Colin Bulthaup’s talk at NEXT

0colinbuly.jpgFinally back home so service will resume as normal and i’ll finally get to write down my notes from various events i’ve attended here and there. Starting with Colin Bulthaup’s talk at NEXT2006 conference, in Copenhagen on December 1.

Bulthaup is co-founder of the high-tech enterprise Squid Labs, a multibranched company that develops breakthrough technologies and find solutions to unique engineering problems.

Squid Labs is an innovation foundry that aims to go beyond what the future could bring, they just build it. It started with some MIT students who loved the playful attitude they found at MIT, enjoyed the possibility to explore crazy ideas but were missing the output from the “real world”. MIT was too academic. So when they launched Squid Lab, their aim was to keep the fun and the openness but be more driven by the real world.

Their “office” itself seeks to create an environment that fosters innovation. The space itself is a warhouse large enough to allow people to play around and feel welcome (they even have beds and a kitchen). They build a community with smart people coming and visiting. The way they function is very different from the corporate world, which is too secretive. People who work at Squid Labs enjoy some flexibility: they dedicate 33% of their time there on a particular project, 33% participating to other SL’s projects and the rest of the time they can do whatever they want.

0facilittttty.jpgSquid Labs facility (image Wired)

SQUID Labs’ projects:

The most talked-about one is the Smart Rope: a high-tech rope with integral sensing capability that monitors its own load and signals any weakness, sending the information to a handheld device well before it frays and gives way.


But there’s also Magic Window, an augmented reality system that allows you to move a laptop around and overlay data on the real world; Solar Driveaway, a custom solar power system offering such extreme ruggedness that it can be used for driveways and sidewalks; and a swarm of tiny unmanned aerial vehicles that avoid one another.

Squid Lab has “split” into a handful of companies which keep using SL as a resource but are autonomous and driven to make one particular idea a success:

0instructables.jpg1 – Howtoons: educational cartoons to get children excited about technology and inspire them to build their own things. Book out in January-February. A website allows people from around the world (in particular developing countries) to access the information. They are working on translations in different languages.

2 – Instructables: a step-by-step guide to share the making of OS physical Objects. People can share with others what they’ve done, it can then be changed and improved. Every aspect of the production chain is open.

3 – Low Cost Eyeglasses: Because 500 M to 1 Bn people need but can’t afford eyeglasses, SL designed and built patented lens molding technology that can produce any prescription lens in 5-10 minutes from a single mold surface. The idea is to give the technology to local entrepreneurs in order to make the idea more sustainable.

4 – POTENCO focuses on lack of power and infrastructure in developing countries. Billions of people don’t have access to electrical power. In Africa, cell phone use is exploding but only a fraction of the population has access to electrical power so some people have to walk many miles to get to the center of a city and charge their device.
So SL looked at other forms of generating energy. Kerosene lighting? Can be very expensive, it provides poor lighting for reading and makes fumes.

Potenco is a portable, robust and ergonomic power generator: just pull a cord for a minute and it generates electric power for up to several hours. It can be used to power mobile phones, PDAs, lighting products, digital cameras, etc.

Compared to a crank, Potenco generates 5 times more power, it can be pulled 5 times longer before the user senses fatigue; it’s quieter, lighter and more robust.

One minute of pulling gives 1 hour of light, 25 minutes of talk time on the phone, 230 minutes of iPod shuffle use, 45 minutes on the Nintendo DS. Millions of units will be distributed in the next few years.

Potenco has been selected as the power provider for the $100 Laptop (One Laptop per Child).

Curious? The MAKE team visited Squid Labs in Emeryville, CA.