“Xinova helped me in becoming more courageous about calling myself an inventor, and gave me confidence that my ideas could go beyond theory. I’m also inspired by seeing the impact that your inventors have in business and beyond.” Brenda McCaffrey, PhD, Xinova innovator
Brenda McCaffrey has come a long way over the past year. A successful entrepreneur, engineer and consultant, McCaffrey has long forged her own path as an innovator without calling herself as such. But last year she experienced self-actualization upon joining the Xinova innovator collective. For the first time, she said, she found her tribe: others like her who live to create, explore and play with wild ideas.
She has since become comfortable—even proud—to define herself as an inventor. Doing so has freed her to advance issues of both global and personal importance under the banner of innovation, and to engage others with her inventive gifts for important causes. Her current passion project sets about enabling women to generate light for children’s education using ancient Pacific Islander techniques with woven materials combined with an elegant, seamless integration of technology.
by Brenda McCaffrey, PhD
As a consultant and engineer, I wear many hats and draw inspiration from multiple fields of expertise to solve industry problems. Other innovators have inspired me to confront some of society’s and Planet Earth’s biggest problems—education and rising sea levels–using my tools and creativity as an inventor. As an islander and a global citizen, I wish to create something that weaves together technology with dance and indigenous cultural practices to illuminate the threat rising sea levels pose to our children. I wish for their futures to be lit up with hope and optimism. As an innovator, I wish to inspire a love for innovation in the next generation that will equip them to solve challenges they’ll face in a future defined by accelerating change.
I initially started working on Charged Movement: Woven Structures that Generate Light in conjunction with the dance, media arts and fashion communities at Arizona State University. I was motivated by the notion that moving bodies naturally cause electrostatic charge formation in clothing. My experience of the movement of electronic charge in materials is unique and notable, so I have a rather visceral understanding of how charge is created through triboelectric action, and how this charge flows in materials. I set out to explore how this charge could be used to mediate movement in constructive ways for a dancer. I came to understand that twisted and woven fibers form tensegretic structures (think geodesic domes) that are the generator of electrostatic charge. I have submitted an abstract to a nanotechnology conference to discuss this action.
After studying weaving, I continue to be amazed at the ubiquity of this technology. I’m deeply interested in dynamical systems theory and machine learning, and use Python to explore patterns in woven materials
The Island peoples of the world are in danger of losing their homes and cultures due to rising sea levels and violent storms. What if their traditional wisdom is also the source of the best solutions to these problems? Motivation for the Charged Movement project is driven by the problem faced by Islanders around the world as a result of climate change, rising sea levels and catastrophic storms. We’ve seen the effects of these issues on Island nations such as Puerto Rico, and the dire situation faced by the people of Kiribati in the Central Pacific.
I consider myself to be an Islander and have deep concern and compassion for the loss of life, property and culture as a result of these events. Islanders are intelligent and resilient, and can overcome great hardships through creativity, hard work, community and determination.
What if we could create our own energy source by simple weaving of basic materials? Rather than depending on central power generation and electric grids for energy (often subject to dire weather conditions), what if people around the world had complete control of their own energy production?
Energy is generated through the movement of woven materials. Imagine a group of women in Tonga, for example, who can use traditional weaving methods to create shade structures that naturally blow in the wind, creating enough electricity to turn on lights so that children can study in the evenings. This technology is simple and can be open-sourced, and could lead to increased independence and self-determination of indigenous people worldwide, allowing them to educate their children in entirely new ways.
Woven materials are central to the culture of many Islands in the Pacific. What if weavers in Pacifica (and elsewhere in the world?) had free access to technology and training around how to use traditional weaving techniques to create shade structures that would naturally provide light without being connected to a central electrical grid, subject to high cost and vulnerable to weather? What other applications could people find for using this energy?
What would happen if women weavers had the information needed to create energy from their weaving, and use this energy to create illumination in the home and schools?
From my experience in the worlds of electrostatics, materials and dance, I recognize how basic it is for a human to generate electronic charge. Electrostatic charge is naturally generated when fibers are interwoven. The transient high voltage pulses created in this way can’t be used to charge an iPhone, for example, and it can’t be used to operate standard integrated circuits because it is not a regulated power supply with a steady voltage, so it is generally ignored in academic and industrial research environments.
However, my prototype has shown that charge generated from woven materials can be used to briefly light a high-quality Light Emitting Diode (LED). What other kinds of luminous materials can it trigger? That’s an interesting question.
I love the idea of simply making the technology available, and I have confidence in the intelligence and industry of the Pacific Islanders. If these techniques can be helpful to them, they will find a way to use them. It would be gratifying to see my innovation expanded beyond my current vision!
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