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Inside Stanford’s science fair on steroids: 10 brilliant student inventions

Solar Cloud Systemsairship stanford

The Solar Cloud team’s aircraft demanded your attention as soon as you walked into the hall. There may have been more innovative products, but every good entrepreneur knows that crowds love a huge spectacle. One of the team’s engineers told me that the remote-controlled, quad-rotor hybrid airship prototype is currently heavier than air, and they had to take off the solar panels and other equipment for the showcase; but the idea is long-term persistent flight, if not forever. With a video camera strapped to it, the airship would be an economical surveillance and communication tool for remote areas. The solar panels would keep it powered for cheap, and for long periods of time. I asked the engineer if he secretly had any diabolical super villainy airship fantasies, and he told me that with only four pounds of lift the ship would have to be at least three times bigger to support his weight.


The promoter behind mOasis could have easily been on a soap box with a top hat, cane and green-tinted bottle. He pulled me aside to tell me about an ancient 70-year-old Chinese polymers at work in the product, apparently created by a chemist from UC Davis. The miracle compound absorbs 400 times its own weight in water, and could allow farmers to get a 10 to 50 percent better crop yield. Compared to other water storage materials, it costs less and lasts longer. It is also completely non-toxic, biodegradable and FDA approved.


I was corrected when I asked how the “motorized skateboard” works. Unlike a skateboard, the Transboard is like a “freeboard” that goes in two directions — scratch that — it’s like a Segway crossed with a freeboard. It goes in multiple directions and goes uphill. At max, it goes about 20 MPH. When I asked about safety similarities between the Segway and the Transboard, I was told that they were appealing to “board culture,” meaning you’ll probably need a helmet at the very least.

guitar 2Unplugged Guitars

The Unplugged team’s row was constantly choked with onlookers. I finally managed to bully my way in towards the end of the event to see where the music I’d been hearing all afternoon was coming from. The Unplugged G-Zero Electric Guitar was almost ukelele sized at just over two feet long, and had a 5-inch speaker embedded in it. It had two single-coil pickups and controls for volume, gain and tone. The idea was to carry your amp in your guitar—something you may have seen already, but usually with flat and tinny sound. The team plans to upgrade the eight AA batteries currently needed to power it to a rechargeable design, and give it smartphone capabilities to introduce special effects generated by an iPhone.


Percolater prepares your news feed for you and stores it locally on your device. The idea of this news reader is that, like a coffee drip (witty), the information drips and is collected into your pot (the device). It’s handy because your pages are saved for you even when you don’t have a connection. It’s also fast because everything has been saved and doesn’t need to load.