Please come back to Earth Dr. Khoshnevis, we need your photovoltaic technology HERE now!
OP on Oct 26, 2007,12:43pm EDT
Six High-Tech Disruptors Ready To Hatch
This article is more than 15 years old:
Oftentimes, technology is at the forefront of business disruptions. Mobile telephony, for example, has been a disruptive force for traditional wireline telecommunications providers. Silver halide photographic film is being replaced by digital photography.
Here we take a look at some promising emerging technologies. While great technology isn’t enough, with the right business models, these technologies could be at the core of future disruptive change.
Charging Wireless Gear Wirelessly
A physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is researching a process that would be able to charge electronic devices wirelessly, doing away with the array of various cords and chargers so many people are forced to cart around.
Professor Marin Soljacic recently released a paper, titled “Wireless non-Radiative Energy Transfer,” that details how a specific magnetic field could be set up in a manner that would enable devices equipped with a special receiver to get a charge from a wireless antenna, doing away with the need to connect directly to a power source. The technology is still in its infancy and it’s unclear how expensive such a technology would be to roll out. Soljacic has begun running a series of tests at his lab.
ePrize manages a portfolio of interactive promotions for a variety of large consumer-goods companies. Recently, the company launched a service, dubbed Caffeine, that would bring online promotions to small- and medium-sized business that up until now have largely been priced out of the sweepstakes business.
Much like Google‘s successful pay-per-click model, companies using Caffeine only pay when qualified customers enter their personal information. Caffeine pays for all of the sweepstakes items and handles all of the logistical and legal legwork behind the sweepstakes process. Sounding a disruptive alarm, ePrize CEO Josh Linkner told The Wall Street Journal that his company is “trying to democratize the promotions business.”
A Polaroid In Your Cellphone?
A company founded by private investors who acquired some of Polaroid’s technologies during bankruptcy is trying to bring digital printing to the handheld device market. Zink has developed a special paper that can be housed in cellphones or digital cameras. When activated by heat, dye in the paper that had been colorless transforms to produce full-color images.
According to MIT’s Technology Review, a 2-by-3-inch photo could be produced in less than a minute. Zink estimates that print capability could be added to a device for about $100, while a camera and printer would cost about $200. Much like Polaroid made money on its photo cartridges–and as Procter & Gamble‘s Gillette famously makes loads of cash on its razor blades–Zink plans to rake in profits on its special photo paper, which would retail for about $2 for 10 sheets.
The (Auto) Doctor Is In
As automobiles have become more complex, computer-based diagnostics have replaced old-fashioned, tire-kicking techniques. In response, mechanics have purchased a host of complex, electronic tools and companies like General Motors‘ OnStar now offer remote, onboard computer assessments.
However, few low-cost diagnostic options are available for consumers hoping to debug their car the same way that they might debug a computer. The SAM system by Smart Auto Management seeks to provide this service with an ATM-style drive-through booth that will scan and assess over 2,000 onboard diagnostic codes in the space of 10 minutes for less than $15.
The system then provides a comprehensive report that points out potential faults in each of the car systems, from engine to chassis. These systems should be appearing in Jiffy Lubes, Kwik Kar stations and selected gas stations in 2007.
Print Your House
If everything goes according to plan, one of the largest printers in the world will soon be rolling into Los Angeles this August. After it is bolted in place, the printer will construct the shell of a full-sized house in less than a week with minimal human intervention. The eventual goal: to use rapid-set concrete to print shell houses in 24 hours that require only electrical and plumbing installation.
The inventor, Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis, sees multiple applications of the technology, from emergency shelter construction to low-waste civil engineering projects. If successful, such contour-crafting machines could provide a cheap, convenient way to build some of the concrete structures used in major construction projects.
Here Comes The Sun
Conventional photovoltaic cells that produce solar power are similar to the high-grade silicon semiconductors used in computer. While research has led to ever-more efficient power conversion from silicon, solar-grade silicon is expensive and relatively fragile.
That’s why researchers are pursuing next generation “thin film” solar technologies to generate power. Many thin film techniques also provide greater flexibility, enabling the manufacture of solar cells directly into glass, other building materials and even plastics and fabrics. Leading thin film technologies (including low-cost organic polymers) are nearing market viability; venture-backed companies are breaking ground on massive factories to produce them.
Look for thin film cells to start picking off market niches in which their flexibility and cost advantages outweigh their inferior power production relative to silicon.