Michelle was included in Chevy Volt's Wired Insider.
WE LIVE IN a world where technology is constantly advancing.
This is an incremental process most of the time. You have computers containing microprocessors that are a little faster than the last model, phones with touchscreens that are slightly more responsive than the previous generation or cars with engines that pack a little extra horsepower than their predecessors. Tiny improvements. Gradual changes. Cool? Yes. Exciting? Not so much.
But every now and then, technology advances not in small steps but in giant leaps. Technology challenges notions, changes opinions and makes lives better. Technology that is not just evolutionary but also revolutionary. It doesn’t happen very often but when it does, it is positively electrifying.
One of the best examples of a piece of revolutionary, evolutionary technology that has come along recently is the new Chevrolet Volt. An electric vehicle with a gas backup generator, the Volt offers some staggering specs not typically seen in EVs. Just consider the vehicle’s range for a moment: On a full charge and full tank of gas it offers an EPA estimated total range of up to 420 miles. 420 miles!1
The Volt is advanced, sure (and we’ll talk a lot more about it in a little bit), but to understand why it’s such an important piece of technology, you have to also understand the kinds of people who are helping drive massive advances in innovation—not just in the automotive industry—but in different industries across the world.
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One of those people is northern California-based architect Michelle Kaufmann. An Ivy League graduate and former protégé of Frank Gehry, Kaufmann was one of the first proponents of modular housing systems—prefabricated units that can be customized and arranged based on the needs of residents. She’s also a futurist who spends a great deal of time thinking about how sustainability can be integrated into architecture.
“We typically think about cars or airplanes but it’s actually buildings that use more energy than any other industry,” says Kaufmann. “It’s our biggest challenge for multiple reasons, because it means that through innovation it’s where we can have the biggest impact,” she says on a breezy spring day in the backyard of a spacious house nestled in the hills north of San Francisco.
How will that happen? Kaufmann thinks about virtually every aspect of sustainability when she designs a building. Going to live in the desert? Add some solar panels to the roof. Constructing a vacation home in the mountains? Install next-generation insulation to keep the house warm. Building a house near the beach? Put in double paned storm windows that can withstand hurricane powered gusts. The upfront cost on all of these items might be higher from the onset but they’ll save money and energy in the long run.
In the same way Michelle thinks about sustainability with her architecture designs, engineers at Chevrolet integrate sustainable components and systems into the new Chevrolet Volt. The vehicle’s charging system, for instance, will automatically adjust its charge levels to ensure that it only draws power at off-peak times. Additionally, the new Volt can also begin charging at a certain time every day based on your location, be it at home or at a charging station.
It doesn’t end there either. Automotive design and architecture share more in common than one might suspect. Kaufmann believes that many tasks in future homes will be automated, connected to the internet, and controlled via voice command. The new Volt already has technology like this integrated into it. The vehicle is not only a rolling Wi-Fi hotspot2 that allows passengers to connect to the Internet through smartphones and tablets, but it also offers integrated features such as Apple Carplay™ and Android Auto™.3
The future is evolving at a faster rate than ever. The new Chevrolet Volt is markedly more advanced than the first generation of the Volt which debuted several years ago. The buildings Kaufmann first designed early in her career are not nearly as progressive as the ones she creates now. But as we fold more technology into our cars and homes, Kaufmann stresses that we should never lose sight of the reason we’re including it in the first place.
“As we think about design and the integration of technology, we have to ask the question of why. What are we optimizing for? And the main thing we could be optimizing for is creating happiness and health in people. We want people to feel good. And we know buildings can do that. They can make people feel good.”
We can’t stall the advancement of technology; things are only going to get faster, better, and more efficient as time goes on no matter if it’s a modular house or a Chevrolet Volt. But as long as we take Kaufmann’s advice to heart and remember why we’re integrating technology in the first place—to make people happy and healthy—then the future will undoubtedly be a bright one.