Monday, October 09, 2006

Vancouver Courier's article on Rob Matthies' sustainable solar powered fun energy


Rob Matthies entertains crowds at local festivals with his solar-powered bubble machine. Photo-Dan Toulgoet

Tiny bubbles from the sun

By Sandra Thomas-Staff writer

Rob Matthies believes we shouldn't wait until we run out of oil before finding alternative power sources for everyday living.

So as his contribution to sustainable living, the East Side resident created a solar powered bubble machine.

"We shouldn't wait for the government to start building windmills," said Matthies. "We can be making a difference on our own."

Matthies, a self-proclaimed "tinkerer," personal investor, and member of the Vancouver Amateur Inventors and Gadgeteers hobby group, puts his bubble machine to work at festivals and events in the city and around the Lower Mainland, including the Marpole Street Festival earlier this month and the Maple Ridge Fair last weekend. He also uses the bubbles to draw attention to his wife Sylvia, a children's entertainer who makes balloon figures.

While Matthies always had confidence in the solar panels attached to his machine, he found out just how effective they are at a recent corporate picnic in New Westminster.

"It was cloudy and grey and the sun never did come out, plus we were surrounded by tall trees," said Matthies. "I had no expectation that the solar panels would charge, but when I looked I could see the voltage rising. The kids were coming by because of the bubbles but the parents were also coming by asking 'What have you got there?'"

At the Maple Ridge Fair an elderly man questioned Matthies about the effectiveness of the panels in our often rainy climate, and how they could possibly work.

"I asked him, 'Have you ever used a solar panel?'" said Matthies. "I said you're admitting defeat without even trying it. There are many things we're told are impossible until we try them."

Matthies first became interested in solar power after buying a truckload of panels 20 years ago as an experiment when he was a property manager in New York State. He used the panels to power security lights on each of the buildings he managed, and said the installation was as easy as drilling four holes for screws to hold them in place.

"You don't need an electrician to install them," he said. "The panels ran those lights for seven years before the batteries needed to be replaced. I tried to buy another truckload but oddly enough that little company had been bought out by a huge company and shut down."

While the gadgeteer hobby group he belongs to doesn't have a mandate to create objects for sustainable living, it has become a common theme in most of their inventions. At the Maple Ridge Fair, Matthies let kids try out a solar toaster made from recycled materials that looks a little like a satellite dish with a hot dog bun sticking out of the centre, a solar-powered hat that works as a personal air conditioner, and a solar powered Game Boy system.

"Solar power is very efficient and is usable in rainy Vancouver," said Matthies. "We just need to explore all of its possibilities."

published on 07/31/2005