Category Archives: solar

SXSW Interactive: Can design change the way we think about healthcare delivery?

Can we use the creativity and rigors of the design process to change how we deliver health care?  After a week of SXSW Interactive, I’d say yes, it makes sense and certainly couldn’t hurt. After over a decade seeing two parents through the Kafka-esque twists and turns of the health care system, I consider the American approach to delivering medical (and elder-) care on par with Chinese water torture, only more expensive.

Pauline van Dongen's solar-paneled dress prompts us to re-examine why we wear clothing. Why not apply that same thinking to health care?

Pauline van Dongen’s solar-paneled dress prompts us to re-examine why we wear clothing. Why not apply that same thinking to health care?

Here in Austin, The University of Texas announced a radical-sounding partnership between the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas Dept. of Art called The Design Institute for Health. The newly-formed group, led by two veterans from IDEO, the design firm famous for its longstanding relationship with Apple, are part of a push to figure out how to deliver community-based health care funded based on the “value it creates.”  The medical school’s charismatic dean, Dr. Clay Johnston, is inviting hospitals, doctors, nonprofits and the community as a whole to help re-think what the farm animals in the movie “Babe called “the way things are.”  I can’t imagine many things more challenging, or exciting.

If you have any doubts about the mind-unleashing power of design, I refer you to Paola Antonelli’s SXSW keynote, “Curious Bridges: How Designers Grow the Future.”  Antonelli, the curator of architecture for the Museum of Modern Art, guides us through a series of examples of design that provokes us to re-think the “way things are.”  Examples include a belt that simulates menstruation (to, one presumes, produce empathy in the opposite sex) and wearable clothing made with 3D printers that simulates the body’s movement created by Pauline van Dongen, who wore a sweater made of flattened solar cells during her session later that day. Think about it, technology-based clothing that’s comfortable, practical and adaptable.

Design was the subtext of a fascinating but sparsely-attended talk by Eric Topol’s called “Democratizing Health Care.” Here is a doctor, researcher and (I have to assume) AMA member, who understands that people want healthcare to be simple, affordable and effective. After opening his talk by citing medication errors as the fourth cause of death in the United States, Topol showed a portfolio of on-demand tools — a wrist band to detect seizures, an app to measure arrhythmia, or using a smartphone to digitize the heart — technology moving at the pace of Moore’s Law to troubleshoot, coordinate and identify illness — without causing the patient to go broke or die.  I don’t think any of the devices Dr. Topol showed were ready for prime time, but they they — or improved versions — will be, and they will advance the revolution.

Why not?  If we can cast off stilettos and create sympathy for PMS, why not re-think health care as a human service for real people?

University student-designed solar cars show a path to the future

Finding myself fretting about the future of mockingbirds in a changing climate, I ventured over to the Circuit of the Americas to see what the American Solar Challenge was all about.

University students, these from Michigan State, use competition to learn more about solar.

University students, these from Michigan State, use competition to learn more about solar.

The weather had thrown a curveball, or to race aficionados, a chicane.  It was overcast and about 20 degrees cooler than your average July day in Texas.  No sun at a solar race makes for  a very slow pace.  But the crowd at the giant F1 track was coping gamely with long gaps between competitors. Student observers suspended high above the track were doing chin-ups in their  cages, on the lookout for approaching cars.  Enthusiasm remained high.

I wandered over to an open garage (pit?) to talk with the Michigan State team, which was engaged in some show-and-tell. Although they’d been disqualified, you’d never know it. “Don’t touch the arrays,” they patiently reminded the children who wanted to figure it all out by feel.

“It’s all about learning,” said Sean, a soon-to-be junior.  “Winning is icing on the cake, but it’s what you learn. We can’t wait til next year.”

I was curious how the team worked together.  Sean said they just figured out how to collaborate, but needed to do more of it.  “We need more ideas.”  A teammate chimed in, “Yeah, if you don’t have ideas, you’re frozen in place.”

Next year they plan to use a lighter material for the frame (it’s steel) and four- instead of a three-wheel design.  I don’t see these young people frozen in place. The team is losing three seniors to PhD. programs – Stanford and Michigan State.

We’re banking on these young people and those lucky enough to be like them.  We need the keys to trapping and commercializing photovoltaic energy; fortunately, the world seems to be kneeling at their feet.  Flash notice: The Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge will be held on an F1 track in January 2015, with financial support and partnerships available on a first-come, first-serve basis for 20-25 qualified university teams.

In the meantime, I’m channeling their attitude – about learning, failing and engaging.  I hope that’s the future.