Future tents

It wasn’t easy to pick out the innovations this week that might have the biggest impact on our future. Should it be the washing machine that uses 90 percent less water or Herschel, the space telescope that’ll help us look into the Universe’s past?


It wasn’t easy to pick out the innovations this week that might have the biggest impact on our future. Should it be the washing machine that uses 90 percent less water? Perhaps it should be Herschel, the space telescope that’ll help us look into the Universe’s past, which took its first pictures this week? But with the sun beating down on us and the Glastonbury Festival just getting into its swing, it seemed appropriate to pick out something seasonal as well as innovative.


Orange’s futuristic glowing tent is only a concept at the moment (much to our disappointment) but it embodies some technologies that we think could have a big impact. Speaking as a sometime festival-goer, it’s perhaps flashier than is sensible —you don’t want to advertise the presence of expensive kit too obviously. But the RFID-enabled night-time glow is an idea of genius, as finding your tent in the dark is notoriously tricky. If they were really clever, they’d make the guy ropes light up as well.


The photovoltaic fabric that makes up the tent’s upper panels is, as far as we know, still on the drawing-board, but it’s a natural for anyone out and about and using electronic gizmos. The defense industry is almost certainly sniffing around this technology, to see whether solar fabric battledress can generate enough power to keep an infantryman’s gadgetry up and running. But even if the output is low, it should be able to scrape together enough juice to power a GPS beacon. Outdoorsy types, particularly those whose hobbies take them up mountains and other remote locations, could well be tempted by technical clothing incorporating such solar-powered safety features; it’d bump up the cost, certainly, but that extra degree of safety insurance could be invaluable.


But the thing that caught my eye most about the tent is how it uses the power that solar fabric generates — it incorporates an inductive charging loop to keep mobile phones, camera and so on charged up without any need to plug them in. Now there’s an idea that dates back to the early days of electricity and the work of the maverick visonary Nikolai Tesla, who imagined huge towers pumping out electricity wirelessly across continents. This is much smaller-scale, of course, but it could have a much wider effect than bringing camping into the 21st century.


We’ve written before about the problems of charging up electric cars; the government’s plans for a huge increase in the number of plug-in vehicles are all very well, but only if you’ve got convenient off-road parking. If I were to plug my car in overnight, I’d have an extension cable trailing across the pavement, which wouldn’t please anyone walking down my road. But tests are already underway of inductive charging systems, which could solve that problem completely.


Imagine if every house had an induction coil by the pavement outside the front door, or under the driveway, or set into the floor of the garage. Car parks could have bays equipped with them, as well. With current technology, you could charge up a battery inductively with a 9cm air-gap between the coil and the battery terminals: that’s not unfeasible, even with current car designs. There wouldn’t be any issue over trailing cables, what happens if they get unplugged, or vandalism to charging posts: it would just be part of the services to the house, and we’d probably take it just as much for granted as our phone lines. There is a question of what sort of current would need to be flowing to make the system feasible and, of course, the road would have to be dug up, but surely we’re all used to that by now.


Back at Glastonbury, however, there are a few more innovations that could be handy. An effective set of ear-plugs, to keep out the noise of late-night revellers, canoodling couples, drunken rows and that person, somewhere, who snores as loudly as a hammer-drill. A less squalid, more hygienic and definitely more fragrant temporary toilet would be good. And if the weather forecast is anything to go by, something, anything, to stop it raining.



Stuart Nathan
Special Projects Editor
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Watching Glasto on telly this year)



Spotted an inconsistency in our logic? Have we missed any other potential world-changing technologies in our news coverage? Let us know via the comments box.