Space & Innovation

Tasty Tech Eye Candy of the Week (March 13)

Solar power is popping up everywhere and it has nearly taken over this week's slideshow.

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Solar power is popping up everywhere and it has nearly taken over this week's slideshow. Above: A new school being built in Denmark will generate 300 MW of electricity solely from its solar glass facade. About 12,000 solar panels built right into the exterior of the Copenhagen International School will produce more than half of the electricity needed to run it.

A space-orbiting solar array just won a DOD innovation contest. The concept, developed by a team of scientists led by Paul Jaffe, spacecraft engineer at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, puts a solar-harvesting array out in space, where it will convert sunlight to microwave energy and then send the microwaves to Earth via a wireless network. The concept was named a winner in four of seven categories of the first-ever Department of Defense (DoD) Diplomacy, Development, and Defense (D3) Innovation Summit Pitch Challenge. Congrats!

These solar panels act like a giant roll of paper towels. But instead of soaking up water, they soak up sunlight. The high-power photovoltaic Roll-Array was invented by a team of scientists at UK-based

Renovagen

, and is designed for portability. The array can be driven to any location and rolled out in minutes.

This solar cell is so thin and light, it can cling to a bubble without breaking it. Most silicon solar cells have three separate parts -- a substrate, the solar-harvesting section and a protective coating -- that make it bulky. But this version from

researchers at MIT

combines all of those parts into one fabrication step. The result is a solar cell about 1/50th the thickness of a strand of hair. In lab tests it was able to generate 6 watts of electricity per gram, which according to MIT is about 400 times higher than silicon-based solar cells.

Sunlight and footsteps will help illuminate this new walkway being built in Las Vegas. Solar-kinetic lights designed by New York City-based

EnGoPLANET

, have solar leaves that convert sunlight into electricity. The walkway is made from kinetic energy tiles that turn each footstep into about 7 watts of power. That energy is stored in batteries and tapped into at night when the sun isn't shining.

This week, Whole Foods Market announced it was partnering with SolarCity to install rooftop solar power systems on up to 100 buildings across the United States. Installation will begin this spring.

NYC buses are moving into the 21st Century. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced that it would deploy 70 Wi-Fi-equipped buses this year to service Queens. Each bus will have 55 USB charging ports as well and three LCD screens to flash stop announcements, transfers and, we're guessing, advertisements. Other boroughs will follow over the next two years.

3-D printing is making inroads into the shoe industry. Last year, Adidas announced its Futurecraft, which sports a 3D-printed midsole, and now Under Armour is getting into the act. This week it debuted its UA Architechs, which also have 3D-printed lattice midsoles designed to put a spring in your step and improve stability. Only 96 shoes will be made, unfortunately, to be sold at $300 each.

Can you imagine an aircraft that seats 1,000 people? This blended wing airplane from Airport Parking & Hotels and Imperial College London provides a glimpse at what air travel might look like in 2050. The concept gives each passenger virtual reality headsets to pass the time, as well as a spacious lounge and big comfy seats. The engineers also want to make the plane energy efficient and think it could run on low-emission biofuels and be propelled by clusters of electric fans.

It would be wonderful if technology could replace animal testing, which is not only unethical but limited in results that transfer well to humans. A new testing platform called AngioChip from scientists at the University of Toronto provides a three-dimensional structure that mimics the functions of the human body. So far, scientists have grown liver and heart tissue, which can be used to test the efficacy of new drugs. Lab rats thank you.