Access to solar power is increasing, albeit slowly and at a steep price. A Florida company called SkyShades is selling shade umbrellas equipped with flexible solar panels that slip into the canopies. There’re being sold to coffee shops as well as leisure resorts that want more battery-charging capability poolside. “My friends who go to places like Starbucks have said there has been insufficient access to outlets,” Joe McKenna, executive vice president of SkyShades said in a recent interview with me. They’re pricey - at $10,000. But the regular price for these canopies is $5,200. “They seem expensive. However for SkyShades to build a PVC structure it would cost $75-$80 per sq ft and these work out to about $31 per sq ft.” adds McKenna. Another new consumer item is a handbag with integrated solar panels. Price: $472. This is pretty much in the realm of the Tesla electric cars that sell for more than $100,000. You can buy these products, but for a while real solar-powered stuff is pretty much a toy for the eco-rich. Check my feature in the April issue of Design News for the amazing plastics technology that provides power for the flexible solar panels.
A new compression molding compound material combines the light weight, strength, and rigidity of carbon fibers with the flexibility and lower cost of glass materials in a composite compatible with automotive production.
Plastic bearings are real and millions of them are in use doing heavy-duty jobs we used to think only metals could do. Some of Germany-based igus's bearings are traveling around the world as functional parts in a car to demonstrate what they can do.
Baxter showed off his 2.0-derived moves at ATX West this year. The big red guy still looks pretty much the same, but has some new abilities, mostly due to software. The research robot version is now being used in corporate R&D departments as a design platform.
End-production using 3D printing, including objects made of multiple materials in one pass, is getting closer to reality as we saw on the exhibit floor at the recent Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show.