the world, or keep lights on in the home during a blackout. In fact, it could lead to advances we haven’t even imagined.  

So what could be more exciting than that? How about getting rewarded with a lot of money from Google? “Do it best and we’ll give you a million bucks,” the company wrote on its blog.

Google’s director of education and university relations, Maggie Johnson, said in an announcement that the competition is “not only a grand engineering challenge, but also your chance to make a big impact on the future of renewables and electricity.”

“While different flavors of these devices have been around for well over a century, some are starting to show their age and limitations. Some recent advances may change what’s possible in power electronics,” she adds. “If these devices can be made very small, reliable, and inexpensive, we could see all kinds of useful applications.” 

The president of IEEE PELS, Don Tang, said, “By participating in this challenge, members from both industry and academia can play a pivotal role in a technological innovation that could have a major impact on the world.”  

Interested in giving this challenge a shot? Read the eligibility restrictions first and be sure to register by 30 September 2014. Grant funding is available for academic teams.


Teams can include up to six people. Once formed, a 250-word plan must be submitted that outlines the approach to be taken. This can include answers to the following:

  • How will you reduce the volume required to suppress the 120 hertz input ripple current and voltage on the DC side?
  • What strategies will you use to reduce the size of the components needed in the AC/DC stage?
  • How will you deal with the heat generated?
  • Are there any new or non-standard devices, such as non-silicon, switching frequencies, or topologies you envision using in your design?
  • How will you deal with electromagnetic interference generated by the device to conform with Federal Communications Commission regulation Part 15 B, which covers radiators used in residential and commercial environments?

After teams have registered, they have until 22 July 2015 to submit their final designs. Up to 18 finalists will be selected to bring in a prototype of their inverters to one of Google’s U.S. testing facilities by 21 October 2015.

Google and IEEE PELS expect to announce the first-place winner in January 2016. Teams maintain the IP related to their projects, but the winning inverter has the potential to be implemented for various applications around the globe.  

For more information and to register, visit the Little Box Challenge website.

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