Monthly Archives: November 2008

dean kamen’s water purifier making a splash


Well, actually, it hasn’t made a splash yet, and it’s got a long way to go before it may. Demonstrated last week on the Colbert Report, Kamen’s Slingshot is a vapor compression distillation water purifier, capable of filtering absolutely anything (according to Kamen) out of water without filters, charcoal, or other replaceable parts. Operating at 2% of the energy that similar technologies require, the Slinghot is targeted at providing clean water to the developing world.

And herein is the challenge. According to CNN, each unit will cost an expected $1000-$2000, which may prove to be out of the reach of the people who need it most. Unique business models, such as microfinance-assisted remote water kiosks may gain some traction, but it’s hard for me to believe that entrepreneurs will be able to gain returns on their investments fast enough. And, of course, even though there are no filters to replace, techy solutions like this prove to be challenging to maintain and repair, which makes it all the more challenging.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Kamen and his team are planning to market these, and I hope they bring as much innovation to the distribution and maintenance plans as they do to their engineering.


the bay area becoming an even better place


To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the pending bailout of Detroit automakers. Philosophically I’m opposed to it, as the bed-sharing and hand-holding of industry and government has done little good and plenty bad in the past. In practice it’s not that simple, as millions of jobs and entire city and state economies are at stake. Regardless of what happens with the bailout, though, it’s become clear that true innovation in the automotive industry, which is necessary and long overdue, will not be born in conference rooms in Detroit or on Capitol Hill in Washington. Rather, true innovation and progress will come from start-ups across the world focused on redesigning not only the car, but the entire transportation system.

I’ve written before about my love for Zipcar and other car sharing programs, but it’s going to take more than car sharing to make a dent in the way people think about cars. Tesla Motors is selling the most impressive electric car, but it retails for $109,000, and doesn’t solve the problem of recharging remotely. Zenn, Fisker, Venturi, Th!nk and others are all selling (or planning to sell) electric cars as well, but they all succumb to the same problem of remote recharging. What’s needed is not just a new car, as I said, but a new infrastructure.

As a proud San Francisco resident, I was happy to read this morning that the Bay Area has signed on with Better Place to do just that- create a vast network of recharging stations and battery exchange stations throughout the region. Better Place, based in Palo Alto, has developed a unique subscription model, similar to the model employed by most cell-phone companies. By subscribing to a certain mileage plan, buyers will get electric vehicles at a discounted price (even free in some markets!), making the barrier to entry much lower than other cars. And with 250,000 charging stations and 200 battery exchange stations throughout the region, buyers won’t have to worry about running out of juice on a trip to Ikea. Better Place has already signed similar deals in Australia, Israel and Denmark, and will hopefully continue to spread their networks throughout the world, saving money, emissions and our all-too-precious petroleum.

Take that, Detroit.

via Mercury News

more electric dirt. serioulsy?


With only a dozen or so posts, I find it quite humorous that this is the second post I’ve written about microbial fuel cells, or dirt power. I couldn’t help myself, though, since it’s such a fascinating technology and this particular design is so beautiful.

By keeping the mud in the bottom moist, Dutch designer Marieke Staps says, this little LED lamp will burn “forever and ever,” powered by microbes living in the soil. Although forever and ever is too good to be true, I’d love to try it out and see how long it’d last…

via Treehugger 

going postal on paper


UPS and HP have teamed up to create a nifty, albeit ugly, device that promises to save loads of time, money, and paper. The HP Handheld sp400 All-in-One (clever name, huh?) was developed to streamline UPS’ labeling and sorting process by scanning information and printing directly onto a package, rather than printing onto a separate label that would then be affixed. If all goes as well as planned, UPS will save $30,000,000, 92,456 hours per year, and over 1300 tons of paper. Check out the video for a full demonstration…

via Treehugger

play by the rules


Ethan Zuckerman, blogger extraordinaire, has a great post on his thoughts on designing in BoP markets, in which he defines these 9 principles of innovation from constraint:

  • innovation often comes from constraint
  • don’t fight culture
  • embrace market mechanisms
  • innovate on existing platforms
  • realize that problems aren’t obvious from afar
  • understand that what you have is more important than what you lack
  • build infrastructure on infrastructure
  • objects need to become familiar and pervasive, then they become hackable
  • the really amazing innovation happens when objects change function

It’s definitely worth a read, and is chock-full of good examples of designs from the developing world, like the plastic bag soccer ball shown above.

flu trends go viral

googleflutrends1 launched Flu Trends this week, a brilliant program designed to track and aggregate flu-related searches. By following searches like, “flu symptoms,” and “muscle aches,” Flu Trends has proven to be a relatively accurate and incredibly fast indicator of Flu outbreaks in different regions. Although it’s only tracking flu-related searches in the US right now, there’s no reason it couldn’t expand to track a variety of viruses throughout the world.

This was never intended to be a Barack Obama fan-blog (there are certainly enough of them already), but President Elect Obama has, less than 24 hours after claiming victory, proven once again that he understands the power of design and technology with a website worthy of blogging.


“Throughout the Presidential Transition Project, this website will be your source for the latest news, events, and announcements so that you can follow the setting up of the Obama Administration. And just as this historic campaign was, from the beginning, about you — the transition process will offer you opportunities to participate in redefining our government.”

Along with the standard blog, newsroom, career applications, and informational sections, also has a forum in which visitors can share their experiences and vision for the future, a feature quite unique to a political page. There’s no suggestion of how these messages may be filtered up, unfortunately, but with so many people with so many ideas, I can’t imagine they will go to waste. Here’s a rough draft of my vision:

“I imagine a trip to the DMV as easy as shopping at an Apple Store, a voter registration form as easy to fill out as a Facebook message. I envision a government that’s as accessible as eBay, where anyone can participate and everyone benefits. I hope for a government of the people, by the people, for the people, and with the people. A government that is in touch with today, with a deeper understanding of yesterday and tomorrow. A government not afraid to take risks, and make change. A government that will take action in Sudan, and invest in green-tech. A government that won’t shy away from international commitments, but will also work to repair the growing divide here at home. I hope for continued hope, progress and change.”

Needs some work, I know, but it’s a start.