Four crazy tech ideas from Google's Solve for X project
Google X Project: Wearable computers, life-saving MMOGs and more!
Two: Unlimited water for everyone
Rob McGinnis, the cofounder and CTO of resource recovery technology company Oasys, has made it his life's goal to figure out how to desalinate water without simultaneously plundering the planet.
The problem, as he sees it, is that desalination simply requires too much heat and thus is not an efficient way to change salt water into fresh water on a mass scale since it typically involves boiling the water until it becomes steam, thus leaving the salt behind it. But what if instead of turning the water into steam we could turn the salt into steam?
McGinnis figures he's found a way to do just that by adding ammonium and carbon dioxide into the water to create osmotic pressure that will draw pure water into a draw solution.
Wait, what did I just say? OK, picture this: You have two chambers filled with different kinds of water that are separated by a membrane that acts as a filter. On the one side you have standard salt water while on the other side you have water with ammonium and carbon dioxide added. The osmotic pressure exerted by the ammonium and carbon dioxide will draw the water through the membrane while leaving the salt behind.
"But wait!" you say. "Doesn't adding ammonium and carbon dioxide to water like that just make more salts?" Well yes, but as McGinnis tells it, those salts can be boiled out of the water at relatively low temperatures so you wouldn't need to use all the energy that you typically use during desalination.
Whether this idea catches on is anyone's guess but we have to admit it's extremely cool and could provide nearly limitless fresh water if it's implemented successfully.
THREE: Wearable computers
We all love our computers but we'd never be silly enough to try wearing them in lieu of clothes. Unless, of course, we could make clothes that acted as computers...
So that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it's something that Kevin Dowling, the vice president of research and development at MC10, wants to work toward. During his Solve for X talk, Dowling outlined ways to make silicon bendy and, yes, even stretchy.
"Using MEMS, or microelectronic mechanical systems, that have been used for accelerometers, you can etch silicon in a variety of ways and actually create flexible silicon nano-ribbons," he explains. "Now you're able to do devices that can strain and stretch in significant amounts."
These flexible devices can be used in ways that current devices can't, such as implantable devices that will now be able to bend more to the shapes and contours of our bodies or sensors that can conform to our bodies' outer ridges and valleys to provide more accurate body scans. So as crazy as it sounds, we may soon have computers that can be folded up like paper or slung around our necks like scarves.
"Silicon by itself is a lot like glass, it's very brittle, very rigid," says Dowling. "But if you can make anything thin enough, whether it's a two-by-four that eventually becomes a piece of paper, you can make it thin enough so that it can be bent."