NextFEST: Renewable energy and moving atoms

As I mention before there was an amazing amount of renewable energy technology shown at NextFEST. Which is a good thing since we desperately need it.

I think we are all familiar with the way a typical wind turbine looks. Those ubiquitous three propeller blades that make it look like the turf it’s on is about to take off. It’s called HAWT – Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine and they work fine out on flat land that’s facing a good strong wind. I’ve seen a ‘farm’ or them out in California deserts placed near mountains because the wind gets caught in those areas. But they don’t work too well in urban areas where wind is buffeted by large building suddenly rising up here and there.

An engineering and design studio in London, XCO2 has been working on a wind turbine custom made just for the city.

quiet revolution is the resulting Vertical Axis Wind Turbine – VAWT. And it’s quite attractive! Click on the thumbnail to the right. I took that picture at the show while the blades were turning. You can’t really tell from a still that it was moving (the quietrevolution link takes you to a mov file). It wasn’t loud or annoying. And that’s an advantage when placing a group of these on top of highrises and tall buildings. Unlike the HAWT design, the VAWT doesn’t stop moving when the wind isn’t directly facing the blades. Because the VAWT blades are cleverly curved, they are always ‘facing’ any wind available. They may slow down and speed up as wind rises and falls, but there’s no sudden stopping and starting.

The other good news is how effective these turbines are at generating energy. The basic medium sized model (QR5) will generate about 10,000 kWh per year with a wind site of 5.8m/s average. That means powering several low-energy homes or a twenty personal office. Let’s not waste any time – or energy – start putting these things on your highrise!

Solar panels tend to be, well, unattractive. The Idea is great, but if you want to install some panels on the roof of your home I hope you live in a neighborhood which won’t whine about the LOOK. And then there’s the cost. The initial investment is not cheap. My mother has been interested in this for years but just has never been able to afford it.

So when I saw what ClearPower Technology had to offer my interest was peaked! They have created a new solar panel design. So new it’s invisible! By that I mean you don’t see those flat blue sheets that scream ‘SOLAR PANEL’! Instead what you see is a sort of window or clear material with tiny nonmoving ‘louvers’. It simply appears to be an interesting architectural design – Not a device. But looks can be deceiving! Like other solar panels this new design also uses silicon and thin films. However, the design requires much less of this expensive material – one way to reduce the cost. This is accomplished by directing the sunlight into and through the ‘non-imaging optics’ parts of the panel. At the bottom of this is the photovoltaic material which suck up the Sun’s light. Because the angle available to grab the Sun’s power is large there’s no need to track the movement of the Sun. No extra mechanics, just ‘passive’ concentration of energy storage. The advantage of non-imaging optics is that direct sunlight is not required and the panels work well on cloudy days. Now THAT is clever.

Farm-Way of Bradford, Vermont have decided they need this cleverness and have ordered $200k Stellaris module system to be installed next year. This system will be supplying about 20% of Farm-Way’s electrical requirements although they expect to increase that to about 50% in the coming years. This will include electricity-generating skylights, curtain walls and the entrance sign to the building. This will display the Farm-Way name on backing plates of the transparent modules. Wow! I can’t wait to see that. I’ll be following this up so expect to see more stories about Stellaris in the future!

:Space Exploration:

To those of us who grew up with Astronauts bouncing around on the moon, while they tried to pick up those special rocks, playing golf, driving around, well, it was obvious those suit were a bit clumsy. Well, suit design continues to develop.
NASA is always working on suits that needed for exploring different areas in out universe. Exploring the Martian surface requires protection from the thin atmosphere and extremely cold temperatures. But the suits have to be lightweight and flexible.

A completely new idea is the Bio-Suit – a sexy space suit!
The bio-suit has to be totally custom made for each astronaut. It will be custom fitted to each astronaut using a laser scanning/electrospinlacing process. Past and present suits are gas-filled pressure suits. It’s as if a person is shoved in a big ball of cotton wading and expected to performed complex physical actions. You’ll never see anyone dancing a ballet in one of those. AT least I hope not. The Bio-Suit reminds of those leotards that dancers wear. In such a suit an astronaut will be able to climb the Martians hills and mountains. And collect rocks, odd features and maybe even Martians (?) They will build housing, perform experiments and maybe a few Grand Jette.

With or without humans robots of various types will be out exporing. The Single Wheel ‘Uni-Rover’ attached to a ‘SMC Rover’ is an interesting idea. It’s basically one main body ‘parent unit’ with several detachable wheel units ‘child units’. While the parent unit holds the solar battery cells, the communication system and the main Brain. The child units are a wheel with an arm – ‘Uni-Rover’. While the main parent unit stays in place the ‘Uni-Rovers’ can each go off on their own mini-missions. When all the ‘Uni-Rovers’ are attached to Mom via their arms they can roll Mom around as well.

At the NextFEST I watched a couple of fellows who each had one ‘Uni-Rover’ under radio control. They each moved their Child unit around. It gets about by rolling it’s wheel and making turns by positioning it’s arm to leverage the wheel about. It also has fingers at the end of the arm. They guys showed the dexterity of these Uni-Rovers by having one Rover pick up a piece of packing popcorn in it’s fingers and placing it in the other Rovers opened hand. It was very entertaining. Really.

Robots, devices and exploration suits also go under the sea. Nuytco Research Ltd brought in one of their Deepworker Submersibles to the show. As someone who grew up with Jacques Cousteau showing all of us the wonders of the oceans, I applaud this technology. We evolved from the sea and the more we know about it, the better we will know how to live on this planet in a productive and peaceful manner.
When I was a girl I thought it would be very cool to go to the moon. My mother, not wanting to discourage me but still fearful would point out that is seemed like a long trip. Well, that didn’t impress me. After all, My grandparents, mother and aunt traveled to the United States on a boat which took about week to cross the Atlantic. A trip to the moon only takes about three days. That’s nuthin’!!! Well, in the 21st century you can go into space on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic – SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo. It will cost you a pretty penny, but I’m sure it’s worth the price. Don’t underestimate the importance of really seeing the Earth from a distance. You really get to appreciate our relative position in the universe.
Atomoscope – moving single atoms.

Yes, I admit I have moved an atom. Really. The People from IBM Research had set up this web interface in New York which was connected to their lab in San Jose California. So, not only was I moving atoms, I was doing it from 2000 miles away! As soon as I easily moved a couple of atoms from one place to a nearby place which was probably so close no one but the atom cares I raised my hands in the air and proclaimed, ‘I am a GOD!’. The scientist admitted I probably was only a god to the atoms, which I admit is quite true. (Somehow I visualized that Twilight Zone episode with the giant people controlling the environment of a really tiny civilization. It didn’t end well).

Fantasies not-with-standing this ability is great for examining the continuing miniaturization of electronics. Yep, the flash drive of the future which may accidentally disappear if I happen to inhale can be examined under the Atomoscope. As soon I get it out of my sinuses.

While walking about the NextFEST I noticed that xerox was showing off a printer system using a new kind of ink. I asked to look at one and it’s like a piece of hard crayon shaped like a block. Each color has a slightly different shape so you are forced to place each color in the right position to be used by the printer. It’s like a kids wooden toy – you can’t put a round peg in a square hole and you can’t put the red block in the yellow holder. More cleverness! And because the ink is solid I held it in my hand and there was no mess. No cartridges means less garbage to throw away. And, yes, it prints out nice bright colors on nearly any paper.


Want to be a gerbil in a rotating wheel? Get in this cage ball, put on a some Virtual reality glasses, and ‘run’ around in circles. The next way to play games and get your exercise.


Hug Shirt from cutecircuit.

You’ve heard of Smart Phones, well, welcome to Smart clothes! What you will need is a cell phone Bluetooth enabled and the Hug Me java software running. You’ll also need a Hug Shirt which has placed in certain locations in the shirt sensors and actuators. These communicate with the cell phone. That is, if you stroke the arm of your shirt this sends a message to the phone. The person holding the phone sees a variety of data: the identity of the sender and the pressure applied to the sensor, the skin temperature, the heartbeat rate, length of time the sensor is affected. At this point the person can then send instructions back to the shirtwearer.

The optimal situation is two people each with a shirt and a cell phone sending and receiving touching instructions. Both users can send an SMS text message to each others shirts and those instructions are transformed into a virtual hug. The sensors (using RoHS components) are removable – as they are placed in pockets – so the garment can be laundered. The Hug shirt runs on rechargeable batteries. I touched the shirts and they are light and comfortable and the sensors are not large at all. Now, the ‘hugging’ ability is fun but I envision the medical uses. Keeping track of certain people’s vital signs by Remote could prove to be quite important.

Circles Mirror

This is something you have to see in person. The site has a mov file to give you an idea. Basically point a camera in the direction of the viewers so that when someone walks in front of the installation they will see a representation of themselves interpreted by these multiple ‘circles’. They are driven to move so as to make the correct light and dark patterns which will – if seen at the correct distance – look like what the camera captured. Sort of. It’s fascinating to be up close and watch the circles rotate into position. Really, it’s fascinating. It uses about 900 of those patterned circles connected to 900 motors rotating them separately. They are printed with Black and White patterns and because the human brain desperately seeks out understandable patterns we see what the device shows us. Fascinating!

Khronos Projector

This is another one of those ideas that you expect to see in a museum. Gently poke the screen and change the video over time. Yes, I poked the screen. Now THIS is a real interactive movie. This is really a subtle concept best experience in person – go to the web site and play the movie files to get an idea. They present all sorts of Time-Space continuum ideas and you can take that with a grain of salt. It IS entertaining whatever they say.

The GPS platform shoe The Aphrodite Project

I wrote this previous review which says it all. It was nice to actually See the shoe in question, however. And according to the person I asked, the platform shoe is reported to be quite comfortable to wear. Run out and get yours now!


This is a practical idea as well as fun and artistic. If you need to quickly put up signs where the info may change at any moment, this is a nice way to do it. Program your messages in the device and roll away! Program images and roll like crazy! I saw them doing it – it really works! You can do this with ink or with light. There’s other very cool ideas on the web site. I think one of my favorites is the ‘Temporary Marker’ which lets you sketch with light on a book with phosphorescent pages. You keep drawing until you are happy then you can draw it in ink to make it permanent, if you wish. You have about 5 minutes until the light fades. Check out that site. It’s quite cool.

Sun Trap Handbag

Can’t find your freakin’ keys or cell phone or whatever in your bag???? Get a handbag that has an interior bluish light that turns on when you open the bag. You’
l be able to find every piece of lint in every corner this way! And the best part is that the juice for this light comes from the solar panel on the side of the bag. No fuss, no muss. How clever is that?

The E-Taf Automatic form fitting door

This is one of those weird ideas that’s just too cute not to mention. Just in case you thought the Star Trek doors are old fashioned, here’s a door that will figure out how far to open to let Just You through. The door is made of several strips, each moving independently. I stood there mesmerized as I watched the door ‘parts’ open just enough to frame each person as they stepped in front of the entrance.


Interactive Wall

This idea I really love. Take this WALL and Put up a map, for example, then you and your colleagues can discuss where you want to build that highway. Move the map by touching the wall. Zoom in and out with intuitive gestures on the screen. This is such an intelligent way to collaborate with others and let everyone SEE what is being discussed. It’s like playing in a big mud puddle with your friends. Only you don’t get dirty. But this sounds like such fun. Imaging discussing traffic this way. Or organizing a patients medical issues. And being able to access X-rays, MIR images and so on. Fantastic! At the show I also saw a table which also let people interact with each other and the info on the table.

The cell phone post-it notes

Imagine walking around your favorite street. You see some cool store, museum or restaurant. You get a sudden desire to let others know about this place. Use your cell phone by calling the network at socialight. The GPS feature on your phone alerts the socialight network to your location (without you having to include the address) so when you add a ‘sticky note’ all you need do is write something, add an image of the location or leave a voice message. When someone that day or a month from now also walking on that street wants to know what the cool places are around they log onto socialight. Automatically, GPS will allow an immediate listing of all the notes for the area they are standing in. Your ‘sticky note’ will be listed with everyone else’s. If your cell has a camera you can take a picture of the location you want to make a ‘sticky note’ of. If you think of a cool place when you are home, log onto the web site and access the map and leave your note there. Audio files and soon video files can be attached to notes. Simple idea, eh?

Written by Cecilia