Pliant Energy Systems conceptualizes, patents and develops highly novel technologies in the fields of marine robotics, propulsion, electricity generation, and pumping.
1. Why did you start Pliant Energy? Do you remember the moment when you first thought of the idea?
My brother Frank sent me an article on a “smart” material called a Dielectric Elastomer. I was deeply engrossed in my architecture career at the time but had been thinking of ways to harness the energy of waves and rivers since my first degree in marine biology. I started by designing flexible energy-harnessing mechanisms that incorporated Dielectric Elastomers. This broadened into a string of patents with a range of applications in energy-harnessing and marine propulsion that moved beyond the initial inspiration.
The world of high architecture has arbiters and gate-keepers and the best ideas rarely see the light of day. I loved designing buildings, especially during my time at the firm of the late American architect, Philip Johnson. Engineering, however, is a truth-based world. If the truth you demonstrate happens to be beautiful or inspiring, then so much the better.
2. How do you see Pliant Energy impacting how we live our lives?
This depends on which branches of the technology we develop the furthest. Our immediate focus is marine robots, especially robots that can go into watery environments where they can’t easily go today. Very useful for marine scientists, polar scientists, municipal water authorities, etc., but it probably won’t be a technology most people interact within their daily lives.
If we succeed with the energy-harnessing aspects of the technology, this will have a huge impact, especially for irrigation and drinking-water filtration and supply in developing regions of the world. This technology will be working behind the scenes to improve the lives of many and reduce carbon emissions, but it won’t be a visible feature of everyday life for most.
3. How have New York and Newlab positively impacted the development of your business?
New York City buzzes with energy. You feel restless. Maybe that suits entrepreneurs and people who feel the need to make a difference.
Newlab itself has been a great asset for Pliant. Networking, prototyping facilities, public relations, etc.. On a personal level, being part of a community is probably the thing I appreciate the most.
4. What do you see as your responsibility to make technology ethical and accessible to all?
When developing a new technology you have the discretion to target your markets–so long as you maintain a controlling interest in your company. With perhaps a few exceptions, I don’t think a technology by itself can be categorized as ethical or unethical. A blade is a blade, whether a plough or a bayonet. As for making technology accessible to all, this seems like a question for policymakers and, most of all, for voters who demonstrate their priorities with their choices of leadership.
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