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.
Alcoa has unveiled a new manufacturing and materials technology for making aluminum sheet, aimed especially at automotive, industrial, and packaging applications. If all its claims are true, this is a major breakthrough, and may convince more automotive engineers to use aluminum.
NASA has just installed a giant robot to help in its research on composite aerospace materials, like those used for the Orion spacecraft. The agency wants to shave the time it takes to get composites through design, test, and manufacturing stages.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is working with architects Foster + Partners to test the possibility of using lunar regolith, or moon rocks, and 3D printing to make structures for use on the moon. A new video shows some cool animations of a hypothetical lunar mission that carries out this vision.
If there's one thing 3D printing's good for, it's customization. New Balance Athletic Shoe Company has begun using 3D printing to make customized spike plates for its running shoes made for members of its Team New Balance runners. They provide better traction and shave off a tiny bit of weight.
Two teams, one based in the US and one in Europe, have 3D printed space-worthy support structures for satellite antenna arrays. These aren't prototypes: they're fully functioning antenna supports that will operate while exposed to the harsh temperatures and radiation of outer space.
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