RCA Sunny Delight - Ross Lovegrove

The earth receives more energy from the sun in just one hour than the world uses in a whole year.  One day you might walk out of your green, or red, or brown, or dark green (depending on the season and the algae’s mood) house and walk down the road to the aqua-plane station to catch your solar energy driven vehicle to work. Its possible, at least according to the students who participated in Sunny Delight, an IDE, Industrial Design Engineering, design masterclass led by Ross Lovegrove this past April at the RCA, Royal College of Arts.

The group of 9 interdisciplinary teams was given the brief as follows:

Welcome to the small suburban town of Sunny Delight. Located in the near future, and on the outskirts of a Northern European city, Sunny delight will be home to a few lucky residents who will benefit from a town that uses the very latest solar power, and related technologies, to create the world’s first ever integrated zero energy housing and transportation system. It is your job as cutting-edge designers to make Sunny Delight. The challenge is to create a vision for a near future that works seamlessly in terms of both design and technology. In doing so, you will learn about the challenges of integrating design at many scales: urban, architectural, interior, transport, vehicle and product.

Solar power (photovoltaic and/or solar thermal) must form a key energy technology component, but other energy systems may also be included to achieve a zero energy rating – it is a huge challenge to achieve this with solar power alone. The project is challenging and requires multidisciplinary teams to be able to cover all the elements of the brief. So each team should include an engineer, a product designer, and a vehicle designer.

Ross Lovegrove introduced the final projects by saying:

Design is invention – it is always changing, and as resources diminish attitudes need to change”

He refers to designer’s attitudes as well as the consumer’s attitudes. Not only do we, as consumers, have to assume responsibility and change the way we use products, spend energy, and purchase power but so do designers have to rethink interactivity, manufacturing, material sourcing, and most importantly they have to educate themselves in sustainable design that will shape our way of living. This is a new frontier in design education.

Most schools are starting to seriously integrate environmental programs into their industrial design and transportation design departments, but where until now they might have been specialized courses soon they will be fully-fledged programs. The masterclass lasted 6 weeks and the professors probably learned as much as the students did in this time. The most interesting factor was the multidisciplinary requirement for each team, at least one engineer, one product designer, and one vehicle designer; usually designers create in a ‘design vacuum’, amongst other designers and design professors. In this case, because the project required the specific use of solar power as the energy source the need for engineers was a pre-requisite for the project to be credible. Ross Lovegrove is a pioneer in the use of advanced materials and new methods of production and no doubt was pivotal in steering the teams down the right solar path.

The 9 teams, Folding, Colod, Go Neutral, Algae Skin, Falguera, Folium, Ivy, Startlight, and Tergum were all judged on the final presentation day by an illustrious panel of an equally eclectic mix of designers, engineers, and business people. Amongst them were Peter Van Manen – Managing Director, McLaren Electronic Systems, Anthony Lo Director - Advanced Design, GM Europe Design, Reinhart Buchner - Studio Director Design, Sharp Electronics Europe, Oliver Sylvester Bradley – Solar Century and Solaraid.org, Andreas Brown from Swarovski, Mitsuhiro Kanada - Associate Director, Arup, and Christie Franchi of Christie Franchi & Partners, New Energy Brokers.

Each project had to design a vehicle that was in some ways connected to the sustainable life of the habitat, which in turn needed to be connected to the urban space it lived in. The Algae Skin team, with Cécile Dartinguenave, Iris Kuntz, Sheraz Arif, Andy Brand, Tabitha Purathur, and Thomas Smith as its members, asked themselves…”can algae save the world?”. They proposed to use algae as an alternative and cost effective method of generating hydrogen fuel with solar energy. Luckily for them their neighboring college, Imperial College, was awarded a £4.2 million fund for a five-year investigation to improve the efficiency of algal hydrogen production so they were able to speak to researchers in order to make their algae panels a reality. How it works is “the algae live in an aqueous solution in the lower cavity of a two-chamber tank and when exposed to sunlight and gets chemically stressed the algae produce hydrogen and oxygen” says Andy. An internal structure leads the energy throughout the house via the panels, made of glass and EFTE (Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene is a film that is 1% the weight of glass, is self-cleaning, and recyclable), creating a zero-emissions self-contained sustainable home. The Solar Monowheel is the vehicle that lives in this home can accommodate two people and is made of concentric rings, some which are made of photovoltaic cell matrices, allowing it to collapse and be lowered into a docking station in the street or house where is recharges on the energy generated by the house.

The Folium Team, Katrien Ploegmakers, Chris Holden, Philippa Mothersill, Jonathon Henshall, addressed life in Sunny Delight on a more poetic level than biological. They were attracted by the way light plays a role in our lives, and how it affects living spaces. The end product was an EFTE film that is printed with a CIGS (Copper indium gallium selenide) solar ink pattern inspired by that of a canopy of trees and the light that produces on the grass; in turn these branches collect energy and distribute it throughout the home. The original vehicle conceived for the project was for individual passengers but as the designs developed and the team researched further they decided that the product they had developed was more applicable to a large-scale transportation system as the benefits of the technology are greater. Using an aqua-plane infrastructure for improved efficiency the control system uses rollers on a track for propulsion and breaking while the solar printed EFTE not only supplies energy over the station and travel pod but also adds ambience.

The Sunny Delight Tergum team, Sarat Babu, Gianpaolo Fusari, Hersh Haladker, Matt Johnson, and Bob Romkes, were inspired by technology they discovered in the early research phase based on spherical photovoltaic cells. Having the distinct advantage of 360 degree light capture the team felt that these spherical photovoltaic cells were not being exploited to their full capacity in its current static mountings and decided to use a new composite material to increase physical flexibility and enjoy its transparency. The result was Tergum, “a temporary, independent (self-sustained in terms of power), deployable nomadic structure/vehicle”. The slug looking vehicle had a retractable tail that when inflated, via a double pneumatic chamber, creates an inhabitable space and when deployed is a vehicle. Spheres speckled over approximately 50% of the transparent tail capture power and even then only 50% of the spheres need to be exposed to the sun to collect energy. During the presentation Matt and the team showed how the Solar skin would deploy brining up the question of privacy. It's a green car, just be one with nature! (and everyone else!).

One of the most applauded projects was Folding, for its simplicity. The team, simply Becky, Bibi, Ciaran, Dae Kyung, and Ralph, seemed to have connected on a different level than the other teams. They truly explored and were inspired by nature. The final product was a covering, much like a rain forest canopy tree, that when folded flat its panels collect the most energy from the sun during the day and when open offers up a beautiful dome shaped covering for any dwelling, or even a vehicle. Not only was the idea suggestive but the presentation was so straightforward everyone understood that this group has a genius product, too simple for words…see the video.