Spring is in the air. Here in Silicon Valley, it seems like just about everything is in blossom—daffodils, wildflowers, trees, and, it turns out, technologies. Last week a number of technologies that were, at best, tiny buds a few months ago have started to flower.
Qbotix. I first wrote about robotics company Qbotix last fall, intrigued by its approach to positioning solar panels to make the most efficient use of the sun. Instead of attaching each panel to a complicated motorized tracking assembly, Qbotix has built a robot, the SolBot, that runs on a track through a field of solar panels on simple stands; the robot figures out the best angle for each panel and turns it appropriately. Until now, the only SolBot in action was at Qbotix’ Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters, but last week the first commercial project went live—a 48 kw power plant at the Alameda County Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, Calif. The facility is using single Qbotix SolBot to position 32 panels, which are expected to generate approximately 120,000 kw hours of electricity per year.
Nanocoatings. At the past two International Consumer Electronics Shows (CES), startup companies wowed attendees by demonstrating nanocoatings that waterproofed personal electronics, invisibly making smartphones and pad computers impervious to at least a short dunk in a swimming pool. Last week I heard from a company called Semblant, that aims to take this kind of waterproofing technology into the industrial world, sealing electronics boards, solar panels, and entire cars (something all those folks who faced major damage to their cars’ electrical systems during Hurricane Sandy sure would have liked to have.)
4K Television. Remember those 4K TVs that several consumer electronics manufacturers were talking up at the CES this past January? The good news is that they really are going to be available this year, at least Samsung’s is, and you can preorder yours today. The bad news? The price. Back in January when I talked to manufacturers about possible pricing, no official information was available, but manufacturers were tossing around the $20,000 figure. Samsung this week announced pricing for its first 4K TV, an 85-inch model--$40,000.Don’t tick me off or I’ll toss that truck. Also at CES in January, I checked in with computer peripheral maker NeuroSky. The company makes a headset that reads brain waves, letting you perform simple control functions with your mind. At CES, I flew a helicopter (a model one). Last week Neurosky announced that a game developer has gotten funding on Kickstarter to use the NeuroSky headset to let people toss virtual trucks. In a press release from NeuroSky, developer Lat Ware says “In this game you will crush your enemies by throwing trucks at them with your mind.” OK, it’s a simplistic game premise, but not without a certain appeal.
The Woz-Cave. Finally, another sign of spring is typically a flurry of activity in the real estate market. Last week, a somewhat famous house came back on the market at $4.5 million. The six-bedroom, six-and-a-half-bath house was originally a 3-bedroom, 3-bath house when the Woz bought it in 1986, he quickly began adding and tweaking the house to accommodate his children and later stepchildren, as well as his quite quirky imagination. I saw the result in 1989 or so, and it was enchanting—the crawl space in the house had been carpeted to accommodate children scooting through, and in several rooms a little hinged shutter (that appeared from the room side to be an ornamental carving) let kids peak from the crawl space at the adults below. He put in a fire pole, and, behind the house, carved into a hill to build caves and tunnels scattered with replicas of dinosaur bones. For computer history buffs, Woz scratched his initials inside a drawer, and reportedly no subsequent resident has erased them.
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Top: Qbotix SolBot in action. Photo: Qbotix
Center: Neurosky headset. Photo: Neurosky
Bottom: The Woz-Cave. Photo: Sotheby's
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.