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Resource Fix: Reinventing the shape of the wheel

Shape matters, whether it's the shape of an egg or a bridge, or how fibers are woven together. The shape of a wheel or tire is something we tend to take for granted. There are various strategies for altering patterns on the surface of tires to decrease friction or increase grip, but the overall shape of the wheel has remained consistent.

The inventor of Sharkwheel says the shape of a cube inspired him to develop his new wheel for skateboards. Rather than the hard angles of a cube, the wheel actually uses sine waves, or smooth, repetitive curves, in its structure. You can read about the rationale and potential perks of the wheel's shape (less contact, less rolling resistance, increased control) on Sharkwheel's tech page.

It's not clear yet what the measured effects of the wheel's shape are – does the wheel require fewer energy inputs to roll faster? – but it's interesting to think about how the invention might be applied in other ways, or how it might inspire others to rethink the wheel. Wheels are not only important in transportation, they appear in manufacturing, building parts, small equipment, and more. Shape matters, even in instances where we thought it would never change.

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Resource Fix: Competitors working together for big advances in resource performance

Developing new, more efficient car transmissions can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. So, while advancing this technology would improve a company’s competitive advantage, the work may be financially out of reach for one company to do alone. That’s why General Motors and Ford are teaming up to build fuel-saving 9- and 10-speed automatic transmissions.

According to GM,”The collaboration enables both automakers to design, develop, engineer, test, validate and deliver these new transmissions for their vehicles faster and at lower cost than if each company worked independently.” The more efficient transmissions will also help both companies meet fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions standards in the U.S. and abroad. In addition, the transmission hardware will be identical in the two companies’ vehicles, which could lead to more resource savings in manufacturing and storing replacement parts.

Although Ford and GM are fierce competitors, they’re pooling resources to improve resource performance in automobiles. When should competitors find common ground to work toward technology that benefits the companies and potentially an entire industry?

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Resource Fix: Cooling without air conditioners

When it comes to keeping buildings cool in warm climates when the sun is shining, the standard solution has been mechanical air conditioners. In fact, the development of artificial cooling for buildings has enabled people to live and work in more extreme climates. Today, the amount of energy used for cooling is climbing steadily. Rather than making air conditioners more efficient to reduce energy consumption, what if there was a different way to cool a building?

Engineers at Stanford have developed a cooling panel that could cool buildings and even cars when the sun is shining. The panel incorporates nanostructured materials to reflect sunlight and effectively radiate heat back into space. It’s a simple structure with no moving parts and does not require power to operate.

The new device is capable of achieving a net cooling power in excess of 100 watts per square meter. By comparison, today’s standard 10-percent-efficient solar panels generate the about the same amount of power. That means Fan’s radiative cooling panels could theoretically be substituted on rooftops where existing solar panels feed electricity to air conditioning systems needed to cool the building. To put it a different way, a typical one-story, single-family house with just 10 percent of its roof covered by radiative cooling panels could offset 35 percent its entire air conditioning needs during the hottest hours of the summer.

When these innovators approached the issue of cooling, they set aside the notion of air conditioning as we’ve come to think of it and found a different way to deliver a benefit people need with fewer resources. Their solution will look nothing like air conditioners on the market today. What other products are ripe for a similar transformation?

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