People, technology and life

Category: Innovatie (Page 1 of 2)

Reshaping our cities into fluid communities embracing change

dsc00043I just came across the Oil City Aftermath. A short video on the story of a small city that became huge in oil and then fell apart as the oil companies left. I have seen the effects with my own eyes and even back in 2001 did some street photography there to document the demise when I visited my friends there.

To me, the story of Oil City is one of many towns and cities and one that will be repeated over and over in the near future. With the rise of automation in jobs and daily life, this is closer to us than we think. And we need to step up to rethink who we are and what we are as cities. I think Judith Etzel formulates it very well in this video when she says: “This is what can happen to a community if you don’t diversify, if you are not open to new ideas, if you can’t think outside the box, if you can’t be innovative.”

That is why we need to step up. We need to rethink cities as set entities, but regard them as fluid. And as water takes different routes to get somewhere, the flow of jobs, income, identity, relationships and everything that shapes a city needs to change course continually. We need to be ready for that, now and in our near future, because so much is changing. Look at retail, look at care, look at the upscaling of businesses, look at automation, at the sharing economy, at augmented and virtual reality. These are things that are going to shape our future if we don’t shape our future to incorporate these things to serve us.

Nobody wants cities to decline, retail areas to be empty and businesses to close. But it is up to us to reshape our cities into vibrant communities where we embrace change, where we work with it to improve our standards of living as a community. But we need to do that now and we need to do that continually.

Oil City Aftermath from Danny Yarnell on Vimeo.

Waarom moet Nederland groeien door te volgen?

Ik snap het niet. Of ja, ik snap het wel. (De financiële wereld ligt natuurlijk ook het dichtst bij de belevingswereld van Minister Dijsselbloem.) Maar als het hele startup Delta plan zo met pensioen gaat met Neelie Kroes, dan heeft Dijsselbloem nu blijkbaar besloten dat Nederland zich op fintech moet storten. Het artikel zegt ook: “Vooral de Verenigde Staten, het Verenigd Koninkrijk en China lopen voorop.” Dus kiezen we als Nederland weer enthousiast de achterstandspositie. Wij moeten als fintech land achter de grote jongens aan, want het bancaire verkeer is belangrijk voor ons. En dat moet gestimuleerd gaan worden met maatregelen die ook niet bijster origineel zijn: “Vooral de bankvergunning light, afgekeken van de Britten, ziet hij als een kans.”

Ik kan me niet voorstellen dat de keuze, om een branche te kiezen waarin anderen al voorlopen, er toe gaat leiden dat Nederland daarin toonaangevend gaat worden in de wereld. Maar misschien ben ik op dat vlak te pessimistisch… Volgens mij kunnen we beter iets pakken waar we goed en uniek in zijn. Dan kunnen we daarop een goede toekomst bouwen. Waar is de logistiek bijvoorbeeld? Waar zijn de bloemen, het water, de handel? Waar zijn de segmenten waarin nog weinig gebeurt, zoals de circulaire economie?

Ik heb altijd geleerd dat als je wilt leiden, je beter het voortouw kunt nemen. Als je vanuit de achterhoede moet komen, dan moet je wel met hele grote innovaties komen om de koplopers voorbij te streven. Nou hebben we wel heel veel innovatiekracht in Nederland, maar ik zou toch liever in de voorhoede starten dan de rest te volgen.

(Naar aanleiding van een artikel bij RTLZ nieuws.)

Reading up on the taxi protests has made me wonder whether any of them ever downloaded music

Though you might find this a strange title, please bear with me. Since the launch of Uber, I have been following the company with interest. I love the service. If I am somewhere where I need a taxi, I will first check if there is an Uber available. Why? Not necessarily because of the service itself, but because of the way it fits me.

I like things to be easy for me. I dislike standing in the streets of Paris at night and having to wave my arms off to get a taxi to stop, only to almost experience a case of involuntary kamikaze. Ok, granted, there are many great taxi drivers. Honest. But I like the convenience of a service that I can call wherever I am, that comes to me and that allows me to pay regardless of whether I am carrying cash. And that has changed the way I use taxi’s.

Great. But how about those protests? Are they stupid? Not really. In a way I can see their point. But then again, I cannot. After all, the world is changing. Technology has given us opportunities to do things in ways we had never thought possible 10 years ago. In 2009 I sat at a dinner with the CEO of a large newspaper who was complaining about newspaper sales going down. I asked him why he was surprised. After all, newspapers and their business models have been around since around the 12th century. It was bound to change someday. A couple of months later, I was at a table with several Swiss bankers that assured me that the world would always need banks. Naturally, I showed them that there were initiatives around that could make them completely obsolete.

Times are changing. Business models are changing and the expectations of our customers change faster than most of our businesses can. After all, the taxi licensing system cannot just be scrapped overnight. However, both the taxi drivers as well as the governments need to be prepared to consider doing just that. And I know that that is going to be hard. But creating a way to keep your business profitable against the expectations of your customers is not going to work for long. After all, how many of those artists will have benefitted from (il)legal downloading of songs? Not too long ago they only expected to be purchasing full albums at record stores. And if I may remind you, many of those have had to close. I never saw those on strike either. Not that anyone would have noticed.

The whole idea here is to move on. Yes, you are in an old profession that has cost you a large investment, but what are the earnings in the future? If the only way you can earn money is through the protection of your industry, I am sorry, but you have lost already.

The ultimate use for Google Glass, the Age of Context and Ikea

Screen Shot 2013-08-30 at 10.53.12Google Glass has been the first to move information from your pocket to your line of sight. There are two sides to that story and you can love it or hate it. Regardless of your opinion of Google Glass, fact is that this kind of technology will probably be the next generation of wearable technology that will be finding its way into your life in the coming ten years. The reason for this, is that it is just much more convenient to look into the right top corner of your eye, instead of reaching into your pocket. And in turn, due to the fact that Google Glass is always on your head (note: I did not say that Google Glass is always ON), you allow it to relate to everything around you much easier. That is the Age of context. (Yes, Robert Scoble and Shel Israel are writing a book on the subject.)

Anyway, because Google Glass is so much more aware of your surroundings, it is in a completely different league when you are talking about providing useful information when you need it. No longer will you have to look for information on a detached box. Google Glass will develop further, so it can ‘sense’ your surroundings and answer your questions. That might all sound very sci-fi and that probably is true. On the other hand, it is a lot closer than you might thing. And that was a thought that crossed my mind when I looked at a picture from Daphne Channa Horn today.

Why is that picture relevant for me? Not because she was trying to navigate to her destination using Google Glass. That was nice, but that is something that has been done before. No, the picture triggered me because she was at Ikea. And we all know what Ikea stands for. And I don’t mean great furniture for good prices. I mean that for many people, Ikea stands for evenings of frustration trying to figure out how to mend your relationship after the assembly of that great looking cupboard failed. Enter Google Glass. Finally, you can assemble your cupboard without screaming, yelling or delays. I can see people pay good money for the Google Glass Ikea app. With a simple “Go Glass, build Billy” it will take stock of all the parts you have laid out on the floor. As you look around the room, it will identify the pieces one by one and point you to the right boards and the right screws at the right time. Who needs to 3D print a cupboard at home when we are finally able to assemble our own flat packed furniture?

Ok, granted, some of you might be better at flat packed furniture than I just gave you credit for. But there is a huge market out there to provide real interactive manuals to get things done by using tools like Google Glass. And I am excited about this. You can now fix things yourself. You might even have a professional looking over your shoulder as you do it to give you directions like the surgeon operating via the internet. The possibilities are endless.

What would you like Google Glass to assist you with?

2013 – great opportunities

2012-timetochangeYes, 2013 has finally rolled around. It has taken a year, but here it is. So, this is the best time to wish all of you a great 2013 in which you can fulfill your dreams and chase even bigger ones. The year in which your startup will succeed beyond your expectations. And the year in which you will learn you can be more than you have ever imagined before.

I believe 2013 is a year of endless possibilities. You might think that most of the big successes have been achieved, but I strongly disagree. Yes, Facebook is a huge network and it is going to be hard to take over that position. But nothing is impossible. That is why I would like to share my list of areas in which you can be very successful in the coming year and change the world.

  1. Automotive
    Lets just be honest. Since the invention of the car, not much has changed. I know you will all attack me on this statement, but hear me out. Since the invention of the car, the moment we started moving was the moment our ‘regular’ life stopped and life on the road started. Yes, we have mobile phones in our cars these days, so we can connect to others outside our mobile environments. But there are so many opportunities that are still left open. And just fitting a tablet with 3G to your dashboard is not going to nail it. I believe there is a huge market to make our time on the road more and more part of our ongoing life without restrictions. Waze has started something, but that only allows interaction while navigating. I believe that one of the biggest shakeups in social networks will come through a service that allows me to be as connected on the road as I am at my house or my office. And that will do that in a way that allows me to still be fully concentrated on driving or riding.
  2. Television and performing arts
    In 2012 we have heard a lot of talk about second screens. Allowing you to discuss what you see with countless others that you might or might not know is a step towards building television to be a better experience. However, there is so much more. I am really looking forward to the first creators that understand that even though people are sitting in front of their ‘box’ to be entertained, they are still willing and able to participate. And yes, this goes beyond voting for the next one to leave the show. The same goes for performing arts artists. There has been much talk about how people are becoming less interested in theatre and smaller shows. Big movies and big musical productions still seem to be doing well, but there is so much more to be had in this sphere than the regular sit down and shut up mentality. I am looking forward to startups that are going to be tackling this approach to make full interaction a much easier possibility for these parties.
  3. Financials
    Yes, I can now use an app to wire my money to someone. Really, is this the amount of innovation we were waiting for? I believe there is more. After all, there is much more to my money than ‘parking’ it at a bank. I believe there is a huge opportunity for startups that help us use our money in a positive way again. Perhaps even leaving the complete current banking system behind. After all, so far, banking seems to be about putting money somewhere you trust and having the expectation that you can retrieve it at any time. Perhaps with a bit of profit (interest) if we are really lucky. But is that the end of it all? Back in 2009 I talked to bankers and explained to them that I did not see a reason for regular banks to be very successful anymore. Why? Because I can  get all the services they offer at other -online- provides. Whether it is making payments, storing money for later use (saving), lending money for large purchases or investments or lending others money to multiply it. The only factor that seems to keep the banks in place is legislation. But I believe that there are great opportunities out there that allow me to do more with my money and have more fun and effect from it than I currently can. And in ways that allow me to relate to my money and my opportunities in a more social framework.
  4. Video
    Every phone now has a decent camera. Every laptop has a webcam. And we are watching more online video now than we have ever done before. I know video is a challenging place to be. Some people feel uncomfortable making a video, but I believe there are many opportunities for us still to be explored. I believe video will become a much more important factor in every day life in the near future than we can imagine right now. There still are countless opportunities for video interaction whether real time or not. Video is an avenue that has only been explored as far as we dared to go. And nobody really saw it fit to travel further than the properties that we already knew. Obviously Loïc Le Meur‘s Seesmic started out as a video commenting system and failed to get that off the ground. But that almost seems to have been the most interactive mainstream video startup attempt yet. So, there is a lot of room there for improvement.
  5. Health
    As we are all becoming more and more obsessed with our health, there are great opportunities there as well. Obviously there already are great apps out there that help you loose weight, get fit, run a marathon or outrun zombies. (Sorry.) But there is a multi, multi, multi billion dollar health industry out there that spans the whole wide world. And that is an industry that scares all the governments all around the world as everyone sees the cost of health care rise beyond understanding because of people getting older and older. It is one of the biggest budget challenges that governments have at the moment. And we could make it a lot cheaper if we were able to integrate all our modern technology into tracking your current health, predicting possible problems and offering preventive treatment.

Just five rough areas in which I think there are huge opportunities that I hope to see startups get into in 2013. However, this list is not complete without mentioning context. I know Robert Scoble and Shel Israel are writing a book on the subject and rightly so in my opinion. It is time that we all realize that whatever we build should not be functioning in a vacuum. It should look at the environment in which it is used and pull in information from that environment to make your experience better. Google Glass and Oakley’s Airwave are interesting examples of how external information is combined with digital services to turn whatever you are doing into a much better and much more complete experience. Five years ago, I talked to one of the founders of Layar who told me that “if you are building anything that you are not putting a geotag on, you will be obsolete soon”. His idea about this might not have become reality in the way they had expected, but there are so many outside factors that we are able to combine with services now, that we have to conclude that using context in the right way is going to be changing our online experience completely once again.

So, how can these tips help you beat Facebook? In reality, every single one of them might trigger a revolution that is bigger than Facebook is. Remember, Facebook has only been around eight years and pushed other huge players off the market. Any of these factors, whether it is our mobile life, our entertainment experience, the way we interact through video, how we ‘play’ with our money or how we work with our health can change the way in which we interact with others completely. If the experience is different enough, the social experience is awesome enough and the vision users catch while using it is one they love, it will overtake current day networks. The only thing you need to be able to do is to see beyond the canvas that is there at the moment. See beyond the timeline, beyond the folders and albums that make up social networks. See the people, see their goals and loves. See what motivates them beyond the visible. And you can be on to a winner for 2013.

We need to inspire to get people to solve problems

I love people. I love how the internet has enabled us to connect to people in ways we could not imagine 20 years ago. I love the people I have become friends with through the internet, through social networks and through internet conferences. I am enthusiastic about startups. I enjoy seeing people follow their dreams and building startups that make a difference in the world. However, there is a problem. More and more, I meet people who want to get into the internet world to make quick money. They are internet specialists, social media experts or they start a quick startup with the sole purpose of becoming an overnight billionaire after an Instagram-style exit.

What are the posters you had on your wall when you were a kid? What were your dreams about? It seems to me that we are bringing up a new generation on a money-infused diet of social network founders, rock stars and television personalities. With a purpose of making as much money as quickly as you can, to then be able to do whatever you want. And to be honest, that is bad news for the world we live in. After all, the internet is not a problem that we need to solve.

What we do need to solve are problems on a much bigger scale. Things like feeding more and more people in a much better way. Finding solutions for society to live as comfortably while using fewer resources. Lifting worldwide healthcare to a very high standard, while bringing down its cost. Bringing pollution levels down and addressing worldwide environmental issues. That is what will allow us to breathe, eat and sleep every day.

To achieve that, we need people with a vision for all kinds of engineering. People that can ignore the boxes that we have been in and start fresh. Personally, I feel that we need to inspire our younger generations not just to code. We need to inspire them to explore the marvels that engineering can offer them. Not to fit into the major engineering firms of the world, but to start anew. To build new companies that do things that we thought were impossible before. Things that solve problems.

I have always loved cars and speed. Which means that I have also always loved Land Speed Racing. No, land speed racing will not solve the problems in the world. But a poster of the technology behind a land speed racer on the wall of a child, might urge them into engineering and then trigger them to move on to the greater problems of the world. I used to have a plot of the Space Shuttle on my wall. And chassis drawings of desert machinery. Just because I was awestruck by the design and engineering that went into them.

There are new pioneers in this world that are there to inspire others with their engineering projects. About a year ago, I wrote about Solar Impulse. The plane that has now been around the world in various legs. I loved how Bertrand Piccard told me that it is not about the plane, it is about starting a movement and inspiring people to think beyond current conventions. Watch the interview here.
Yesterday, when catching up with land speed racing efforts, I came across Bloodhound SSC. And I agree with what Richard Noble is saying in a video of Bloodhound SSC, his latest attempt of breaking the land speed record and lifting it to 1000Mph. It is not there as a personal toy, it is there to inspire others.

Thanks Bertrand and Richard. I’ll be thinking about what I can do. And you?

We need to explore again

As I returned to IRC today for the first time in at least six years, it struck me. Back in 1994 I was on a unix terminal and I used the internet for at least six to eight hours a day. My phone bills were astronomical. But everything was new. Everything was exciting. The internet, though in black and white and text only in Lynx, was this huge new universe that spanned the earth and had an unsaturable urge to grow into all possible directions. Back in 1995 I blagged my way into one of the Netherlands biggest mail order furniture retailers and sat across their marketing director explaining him why they needed to take their business online. Needless to say that he thought I was a lunatic and that people would never buy their couch online. They went bankrupt last year.

Five years ago I joined Twitter. I found that same kind of people. They were enthusiastic, eager to break the barriers. They saw opportunity everywhere. Nothing was too crazy. They were looking for the edge. The next direction of growth. New things were started daily.

And today? Today the internet has become a common good. And we notice. Everything seems to be smothered in marketing. Money and opportunities to make money seem to rule the sentiments online. Where are the modern day explorers? It is not like the internet has stopped expanding. It is not like there is nothing new on the horizon. And I strongly believe that there are many things beyond the horizon that will change our world forever.

As a kid, I read about the great explorers. And now it is time to get on that horse again. There is more out there. Way more. The only thing that is keeping us from progressing further is the comfort of the city that we have built around us. And it is time we find our way back to where we can enter the jungle from our paved roads and mirror glass buildings. It is time to go.

Ikea into TV’s, what’s next?

My grandparents had one of these... Or...

No, I am not an Ikea man. Even though we do own a remarkably uncluttered Ikea TV unit. But I have got to hand it to them, this is a cool step for Ikea to take. They are integrating the smart TV into their furniture. Remember how television producers from the early days did the same thing? They had to repackage TV’s because they were huge, unpractical and they took up a lot of space in your living room. So they created cupboards around them. The TV really became a TV unit. I bet you remember one of your great grandparents had one of those. And now it is back. But the other way around. Technology is becoming so small, that it is becoming unobtrusive in your living room. So, you can now integrate media into your furniture because you want the furniture. Not necessarily the TV.

Naturally, I wonder why they included a remote with it. Why can’t I just control it with my smartphone or tablet. And I wonder why they included a blue ray player like they did. Surely they must have been able to fit that into the TV as well. On the other hand, I like the fabrik that the remote control commands go straight through. And most of all, it leaves me to wonder what is going to be next. Will Ikea supplement the Uppleva with cupboards with speakers so you can create a 5.1 or even 7.1 wireless surround system? Just to hide speakers and still give you the experience and the storage in your living room. Or are they going to integrate juice bars for your phones and tablets into couches and coffee tables? There are endless possibilities now that technology is so easily available and cheap to include.

So, good start. Now go on Ikea, be more disruptive than your flat pack furniture made you before. 😉

2012 – the year the story died and life took over

Picture courtesy of Google Streetview

I am a story teller. I love to tell stories and I explain lots of things through simple stories when I speak in front of audiences. I believe in brands, organizations, people and things that tell stories. I really do. But big changes are ahead. And those changes are going to hit using the story for your marketing more than anything else.

Why? Marketing stories are usually great constructed tales that involve product, emotion and something that makes them almost personal. Something that allowed the masses to relate to them in one way or another. And as a marketeer you could bring that story to your audience where they were in their masses. So, you would determine your target audience, pick a place where they were most likely to see you and you would tell/display your story there. Nice. But not good enough in 2012.

Will stories not work in 2012? Of course they will. Will you not reach that audience anymore? Of course you will. But much more effective ways are coming. And they are coming soon. What can be more effective? Telling the story on a direct and personal level. Tailoring it to the interests and enthusiasm of the individual in your audience, that will connect them to you more and give something back to them. Whether in connections, in experience, in exclusivity or in something that touches their personal interests. As social media are becoming more and more integrated into everything we do, the reach of the general story becomes smaller and smaller. However, the personal story is getting bigger and bigger. And as people are connected to their niche interests, their valuation of what you give them will reach many in their niche community. Impact changes. And as a brand/organization, you need to determine what your next move is going to be. Are you going to be sponsoring the next X thousand people event for €100.000? Or are you going to be splitting up the budget to do separate events that touch your audience directly and allow them to share your awesomeness with their networks? Because you can. You can make it far more interesting than a huge event can be. And you will make a better conversion.

2012 will see new technology to make this even easier. Google+ already launched group hangouts in December. Video meetings by several people, or even several locations, that can be watched live by your audience, but can also be recorded and published on YouTube. As social networks integrate more and more with all our communications, it will be easier to stay in touch with everyone and everything. But more conscious personal filtering by your audience (new tools are released every day) makes sure that if you are not SUPER relevant, they will not notice you. They won’t tune out of your story, they will never have seen it in the first place.

So, for 2012, make this new years’ resolution: I will be personal, relevant and I will reach my audience on an individual level, to have the biggest impact I can ever have.

Have a great year!

Meet StartupBus Europe!

Yes, we are getting ready to leave. On Sunday morning, StartupBus Europe will hit the road and we will not stop until we have launched some great startups. And you can be part of the experience.

To start off, Startupbootcamp and Atlassian are sponsoring the launch party in Amsterdam on Saturday the 3rd of December. If you are in Amsterdam, register tonight to be part of the first StartupBus Europe party.

On Sunday morning everyone is welcome to wave us goodbye as we board the bus in front of the Hotel Victoria in Amsterdam. (Across from Central station.) No reservations are needed. 😉

On Sunday night Startupbootcamp will be hosting us in Copenhagen. We will have drinks, a pitch competition and plenty of time to network with fellow entrepreneurs. Register here!

On Monday afternoon Startupbootcamp will be hosting a startup lunch for us in Berlin around 2pm. Details will come shortly and so will the possibility to register. More pitching and more competition.

On Tuesday morning we will be welcomed to Google’s European headquarters in Zurich for breakfast, a tour and more pitching competitions. If you want to be part of this, please register quickly as the number of places is limited. But it will be a great experience.

If you are at LeWeb, StartupBus Europe will be there as well. You can meet us at the conference, but you can also meet us at the bus. We can show you around and your can meet our startups, get demo’s or offer your investment money to your favorite startup. FInd us at LeWeb!

Where do I want to go? – About individual transportation

This morning, I am typing this on a bench at a train station while I am waiting for my connection. I have a place where I want to go, but there are no straight trains to get there, nor has getting there been fundamentally changed over the past fifty years. Or even longer. Let’s face it, the last great boost in technology for public transport came when we traded steam for electricity or diesel for areas where they couldn’t be bothered to put the wiring in. And in the meantime, we are sitting in traffic jams with all their negative side effects. Something is wrong here.

I know I am probably not the first one to say this, but where are the personal transportation pods? The Netherlands is reasonably covered in rails. Trains go to most of the country, and there are many well situated stations. But very often our train journey takes us along the route of the majority rather than suiting our personal needs. A transportation pod could solve a problem here. Today I am traveling from my home to a city about an hour and fifteen minutes away by car. The journey will take two hours by train. Most of that extra time is taken up by waiting to change trains. So what if we would change all of that?

Imagine I wake up in the morning and I decide where I need to go. The new train system allows me new choices. I choose to travel to my destination in a standard transportation pod. It is a small unit that can hold four people and their luggage that can be pre-reserved or taken from a station based on availability. The fare you pay depends on the way you book your pod. If you pre-reserve, you get immediate availability in a timeframe of 15 minutes around your chosen departure time. And you get a small discount on your trip. You also pay a pod price, that can be shared with your passengers by swiping a card or NFC enabled device within the pod. That way it will become cheaper and easier to provide group transportation for companies or for a day out with the family. The pod then runs along the rails of the train network at high speeds, being constantly guided by a local and central computer system. This takes you to your destination in almost the time as it takes to take your car. A good start.

Now look at it from a business perspective. It offers traditional train travellers the experience they are used to, but without the smelly neighbour. It also offers drivers the individual transport that they claim is their main reason to stand in traffic jams. You can offer multiple sized pods with four seats being the standard and other sizes designed to suit needs. A two seater pod for romantic outings or a twelve seater pod with alternative seating arrangements for meetings on the road. Hooligan pods that have nothing destructable in them, or festival pods that offer a place to pre-party with groups. And all these pods can be priced differently based on the needs of the client, subscriptions, time of day, distance and many other factors. And you can even decide on running very large pods, just like a current train, on busy routes at busy times offering travellers a significant discount for traveling in a group.

Are there no challenges? Yes, there are. Pod availability at stations will be a problem. However, travellers often wait fifteen minutes to get on their train now. Central storage locations at a maximum of fifteen minutes from a station could solve the availability problem for travellers that did not register a pod. However, special pods can only be reserved beforehand. A technical problem is the issue of passing at stations. At smaller stations there might only be two rails available allowing two way traffic. Another ‘parking rail’ ought to be installed so that passengers can easily get in and out of pods without stopping other traffic. And then there is the issue of level crossings. Personal transportation pods might be keeping the booms of the level crossing closed all the time due to their number and irregular schedules. From a business point of view, the biggest trouble lies in the investment. Individual transportation pods need to be built, old trains need to be scrapped and contracts to build new trains need to be cancelled. But the transition does not need to take much time. You can even allow for a bathroom or coffee break button in a pod, allowing new business at stations. And you could think of a million things you can do with a pod on the road when connected to wifi and social networks.

I honestly believe the individual transportation pod on rails has a future. But it’s main advantage is it’s main disadvantage. It is new and disrupts a business model public transportation firms have been using for decades. And obviously there will be problems I haven’t even considered. But I am sure there are ways to solve them without breaking the bank.

If dreams could fly…

Full Solar Glory - click the picture to see my Flickr gallery on Solar Impulse…they would fly on solar energy.

Last Monday I visited Solar Impulse at their hangar at the airport in Brussels. I could summarize the whole visit in one word: impressive. But, I won’t stop at that. It would not do it justice.

Walking up to the hangar I could feel a sense of anticipation within the small group that received the invitation for an exclusive visit to the plane. We had all seen the site, watched the landing in Brussels and followed Solar Impulse for a while. But nothing prepared us for the actual plane. It is huge. You can write about the wingspan as big as the Airbus A340, but if that huge A340 fuselage is not in between the wings, that makes for a completely different look. A look that is emphasized by the fuselage of the Solar Impulse that looks light and thin with a huge tail.

We were a privileged group. After taking some general pictures, we were invited ‘backstage’. We were so close we could have touched the plane. For me, this was a special moment. Not because you are on the other side of that line, but because behind the line, the sentiments were different. You could feel the excitement. You could feel the era of the early pioneers all over again. I believe this is the way you would have felt the excitement in the garage of the Wright brothers many years ago. Because that is the scale of the impact this project can have over time.

I believe in this project. Do I believe that we will all be flying in solar airplanes in, say, 20 years? No, I don’t. However, I believe that this project is one of the biggest steps in alternative power sources for transportation. If we look back into history, aviation and space technology have changed a lot for our cars and even our bikes. If we sit up and pay attention, this can do the same.

Solar Impulse is an inspiring project and even though one of its goals is to circumnavigate the world in 2014, their main goal is to inspire others. Unfortunately, that was where their display in Brussels fell short. When you see the plane from a distance, it is impressive, but you can also be deceived into thinking it is ‘just a plane’. Personally, I would advice them to create more of an experience around the technology that makes up the plane. It would not be hard to put a high-rise next to the plane, so you can see all of the 11628 solar cells instead of just seeing a little row before the curve of the wing. Also, it would be great to show the technology behind so many parts of the plane. Just put a huge styrofoam blok in the display for people to touch and lift up, so they can all feel how light the housings of the engines are. And a display case that shows the construction of the fuselage would be nice as well as it is mainly a sort of aluminum foil that is stretched onto a frame. Not to mention the fact that the wings do not have the solar cells stuck to them, but the solar cells are part of the actual construction. These are things that trigger people and make them understand that this plane is beyond what they have seen before. And it triggers that feeling of pioneering for a greater future.

Bertrand, if you read this, hat off to your efforts. I love it, but already knew I would after our interview in Paris at #LeWeb10. Elâ and Stephanie, thanks for hosting the visit. Sorry I couldn’t make the breakfast. I hope I can be part of the inspiration you want to give others through the blog and my suggestions. And naturally that also includes my suggestion to have Solar Impulse take a package on one of its next flights to make it the worlds’ first solar cargo plane as well.

May the project soar to unknown heights!

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