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The Environmental Technology of Wall*E

In general I'll take any excuse to go see a kid's movie. Aside from the fact that I'm currently at the stage in my life where I find six year-olds to be annoying, content created for them often seems to be extremely entertaining. Proving, once again, that since I'm a grown-up's my turn to decide what that means.

But, obviously, as chief geek here at EcoGeek I had to best place levitra go see Wall*E; the story of a little solar-powered robot left behind to take care of the mess left on Earth. The result, aside from a wonderful and humorous love story in which the robots seem considerably more human than humans, contains some interesting ideas about the environment and technology.

In the movie, the Earth is abandoned in about 2110...about 100 years from now. In that time, we've made some good advances in renewable energy, and even efficiency, but it wasn't enough.

Wall*E himself is the most prominent example of clean technology. We've covered robots that may help to sort trash, or break it down into more manageable chunks. But obviously Wall*E's finest clean technology are his exceptionally (in fact, impossibly) efficient solar panels. Just like the Solio charger, Wall*E's panels expand and fold-out to become larger than the surface area of Wall*E himself.

However, the surface area of the panels, at most two feet square, won't ever provide enough electricity for Wall*E's roving and trash compacting (never mind his high-powered laser.) To actually renewably charge the cialis mail order army of self-sustaining robots (of which Wall*E is the last remaining survivor) a huge solar array would need to be maintained (by other robots) and Wall*E would have to visit it regularly for recharges.

Alternately, it's possible that an invisible and undiscussed satellite array is collecting huge amounts of the best site levitra online without prescription energy in orbit around the earth. And when Wall*E needs a charge he calls down a super-powerful beam of photons or microwaves. That would allow him to charge for a full day's work in a matter of minutes.

Additionally, on the post-apocalyptic earth, advertisements are solar powered and holographic projections for the mega-corps who have taken over as our government are only turned on when they detect movement.

Aside from the disturbing idea that Wal-Mart may one day be our government, it's true that they're using similar technology to turn off display lights when there are no shoppers, saving tons of electricity. And they have what may turn out to be the largest privately owned collection of solar panels in the world.

In Wall*E's world we seem to have developed some great environmental technologies. Wind turbines abound...though they are covered up to their necks in the refuse of our civilization. This, for me, was the movie's most powerful statement. Is it possible that, no matter how much power we produce renewably, we will never satisfy the cialis england demand of the Earth's people. Will we simply consume our way back into the hole of buy levitra online canadian phamacy unsustainability no matter what solutions are presented by technology?

Obviously I hope that's not the case. I do, however, think it's possible. While humans are very good at creating solutions, we're also very good at being stupid. The massive amounts of refuse on usefull link buy viagra low price the planet don't seem to be the true problem. It's the pollution of the skies and ground that has destroyed plant and enter site viagra buying animal life that really seems to have forced humans off the planet.

And while there are several examples of robots that are looking to monitor pollution, and even some that might help us grow food or clean pollution, the massive scale of the potential problem is daunting.

Obviously, I'm taking all of this from a movie that is about robot love...not about the environment. But the fact that such a vision of the future is viagra in uk even culturally acceptable and doesn't seem at all ridiculous is a pretty big step. Recognizing you have a problem is the first step in the treatment of any disease. And, in the end, that may be Wall*E's biggest contribution to environmental technology.

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Comments (23)Add Comment
written by Clinch, June 29, 2008
While I haven't yet seen this movie, I think it could be a bad idea to expose impressionable young minds to the sort of sci-fi and tech in the movie.

Hopefully, they'll just ignore the science, just think it's a film about cute robots, but it give them unreasonable expectations of alternative energy, and if they think they can get all their energy from a 2 foot solar panel, they might not make any effort to conserve energy (assuming that there are some kids that would, which probably isn't true anyway).

As for Wall-E's energy problem, maybe he's also got some kind of ambient energy collector, or can absorb and store energy from lightning, because to be honest, in a world covered in smog and pollution, solar panels are going to be useless (e.g. the Matrix, which brings me to my next point, Wall-E obviously gets his energy from eating the follow link overnight canadian levitra last remaining humans on Earth...).
re: kids
written by Hank, June 29, 2008
I'd actually be more worried about adults getting the wrong idea. Frankly, I get enough people asking me why there aren't solar powered cars already.

Kids have far more flexible notions of how the world works, and are ready to have their ideas formed and reformed a great deal. Adults think they actually know how the world works...and if we'll be damned if someone's going to try to prove us wrong.
written by Tracy, June 29, 2008
...and maybe one of those kids will figure out a way for there to be a 2 ft solar panel that can provide that level of power.

Seems like this vision of the world is what we need to get kids thinking about it. And it's not like I am expecting my bubble house and flying car, which is what the vision of the future was when I was a kid.
Most commercial solar in US not actually
written by Kevin, June 30, 2008
Most of the new solar in the US--including the vast majority of solar installed on WalMart stores--is not actually owned by the customer but by investors, the power being sold to the customers through Power Purchase Agreements. Don't mean this to be a technical quibble, but it's largely the 30% tax credit that attracts investors to these systems and has enabled a lot of growth in the states over the last few years.
re: small solar panels
written by Hank, June 30, 2008
Tracy, it's not that we haven't figured out how to make a small solar panel power something the size of a car (or even Wall*E) It's that it's impossible. You can only collect the amount of energy that that hits the earth. Per square meter, that's about equal to 1000 watts on the sunniest day at high noon. Even with perfect conversion (right now it's about 30%) you'd at least 100 walle sized panels to power a car.
written by Mad Marcus, June 30, 2008
Leave it to a collection of geeks to over-analyze a children's movie for technological flaws. Are you the same people who show up at Star Trek conventions and debate the feasibility of the transporter with the poor cast members? Hey...lighten up, it's meant to be entertaining!!! Do you think kids are going to walk out of the theater pondering solar potential per square meter of surface area, or do you think they'll be laughing about the part where WALL-E finds the fire extinguisher? My guess is the latter. Why not simply praise the film's efforts to foreshadow the consequences of irresponsible environmental practices instead of nit-picking how they did it?
re: re: smaller panels...
written by Tracy, June 30, 2008
ah, Hank - you are thinking too much! Impossible, smimpossible!
Yes...I am that guy
written by Hank, June 30, 2008
I may not discuss the feasibility of transporters with the cast members, but I'm proud to discuss it with other geeks :-)

I'm not really nitpicking least, not until the comments. I don't care...I just think it's interesting to think about these things.
written by Conrad Nied, June 30, 2008
I can't believe you referred to xkcd as well! I love Wall-E, I love xkcd, I love environmental technology, and I love you for uniting them all into this awesome blog!!!
written by Clinch, June 30, 2008
Leave it to a collection of geeks to over-analyze a children's movie for technological flaws

Well, this is a geek site, it even has geek in the name, so what did you expect? If you can't understand that, then maybe you shouldn't be here.

As for how Wall-E's solar panels get so much juice, maybe there's no ozone layer, and a much thinner atmosphere, so more light gets through, or the earth's orbit has shifted closer to the sun.

And while it's highly unlikely that we'll see them anytime soon, I think solar cars are potentially possible for mainstream use.
Current solar races have been going since 1985, and, although the cars are completely impractical for normal use, the potential improvements in technology, of increased solar panel efficiency, increased electric engine efficiency, and decreased car weight (using super-lightweight materials), could improve solar cars by ten times or more! (although they would still be useless in places with commonly bad weather)
written by Rachel, June 30, 2008
That is possibly the best xkcd comic ever. I went to the xkcd meetup in Cambridge last fall and literally fell all over Randall Munroe out of nerd-fangirlishness. Anyway...

My very small cousin asked me if Wall*E could work in real life, and I was torn about what to tell him. Eventually I told him that Wall*E would have to run on solar power and, also, magic, which he found to be a completely satisfactory answer. Because apparently "magic" is my go-to phenomenon-explainer. I probably read too many fantasy novels.

I thought Wall*E did a great job of incorporating the environment without being completely obnoxious about it (*cough* The Happening *cough*). And it has adorable robots, so really, what's not to love?
War can fix it all
written by Warrior, June 30, 2008
There is nothing WW3 can not fix.
Kill a couple billion people and we will go back to the dark ages for centuries.
Did more good than harm
written by AJ, June 30, 2008
Kids won't remember the dimensions of the solar panels. They won't remember the solar panels at all, or the wind turbines.

They will remember how awful a world with brown skies and a surface covered in junk is.

They will see how beautiful one plant is compared to a mound of garbage.

And the garbage wasn't "garbage" as we see it - plastic wrappers and food refuse. It was the stuff of our lives. Eye glasses, toys, video tapes, trinkets.
written by Caroline, June 30, 2008
I LOVED the movie, mostly because I saw it as a very needed social critique. I hope no one left the theater thinking that that sort of future was acceptable, I certainly didn't.

As a geek it's often useful to step back and consider that no amount of exciting, innovative technology won't solve our problems--and I think this was one of the strong messages that the film produced.

In the movie the apocalypse was preventable, and only preventable given a level of human compassion for the Earth that surpasses the desire for needless consumption.
written by Drew Long, June 30, 2008
The writer of his post got it wrong. Wall-E *is* about the environment...and love, and friendship, and courage, and selflessness. Like any good story, it's not about just one thing, and it's not heavy handed in pushing any one agenda.

Sometimes I think the worst part about geeks is that often they're not very complex or holistic thinkers.
Social impact doubtful
written by A. L., June 30, 2008
Went and saw this movie on Saturday, and while I loved the movie both from an entertainment and environmental perspective, after the movie was over it was terribly depressing to see all the trash left around the theater! Sadly ironic that even *right after* seeing a film where trash ruins our planet, people can't even be bothered to take their plastic cup to the nearest recycling bin or trash can.
Moore's Law for Solar?
written by Dan, June 30, 2008
Well, I am one to believe that once Solar panels are produced/manufactured more, that more competition will breed more efficient solar panels, batteries, motors, etc...

I believe(pray) that day will be coming soon.
written by Magnulus, June 30, 2008
To A.L: The first thing my girlfriend said after we left "Supersize Me" was "I really need some Burger King right now." (We never eat at McD's anyway.)

And Hank, if you're reading this: I'm sorry. I saw no other way.
Movie theatre trash?
written by Chris, June 30, 2008
Sadly ironic that even *right after* seeing a film where trash ruins our planet, people can't even be bothered to take their plastic cup to the nearest recycling bin or trash can.

Job security!
A movie about environmental, social, and
written by Ian, June 30, 2008
I watched Wall*e a couple days ago and couldn't help but notice all of the issues in the film.(thanks english classes...)

So, in a nutshell, the movie criticizes modern-day issues by showing the future where those same issues (lack of environmental concern, the increasing divide between the rich [consumerist ideal - humans] and the poor [working ideal - robots], and the lack of political intervention) have come to full fruition.

Personally, I thought the movie was a great love story and kids movie. I Thoroughly enjoyed it.
written by Clinch, June 30, 2008
Moore's Law for Solar?

Moore's law can only work when there's possibilities for continuous large advancements, which isn't the case for solar panels, as they have a maximum theoretical efficiency of 100% (although in reality, it's probably something more like 99%), and once they get there, that's it (they're about 30% at the moment).

As for solar powered cars, and making them more viable if we make the engines more efficient, well it turns out some of the engines have up to 98% efficiency (so not much room for improvement there then)
written by Melanie, July 01, 2008
Unfortunately I saw this post before seeing the movie, so the whole time I was explaining things to my girlfriend.
I mostly had problems with other inaccurate parts of the movie, since I don't know much about new sciences.

Maybe I'm just PMSing, but I balled at the end. I thought it was really good at bringing the idea of a wasted planet forward.
Also, awesome love story.
written by Tuan, July 13, 2008
Personally, I think the movie isn't just for kids. It is targeted for the general audience just like many other recent successful animations such as Shreks, the Incredibles, Finding Nemo etc. However, I particularly like Wall-E alot because it isnt the normal animation featuring silly-humor, super-charged heroism, and/or talking animals. It is instead an interesting vision of the future painted by stunning visuals of the world and space. All in all I think the movie was successful in getting adults or even kids to think more about the environment and wonder about our future. For the sake of fun discussion a few other inaccuracies I noticed were on the cruiseship they launch massive amount of metal junks into space (what happened to conservation of mass? how do they restock metals/materials?), mostly white people in future (what happened to diversity? =D), a plant in space would not survive (the part where walle escaped the self-destructing pod with the plant and met with Eva in space) as the water pressure difference would explode the little thing, how do humans make babies if they're indifference about each other and too overweight to do anything? it takes 700 yrs for human bone structure to deteriorate that much? when they return to earth, the movie doesnt say how the humans are gonna address the previous "trash" output problems that caused them to leave earth in the first place.

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