Seventh session of TED2006 (background): running notes.
Zach Kaplan and Keith Schacht of Inventables open the session with a three-minutes "new materials alert" and distribute to all attendees a sample bag of "crushable electroluminescent sheet" (picture). What's that? Here is what the tag says:
This is an incredibly flexible electroluminescent light (EL). In the past, most EL was printed on semi-rigid polyester sheet. It would fail if it was creased and it was not very tolerant of moisture. This EL is a foldable, washable, moldable polyurethane envelope.
It requires power, but has interesting possible uses: on clothes and shoes for lighting that is flexible and washable; or inside a children's blanket to serve as a night light that feels soft and flexible; on the inside liner of a purse to make it easy to find keys; or on an umbrella "that glows in your closet when there is rain outside", reminding you to pick it up before going out. (the picture is from curiouslee's flickr stream - thanx).
There are many efforts underway to break the (very expensive) monopoly of government-financed spatial exploration. So far, about 450 astronauts have been in space: all backed by public money, except two: the pilots of SpaceShip One, the rocket launched twice in October 2004 from Mojave desert. Engineer and pilot Burt Rutan is the man behind SpaceShip One. He speaks at TED about exploration and inspiration and fast progress: "In 1908 there were only a dozen airplane pilots; by 1912, there were hundreds of aircraft types in 39 countries". He points out that most aviation pioneers of the 20th century were kids during that dawn of aviation (which implies that they were inspired by it). But now "Houston, we have a problem: We're entering the second generation of no progress". He's talking about governmental space flights of course ("Not counting SpaceShip One, in 2004 there were only two manned missions in space, Russians going to the International Space Station: less than forty years before"). So he argues that the next progress in space exploration will be paid for by private money. "There is a capitalists' space race" going on" which will "make it easy, safe and cost-effective for people to go to space, starting with suborbital flights" (putting a ship in orbit requires propulsion five times faster than sub-orbital, and that has significant safety and cost implications). "This will be a high-volume industry: we think that 100'000 people will fly in space by 2020".
Not all inventions need to be grandiose, complex things. Sometimes they can be simple and smart ideas that help alot of people. That's what Amy Smith (from MIT's D-Lab) talks about: a simple solution to one of the world's main causes of death among children in the world (breathing fumes from indoor wood-burning stoves - 2 million deaths a year) and a way to fight deforestation. She shows a picture of deforestation in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere: people cut down forests to cook and produce charcoal (look at the picture - that's a NASA aerial view of the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic; Haiti is to the left, the DR is the greener area to the right) and that sets in motion a cycle of further resource depletion, soil erosion, droughts etc. What are alternative cooking fuels? "It's extremely important to design from within the community", Amy says to indicate the need to seek solutions locally. With her students they came up with ways to use "bagas", the waste from refining sugar cane, and turn it into charcoal briquettes. In India many people use cow dung as fuel, which also creates lots of fumes: wheat straw (bound by only a bit of cow dung) could be a cleaner alternative, but the briquettes didn't burn as long as wood charcoal, and tended to crumble - until the students figured out that they could compress them, and they're now better than the commercially available wood charcoal. In Ghana they experimented with corn cob charcoal, which "don't require compression: they come naturally briquett-ized". She pulls some out of her pocket and passes them around, saying that "this is about the most exciting thing in my life right now".
Joshua Prince-Ramus is the architect of the Seattle Central Library (picture right, from the Seattle Times) and the New York director of Rem Koolhaas' firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). Prince-Ramus and his colleagues are creating a methodology that clashes with the traditional view of the architect as an artist, focusing instead on what he calls an "hyper-rational" process based on refusing conventions and accepting (and actually building upon) the specific constraints and conditions of each project. He talks about how the Seattle project developed around the idea of "compartimentalized flexibility" (the library is organized around five platform/compartments) in order to take into account future developments that can't be predicted today. And about the new Dallas Performing Arts Centre that OMA is currently designing. For decades, that theatre worked in a provisional space, "which means that they could tear down a wall or so, or work with various formats". The challenge is "to come up with a new building that would allow for continuing this experimentation and flexibility". Their response: a highly flexible/modular "acustic enclosure" that can take many shapes and forms.