Noah J Nelson on Monday, May. 16th
There’s always a few quiet revolutions going on in the tech industry, as the technium – to borrow Kevin Kelly’s term – tests the evolutionary waters with new ideas. Two of the most fertile lines of change are the advances being made in “green technology” (tech made from an environmentally conscious standpoint) and the DIY sphere.
Octo23 Technologies and Haddock Invention’s B-Squares merge those two lines into one fascinating project: “a modular electronics system with an emphasis on (but not limited to) solar power and expandable energy storage.” Inventors Jordan McRae and Shawn Frayne have come up with a creation that suggests endless permutations which engage the imagination.
We spoke with Jordan McRae about B-Squares, green technology and how Kickstarter is influencing the project.
TURNSTYLE: So who are B-Squares aimed at: hobbyists? Artists? Consumers?
Jordan McRae: D. All of the above. We’re trying to develop B-Squares into something that can be used and enjoyed by all of these groups. Their demands are each different so this requires that B-Squares be extremely versatile. For the Makers and Artists, B-Squares may act as a tool to allow them to quickly develop their projects, whether it be an Arduino based robot or flashing LEDs. With that being said, we’ve specifically designed B-Squares to also be consumer-friendly so that concepts such as energy harvesting and energy storage don’t have to be as intimidating as they might normally be. The goal is to build a community with hobbyists, artists, and consumers alike contributing their ideas on what they think the next best Recipe for B-Squares should be!
TS: What drew you into making green technology?
JM: It’s fun, plain and simple! Shawn and I both have backgrounds in Physics/Engineering so even if you put the environmental aspects aside, it just doesn’t get better then seeing a motor move using the power of the sun or turning on a light using heat transfer principles. I don’t think you need to be a physicist, engineer, or even an environmentalist to share that same excitement. There are some things that are just cool no matter what your background is, and the power of nature is one of them! Now add on top of that “coolness” factor the very important issue of how we as humans interact with our natural environment. We think the development of green technology is an area that is more and more going to be impacting people’s lives so it’s a movement we’re extremely excited to be a part of.
TS: Why a modular technology like this?
JM: Modularity is one of the approaches we use in designing a very flexible and versatile system but still keeping the design simple at heart. Rather than building a big complex system that does “everything,” we break it up into smaller simple modules each with their own basic function. One of the best compliments we’ve received so far is when B-Squares is described as “LEGOS for Electronics.”
TS: Practical application time: about how long in the sun would it take for a single B-Square to charge a half-full iPhone? Would multiple solar squares cut that time down?
JM: The rule of thumb is that a single Solar-Square can charge a single AAA rechargeable battery in a single day assuming a reasonable solar resource. So, to charge a half-full iPhone it would take 1.5 – 2 days for a single Solar-Panel. To charge faster, simply add additional Solar-Squares. Also keep in mind that when using the Battery-Square to store the solar energy, it’s not required to have your iPhone connected to the Solar-Squares all day. You can simply stick your Solar-Squares and Battery-Squares to a window and allow them to charge throughout the day, and then when needed detach the Battery-Square and use it to recharge your iPhone.
TS: How long did it take to go from initial design to prototype?
JM: 24 hours. We started designing what was to become B-Squares this January while having lunch and discussing a separate Solar charging project Shawn and I were working on. After an hour or two we had the basic idea of magnetic contacts that allow different modules to snap together. That night we put together crude prototypes of B-Squares using small squares cut out of a foam core material with pieces of steel and magnets on each corner. That was our first prototype and it worked even better than we could have imagined!! Shawn and I also work with a great mechanical engineer, Angus Fok, and together we were able to rapid prototype multiple revisions of the B-Squares frames and magnetic contacts. Within two months we had the finished prototypes that you see in our Kickstarter Video.
TS: The Kickstarter project has been a big success, does this mean we’ll see the speaker square that much sooner?
JM: We hope the success of B-Squares on Kickstarter means you’re going to see A LOT of different Squares sooner! Hopefully the continued success on Kickstarter, before our end date of June 5th, will allow us to incorporate some additional design features that will bring even more flexibility to ALL of the Squares.
TS: I see that you and your partner are split between Seattle and Paris– how does that work?
JM: Although Shawn’s firm, Haddock Invention, and my firm, Octo23 Technologies, are both based in the United States, we both split our time working abroad. For the moment, Shawn’s international hub is out of Hong Kong and mine is Paris, France. How does it work? It works great! With today’s technology, i.e. e-mail, skype, file-sharing, shared calendars, etc. Shawn and I find it pretty easy to work together from wherever we are in the world. We’ve been working together on various projects for many years now, which has given us a lot of time to develop and fine tune this system of international collaboration. It’s not only important for us, but also when we work with other groups around the world.