By Craig and Marc Kielburger
Our world doesn't look much like the ones envisioned in sci-fi flicks like Star Trek or Back to the Future, let alone the latest installment of Star Wars. Kids aren't buzzing around on flying skateboards, and we aren't dueling with light sabers.
But who needs movies when real-world innovations are way cooler -- especially the ones poised to radically transform humanity's eco footprint.
Here are six recent game-changers that have grabbed our interest, and promise to transform the globe.
1. The radical rooftop
At age 12, lying in bed listening to rain on the roof, young inventor Raymond Wang thought about a magazine article he'd read for interest on "piezoelectric" materials. When compressed, these ceramic or crystalline substances convert motion into electrical current. Using that knowledge, the junior genius from Vancouver invented a roof tile that turns the impact of raindrops, even wind, into useable electricity.
Now 18, Raymond wants to create a rooftop that can provide up to 50 per cent of an average household's electricity needs.
2. The power tile
Over the pond, Laurence Kemball-Cook, a 29-year-old British inventor, has created an indoor-outdoor floor tile that generates electricity when people walk on it.
In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a soccer field now features 200 of Kemball-Cook's tiles, topped with artificial turf. The pounding feet of players generates enough power, stored in batteries, to run the stadium's floodlights for night games.
3. The new window of opportunity
The field of solar energy is advancing so fast it's hard to keep up with new innovations. Michigan State University researchers have created transparent solar panels, raising the possibility that every window in your house could someday become a power station.
Scott and Julie Brusaw, both engineers in Idaho, devised an impact-resistant glass solar tile that's strong enough to pave roadways. Self-powered streets and parking lots could light up at night with built-in LEDs, warm up to clear snow and ice, and even power recharging stations for electric cars.
The Brusaws are fundraising to begin large-scale production. Meanwhile, the city of Amsterdam is test-driving a similar technology produced by Dutch company SolaRoad, on a 70-metre stretch of bicycle path.
4. The world's biggest air-freshener
Climate change has reached a point where it's no longer just about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but scrubbing away the emissions already in our atmosphere.
A Calgary company, Carbon Engineering, studied how trees capture carbon dioxide and convert it into oxygen. It then invented a device that sucks in air and runs it through carbon-absorbing liquid. A single prototype unit captures about 14 cars' worth of carbon in our air every day.
Carbon Engineering envisions hundreds of these units mounted together in massive "wind walls" that could be installed in areas like deserts. Each wall would remove a whopping 300,000 cars' worth of carbon emissions each year.
As a side benefit, the pure carbon captured can then be converted back into low-emissions fuel.
5. The high-tech home eco-nomist
We'd love to have the "learning thermostats" from Google's Nest Labs installed in our homes. Their ability to sense when the house is occupied and adapt to our changing schedules would help us reduce our energy use, not to mention save us money on heating bills.
6. The bling that gives feedback
Try on the WorldBeing wristband, from UK designer Benjamin Hubert and the environmental non-profit, Carbon Trust. The latest in wearable tech, the wristband works with a smart phone app to track your carbon footprint: what you had for breakfast, how far you drove the car, even what you bought in a store.
The app gives daily challenges and targets to reduce your eco-impact, and a display screen shows you minute by minute how much of an impact you're having in saving planet Earth.
Hollywood can keep its spherical droids and robot-manned gas stations. We'll check our eco progress on smart apps, while listening to the gentle sound of rain generating electricity on the rooftop.
Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded a platform for social change that includes the international charity, Free The Children, the social enterprise, Me to We, and the youth empowerment movement, We Day. Visit we.org for more information.
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