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.
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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