Tag Archives: solar


Ah, Vivien Muller! Is there anything you make that I won’t post? Above is Electree, his latest creation. It’s a purple Photonsynthese, and is being presented at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris on the occasion of the 1.618 sustainable luxury fair.

Limited to 1000 editions. Price €4950 (~ $6354).

I like it. I like the blue of Photonsynthese more though. Don’t like the price at all. More disturbingly, it’s just too derivative of his earlier work. It seems like the big change in this one is that it uses rare earth magnets instead of headphone jacks to mount the solar cells. Really, really don’t like that price.

Plantas Nómadas

Now this is nifty.

We Make Money, Not Art interviews, Gilberto Esparza about his Plantas Nómadas (Nomadic Plants), an autonomous walking robot that is powered by a combination of solar cells and a microbial fuel cell. When the fuel cell output drops beneath some threshold, the bot seeks out a water source, extends a proboscis and refills the fuel cell. Additional water is used nourish a colony of on board plants.

Gilberto’s earlier work is equally interesting. Parasitos Urbanos (Urban Parasites) (flashless site) was a series of robots inductively powered from electrical transmission lines that would move through the urban environment mimicking sounds they encounter.


Synthetic Plants

I’ve been thinking more about solar plants recently. I like how these projects combine both form and function. I’ve been thinking about what I’d like in one of these, and how one would be made. First, the power being collected by the solar cells needs to go somewhere. It could just feed back into the device, which is exactly what happens with plants, but part of me likes the idea of having the sculpture(?) have a practical use as well. If I want practicality, then USB ports for charging an iPod or a phone that I don’t have would be nice. At least one port, but four would be more than plenty. I’m leaning towards the solar cells charging some li-ion or nicad battery coupled with something like a Minty Boost.

The second feature I’ve been hammering the previous electronic plants I’ve looked at is the movement, specifically heliotropism (i.e. sun tracking). It’s an interesting feature, and it would increase the power to the photovoltaics. I don’t like the idea of the hearing servos move, so that means nitinol wires, which also have the quality of more closely resembling natural motion by simply expanding and contracting. The next question then becomes, what form would the motion would take?

If rigid photovoltaics are used, then panel could be mounted to a universal joint with the two outside corners independently controlled by nitinol. The other idea is to use flexible photovoltaics and hopefully no hinges and joints.

Another interesting idea is to think about deployable structures, which would seem to imply the use of flexible photovoltaics. It’s not exactly the heliotropism I was thinking of, but it would be cool if the “leaves” opened up in the day, tracked the light, and then closed at night.

Doing all of this nitinol might be kind of difficult. Heating nitinol causes it to contract in the 3 – 5 % range, doesn’t seem like much. This also means that for a deployable structure, it needs to collapse when the wires are extended,

Will I actually build this? Probably not, but it is something I’ve been thinking about. Perhaps it would give me an excuse to visit Noisebridge.


Vivien Muller (previously) has created a new “plant,” Orkys. This one uses flexible photovoltaics as leaves to light what appears to be LEDs in in the flowers.

I prefer his previous work, PhotonSynthese more though. Aesthetically, it’s more pleasing with the brushed metal stems and the blue leaves, instead of the all black stem and leaves. However, the more flexible materials in Orkys makes it easier to introduce nitnol wires in the leaves for sun tracking. Also, PhotonSynthese does something, while Orkys just sits there and looks pretty. There’s no reason why you can’t have something like this do both.


Vivien Muller designed this tabletop solar usb charger. Designed to resemble a bonsai tree, it comes with multiple interchangeable parts allowing one to groom the tree, so to speak.

I really like the finish on the metal trunk and how it contrasts with the blue photovoltaics. Solar trees, aren’t new idea, but rarely is it pulled off so stylishly. One thing that I think that would be pretty cool with one of these would be if the panels would move with relation to the light. If you were going to moving leaves, the movement really should be silent, perhaps with nitinol or something.