Tech Rewind

So many things have happened since I last posted. In the original science/tech spirit of this blog, here are just a few highlights to cover the last 3 years:

1. Tesla Motors, something I didn’t know much about back in 2013, released Model S, Model X, and began taking reservations for Model 3. These are fully electric cars infused with the beginnings of autonomous driving capability.

2. SpaceX started landing first stage rocket boosters, a major milestone in their reusable rocket technology. Eventually (2025) they plan to begin colonizing Mars. This puts them way ahead of NASA, who plans to send people there in the mid 2030s.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane…

A video posted by SpaceX (@spacex) on

3. CRISPR is ‘invented’. Incredibly powerful and precise gene editing is now cheap and easy.

The Genesis Engine. Coolest name for a thing, ever. The Genesis Engine. Coolest name for a thing, ever.

4. Real VR exists now. HTC Vive versus the Oculus Rift (now owned by Facebook). I lean toward the Vive because of the Steam/Valve partnership alongside the full room VR experience.

5. I’m still crazy into Solar (Photovoltaic) tech. It’s gotten crazy cheap in the last few years, although I had to let go of my solar powered satellites dreams as an unexpected side effect. The new idea is battery storage to get us through the night. (Thanks Tesla)

Here’s hoping I don’t take 3 years to write the next post!

Solar Power

Solar power has seen a resurgence in research, and being my favorite power generation method, I’ve been following it closely. A basic (photovoltaic) solar power array is made up of several silicon solar panels that convert photons directly into electricity. The quality of a solar cell is usually based upon its efficiency, which measures how much absorbed sunlight is converted into electricity. Traditional solar cells have an efficiency of 12% to 18% and are fairly expensive. A residential solar installation might cost about 6 dollars per watt. The advantage is, after the installation is complete, every drop of energy from the system is free, possibly eliminating power bills forever. In some states, power companies pay customers for excess energy fed back into the grid. One caveat, during the night power must come either from batteries used to store excess energy during the day, or from the local power grid. In order to make solar a more viable alternative form of energy, efficiencies need to go up and cost needs to go down.


Thankfully, there have been a plethora of recent developments in solar technology:

Solar cells shaped like Popcorn balls and made of pigment zinc oxide grains show a 6.2% efficiency, continued progress could render traditional solar cells obsolete. Link

Extremely cheap nanowires may soon match traditional solar cell efficiencies, combining power with much more affordable production costs. Link

Printable solar panels dramatically reduce costs using the technology in your inkjet printer. They also allow solar cells to be produced outside a clean room environment and on virtually any surface. Link

Extensive solar arrays (280 megawatts) are going up in Arizona by 2011. Link

And, my very favorite concept, the space-based solar array. Various groups, including the Pentagon, have considered solving the world’s energy needs using a truly massive solar array orbiting the Earth. Power could be continually beamed down from the array in the form of microwaves or lasers. Advantages would include 24/7 solar input (no night), access to power in remote regions of the world, complete energy independence, and zero pollution/carbon emissions. Also, provided I get my hands on the controls, a giant ion/beam/laser cannon. And we all know how awesome that would be, right?