(Running notes from the Swiss Innovation Forum 2007 in Basel)
Browsing the small exhibit area attached to the SIF during lunch break, I caught up with my friend Anil Sethi, from Flisom, a 2005 spinoff of the Swiss Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich that has developed the world's most efficient flexible solar cells (more than 14% of conversion of solar energy into electricity). The technology was long in development -- basic research started in the 1980s at ETH. The cells are extremely flexible (Anil took one out of a cigar sleeve and unrolled it) thin polymer -- plastic -- sheets produced through complex nanotechnological processes that can be embedded on curved surfaces or on objects (a laptop, for example).
A few meters away, I found Yves Rossy, a Swiss airline pilot and air-sports allrounder (paragliding, parachuting, freefall, skydiving, he's an expert at them all) who's developing a personal jetpack -- in fact, personal wings, spanning 2.5 meters, with four jet engines that allow him to fly. Yes, fly, not "pilot": Rossy (who goes by FusionMan) clips the wings on his back, jumps off a plane in a freefall, speeds up the engines, and then steers through body movements. To land, he uses a parachute. I've had a long discussion with Yves, his project is amazing, will blog more about him in the coming days. (If you can't wait, check out this video).
Finally, a small app by a unit of Swisscom called Starfruit which "bridges worlds": the synthetic world of Second Life, and the real world. Starfruit built a virtual phonebooth modeled on the classic boxy blue booths that you see on Swiss street corners, from where SL avatars can send free SMS text messages to any cell phone in the world (in the picture, Starfruit marketing director Julie Stewart showing the virtual booth). More, SL users can "copy" the booth (SLURL here) and "paste" it into their own piece of virtual land: 450+ have already done so, dotting the Second Life space of phone booths. Moreover, Starfruit runs shops in SL that sell real goods (flowers and chocolate to start) that are advertised on the phone booths, and the way it works is cute: A, through his avatar, buys flowers for B. A's avatar pays in Linden (the SL internal currency, which can be changed for real money) and picks up the virtual flowers. Gives them to B's avatar. B can click on them (pratically, it's like redeeming a 3D voucher) and enter her real-life address, where the corresponding real flowers will be sent by Fleurop.