July 9, 2014 | Written by: Maciej Sztukiewicz
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Humans tend to think that we today are the perfect product, sort of the crown of evolution based on billions of years on the planet Earth. Surprisingly, this can be questioned by saying that now evolution has a negative gradient, with the next generations less advanced than their predecessors. You can see this devolution if you look at music; the times of Vivaldi, Bach and Mozart are gone. It’s all about energy and its transformational impact on organisms and systems.
We don’t know how and where, but several billions of years ago a miracle happened. The primitive replicators turned into cells that could transform photons coming from our nearest star into the energy needed for life and further expansion. This evolutionary step was gigantic.
Further in time, multi-celled animals lost this feature, instead taking energy from bodies of other organisms. Isn’t this a downgrade from an energy acquisition standpoint? By the way, the new complexity of organisms turned out to be fatal in many cases, as simple organ failure can turn into death—have you ever heard about bacteria dying from stroke?
The fundamental problem of acquiring energy is also seen in human-made infrastructure where dispersed components need to be hard-wired to a central entity providing power. In the era of the Internet of Things (IoT) and with the promise of self-autonomous components located everywhere. The need for a new way of acquiring energy is evident. Today’s short-lasting batteries, existing inefficient solar cells and unproven promise of “cold fusion in a glass” are not the solution.
The idea of capturing energy from the sun’s rays made this promise in photovoltaic panels, but existing ones are relatively expensive and have low efficiency. It can change with the recent works of Olga Malinkiewicz, who found an innovative and inexpensive method to build solar cells based on perovskites. The material is not new. It was discovered in 1839 in the Ural Mountains, but now it can unleash its potential. Solar cells that are created using Malinkiewicz’s method are inexpensive, efficient and even elastic! Silicon layers in traditional solar cells cannot be thinner than 180 microns. Layers of perovskites absorbing the same sun energy can have a thickness of one micron. As new production methods do not require high temperatures, the solar cell layer can be even applied on materials like clothes and light textures. The process is so simple you can produce perovskites in your kitchen. Electro shock isn’t it?
Imagine the impact on industry. It is a missing material for building fully autonomous systems, not trammeled by power networks and is able to function in remote environments for years. Examples are countless: weather stations in the form of traditional windows, artificial flowers measuring ground dryness and controlling remotely watering systems, wearable computing and new types of clothes with microchips inspecting your health parameters.
Nowadays, cloud computing components are closed in data centers, consuming massive amounts of energy for data processing, storage and cooling. It may be that in the future, cloud will look different. It can become a collection of billions of self-autonomous agents, absorbing energy from the sun, exchanging information in a wireless way and grouping to perform specific tasks.
Imagine the lawn or roof in your house covered with such artifacts serving as a graphical processing unit (GPU) to run your next generation games or calculating the best options for your financial investment. The Internet of Things started with the concept of identification and tagging of real-world objects. By breaking today’s barrier of power supply dependency, it can really expand to the network of energy-autonomous agents spread around the world and serving new types of applications. It’s coming.
What other impacts do you see from this technology? I’ll be waiting for your thoughts on Twitter @Maciej_MyPoznan.