Friday, October 23, 2009

A "Simple" Matter of Power

Steam locomotives are really cool. Everything about this tech is large, useful and, in an odd way, romantic as it harkens back to a simpler age where wood or coal would act as agent to boil water to drive a massive system at speed. In looking at this, I realized how power impacts the acceleration of tech in profound ways.

For example, smart phones are growing like fungus with new capabilities being added on at a furious pace as seen by the upcoming Droid phone coming from Motorola and a prime reason for this, along with the connectivity of the web and the transparency of data, centers on the low power requirements of said device(s).

When power requirements become large, the double exponential advancement of tech breaks down, not because of data transparency needed to design something in a computer but rather building something able to do the job in the real world reliably and at costs acceptable to the consumer.

To whit, consider batteries powering the electric car. Because the power requirements are intense, developing this tech is really hard because not only must said battery be small and light enough to go into a car but also it has to be cheap, reliable and have enough juice for at least 300-500 miles while possessing fast recharging times and environmentally friendly recycling capability. No doubt viable tech will eventually come (IBM?) but when it comes and at what cost is a matter of great concern for the companies developing this hardware. The same issue of power applies to solar as well because low power requirements are relatively easy to solve but not the kind of power needed to run a city or a server farm driven by the likes of Google or Microsoft.

"Microsoft has been the most open - it recently broke ground on a 1.4-million-square-foot campus in Quincy, Wash., close to hydroelectric power. Company officials acknowledge that centers in the South and Europe will come afterward."

"Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world. " - Archimedes

The "law of unintended consequences"...states that any purposeful action will produce some unanticipated or unintended consequences.

Addendum: Here's a blurb about Zinc-Air batteries. Tech looks good, could replace Lithium-Ion but the power equation still applies..."The zinc-air battery for hearing aids will be available next year. The battery for electric vehicles is still some years away from mass marketing."

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