Innovate: Soft Photonics 2016 – The Start Up Challenge – The End

So far, teams had been formed and everyone was supposed to develop and idea for a new technology that we were supposed to pitch in front of a judging panel two weeks later. All our products were supposed to have Kirigami Composites as a backbone.
Our initial idea was to make a kind of glass that would change its crystalline structure in response to a stimulus, controlling the amount of light passing through it. The idea was to use them in car windows to prevent cars from heating up when left in the afternoon sun.
After coming back from the Workshop, we began to interview people to see if there was any existing demand for our product.
Imagine that it’s a hot day, and you have left your car out in the open and went to a class. You come out, open the car door, and a wave of hot air heats you. The plastic bottle you left in the bottle holder has melted in the heat, and the car smells of heated leather. What if we could make windows that would leave the heat out but let light in? If your answer is yes, you are our target.
The same window could also be used in buildings to keep them better insulated by controlling the influx or dissipation of heat. Also, since we were controlling the flow of light through the windows, they could also be used for adjustable privacy windows, that prevent outsiders from seeing through building windows.
We started off by interviewing potential customers for our product. And this is where we hit our first bump. While people were frustrated with cars getting heated up in the sun, there was a solution that was fairly easy to implement. Peoples could leave their windows slightly open to let the heat vape out. Also, we were not very sure how much of the heating was taking place just through the windows, since the entire metal body of the car would start heating up in the sun. Beside that, an initial survey showed that people were not willing to pay more than 10-20 dollars for a product. So changing the glasses in cars was out of the question.
The same went for houses. While real estate developers were interested in getting a new kind of glass that would make their buildings more environment friendly, building owners were not so keen on changing the entire window paneling to same a few bucks on electricity.
Well, what next? We decided that we’d put our efforts into developing a film that would be applied to windows instead. We ran subsequent interviews with homeowners, real estate developers, and car owners. This time, people were more enthusiastic about our product, which would not replace a technology that already exists, but augment it.
Next, we looked up potential competition. We saw that Corning Glass was already selling auto-tinting glass panes for offices and houses to save power. However, this technology has a drawback. It would need someone to completely change all the glassing from the windows.
Polytronix is another company that works with something similar. They make films that change their transparency in response to a current passing through them. But they are active devices and consume power, hence won’t really save power for buildings that use them.
So in the end, the final product was to create a film that could change its transparency by changing its mechanical structure, radiate heat out if needed, and automaticaly decrease the transparency of glass, giving you privacy.
We presented our idea in a skype meeting with a panel of judges, along with other groups.
  1. The Matrix – They presented a technology idea to integrate a pressure sensor at the tip of surgical equipment that would help doctors to get a feel of how much pressure they are applying to a tissue during surgery.
  2. Kiragucci – They proposed colour changing fibers to design tents that could blend into their surroundings.
  3. Four photons – They proposed a high precision optical blood pressure monitor.
  4. Synergy Energy Solutions – They started off with the same idea as us, but went on to focus on controlling the light transmission in greenhouses, using colloidal particles flowing through microfluidic channels.
Finally, the winner was – Synergy Energy Solutions.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience looking at how product development works, and how the idea has to be changed and updated at every step until it finds a potential user. And it was a privilege to see how creative people isolate problems and find solutions to them.
In the end, it was a wonderful experience.
But now that it is over, it’s time to get back to real research.
Link to our presentation: LumiVeris

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