living things“Living Things,” currently displayed in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Pittsburgh, imagines bioluminescent algae as home decor, creating an eco-friendly and sustainable living space.

The exhibit, which features a kitchen, living room, and a dining room, envisions a future in which the designers, Jacob Douenias and Ethan Frier, envision “photosynthetic furniture,” or pieces that contain glass vessels of algae. These vessels are wired to heat and light, which causes the algae to grow, making them a source of oxygen.

This living, breathing display is not the first that has used algae as a material; however, the designers say it could become more common in the future, because the liquid suspension of the organism makes it malleable and therefore easy to manipulate.

What Sparks Our Fire: Designers harnessing the power of nature to create homes that homes that boast both aesthetics and sustainability.

Use Solar Power Anywhere


With a majority of Americans and people worldwide that consider solar power to be their number one choice of energy, SunPort is introducing a new way to use solar energy, with their new innovative and affordable outlet adapter. This portable outlet adapter allows users to power all of their gadgets on clean solar energy. Once plugging in a device into the SunPort, the application will automatically calculate how much power you’re using and quickly give you the option to upgrade to solar energy. Once upgrading, it will automatically purchase solar micro-credits that are provided through a non-profit organization called ReChoice. It’s a more affordable and less cumbersome option than those industrial-sized solar panels.

3048930-inline-i-0-this-plug-automatically-runs-your-gadgets-on-solar-powerDue to cost being an issue when purchasing solar panels, the inventor of SunPort, Paul Droege, believes they will eventually offer their customers a chance to upgrade their entire home at an affordable and reasonable cost. This will allow those with high interest to use clean solar energy and help create a demand for more solar production.

The use of solar energy has increased tremendously throughout the years and will continue to grow. Nivea Sun ads, which generated a great deal of praise and attention worldwide, used a similar approach.

What Sparks Our Fire: Making solar power more affordable, more portable, and more accessible to change the way we use energy.


The Urban Jungle

smart palm

Dubai is known for continually being on the forefront of modern technology. This summer, it has one more surprise for its residentsmassive, 20-foot-high “palm trees” made of metal that harness the power of solar energy to provide Wi-Fi and power.

“Smart Palm” boasts Wi-Fi hotspots, phone-charging stations, informational touchscreens, and even security cameras and an emergency button for safety. They’re completely self-sustained and green, thanks to giant solar panels that serve as the fronds.

While there are only two standing for now, the company plans on introducing another 103 across Dubai, and potentially switching to a 3-D printing manufacturing process. Viktor Nelepa, the company’s founder, wrote in a press release that his goal was “to provide data, connectivity, energy [all] in a sustainable manner,” while still maintaining the cultural significance of the date palm.

What Sparks Our Fire: Making technology greener and more accessible to the modern user.

A Tree Grows Underneath Manhattan


What can you do with an abandoned underground trolley terminal? In Manhattan, where space is at a premium, there are a billion creative uses for this subterranean expanse. In 2011, James Ramsey, Dan Barasch, and R. Boykin Curry IV proposed a radical idea for the space that sat unused for over 60 years– turn it into an underground park. The idea immediately resonated with New Yorkers, drew massive media attention, and got a wildly successful Kickstarter get off the ground. And this month, Ramsey, Barasch, and Curry have returned with a new Kickstarter to fund a test lab, bringing them once step closer to the reality of their Lowline park.

The test lab for the Lowline mostly aims to test the special technology that engineers have built to bring sunlight underground. Solar panels at street level will act as sunlight receptacles. Sunlight will then be funneled underground where it can be disseminated to the plants living below. Where UV lamps might have been used in the past, the Lowline is revolutionary because it aims for sustainability. Additionally, visitors will be able to go to the test lab this Fall to see the results in action.

Calling their park the Lowline as a nod to Chelsea’s High Line, the creators have acknowledged the huge impact that green public spaces can have on the surrounding community. The High Line was similarly built on abandoned elevated train tracks on the west side of Manhattan, with the first phase opening to visitors in 2009. With almost 5 million annual visitors, the High Line’s presence has revitalized the surrounding community in a way that the Lowline hopes to emulate on the Lower East Side.

Learn more on the Lowline’s website and Kickstarter.

What Sparks Our Fire: Sustainable public spaces spurring cutting edge technological and economic benefits

Opensourcing The Future of Travel


A train is leaving from Los Angeles to San Francisco traveling at 56 mph and takes 8 hours to arrive. This isn’t an algebra problem, this is an efficiency problem. In 2012, Elon Musk proposed an alternative to the slow and inefficient Amtrak “Coast Starlight” train line, called the Hyperloop. The Hyperloop is a high-speed transportation system that would propel passengers between the two cities in “pods” at up to 800 mph, approximately 200 miles faster than the average cruising speed of a 747. While the Hyperloop has remained a pipe-dream for many who frequently travel between the two cities, today, Musk announced a competition that might just get the ball rolling on its development.

Open to university students and independent engineering teams, Musk has asked participants to design the pods that will carry passengers between the two cities. By opening the pod design contest to only independent engineering teams and students, Musk is clearly leaning on innovative new thinking, but also making a statement that he’s looking for the best design, not just the design that gets funded first.

While there has not been mention of a prize for winning the competition, Musk promised to elaborate more on the contest in August. Until then, applicants can learn more about the guidelines and sign up to compete on the SpaceX website.

What Sparks Our Fire: Creatively shaping the future of transportation and design through an exciting open-source competition.