Do you remember these glow-in-the-dark little stars which you had on the ceiling when you were a boy or a girl? Yes? It is light. It is pure light. I think I stared at them way too long when I was a five-year-old, you know? It's so beautiful: no energy bill, no maintenance. It is there.
So two years ago, we went back to the lab, making it more durable, more light-emitting, with the experts. And at the same time, we got a request from this guy—Van Gogh, the famous Van Gogh Foundation—who wanted to celebrate his 125th anniversary in the Netherlands. And they came to me and asked, "Can you make a place where he feels more alive again in the Netherlands?" And I liked that question a lot, so in way, we sort of started to connect these two different worlds. This is how my brain works, by the way. I would love to keep on doing this for an hour, but OK. And this is the result that we made: a bicycle path which charges at daytime via the sun and glows at night, up to eight hours. Thank you.
Hinting towards a future which should be energy friendly and linking up the local grounds as Van Gogh literally walked and lived there in 1883. And you can go there every night for free, no ticket needed. People experience the beauty of cycling through the starry night, thinking about green energy and safety.
I want to create places where people feel connected again. And it was somehow great to make these projects happen with the industry, with the infrastructure companies. So when these sheikhs of Qatar started to call: "How much for 10 kilometers?" Yeah, really, that's a weird call you're going to get. But it's fascinating that this is not just a sort of one-off, nice-to-have special. I think this kind of creative thinking, these kinds of connections—it's the new economy.
The World Economic Forum, the think tank in Geneva, made an interview with a lot of smart people all around the world, asking, "What are the top 10 skills you and I need to become successful?" And what is interesting, what you see here: it's not about money or being really good in C++, although these are great skills to have, I have to admit. But look at number three, creativity; number two, critical thinking; number one, complex problem-solving—all the things a robot or a computer is really bad at. And this makes me very optimistic, very hopeful for the new world, that as we will live in this hyper-technological world, our human skills—our desire for empathy, our desire for curiosity, our desire for beauty—will be more appreciated again, and we will live in a world where creativity is our true capital.
And a creative process like that—I don't know how it works for you, but in my brain, it always starts with a question: Why? Why does a jellyfish emit light? Or a firefly? Or why do be accept pollution? This is from my room in Beijing three years ago. Left image is a good day—Saturday. I can see the cars and the people, the birds; life is OK in a dense urban city. And on the right image—holy moly. You know, pollution—complete layers. I couldn't even see the other side of the city. And this image made me really sad. This is not the bright future we envision here at TED—this is the horror. We live five to six years shorter; children have lung cancer when they're six years old. And so in a weird, beautiful way, I, at that moment, became inspired by Beijing smog.
And the governments all around the world are fighting their war on smog, but I wanted to make something within the now. So we decided to build the largest smog vacuum cleaner in the world. It sucks up polluted air, cleans it and then releases it. And we built the first one. So it sucks up 30,000 cubic meters per hour, cleans it on the nano level—the PM2.5, PM10 particles—using very little electricity, and then releases the clean air, so we have parks, playgrounds, which are 55 to 75 percent more clean than the rest of the city.
Yes! And every month or so, it opens like a spaceship—like a Marilyn Monroe with the—well, you know what. Anyway. So this...this is the stuff we are capturing. This is Beijing smog. This is in our lungs right now. If you live next to a highway, it's the same as 17 cigarettes per day. Are we insane? When did we say yes to that? And we had buckets of this disgusting material in our studio, and on a Monday morning, we were discussing, we were like, "Shit, what should we do with it? Should we throw it away?"Like, "Help!" And then we realized: no, no, no, no, no—waste should not exist. Waste for the one should be food for the other. So, here, maybe show it around. Do not put this in your coffee.
And we realized that 42 percent is made out of carbon, and carbon, of course, under high pressure, you get...diamonds. So, inspired by that, we compress it for 30 minutes and make smog-free rings.
And so by sharing—yeah, really! And so by sharing a ring, you donate 1,000 cubic meters of clean air to the city the tower is in.
I have one here—a little floating cube. I will give one to you. I'm not going to propose, don't worry.
Are we good? Yeah, we're good. You can show it around.
And we put this online—Kickstarter campaign, crowdfunding. And people started to preorder it, but more importantly, they started to prepay it. So the finance we made with the jewelry helped us to realize, to build the first tower. And that's powerful. So the waste the activator, it was the enabler. Also, the feedback from the community—this is a wedding couple from India, where he proposed to her with the smog-free ring as a sign of true beauty, as a sign of hope. And she said yes.
I love this image so much for a lot of different reasons.
And right now, the project is touring through China, actually with the support of China's central government. So the first goal is to create local clean-air parks, and that works already quite well—55, 75 percent more clean. And at the same time, we team up with the NGOs, with the governors, with the students, with the tech people, to say, "Hey, what do we need to do to make a whole city smog-free?" It's about the dream of clean air. We do workshops. New ideas pop up. These are smog-free bicycles which—I'm Dutch, yes?—I have this "bicycle DNA" inside of me somewhere. And so it sucks up polluted air, it cleans it and releases it, in the fight against the car, in the celebration of the bicycle.
And so right now, we're working on a sort of "package deal," so to speak, where we say, "Smog-free towers, smog-free rings." We go to the mayors or the governors of this world, and say, "We can guarantee a short-term reduction of pollution between 20 and 40 percent. Please sign here right now." Yes?
So it's all about connecting new technology with creative thinking. And if you start thinking about that, there is so much you can imagine, so much more you can do. We worked on dance floors which produce electricity when you dance on them. We did the design for that—2008. So it moves eight or nine millimeters, produces 25 watts. The electricity that we generate is used for the lighting or the DJ booth. So some of the sustainability is about doing more, not about doing less.
But also on a larger scale, the Netherlands, where I'm from, we live below sea level. So because of these beauties—the Afsluitdijk: 32 kilometers, built by hand in 1932—we live with the water, we fight with the water, we try to find harmony, but sometimes we forget. And therefore, we made "Waterlicht," a combination of LEDs and lenses, which show how high the water level would be—global change—if we stop. If, today, we all go home and we say, "Oh, whatever, somebody else will do it for us," or we'll wait for government or whomever. You know, we're not going to do that. It goes wrong. And we placed this in public spaces all around the world. Thousands of people showed up.
Thank you. You're too nice, you're too nice. That's not good for a designer.
So thousands of people showed up, and some, actually, were scared. And they left; they experienced the floods in 1953. And others were mesmerized. Can we make floating cities? Can we generate electricity from the change in tides? So I think it's so important to make experiences—collective experiences—where people feel connected with a vision, with a future and trigger what is possible.
At the same time, you know, these kinds of things—they're not easy, yes? It's a struggle. And what I experienced in my life is that a lot of people say they want innovation, and they want the next and the new, the future. But the moment you present a new idea, there's this weird tendency to reply to every new idea starting with two words. Which is?
No, not "How much?" It's more annoying.
What is it, guys? Or you're really blessed people? That's really good.
"Yes, but." Very good. "Yes, but: it's too expensive, it's too cheap, it's too fast, it's too slow, it's too beautiful, it's too ugly, it cannot be done, it already exists." I have heard everything about the same project in the same week. And I got really, really annoyed. I got a bit of gray hair, started to dress in black like a true architect.
And one morning I woke up and I said, "Daan, stop. This is dragging you down. You have to do something with this. You have to use it as an ingredient, as a component." And so we decided to build, to realize the famous "Yes, but" chair.
And this is an existing chair by Friso Kramer, a Dutch design. But we gave it a little "update," a little "hack," so to speak. We placed a little voice-recognition element right here. So the moment you sit on that chair, and you say those two horrible, creative-destructive, annoying little words—you get a short—but pretty intense little shock on the back side of your bottom.
And that works; yeah, that works. Some clients have left us, they got really mad. Fortunately, the good ones have stayed. And, of course, we also apply it to ourselves.
But ladies and gentlemen, let's not be afraid. Let's be curious, yes? And, you know, walking through TED in these days and hearing the other speakers and feeling the energy of the crowd, I was remembering this quote of the Canadian author, Marshall McLuhan, who once famously said, "On spacecraft earth, there are no passengers. We are all crew." And I think this so beautiful. This is so beautiful! We're not just consumers; we're makers: we make decisions, we make new inventions, we make new dreams. And I think if we start implementing that kind of thinking even more within today, there's still a whole new world to be explored.
All right, thank you.