What Saul Griffith Has Been Up To: Other Lab

While it seemed like you couldn’t get away from speaking appearances and press mentions of inventor, entrepreneur and Squid Labs co-founder Saul Griffith in 2009, he’s been largely off the radar so far in 2010. So what has the MacArthur “genius grant” winner been up to? At our Green:Net event last month, where Griffith spoke on a panel about how the web leads to dematerialization, he told me he has started a new incubator lab, based in San Francisco, called Other Lab.

While I didn’t get many details out of Griffith last month, the New Yorker has a long profile on the tinkerer out next week, which has some more information on what Other Lab is concocting. Griffith co-founded the lab with fellow MIT grads James McBride and Jonathan Bachrach, and the lab will house WattzOn, the energy consumption information website co-created by McBride, among other projects.

One project in the works at the lab, reports the New Yorker, is an electricity-assisted tricycle, which uses a battery that delivers about a kilowatt-hour of power on one charge, or a 50-mile range if the rider pedals half of the time. Another theme is looking at the ways that people consumed energy decades and centuries ago. For example the group is looking at a 1920’s power supply for a telephone which can last centuries. “There are enormous clues about efficiency to be found in the way we used to do things, before energy was essentially free,” Griffith tells the New Yorker. Another interesting theme is looking at lessons learned from other countries that have a high quality of life but low energy use.

The idea behind the lab, according to Griffith, is:

By being completely selfish, and solving all my own energy problems, I will find some general solution that other people will like, too.

Check out the video below to see Griffith’s thoughts on using the web for dematerialization — essentially replacing atoms with bits, like using video conferencing instead of air travel for meetings.

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For more research on energy and information technology, check out my recent piece on Smart Algorithms: The Future of the Energy Industry, in GigaOM Pro (subscription required).