A Bright Future

September 11, 2015 § Leave a comment

Reading time travel stories got me thinking about the way that cities might manifest themselves in the future. I imagine they’ll look something like Abu Dhabi or Dubai. Massive, reflective (glass IS the material of the future, isn’t it?), hopefully green. Green in multiple senses. Full of public parks and people mingling among trees in little squares hidden away under the shade of the colossal buildings. But green also in the sense of being energy efficient. Because quite frankly if they aren’t, it’s doubtful that our cities of the future will look any less bleak than the beginning scenes from WALL-E.

Several recent pieces of technology news have excited my imagination for how our cities might transform into the gleaming beacons of future civilization. Solar roadways and transparent solar cells are among the least believable (and so obviously most interesting).

An organization called Solar Roadways had a wonderfully successful crowdfunding campaign about a year or two ago. When I first heard about the idea I thought it was a scam. The organization claimed to be developing hexagonal textured glass panels which would collect solar energy, melt snow during the winter, and light the roads at night. Its creators call it an “intelligent” road. Among its astonishing planned features are the ability to indicate when animals are on the road to prevent accidents, as well as using an LED arrow to guide drivers to new destinations. The idea quite simply reads like a science fiction story.

Another amazing element: eventually through something called “mutual induction panels” the road will be able to charge electric cars on the go. If that doesn’t sound like something completely fictional, I don’t know what does. The United Kingdom is making an attempt at mobile car charging later this year through “dynamic wireless power transfer”. I’ll be honest, I have no idea what that is either, nor how it differs from mutual induction panels. But it lends some credibility to the idea of wireless charging. For now let’s assume it’s completely feasible. Imagine our future city now. No need to worry about refueling cars. No nasty carbon dioxide emissions. No guilt about owning personal vehicles.

How do transparent solar cells fit into our beautiful clean city of the future? We make our gleaming towers into massive solar farms, of course. Ubiquitous Energy, a company founded by researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Michigan State University, is making solar panels that only collect the invisible end of the light spectrum. Capturing only infrared and ultraviolet light is what allows the panels to be transparent. The implementation involves covering glass with an organic solar coating, which should actually be cheaper than manufacturing traditional silicon solar panels. The one downside is their relatively inefficiency as a result of limiting the spectrum of light intake. What makes up for this is the sheer surface area available for their distribution. The city becomes a giant power generator.

So now we’re set. We have beautiful roads, remarkable glass towers, and most importantly, clean energy. The future city is a sunny utopia. Let’s hope that future isn’t too far off.

-Confused Vulcan

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