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MaCall ManorAug 31, 2020 4:02:00 AM5 min read

The Wonder - Holograms are here & so are brick batteries | SF AppWorks

A Monthly Snapshot of Life-Changing Technology

August 31st, 2020


1. Beam right there

PORTL Inc creates hologram machines as large as phone booths that can ‘beam’ life-sized holograms into your room.

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Hot Take

This is one of the (no doubt many) Covid-era emerging digital connections. May they all be just as interesting.


Tall Order


The seven foot tall device can be plugged into a regular wall outlet, and as long as you have a camera and white background, you can send a hologram to the machine. As David Nussbaum, founder and CEO of Portl says, “...if you can’t be there, you can beam there.”




Although the price is projected to drop over the next three to five years, it’s starting at near $60k. If you choose to equip the device with AI technology from Portl’s partner company StoryFile, the cost ramps up to $85k. StoryFile enables the machine to produce archivable hologram recordings––a feature with a versatile array of uses.


Good Company


Nussbaum previously worked at the company that helped develop holograms of Ronald Reagan and Tupac Shakur. Use cases for the technology range from connecting military families who haven’t seen each other in months to providing history museum visitors with a highly interactive experience. Instead of reading placard bio of Abraham Lincoln, you might be able to ask his hologram a question.


2. Tower of Power


A team of researchers has found a way to turn bricks into batteries. 

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close-up image of a brick wall



Hot Take

It's not water into wine, but it's a solid runner up.


Well Red


Iron oxide is the chemical compound present in bricks responsible for their red hue. In this study, scientists used chemical vapors to create a layer of conductive plastic on the bricks, which yielded a “high electronic conductivity and facile charge transfer.” The bricks essentially became supercapacitors, able to be recycled nearly 10,000 times before losing their ability to charge. The bricks reportedly can also be treated to work underwater. 




Energy from solar panels needs to be stored in batteries. If the building itself were made of batteries, you’d have a whole lot of storage capacity. While the bricks exhibit high capacity to charge (and for much longer than standard batteries), the issue lies in the amount of energy they can store––at just 1% of lithium-ion batteries. That being said, the team thinks with added materials like metal oxides, that amount could dramatically increase, making them a viable option for commercial use.


3. Cruise Control


Michigan is beginning development of a 40-mile “corridor” for driverless vehicles.

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 road, as a concept for speed


Photo by Eric Weber on Unsplash


Hot Take

An artery of self-driving cars with little to no traffic or accidents could create a compelling case for removing drivers from roads.



Space to Grow


This is a pioneer effort to ~pave the way~ for the cars of the future, as the driverless corridor is said to be the first of its kind. Michigan already has a substantial footprint in the autotech industry, and because the state doesn’t face as much ‘public scrutiny’ as states like CA or NY, it looks like a better option to begin experimentation with driverless roads.


Testing Ground


Goals for the project include better transit access for nearby communities and safety. The first two years will be allocated for testing the technology. In a statement, Michigan said that the longer term objective is to create a road that “allows for a mix of connected and autonomous vehicles, traditional transit vehicles, shared mobility and freight and personal vehicles."


4. Greenlighted


A California-based company called NoTraffic is partnering with the city of Phoenix in rolling out AI technology that will make traffic flow and pedestrian crossing more efficient.


traffic lights

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash


Hot Take

Some of the first automated red and green traffic lights were patented in 1917 in SF, an invention that was no doubt considered smart tech. But they haven't improved much since then, making this breakthrough long overdue. 


Time Out


The technology innovates on the existing system by removing it from the timer-based model. In the intersection where they're being implemented, the lights will be coordinated according to actual demand rather than timers. There’s already been a reported 40% decrease in vehicle delay time in some of the deployments.


Cut to the chase


An exciting development from NoTraffic is the ‘emergency vehicle preemption.’ This feature will help give first-responders the quickest and clearest path through congestion in the case of an accident or emergency by using AI to distinguish between cars, bikes, buses, peds, etc. The platform can track different road assets (even vehicles’ blindspots) and make calculations to determine how the lights should be changed––wow.


5. E-waste away


The UK is creating the world’s first refinery to use bacteria processes to extract precious metals from electronic waste.

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From the Waste Up


Earlier this year the UK commenced its exit from the EU, which created a pressing need to address its major problem: exporting enormous quantities of e-waste to countries unable to efficiently dispose of it. As reported, $10bn of precious metals including gold and platinum were previously dumped each year into a “growing mountain of e-waste.” The problem arises from the expensive cost of exporting waste to processing centers. Now that building a more circular economy is crucial to the UK, creating a better recycling alternative is top priority.




Cue Mint Innovation, a New Zealand startup that has developed processes to extract metals including gold, silver, palladium, and copper from e-waste. Using a combination of hydrometallurgy and biotechnology, the bio-refineries are green, cost-efficient, and can be made local to where the waste originates.


Gut Feeling


The company’s Chief Scientific Officer says that Mint Innovation has the same yield as larger smelters, but “[Mint does] not use cyanide and we use less energy, less CO2, less water, less waste. A refinery can be popped into any nation, region or city.” However, Jason Love, a professor of molecular inorganic chemistry at Edinburgh University, notes that there are bigger fish to fry––namely how the metals are dissolved. He doesn’t feel what’s happening at Mint is groundbreaking, and believes there are more technical challenges to be dealt with.


However, others still assert that the technology can be revolutionary if it delivers, and that the small scale of the plants holds promise because they create community value, which causes buy-in and promotes sustainable economic development.



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MaCall Manor

MaCall Manor is an editor and writer based in San Francisco. She has always been a storyteller by trade, seeking to inspire with the work and content she creates. Brilliantly imaginative in filling out the details of the innovation processes and design thinking, she's passionate about all things creative, dancing, nature, and books/movies.