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April 13, 2014

Inhabitat’s Week in Green: sun-powered plane, Baobed treehouse and modular furniture

by John_A

Each week our friends at Inhabitat recap the week’s most interesting green developments and clean tech news for us — it’s the Week in Green.

Airplanes are major CO2 emitters, but it doesn’t need to be that way. For the past several years, two Swiss innovators, André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, have been flying around the world in a sun-powered plane, spreading the word about solar power. Last week, the duo announced the debut of the new and improved Solar Impulse 2 aircraft, which they’ll use to attempt a flight around the globe. While the Solar Impulse is charting new territory in the skies, Tesla is changing the game on the roads. Last month Tesla sold 1,493 Model S sedans in Norway, breaking a 28-year-old monthly sales record and outselling every other vehicle in the country. Thanks in part to Tesla’s success, electric cars are selling at a furious pace: A recent report shows that EV sales are currently growing by more than 100 percent per year. Smaller is better when it comes to urban cars — especially for parking — but there are drawbacks to owning a pint-size car. In San Francisco, vandals recently went on a Smart Car-tipping spree, flipping the tiny cars upside down in the middle of the night. A bicycle is still best way to get around the city, both for your health and the health of the planet. In Boston, doctors are now prescribing bike share memberships to obese patients, encouraging exercise instead of medication.

Enjoy waking up in exotic places? Then try this on for size: The Baobed treehouse is a tiny teardrop-shaped sleeping pod that can be suspended from tree branches or placed on a beach, a rooftop or anywhere you want to roam. The tiny treehouse was inspired by exotic fruit that dangles from the branches of baobab trees. Elsewhere in the design world, Beijing-based People’s Architecture Office (PAO) recently erected an eye-catching pop-up structure made entirely from repurposed reflective panels used in photography. IKEA took its wares to the tracks, transforming an entire Japanese monorail into a mobile showroom. A team of international scientists from England, Spain and Brazil developed a new type of cement made from ceramic waste like toilets, bathtubs and sinks that could be even stronger than conventional cement. In Tunisia, a piece of movie history could be lost forever. The igloo-shaped hut that served as Luke Skywalker’s childhood home is threatened with desertification, prompting Tunisia’s tourism ministry to launch a new international fundraising campaign to protect the historic sets.

Charging your smartphone can be a drag, especially when you’re on the go. The Israeli startup StoreDot may have come up with a solution, though. The company just unveiled a groundbreaking new battery that can charge up in 30 seconds flat. Luxury watchmaker TAG Heuer is also getting in on the smartphone action with the Meridiist Infinite phone, which uses a hidden solar panel to stay charged forever. In other green energy news, a new report finds that cheap solar PV panels drove a sharp increase in renewable energy production in 2013. And the Florida-based company Crowd Energy is looking to tap into the vast power of ocean currents with its new underwater turbine, which sits on the sea floor and harnesses the steady power of the currents to generate electricity.

Milan Design Week is one of the world’s biggest design events, and this year’s show didn’t disappoint. Designer Marjan van Aubel unveiled a stylish photovoltaic Current Table that charges gadgets with sunlight, while an amazing solar-powered machine grabbed Milan Design Week headlines from social media and compiled them into a printable publication. Inflatable designs were also on the rise — Nike’s Aerostatic Dome is the world’s first structure supported entirely by a helium-filled canopy, and Studio Toer launched a cloud-like “Cumulus” parasol that automatically inflates when the sun is shining.

If you want to get your kids interested in design at a young age, OLLA Kidsfurniture is an innovative modular furniture system that lets you treat your child’s room like a giant Lego set. On the topic of Lego, builder Jason Allemann recently used the toy bricks to create a fully functioning computer keyboard that’s made from 1,500 blocks. While 3D printing represents the future of fabrication, many of the central principles of 3D printing can be found in nature. The latest entry in our Biomimicry Manual looks at what paper wasps can teach us about 3D printing. And in a clever use of 3D scanning technology, Arden Reed recently launched a mobile tailoring service that uses 3D scanning to create custom suits. Finally, in a discovery that could change the way we produce fabric, scientists in Singapore have figured out a way to create adipic acid, a key component of nylon, from sugar.

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