Tag Archives: Startups

How to Double the Power of Solar Panels

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In an attempt to further drop the cost of solar power, Bandgap Engineering, a startup in Woburn, Mass., is developing a nanowire-based solar cell that could eventually generate twice as much power as conventional solar cells.

That’s a long-term project, but meanwhile the company is about to start selling a simpler version of the technology, using silicon nanowires that can improve the performance and lower the cost of conventional silicon solar cells. Bandgap says its nanowires, which can be built using existing manufacturing tools, boost the power output of solar cells by increasing the amount of light the cells can absorb.

Right now most solar-panel manufacturers aren’t building new factories because the market for their product is glutted. But if market conditions improve and manufacturers do start building, they’ll be able to introduce larger changes to production lines. In that case the Bandgap technology could make it possible to change solar cells more significantly.

For example, by increasing light absorption, it could allow manufacturers to use far thinner wafers of silicon, reducing the largest part of a solar cell’s cost. It could also enable manufacturers to use copper wires instead of more expensive silver wires to collect charge from the solar panels.

These changes could lead to solar panels that convert more than 20% of the energy in sunlight into electricity (compared with about 15% for most solar cells now) yet cost only $1 per watt to produce and install, says Richard Chleboski, Bandgap’s CEO. (Solar installations cost a few dollars per watt now, depending on their size and type.) Over the operating lifetime of the system, costs would come to $0.06-0.10 per kilowatt-hour.

That’s still higher than the current cost of natural-gas power in the United States, which is about $0.04 per kilowatt-hour. But it’s low enough to secure solar power a substantial market in many parts of the world where energy costs can be higher, or in certain niche markets in the United States.

Meanwhile, Bandgap is pursuing technology that could someday improve efficiency enough to allow solar power to compete widely with fossil fuels. Double the efficiency of solar cells without greatly increasing manufacturing costs, and you substantially lower the cost per watt of solar panels and halve the cost of installation — currently the biggest expense in solar power — by making it possible to get the same amount of power out of half as many cells.

Both the cells Bandgap is about to introduce and the cells it hopes to produce in the long term are based on the idea of minimizing the energy loss that typically occurs when light passes through a solar cell unabsorbed or when certain wavelengths of light are absorbed but don’t have enough energy to dislodge electrons to create electricity. (That energy is wasted as heat.) In a conventional solar cell, at least two-thirds of the energy in sunlight is wasted — usually much more.

The company’s existing technology makes use of the fact that when light encounters the nanowires, it’s refracted in a way that causes it to bounce around in the solar cell rather than simply moving through it or bouncing off it. That increases its chances of being absorbed.

But what Bandgap ultimately wants to do is to change the way light is converted to electricity inside the cell. If the nanowires can be made uniformly enough, and if they can be formed in such a way that their atoms line up along certain planes, the tiny structures could change the electronic properties of silicon.

These changes could allow solar cells to generate electricity from low-energy light that normally produces only heat, says Marcie Black, the company’s founder and chief technology officer. It does this in part by providing a way to combine energy from more than one photon of low-energy light.

The technology could take many years to develop. For one thing, it requires very precise control over the properties of each of millions of nanowires. Also, the techniques needed to make the solar cells might not be cheap or reliable enough to produce them on a large scale. But such solar cells could theoretically convert 60% of the energy in sunlight into electricity. That will be hard to achieve in practice, so the company is aiming at a more modest 38% efficiency, which is still more than twice that of typical silicon solar cells made now.

Researchers are taking several other approaches to producing very high-efficiency solar cells, such as using quantum dots or combining several kinds of materials.

The nanowire technology could be simpler, however. “In theory, the approach has many potential advantages, but you’ve got to get it to work,” says Andrew Norman, a senior researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.

Bandgap hasn’t yet built solar cells using the approach it hopes to pursue in the long term, but it’s made indirect measurements showing that its nanowires can change the electronic properties of silicon. “This is still in the research phase,” Black says. “We’re being very honest with investors — there’s still a lot of work to do.”

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/10/17/double-power-solar-panels/

Explore HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley’ at Mashable House SXSWi

Mashable and HBO are teaming up to create an immersive experience based on HBO’s new show Silicon Valley.

Located in the Mashable House, the Silicon Valley Lounge draws inspiration from Hooli, a fictional Internet giant featured in the show. The lounge will feature a juice bar with fresh juice from Daily Greens, charging stations to juice your phone, nap pods and show paraphernalia.

Silicon Valley is a satire of startup culture, by Mike Judge, creator of Beavis & Butt-Head and Office Space. The show follows a hacker named Richard who’s trying make it big in the tech world with a program he created. During his humorous journey he lives in incubators, deals with fanatical venture capitalists and navigates the Silicon Valley lifestyle.

The Mashable House will also feature a wrecking ball for selfies, Grumpy Cat, a mobile art gallery and a secret Easter egg. From one-of-a-kind photo opps to immersive experiences, the Mashable House is sure to be a hot spot at SXSWi.

Silicon Valley will air on April 6 on HBO.

Follow @MashableEvents for Mashable SXSWi updates.

Event Details:

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Mashable House
Dates: March 7-9
Time: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily
Location: 305 E 5th St, Austin, TX 78701
Eventbrite: RSVP
Hashtag: #MashSXSW

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/03/04/mashable-house-silicon-valley-hbo/

Bitcoin Millionaires Become Investing Angels

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Early investors in Bitcoin got rich. Now they are the cryptocurrency’s most powerful gatekeepers.

Every time you spend bitcoins to buy a drink at Evr, a swanky bar in midtown Manhattan that accepts the digital currency, you make its co-owner, Charlie Shrem, a little bit richer.

And that’s not only because a chamomile sour costs $17 (or 0.16 bitcoins). It’s because whenever someone new uses bitcoins, the electronic currency’s value tends to increase. Shrem has bought thousands of bitcoins for about $20 each, starting in 2011. Since then, the digital coins have soared in value to $109.

That’s turned the 23-year-old into a millionaire and into one of a handful of early bitcoin investors who’ve decided to sink their windfalls back into the bitcoin economy — starting their own companies and investing in others.

“Infrastructure is what we need,” says Shrem. “We’ve gotta build, build, build — financial software, exchanges and different payment products.” In addition to his investment in the bar, Shrem founded Bitinstant, a company that makes it possible to buy bitcoins at Kmart and 7-Eleven, and is a member of BitAngels, an investment group created this year to help Bitcoin startups evolve from garage operations into real companies.

Bitcoin angels like Shrem don’t have pockets nearly as deep as entrepreneur-turned-investors who’ve made it big in Silicon Valley — some of whom, like Steve Case and Vinod Khosla, have net worth in excess of $1 billion. But their influence is substantial. As conventional investors begin to show interest in Bitcoin startups, it is small-time tycoons like Shrem who are acting as gatekeepers and ambassadors.

“The early guys are the ones that run everything,” says Shrem. “In this space, how long you’ve been around matters.”

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Bitcoin originated in 2009, when its source code was posted online by persons unknown. Despite its mysterious origins, the way it works is transparent: The currency is produced when people carry out difficult cryptographic operations on computers, and then it’s exchanged over an open-source peer-to-peer network. Bitcoins are immune to counterfeiting and don’t rely on any central authority. Image courtesy of Bitcoin Charts

Initially, Bitcoin was mostly a curiosity. Among the first businesses to accept it were gambling sites, narcotics delivery services and a farm selling alpaca socks. Yet Shrem and others have been thinking strategically, creating companies that comply with the law and intend to make Bitcoin a widely used form of money.

One reason to do so is that the number of bitcoins is limited; there’s a theoretical maximum of 21 million, and 11.3 million have been “mined” so far. That means the more people buy and use bitcoins, the greater their value becomes. Anthony Gallippi, CEO of Bitpay, an Atlanta company that helps online stores accept payment in bitcoins, says one reason early buyers are reinvesting in the technology is to “ensure future returns” on the currency’s value.

“You didn’t get that dynamic in the dot-com days,” says Gallippi, who claims that he and business partner Stephen Pair are sitting on “thousands” of bitcoins they purchased for $1 or $2. He reasons that anyone who now buys even one bitcoin is in effect betting “on the whole space.”

The easy windfalls earned by Bitcoin’s early promoters are attracting interest from mainstream venture capitalists. In May, Shrem’s company received $1.5 million from the investment firm of the Winklevoss twins (who famously sued Mark Zuckerberg over the idea behind Facebook). Also last month, the venture fund operated by Peter Thiel, Facebook’s first major investor, invested $3 million in Gallippi’s company.

Those deals have been important endorsements for the online currency (see “Big-Name Investors Back Effort to Build a Better Bitcoin”). Yet what they mean for the philosophy at the heart of Bitcoin isn’t as clear, says Roger Ver, an important early investor.The 34-year-old electronics entrepreneur says he sank his life savings into the currency and has used the gains to invest more than $1 million in more than a dozen Bitcoin startups, including Shrem’s. “The typical investment size has been around $100K USD,” Ver wrote in an e-mail from Tokyo, where he lives. “I’m motivated by the positive ways in which Bitcoin use being widespread will make the world a better place.”

Like many early enthusiasts, Ver, who once ran for the California senate and later spent 10 months in prison for selling fireworks on eBay, was attracted to Bitcoin because of his libertarian, antigovernment views. He believes such currencies, if they replaced national ones, could make it impossible for governments to “finance their wars” by printing money.

With mainstream investors arriving, Ver says, the Bitcoin economy could become a lot less idealistic. Yet these new investors may be unwittingly boosting the political and economic implications of the decentralized currency, not just its face value. “I don’t think they fully understand how revolutionary Bitcoin will be,” he says.

Composite by Mashable, images courtesy of Bitcoin and Vyacheslav Argenberg/Flickr

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/13/bitcoin-angel-investors/

Randi Zuckerberg: Stop Being the Crazy Cat Lady and Other Facebook Don’ts

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Randi Zuckerberg — Internet entrepreneur and sister of Mark — discussed during a conference in Australia things not to do on Facebook, from bragging about your accomplishments and taking pictures of food to posting about your cats.

According to the Melbourne-based Herald Sun, Zuckerberg offered tips on what people should avoid doing on social media sites that could prevent them from growing their networks. Also on her list: posting cheesy motivational posters, humble bragging and depressing messages about being tired, sick or stuck in traffic.

Zuckerberg is the former chief marketing officer at Facebook, but left the company last August to pursue other projects. She is an executive producer for Silicon Valley, a Bravo reality TV show that follows inspiring entrepreneurs in the tech industry.

Hinting at sibling rivalry, Randi told conference attendees that she was reluctant to join Facebook in its early start up days. Her brother even sought help from their mother to help convince her to join.

“I graduated from Harvard University in 2003 and the only reason that I mention that is that I have a sibling who did not graduate. So I always have to take that one,” she said.

Randi and Mark aren’t the only Zuckerbergs in tech. Their youngest sibling Arielle is now a Google employee, following a recent acquisition the search engine giant made of Wildfire Interactive, a social media management company.

As for what not to do on Facebook, Mashable also recently compiled a list of things that annoy us the most on the site. Check out the gallery below and let us know what you think your Facebook friends should stop posting.

Image via Facebook

BONUS: 20 Things Your Most Annoying Friends Do on Facebook

Can Crowdsourcing Resurrect Unused Patents?

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Some crowdsourcing competitions, like the X-Prize, ask people to come up with technological solutions to a problem. Marblar, a startup launching this month, is doing it backward—asking people to come up with problems that a given technology could solve.

Cofounded by three PhD students in the U.K., Marblar is a platform that aims to help universities commercialize new inventions and resurrect dusty old patents. The company is working with about half a dozen U.K. research institutions, such as the Medical Research Council and Imperial College London, to seed its website with discoveries. These range from a novel form of foam to a new kind of oxygen sensor to a probe that can drill into hard surfaces in new ways.

The crowd is assigned the task of finding market applications for such inventions. Marblar is cultivating a base of knowledgeable users who would just love to submit ideas in exchange for a cash prize (from hundreds to thousands of dollars), points on the site (marbles), and of course, bragging rights.

“There’s a massive pile of unused innovation that just isn’t going anywhere,” says CEO Daniel Perez, who estimates that 95 percent of patents filed by universities never make it to the marketplace. University technology transfer officers and, often, researchers themselves can’t know all of the potential applications for a discovery, he says. “There are too few voices in that conversation.”

Marblar has already had one success story, during a beta testing period this spring with a 4,500 person listserv. University of Southampton chemical biologist Tom Brown had found a way, called DNA click ligation, to glue together strands of DNA without using an enzyme. It was a neat trick but had no straightforward use, says Perez.

IP Group, a British venture capital firm that invests in university innovation, sponsored a prize as part of a Marblar competition. The winning entry was from a Cambridge University PhD student studying nucleotide drug delivery who believed the invention could advance his field. The idea is now being turned into a proof-of-concept prototype (Brown’s lab is advertising a job opening to help), and IP Group is evaluating the possibility of creating a spin-out company. The venture firm also has made a roughly $600,000 investment in Marblar itself.

The startup’s efforts fall in line with broader long-term efforts to speed the commercialization of innovation from universities, which is effectively the return on investments of taxpayer dollars. In the U.S., in fiscal year 2011, universities and research institutes received $40 billion in federal R&D funds, according to the Association of University Technology Managers. The organization’s survey results show that 670 startups and 591 new commercial products came out of U.S. universities and research institutes during this time.

Lita Nelsen, director of MIT’s Technology Licensing Office, says that Marblar looks like it would be a useful tool in a few cases she sees each year, but that it would be unlikely to dramatically increase the number of ideas that get commercialized. Most research discoveries, such as a treatment for a disease, do have a straightforward use, and a lack of ideas is far from the only reason why a university patent might never get licensed or make it to the market, she says. Marblar “is not going to revolutionize university technology licensing, but it may make a useful contribution,” she says.   

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/13/can-crowdsourcing-resurrect-unused-patents/

Micro-Lending Is an Alternative to Payday Small Business Loans

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Image: Mashable Composite, Getty Creative, Kathy Konkle

Every day, 10% of Claudia Diniz’s sales disappear. Opportunity Fund, a nonprofit lender, siphons off the money and treats it as payment on a $35,000 loan Diniz used to stock the shelves of her Los Gatos, Calif., clothing store. Diniz, 37, loves how easy the process is. “We have months that we sell and months that we struggle,” she says. “So I say, when I sell well I pay more — and when I’m struggling I pay less.”

Opportunity Fund developed the EasyPay loan in order to serve businesses who don’t qualify for regular term loans. The organization also hopes the loan will prevent entrepreneurs from turning to merchant cash advances, a similar but much more expensive form of credit. “It’s just ridiculous, how much money they pay,” Diniz says of friends who are paying off cash advances from private companies.

Although she’s never had to resort to high-interest loans or merchant cash advances, Diniz knows what it’s like to be desperate for credit. She decided to open a store after her son was born, figuring that owning her own business would allow her to control her hours. Envisioning a rival to Lululemon Athletica, an upscale chain, Diniz — who is originally from Brazil — called her store Viva O Sol Brazilian Fitness & Fashion.

“It was five years ago. The market crashed, people were losing stocks and houses, and everybody in my town was closing their doors,” Diniz says of other retailers. She needed a loan, but after the financial crisis, banks were much warier about lending, especially to brand-new businesses. A retired business adviser in town recommended she contact Opportunity Fund, one of the largest micro-lenders in the state.

Opportunity Fund has provided micro-loans (from $2,600 to $10,000) and small-business loans (from $10,000 to $100,000) to California entrepreneurs for the past 20 years. The average small-business owner who works with the organization has an annual household income of just $22,000. Clients own dry cleaners and restaurants, trucking companies, and daycare centers. Most are Latino or African-American, and many are recent immigrants who don’t speak fluent English.

Diniz’s financials were strong enough that she qualified for a small-business loan right away. But many entrepreneurs who were coming to Opportunity Fund were unable to qualify for loans, even if they had strong sales. An entrepreneur might have a poor personal credit score, for example, or run a highly seasonal business, like a flower shop.

So the organization decided to create a loan that could be repaid through automatically deducting a small share of credit- and debit-card sales. The technology wasn’t new — it had long been used by merchant cash-advance providers. “The intention of EasyPay was: How can we look at this business a little differently? How can we give more weight to the cash flow side of the business?” says Alex Dang, a business development officer.

The automatic daily payments decrease the risk of lending considerably, allowing Opportunity Fund to serve more businesses and to extend larger loans than it would have otherwise. Established business owners, like Diniz, like the product because it’s convenient. EasyPay loans have a fixed interest rate of between 8.5 and 15 percent, typically have longer repayment terms than cash advances, and take a smaller share of sales — usually about 6 percent. Like payments on any other loan, payments contribute to a borrower’s credit score.

Opportunity Fund has lent $5 million through 250 EasyPay loans so far. (In February, Opportunity Fund was awarded a $50,000 grant from Wells Fargo, a sponsor of National Journal‘s Next America project.) Meanwhile, merchant cash-advance providers lend about $2 billion to small businesses nationwide each year, says Janinne Dall’Orto, senior manager at First Annapolis Consulting, a consulting firm that studies the payments industry. Merchant cash advances aren’t regulated, so there aren’t legal limits on the fees companies can charge. A typical $10,000 advance, due in six months, might carry a $3,500 fee.

One reason Opportunity Fund can afford to charge low rates is because it’s a nonprofit and a community-development financial institution, or CDFI: it’s partly supported by philanthropists and the government. It’s a lender out to charge borrowers what they can afford, not to deliver big profits. “One question that we ask every borrower is: What is a comfortable payment for you? And then we work around that,” Dang says of EasyPay loans.

In its bid to provide an alternative to merchant cash advances, Opportunity Fund is something of a David competing against a Goliath. The merchant cash-advance industry is expanding rapidly, fueled by private investment and demand from business owners like Diniz’s neighbors in Los Gatos. Dang says some of his clients report fielding repeated calls from marketers within the merchant cash-advance industry, and some have taken out several cash advances — a second to pay off a first.

But Mark Pinsky, president and CEO of the Opportunity Finance Network, a network of CDFI’s, says that EasyPay loans still have the potential to scale — through Opportunity Fund, other CDFI’s, or other kinds of lenders — and make an impact. “I think it’s going to put a lot of downward pressure on merchant advances,” he says. Savvy business owners always look for the best deal. In California right now, the best deal might be with Opportunity Fund.

This article originally published at National Journal
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/06/27/manageable-small-business-loans/

Is Thin-Film Solar Dead?

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When the Chinese energy giant Hanergy decided last week to buy Miasole, a Silicon Valley-based thin-film solar company, at less than a tenth the amount venture capitalists had invested in the firm, it could have been making a savvy move. Though it seems as if thin-film solar panels have no hope of competing with conventional silicon ones under today’s market conditions, the technology might still have a strong future.

In recent years, the price of conventional silicon solar panels has fallen far faster than expected, and once-promising thin-film startups are going bankrupt, delaying manufacturing plans or being bought by Asian companies for pennies on the dollar. (In addition to Hanergy, TFG Radiant, SK Innovation, Taiwan Semiconductor and a few others have bought or taken large stakes in such companies.)

Some analysts think the companies that have been snatching up these bargains know what they’re doing. The poor market conditions that have kept thin-film companies from competing may not last: When demand increases and it comes time to start building solar-panel factories again, the argument goes, the technology might have a significant advantage, because for comparably sized plants, it could cost far less to build a new thin-film factory than a conventional one.

A gigawatt-scale thin-film plant would cost $350 to 450 million, versus $1 billion for a conventional silicon plant, says Travis Bradford, a professor at Columbia University’s school of international and public affairs and president of the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development, a nonprofit research firm. (The cost estimates will vary depending on what’s included in the plant. For example, if you add the cost of producing polysilicon, the equivalent to the raw materials that thin-film solar plants use, the capital cost for a silicon plant goes up to $2 billion or more, he says. But most plants buy silicon from large suppliers.)

So far, the companies with the potentially cheapest thin-film technology have built only relatively small factories that cost far more per watt than large ones, and building larger plants doesn’t make sense in the current market. (Solyndra, the failed thin-film company, was building a large plant, but it had notoriously expensive technology, including unusual tube-shaped solar panels. First Solar, by far the most successful thin-film company, has built large plants, but newer types of thin-film technologies may prove cheaper and more efficient.)

Startups can’t afford to wait until market conditions get better. But large companies like Hanergy might be able to bide their time until the market improves and then build a large plant that could compete with conventional silicon. “Hanergy spent $30 million to get Miasole,” Bradford says. “It will take them a few hundred million dollars to eventually build a large factory and launch the technology. But if they’re right, they’ve got assets that will be worth billions of dollars later. That’s the bet they’ve made.”

Waiting for market conditions to turn, however, is a risky strategy. The market is currently flooded with solar panels — current manufacturing capacity is more than enough to satisfy demand, and that’s driven down prices to the point that many manufacturers are selling at a loss. It’s not clear how long it will take for this situation to change.

Timing the construction of new thin-film factories will be difficult. In the meantime, manufacturers of conventional silicon technology continue to lower the cost of their solar panels and improve their efficiency. And there’s no guarantee that new thin-film panels will perform as expected when produced at a large scale — or that cost targets will be met.

One option could be for large companies to develop and build their own solar power plants. That’s the model used by First Solar, and it seems to be the model Hanergy is adopting.

But many analysts remain skeptical that thin film can compete with silicon, given silicon’s overwhelmingly larger scale of production. Thin film may have had a chance once, but it’s taken it too long to reach large-scale production and lower costs, according to Jenny Chase, manager of the Solar Insight Team at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “That ship has sailed,” she says. She expects that thin-film companies might succeed only in niche markets, such as applications where very lightweight or flexible solar panels are needed.

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/10/10/thin-film-solar-dead/

Etsy Bets Big on Google Shopping Ahead of Relaunch

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Beginning next week, businesses that want their products to appear at the top of Google search results will have to pay for it. Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade goods, will be among them.

The Brooklyn-based startup hosts shops for more than 800,000 sellers and has generated $500 million in sales so far this year. It’s investing more than $250,000 in Google Product Listing Ads through the end of 2012 “to make sure sellers aren’t negatively affected [by Google’s changes] during the holiday season,” a spokesperson for Etsy wrote in an e-mail to Mashable. All Etsy sellers with at least one active listing will be indexed — about 15 million items in all — at no additional cost to them. UPDATE: Only the listings of U.S. sellers will be indexed. Etsy could not provide an exact number.

In late May, Google announced that it would be rebranding Product Search as Google Shopping, and that organic Product Search results would be replaced by paid listings come Oct. 1 in the U.S., and in Europe and Asia next year. Results will still be ranked largely by relevance, “with bidding as an additional factor,” a Google spokesperson told Mashable. Natural results will still appear below sponsored results.

Here’s what Product Search looked prior to May (via Google):

Here’s what it looks like today (note the “Sponsored” tag):

And here’s how Google Shopping will look come Oct. 1 (via Google):

Why is Google making the change? In a blog post, Sameer Samat, VP of product management at Google Shopping, said the company believes that if merchants are paying to have their products appear, they’re more likely to keep their product information accurate and up to date.

Google is no doubt hoping that if it improves the quality of its product search results, shoppers will make Google — rather than Amazon — their first stop for online shopping. In a Forrester survey of 4,000 U.S. shoppers released in July, more than twice as many said they began researching their last online purchases at Amazon (30%) versus Google (13%).

Not all retailers are happy about the changes, of course — they are now being charged for a service they once enjoyed for free. The change may seem especially painful for small business owners, but Google says merchants can pay for listings based on clicks or on purchases made on-site, which does even the playing field.

Frank Harris, product manager for search and advertising at Etsy, says he’s been studying the traffic from Google Product Searches since May, and found that it was effective for reaching shoppers who weren’t previously familiar with Etsy. He isn’t sure if the investment will simply maintain Etsy’s current rankings or improve them, but he did say that “historically we were able to syndicate only a fraction of the marketplace, and now we’re working closely with Google to get the entire marketplace into product search.”

Shop owners will be able to track how their Google listings are performing in terms of click-throughs through an analytics dashboard (see above). If the ads perform well, it’s possible that Etsy could begin charging sellers for them later. Last year, the company introduced an ad product for its own site search, allowing sellers to purchase placements in highlighted sections on search results pages. Harris says Etsy “hasn’t decided on anything past spending a quarter of a million dollars for the end fo the year,” but said the company “will talk to the community in early 2013 about next steps.”

Grow a Plant With Batteries, Software and Sunshine

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Lacking a “green thumb?” Click and Grow is for the beginner gardener. You water it once and forget about it.

The Click and Grow flower pot and plant cartridge work like a printer and toner. The pot contains electronics, sensors, batteries, a pump and a water reservoir; the cartridge contains seeds, nutrients and software (in a microchip) for growing the plant. There are currently 13 varieties of flowers and plants, and the selection is continuously growing. Right now the available selection includes painted nettle, lamb’s ear, marigolds and more. You can also grow edible things such as basil, thyme, sage, tomatoes and chili peppers.

Founder Mattias Lepp tells Mashable all you have to do is add water and batteries (not in the same place) — everything else is done by the sensors and software. You’ll also have to find a sunny place for your plant to sit, or at least somewhere it can absorb the sun’s rays, sunshine or not.

The idea for Click and Grow began three years ago, Lepp says, while reading an article about a NASA mission in which plants were taken into space. He began fusing technology with gardening in his own backyard in Estonia to see if he could grow plants with little or no care in a harsh climate. He made several iterations of the planter and one very cold winter, he says, the device he created was able to grow tomatoes “very quickly.” The company grew from there and officially launched one year ago.

Lepp said Click and Grow should also cut down on the waste that comes from single plants being purchased in plastic containers that then get thrown away. The potting container is reusable; though the cartridges need to be replaced for each new plant.

“It’s just a cool device to have on your office table,” he added.

The plant container costs $59 and the cartridges (with plant seeds) cost $19.99. You can buy them on the company’s website or at Brookstone or Amazon.com.

There are a number of other desktop gardening pots, some that combine USB technology to make indoor gardening easier by remind you to water the plant. But Click and Grow seems to be the front-runner in terms of making gardening simple for those who forget, or don’t have time, to water plants.

Check out these photos of some of the plants that can sprout from Click and Grow and tell us, is this product on your wish list?

This Space Elevator May Someday Reach the Moon

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A space elevator capable of shuttling robots or humans from the Earth to space remains decades away. But a company headed by a former NASA researcher says it can build a space elevator on the moon using today’s technology.

The LiftPort Group wants to raise $8,000 on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter for its first step — creating a floating balloon platform tethered to the ground so that a robot can climb 1.2 miles into the sky. But the fundraiser also marks the return of a company that had closed during the 2007-2012 economic recession.

“About six months ago we had a fundamental breakthrough — a breakthrough we think will transform human civilization — and we want you to be a part of it,” says Michael Laine, president of the LiftPort Group.

The breakthrough will allow the LiftPort group to build a space elevator on the moon using existing technology and a single-launch rocket solution that has “Sputnik-like simplicity,” Laine says, adding that the concept could become a reality within eight years.

Staying Down to Earth

A space elevator on the moon would face fewer complications than a space elevator on Earth because the moon has less gravity and practically no atmosphere — factors that would otherwise place great stress on whatever material makes up the space elevator’s tether.

Laine worked on space elevator concepts with the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts research team from 2001-2003. He went private with the LiftPort Group in 2003 and experimented with robots that climbed as high as 1 mile up a tethered balloon platform, before the company shut down.

Such balloon platforms don’t just help aim for the moon. They could also act as cheap communications “towers” on Earth to help provide wireless Internet, monitor crops, watch out for forest fires or even carry cameras to provide an eye in the sky in the aftermath of natural disasters.

The newly resurrected LiftPort Group has set a relatively modest fundraising goal because it’s still training a new group of volunteers. Many former LiftPort members have gone on to other projects — Tom Nugent, a former research director for LiftPort Group, co-founded a company called LaserMotive that has experimented with using lasers to power climbing robots and drones.

Laine also emphasized his vision of Kickstarter as being more important for gathering a community rather than simply raising money. He pointed out how most people contributing to the top Kickstarter projects contributed relatively little in terms of money, but instead brought their enthusiasm to the projects.

Shooting for the Moon

Still, modest steps have not prevented the LiftPort Group from planning what to do in case it raises more than the $8,000 in its first Kickstarter project. Its list of “Stretch Goals” pegged at successively higher funding targets include adding more sensors and having the robot climb to almost 19 miles up.

The most ambitious goal of raising $3 million — a target Laine doesn’t expect to hit in the first Kickstarter — would allow the LiftPort Group to carry out a one-year feasibility study for the moon space elevator project. But Laine did express the wish to hit a $100,000 target.

“If we ‘only’ hit $8,001, then we are going to remain a ‘hobby’ team,” Laine said. “If we can hit this number, then LiftPort is a ‘…before this decade is out…’ Lunar Elevator company!”

The LiftPort Group is not alone in its long-term space elevator quest. Seattle-based LaserMotive has previously won the Space Elevator Games, a NASA-sponsored contest. Across the Pacific, Japan’s Obayashi Corp has set the goal of building a space elevator by 2050.

This article originally published at InnovationNewsDaily
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/29/liftport-space-elevator/