Collective Genius for a Better World

| “Launch creates an environment for people to think about what they would want anyone looking at our planet to know about us – that we respected our home and worked together every day to ensure its beauty.” – Ted Eytan I go out and talk about NASA quite often, and tell many parts of the agency’s […]

“Launch creates an environment for people to think about
what they would want anyone looking at our planet to know about us –
that we respected our home and worked together every day
to ensure its beauty.” – Ted Eytan
I go out and talk about NASA quite often, and tell many parts of the agency’s long and amazing story. I frequently get to work with fascinating people who are doing cool work, and indulge our mutual passions about space exploration. Nevertheless, I have never been so proud to work at NASA, so confident about the technology in our future, so inspired to invest time, energy and passion – as I was this past weekend at LAUNCH. Technology collaborations are vital for us to accomplish our mission – but it’s the vision for transformation and the commitment of the community that truly sets this partnership apart.
The LAUNCH program identifies innovations poised to create transformational change in critical sustainability issues, connects innovators to thought leaders and advisors, and then provides resources and guidance in order to accelerate the implementation of the technologies and projects. Founded in a unique partnership between NASA, USAID, the Department of State, and Nike, LAUNCH: Energy focuses on challenges that face us on Earth and beyond the Earth. The focus of this year’s challenge is energy, and the ten finalists were chosen for their groundbreaking ideas for the provision of more sustainable energy sources and improved access to energy for both developed and developing world populations.

The LAUNCH: Energy Forum, which brings together the innovators and council members, took place at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on November 11-13. The forum sessions are designed to identify key challenges and opportunities for the entrepreneurs’ innovations in an effort to accelerate these transformative efforts into the world with impact and scale.

Why was LAUNCH started, and what is unique about it?
NASA’s Beth Beck writes here about the WHY behind LAUNCH. She explains that innovators and early adopters are comfortable making gut decisions driven by what they believe about the world, rather than just by what product is available for their use, while the early majority doesn’t like to try something until someone else tries it first. LAUNCH is about creating a fellowship of innovators who then create a space that actually accelerates innovation… and changing the world. The LAUNCH Council knows what kind of world they want - now they are helping make it possible one issue at a time.

This year’s LAUNCH: Energy featured innovations:
Gram Power: A micro/mini-grid solution for underserved communities that utilizes modular battery storage technology, energy management intelligence, and a pre-payment model. “Reliable power is a critical ingredient for development. Gram Power creates access to this basic resource, enabling 40% of the world population to get connected to the global marketplace and become a part of the modern information economy,” said founder and CEO Yashraj Khaitan.

Hydrovolts: An affordable “Switchblade” turbine and “Flipwing” turbine rotor that enables reliable hydroelectricity generation from canals and other managed-flow water courses. “We’re changing the paradigm of how water can answer our energy challenges,” founder and CEO Burt Hamner notes.

Turbococina: A revolutionary clean and efficient wood combustion cookstove. “This is a revolutionary wood combustion technology, which manages to transform the kitchen from a smoke laden hazardous environment into a clean and habitable place,” explained CTO and President Rene Nuñez Suarez.

Point Source Power: An economical fuel cell for emerging markets that allows battery charging in cooking pits or fires. Co-founder and CEO Craig Jacobson is committed to making power innovation culturally relevant, easy to use, and financially accessible for 1.5 billion people without electricity.

The Solanterns Initiative: An initiative dedicated to replacing 1 million of Kenya’s kerosene lanterns with solar powered lights and to creating micro-entrepreneur jobs. COO Nina Marsalek emphasized how microfinance collaborations can make solar lanterns accessible to everyone.

Powerzoa: A smart system that allows enterprise-level energy managers to automate control of energy down to the appliance level, stopping power waste. Powerzoa’s Sandra Kwak and Jamie Simon are committed to enabling behavior change in the energy efficiency,

Promethean Power Systems: A rural refrigeration system for commercial cold-storage applications in off-grid and partially electrified areas of developing countries. CEO Sorin Grama’s system enables food suppliers to reliably store and preserve perishable food items—such as milk, fruits and vegetables—without the need for expensive diesel-powered generators.

Thermofluidics: A pumping device that uses low-temperature heat to generate fluid motion with very few moving parts. CEO Mark Bryant explained the function of the NIFTE pump, where gravity, suction and heat provide a better way to pump water… and just about anything else, too.

ITN Energy Systems: A revolutionary flexible electrochromic film for windows that allows active control of the sun’s transmitted light and heat. CEO Ashutosh Misra said that “with flexible electrochromics, any window can be modified so that flipping a switch changes its opacity to let heat in when the building is too cold, or block that heat from entering when it’s not needed.”

NanoTune Technologies: A new generation ultracapacitor with five to seven times greater energy storage capacity as conventional capacitors. Creator and founder Frank Wang reminded the council of Elon Musk’s statement that ultracapacitors will eventually replace batteries – and how vital it is for us to be able to power our future innovations.

What happened at the forum?
During the three day forum, innovators discussed their proposed solutions to energy issues with LAUNCH Council members, who represent the business, investment, international development, policy, engineering, science, communications and sustainability sectors. The sessions are designed to identify key challenges and opportunities for the entrepreneurs’ innovations in an effort to accelerate these transformative innovations into the world with impact and scale. Interested in the exchanges between the LAUNCH Council and the Innovators? Check out NASA’s MindMapr to follow the conversations.

NASA is seriously committed to help propel promising innovations forward that will address some of the world’s most pressing challenges. Along with USAID, the Department of State, and Nike, we are creating a forum that truly convenes genius that substantively changes the world. In the closing ceremony, Point Source Power’s Craig Jacobson pointed out that “innovation is a person-to-person endeavor, and that’s what LAUNCH does.” Solid public-private partnerships enable entrepreneurs and innovators to share what they were doing, find a path forward and build a new network of collaborators. Every person in attendance was inspired about how to take ideas and make them reality. We saw amazing technology – the fastest ultracapacitor, revolutionary pumps that use free heat, the cleanest cook stove in the world – but it was really about the people, and about the power of what we can do together.

We walked through KSC’s Apollo/Saturn V Center on the last night of the event, and the film presentation noted that this was “…one of those rare moments where history is not just made, but destiny is embraced.”
So say we all. 
For more information on LAUNCH, go to launch.org, read the Recipe for the Future, or follow @launchorg on Twitter.

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