Charlotte, NCAt Food Lion’s new pilot store, Bloom, shoppers get an RFID scanner along with their cart and total up their groceries on the go. Changed your mind about the frozen pizza? Just press “delete” and your tally will automatically adjust. Can’t find your favorite marinade? Stop at one of Bloom’s eight information stations and get a map pinpointing your item’s location. Paying at the self-service checkout takes about 60 seconds.
New York, NYThe five-story-tall Space Theater at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium has the most technologically advanced projector in the world. It simulates 9,100 stars—the number visible in both hemispheres, with binoculars, on a clear night. A shield with 9,100 tiny holes is located between the light source and the lens of the Zeiss Mark IX projector. Rather than beaming light to the entire inner surface of the projector, glass fibers conduct a concentrated beam to each perforation. The result is a white light with 10 times the intensity of the conventional 4,000-watt projectors used in most planetariums—and sharper, more realistic stars.
Seattle, WAThe catalog in Seattle’s Central Library is more Mapquest than Dewey Decimal. Plug in the name of a book, and you get a diagram of its exact location. Returned books travel by conveyor belt to a machine that scans their RFID tags and groups them. A vacuum-powered rotator faces the books in a single direction, and another machine puts them on carts for manual stacking. Librarians wear wireless transmitters so that they can communicate from anywhere in the building, which is made of a material never before used in the U.S.: aluminum mesh sandwiched between layers of coated glass, which lets light through but minimizes heat and glare. And while visitors are recharging their mental batteries, their electric cars can do the same in the library’s garage.
Hoboken, NJAt the Garden Street Garage, there are no attendants, and parking takes less than a minute. Drivers don’t even enter the building. They simply pull into a docking bay, turn off their engines, swipe their credit cards, and walk away. The 324-car garage does the rest. Vehicles are lifted by an automated elevator and hoisted onto steel pallets by an electro-mechanically driven carrier system. Custom software works in conjunction with Cimplicity, the automation program used by many General Motors manufacturing plants and NASA facilities. Because the garage does not have to provide circular ramps or space for drivers to maneuver, it fits three times as many vehicles as conventional garages. An added plus: The absence of ramps saves thousands of gallons of gas every year.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.