Technology increasingly impacts the way we live. We’re not talking about the WiFi devices that allow you to control your home from wherever you are, or a personal camera-toting drone – those are already on the market for under $200. Here are three technological developments which seem fated to have the same level of impact on our lives as the personal computer.
Solar shingles, or rolled solar roofing, or even spray-on solar cloth are promising new ways to make use of all that rooftop real estate.
A University of Toronto post-doctoral student has invented a way to spray flexible materials with the components of a solar cell, giving both high efficiency and an extremely inexpensive manufacturing process. “My dream is that one day you’ll have two technicians with Ghostbusters backpacks come to your house and spray your roof,” says inventor Illan Kramer.
In the UK, the Solar Cloth Company has spent ten years developing a lightweight photovoltaic material that can be used on any surface – or even as sails on a yacht, which will go on sale in 2015. The material can be draped over car parks and lightweight roofs. The company says they could power the national grid three times over, and they have contracts with many local governments.
As for right now, Dow has a slick arrangement of solar shingles which incorporate right into the roof, at a cost of twice the normal roof, but warranted for 20 years and with an immediate payoff with net metering.
Electric cars, hybrid electric/gas cars, how about cars that run on air? This makes sense because you are not hauling a battery – heavy, with a short lifespan, or made of some rare toxic mineral from the other side of the world – just a long-lived air tank and/or an air compressor.
The air car has had a checkered career so far. MDI, the French parent corporation, is apparently locked in a paralysing legal dispute. It has sold the Asian sub-continent rights to Tata Motors of India, the fourth largest auto company in the world. Although Tata says the car has passed proof of concept, it is now three years behind in its commercial release schedule.
Meanwhile Peugeot Citroen has announced that its Hybrid Air car will be ready for market by 2016. The car will run on gas or compressed air or a combination, but on air only below 43 mph. The air compresses and decompresses of its own accord and the system can re-use all the energy normally lost when slowing down and braking. Peugeot predicts that by 2020, their air hybrids will achieve 117 mpg.
3D printing is already alive and well, and you can already buy a 3D printer for a few hundred dollars. By layering materials from ink jets, the 3D printer should be able to make almost anything, if you have the computer blueprint to tell it what to do. Right now, the printers are mostly being used for lighthearted projects like 3D portraits, or making ornaments.
However a company in Shanghai has 3D-printed 10 small houses using patented inks based on high-grade cement and glass fibre. Like traditional 3D printers, the system carefully spills out those materials layer by layer, consistently building upward, but the houses do still require assembly. In Chicago this year, Local Motors made history when their electric car, Strati, was printed over 44 hours, then rapidly assembled.
The technology has the potential to change not only mass manufacturing, but consumer distribution systems. Imagine a Walmart which was online and mostly sold software “patterns.” Meanwhile the medical world is moving rapidly to use 3D printing to make customized implants and scaffolds for stem cell engineering.