Fake trees are often creepy, or at best, unsightly. Think of the jovial yet unsettling talking tree at FAO Schwarz -- didn't it frighten you a bit? Or the far from disguised cell phone towers with bristly "branches" shooting off at right angels? Maybe it's the foliaged answer to the "Uncanny Valley" theory, but it's just plain hard to use the natural beauty of a tree as a convincing disguise. However, when the technologies in need of cloaking are 300-foot wind turbines or acres-wide solar power plants, I guess it's worth a try.
According to Scientific American (via Fast Company), start-up Solar Botanic wants to combine a triumvirate of energy technologies -- photovolatics, thermoelectrics and piezoelectrics -- onto small leaf shapes that attach to artificial trees. The company estimates that the power generated by a 20-foot canopy would be enough to run a house. The trees could also be grouped together into a "forest," staked through parking lots to power electric cars or located near highways to harness the rumbling vibrations of traffic.
There are of course some problems with the idea. Multiple technologies on one little leaf make it awfully hard to flutter and collect that piezoelectric potential. Green photovoltaic leaves aren't as efficient as black and maybe not even powerful enough to generate thermoelectric energy. The biggest catch, though, is the likely $12,000 to $20,000 price tag.
Still, I find the idea of hiding high-tech electronics in trees (and maybe shrubs and palms -- the company is experimenting with different designs) rather quaint. And like the tinsel tree, the sole respectable representative of artificial trees, it might even be kitschy enough to catch on.
More trees, more power at HowStuffWorks.com: Can house music solve the energy crisis? (Piezoelectricity) How Solar Cells Works (Photovoltaic power) Is it possible to generate electricity directly from heat? (Thermoelectricity) How Christmas Trees Work 10 Planet Hacking Schemes -- No. 9: Fake Plastic Trees