Five Questions with Holden Bonwit

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Holden Bonwit. I am a slight-eco-geek, a breakfast-cooker, an ultimate frisbee player, a hammock-sitter, and I enjoy exploring my world via walking, running, unicycling, bicycling, motorcycling, hitchhiking, and regular ole’ roadtrippin’.

I’m a mechanical engineer who has a decade of real-world, hands-on experience with small unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) and electric vehicles (EVs), and I now challenge my mind at an IdeaLab energy storage startup in Pasadena, CA.

For UAVs, I designed payloads for this, and similar planes:

For EVs, I designed the home charger for the Nissan Leaf:

And there’s not much there, because we’re just starting, but I now work at:

How do you bring ideas to life?

I look at the end requirements, and always try and focus on these, rather than getting caught up and diverted by minutiae (some level of detailed design is, of course, always required). I like to keep a physical copy of these (list, image, video, physical setup) around to remind myself throughout the creation process.

Then I try a first version quickly and by whatever inexpensive materials necessary. Even though this will most likely not be as efficient as the end product, or as beautiful, this gives invaluable feedback as to what variables carry different levels of importance, as well as what aspects of design (connections, user interface, etc.), may be a challenge for the final design.

I like to stay organized and create and keep lists of components as well as their vendor, cost, and lead times as a reference for each project. This is helpful during design, but invaluable a year or two from now when I will (no doubt) need that information for a different project.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I recommend “Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution”, because it elucidates the true impact of our first world consumption, down to the soil we rely on. Additionally, it shows us positive opportunities and paths forward.

What is one piece of advice that you’d like to give?

Advice is free to give, but can be very expensive to receive. Choose wisely upon receipt! Gather lots, see what makes sense to you, and then act.

(I’m sure this is attributable to someone, but can’t find out who!)

What is one idea that you’re going to bring to life in 2012?

No promises, but I would like to own and use an electric vehicle for transportation. It’s super efficient, and can be less complex, more cost effective, more beautiful than our current fossil fuel modes of transport.

Electric vehicles are a pillar of sustainable consumption, and I hope it becomes a model for what is possible in the next decade.