Solar-Powered Media Project

  • Investigating the environmental impacts of online media content and designing a global network of solar-powered server

a solar panel propped against a window

The Solar Powered Media is a research project aimed at investigating the environmental impacts of online media content and the associated network infrastructure. The myth that our online activities have no cost, both environmentally and economically, is constantly reinforced by concepts like “the cloud” and by the myriads of online companies offering supposedly free accounts, free data storage, and free services. This project tries to address these misconceptions by investigating the environmental footprint of our online behaviors and Web design decisions. In particular, we are investigating the design opportunities presented by working with renewable energy and how the intermittence and natural logics of different energy sources can be used in system design.

The project is based on a prototype system of a solar-powered server (hardware and software) that hosts web content that is responsive to the sun and the energy availability stored in the battery powering the system. The project has also been evolving and scaling through an initiative called Solar Protocol (solarprotocol.net) which is an experimental network of solar-powered servers installed at different locations around the world (US, Canada, Australia, Chile and Dominica so far!). As the sun rises and sets, each server turns on and off as its solar panel goes into sunlight or darkness. When a request to the Solar Protocol website is made, traffic is directed to whichever server is enjoying the most sunlight at that moment.

What will the team work on: Students will be learning how to set-up a solar-powered server, will get some hands-on experience with the hardware and software necessary to power a solar-powered website, and depending on their interests/passions/skills they can contribute to any of the below aspects of the project:

  • Experimenting with lower-power and smaller versions of this system (Physical Computing, Programming) 
  • Exploring design styles and guidelines for lower-impact web content and online media creation (Web Design, HTML, CSS, Graphic Design, UX/UI Design) and researching the power consumption of such techniques and choices
  • Collaborating with solar-server hosts and other community partners around the world and managing their project contributions (Community Management, Relationship Building, Design Research) 
  • Writing and documenting various aspects of the project through visual aids, short-papers, tutorials and interactive demos (Publishing, Education). 

 

This project has been supported through an NYU Green Grant and the Eyebeam Rapid Response Fellowship.

 

Faculty Advisor

  • Benedetta Piantella
  • Email: benedetta.piantella@nyu.edu
  • Tega Brain
  • Email: brain@nyu.edu