Episode 1: Let there be light

A bright future

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Adam's Weekly Blog

Lighting the way

Lighting the way

Sometimes an innovation is not about new technology, it is about...
Sometimes an innovation is not about new technology, it is about applying an existing thought to a new application or environment. The phenomenon of interesting ideas applied to new environments, is the theme of our Horizons programme about light.

Our journey around the world for this series started for me in Holland, in a bare warehouse in the town of Waddinxveen, It is a town I had never heard of but it is near Gouda, a town I have heard of because of its cheesy fame.

We had come to Holland to meet Daan Roosegaarde. He may not describe himself like this, but I saw him as a curious mixture between installation artist and innovator. Certainly his studio felt more like an artist workspace than the inventors’ labs we have visited so many times in the course of this series.

He rushes in with his assistant, late having had a late night session the day before at an art gallery where one of his pieces was being displayed. But it is not his art that we have come to see, it is a technology that is providing drivers with a new way to light their path.

Daan Roosegaarde is a man that takes the latest technology and finds novel way of applying it.

On a tour of his studio he beckons me to bend down and cup my hands round my eyes to stare at the details of a paving stone.

The paving stones, he explains, are something he has developed for bicycle lanes which are covered with a fluorescent paint version of some Van Gogh work. They are being used in the city of Eindhoven which commissioned him to make an interactive bicycle lane called the Van Gogh Lane.

At night they light up the cyclist path with swirls of fluorescent Van Gogh.He is now proposing that local governments take the same approach with roads.

Roosegaarde’s ‘Smart Highway’ uses photo-luminescent paint applied to the road. Iit soaks up solar rays during the day ready to emit light during the night. It is so simple - no street lights – so no environmental impact.

The roads will also light up when there is a significant drop in temperature to warn drivers of icy conditions. When it gets cold, previously invisible two foot-long snowflakes slowly materialise on the road.

Roosegaarde is keen to highlight the technical novelty of the idea – although I was less impressed with those claims than the interesting and novel way of applying the technology to a new area.

Roosegaarde is not the only one working on new ways to light our paths.

From Waddinxveen in Holland I travelled the 3,600 miles (5,800 km) to New York.

I made the visit to meet Jessica O. Matthews, one of Fortune Magazine’s ten most powerful women entrepreneurs and Harvard University’s 2012 Scientist of the Year.

She is also CEO and co-founder of the company called Unchartered Play.

Jessica’s company has designed a ball called a Sockett.

This, as it’s kicked around, creates a store of energy that can then be tapped into later to plug in a light. So if the ball is played with for an hour, the user will get six hours of light from it.

This innovation has an immediate appeal.

There is something intrinsically exciting about a football that can be kicked around in a dusty field and which harnesses the power of that play to power their home when they return.

It is a really exciting idea. We took the ball through a snowy New York to the local community centre for a kick around with the local children. They hit the ball at me in goal and occasionally hit the producer and director. After 10 minutes they plugged a bulb into the ball and it lit up.

I was wearing thermal underwear because it was so cold and there was no time to change, so if you see me sweating and panting more than usual during our brief football game, it is not just because I am not fit, it is also because I am doing exercise in a hot New York basement whilst dressed for the arctic.

To be honest, the Sockett only creates a rather dim light but in rural parts of the developing world, even a dim light might be revolutionary.

Access to artificial light is one of those things in many parts of the developed world we just take for granted although that is not true for millions of people around the world.

This is a rare moment where one can, without fear of exaggeration, talk of the ‘The Light Bulb Moment.’

It is a programme about the new illuminators who are lighting up the lives of millions around the world.
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