Innovation

Rock On: A Student-Designed Rocking Chair Generates Energy to Charge a Cell Phone

If you’ve ever sat in a rocking chair, you understand why every grandparent seems to own one. The gentle rocking mimics the soothing motion of a crib. It’s an ingenious, old-fashioned piece of seating bliss.

Now imagine a rocking chair that even a Millennial might settle into: Not only does it relax you, but it charges your iPhone at the same time.

Startup Wants University Endowments to Lend Money so Homeowners Can Go Solar

A new startup founded by two UC Berkeley Haas Business School students aims to give homeowners going solar the leverage to affect more than just the environment.

Window Street Financial—which emerged last fall from an idea generated by Johnny Gannon and Ben Purvis—wants to give them the option of taking a solar loan made up of capital from the endowments of universities, nonprofits and foundations.

From Spider-Infested Digs, U.S. Company Devises Way to Spin Silk—Sans the Spiders

In the beginning, David Breslauer’s office was infested with spiders—lurking in the corners, hunkered down on their webs, crawling up his arms. “I had one right above my desk, and it pooed on my computer like a pigeon,” he says. And these were large, long-legged beasties, too: Nephila clavipes, an orb-weaving species commonly used in scientific studies.

Speech Saver: Anticipating Upheavals, Project Aims to Preserve the World’s Languages

You’ve probably experienced that unique combination of loss and rage when your computer’s hard drive suddenly crashes, erasing years of work files, financial records, and precious photos in an instant. What if that happened, asks linguist Laura Welcher, of the nonprofit Long Now Foundation, on a civilizational scale?

“Over the span of millennia, you have to expect there to be upheavals in society, times when knowledge is lost,” she says. (Think the Library of Alexandria.) How do we safeguard human knowledge from these future upheavals?

From the Summer 2015 Confronting the Future issue of California.

Parts Department: The You that Survives into the Next Century May be Mostly 3D Printed

The future will be an exciting time to be alive, if for no other reason than it will be so much easier to survive.

We’ll have a bewildering variety of replacement parts for our organs and limbs. Stubborn diseases will be tamed by exotic treatments. New technologies will enable not just better living, but new ways of living. And the human body will reveal all of its secrets in response to our probings in… (dramatic pause) … the year 2000.

From the Summer 2015 Confronting the Future issue of California.

Going Chameleon: What a New Material that Changes Color as it Moves Means for Humans

We’ve all probably experienced a moment when we envied a chameleon’s ability to blend into the background—say, after a gaffe at the office holiday party. As it turns out, chameleons change their skin color in response to all kinds of stimuli: physical threats, temperature changes, and the animal’s moods. What if humans could harness that same ability?

From the Summer 2015 Confronting the Future issue of California.

Line in the Sand: How Can We Protect a Shoreline from the Ravages of the Future?

When San Francisco’s Great Highway opened in 1929, some 50,000 people celebrated the coastal stretch of pavement with a parade and a 1,014-piece band. A magazine article from the time boasted of “a wonderfully constructed Esplanade of enduring concrete, which will render for all time the beach safe from the destructive effects of the ocean’s activities.”

From the Summer 2015 Confronting the Future issue of California.

No One Gets Hurt: Why the Future of Crime May Be Less Violent and More Insidious

Among the various anxieties that currently plague affluent modern society, cybercrime surely ranks near the top. It makes sense; as data comes to define our lives to a greater and greater degree, the specter of some unseen hacker pilfering our information with impunity or emptying our bank account with the click of a mouse is justified cause for concern. But perhaps we should consider the alternative.

By way of illustration, consider two robberies of fairly recent memory—one old-school, the other new.

From the Summer 2015 Confronting the Future issue of California.

Effluent Communities: Why Drought Will Mean Learning to Drinking Treated Sewage

It’s the kind of subject that lends itself to the lowest of low humor, but we’ll try to resist that temptation. Because at bottom (sorry), it’s among the most serious of subjects, speaking as it does to basic survival. We’re talking about water (again), of course. But more specifically, we’re talking about blackwater: Sewage.  And even more particularly, recycling sewage, treating it to the potable level and–gulp–drinking it again.

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