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4 Insanely Cool Technologies to Watch at the 2016 ARPA-E Summit

February 25, 2016 - 12:45pm


Catch these four impressive technologies and much, much more at the 2016 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, <a href="">Feb. 29 – March 2 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center</a> near Washington, D.C.

Catch these four impressive technologies and much, much more at the 2016 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, Feb. 29 – March 2 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center near Washington, D.C.

With more than 280 game-changing energy technologies and big-name speakers like Al Gore and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, this year’s ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit is going to be awesome. Here’s a sneak preview of four high-tech demos sure to wow the crowds at this annual gathering of forward-thinking energy leaders, scientists and entrepreneurs.

“Ro-botanists” that Can Spot Fast-Growing Crops for Bioenergy

Tech Showcase Demo: Monday, Feb. 29, 5:15-5:45 p.m.
Photo courtesy of Texas A&M AgriLife Research.

Biofuels have big potential as a low-carbon, renewable alternative to fossil fuels, but it can be tough to find plants that grow quickly and offer an efficient energy source. One cutting-edge ARPA-E project is working to tackle that challenge with the assistance of some very unusual farmers: plant-sensing robots, specially designed to help scientists breed fast-growing strains of sorghum, an important bioenergy crop.

Developed by Clemson University along with the Carnegie Mellon Robotics InstituteNear Earth Autonomy and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, these sophisticated “ro-botanists” use cameras and sensors to scan sorghum fields from the ground and the air, pinpointing the very best plants for biofuels.

Solar-Powered Motorcycles in a Box

Tech Showcase Demo: Monday, Feb. 29, 6:00-6:15 p.m.
Photo courtesy of Current Motor.

Yes, you read that right, and yes, it’s awesome. Current Motor’s ingenious “Mini-Fleet-in-a-Box” is a set of four electric motorcycles that come neatly packed and ready to roll out of their own shipping container, which doubles as a solar-powered charging station.

The shipping containers can be easily transported by truck, rail, boat or heavy-lift helicopter, which makes them ideal for quick deployment or emergency situations, and the zero-emission motorcycles offer a range of 50 miles per charge with a top speed of 70 mph. This one isn’t an ARPA-E project, but it’s worth checking out the tech demo at the summit on Monday.

A Laser-Guided, Methane-Sniffing Drone

Tech Showcase Demo: Tuesday, March 1, 1:30-1:45 p.m.
Photo courtesy of Physical Sciences, Inc.

The U.S. is producing a lot of natural gas these days. Unfortunately, at least two percent of it is wasted through leaks of methane -- a potent greenhouse gas – when natural gas is extracted from the ground. Better, more affordable methane leak detectors could help reduce this waste and its climate impacts, which is why ARPA-E funded this unique self-piloting drone equipped with methane-sensing laser technology.

Designed by Physical Sciences, Inc., the small quadcopter will fly around natural gas well sites and zero in on methane leaks automatically, saving time and money that would otherwise be spent on finding them by hand. This clever design could cut methane emissions at natural gas sites by 95 percent -- at a fraction of the cost of current systems.

The World’s Coolest Office Chair

Tech Showcase Demo: Tuesday, March 1, 2:00-2:15 p.m.

Heating and cooling makes up a huge slice of the energy use in American homes and businesses. Much of that energy goes to waste, heating large buildings or cooling rooms with no one in them, for example. ARPA-E is funding one promising solution: technologies that heat and cool people, instead of spaces.

Imagine if you had an office chair equipped with its own programmable thermostat that could keep your temperature just how you like it. That’s just one of the technologies scientists at the University of California, Berkeley are working to develop, and the results could spark a revolution in how we stay comfortable -- and how much energy we spend on it.