Latro, which is Latin for "thief," is a bionic lamp (left) designed by Netherlands-based designer Mike Thompson. It was inspired by a photosynthesis experiment sponsored by Stanford University and Yonsei University in Japan, and, operates similarly to the sour lamp RentedSpaces profiled earlier. The photosynthesis of algae plants is converted into an electrical current, which powers the lamp.
The energy-efficient Latro lamp is described by Thompson as a "living, breathing product". He writes, "Owners of Latro are required to treat the algae like a pet – feeding and caring for the algae rewarding them with light."
Could harnessing algae be a viable alternative energy source? Or is it wrong to use living creatures to serve our needs this way? It's not exactly akin to daisy-chaining the erratic, fast energy of kittens, puppies, or gerbils to power electricity, (not that this is possible, or that we're suggesting it!), but is it right...?
First, you need to understand how this lamp works. Algae is incredibly easy to cultivate because it has very basic needs: sunlight, carbon dioxide (CO2) and water. So, Thompson designed the lamp so that you add water and your own breath (kind of like a bong, err, hookah) and set it somewhere sunny. Alternatively, you can add water and leave the lamp in the sunlight to "charge" - it can obtain the C02 without your breath, too. The algae processes sunlight and synthesizes food from CO2 and water. This process makes the electric charge used by the lamp. A light sensor monitors the intensity of light so that the algae do not starve and energy is stored in a back-up battery for use in the evening.
Some might object to using the Latro light on the basis that plants can sense pain, even if not exactly to the degree of other sentient creatures with nervous systems.
Whether or not you'd use a Latro lamp, algae is being harvested and used in a number of ways. Big Oil is experimenting with algae as a clean-up method for oil spills and biofuels. Others use algae as the "breath mints of smokestacks" to clean air pollutants. Algae use is supported by many people as it is seen as less damaging compared to other, chemical and oil-based solutions to environmental clean-up.
One thing's for sure: if algae is "lighting the future" in these diverse areas, your Latro lamp will denote a future-forward, modern decor in your apartment. Just be sure to treat it nicely.