Inside America’s weirdest energy lab
SAN FRANCISCO — Informed of a visitor, Saul Griffith slowly wheeled his chair around and put sandals on his bare feet. Below on the workshop floor, a number of his inventions were messily evolving.
In a corner were inflatable arms — those are the robots — and across the aisle, engineers worked on a sort of Iron Man suit made of nylon. In the middle of the room sat a rectangular plastic tent, custom-designed to treat victims of Ebola. Those were the military-funded ideas, mostly. The energy projects were located downstairs, where a team worked on a natural-gas tank for cars that resembles the human intestine, and down the street at a funky converted pipe-organ factory, where air pumps hissed all day, testing a radical approach to making solar farms more productive.
Griffith descended from his office — a sort of open-air platform near the ceiling — and shook hands. His schnauzer, Rumpus, slept nearby in a cardboard box. Griffith wore glasses and a rumpled orange shirt, casually unbuttoned, and sported a half-kempt beard. He generally looks this way, whether he’s skateboarding to the office or giving a TED talk.
“I’veVolumetric Efficiency been using increasingly hiding tactics to do work,” he said, to explain his hideaway.
During this February visit, Griffith was pressed for time. His business is called Otherlab, a startup that doesn’t work in software like everybody else in the San Francisco Bay Area. The engineers here make real, tangible objects, and a great variety of them. Beyond that, Otherlab is a struggle to explain.