Taking the guesswork out of gardening, Parrot at CES unveiled a new plant sensor aptly named Flower Power.
With wireless sensors to measure sunlight, humidity, temperature and fertilizer, Flower Power, which takes the form of a stake that goes into the soil, keeps tabs on the health of your plants and sends this information wirelessly to your smartphone via the low-powered Bluetooth 4.0.
Supported by a database of 6,000 plants, the wireless sensor analyzes the data it collects, letting you know how a plant is faring specific to its traits (eg. some flowers are thirstier than others, some like sunbathing more than others). In the event your black thumb kicks in, Flower Power will let you know your greenery is in need of some TLC (or water).
Though Parrot was mum on pricing, it indicated that Flower Power is expected to launch by the end of the year.
Makes Makes for a Perfect Tree: This is truly for the meticulous, most fastidiuos Christmas tree decorator, who really must have just the right mix of lights, ornaments and tinsel distributed perfectly on the ole Tannenbaum.
It is a mathematical formula that one can use to design the most perfect tree. It was created students Nicole Wrightman and Alex Craig of the University of Sheffield in the U.K. Their "treegonometry" takes into the account the height of a tree in order to calculate the ideal number of ornaments, length of tinsel, length of lights and location of the star on top.
Get out your calculator, folks. Here it is:
Number of baubles = √17 / 20 x (tree height in cms)
Length of tinsel (cms) = 13 x Π / 8 x (tree height in cms)
Length of lights (cms) = Π x (tree height in cms)
Height of star/fairy/angel (cms) = height of tree in cms /10
Artificial soil-like materials have been developed to help scientists image the secret world of plant roots. The view could help biologists, chemists and physicists improve crops and identify ways to prevent the outbreak of plant-based diseases.
The clear soil was developed by theoretical biologist Lionel Dupuy at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee, Scotland. It's is made of a synthetic material known as Nafion. The compound can be modified to mimic the chemistry of natural soils. It's not transparent at first, but when watered in a customized liquid solution, the particles bend light, making the solution clear.
Dupuy and his colleagues used the soil to analyze how E. coli bacteria, certain strains of which can be harmful to humans, interacts with lettuce roots. By using a genetically modified version of E. coli that carried a green fluorescent protein from jellyfish, the scientists could see through the clear soil how the bacterium formed micro-colonies in the root zone.
"If we understand better the contamination route, then we can develop strategies to limit the transfer of E. coli to the food chain," Dupuy told Inside Science. "We don't really understand how E. coli enters the food chain, particularly for fresh produce."
The researchers published their study in the journal PLOS.
Former porn star Jenna Jameson's "Pleather Yourself" photo shoot was a provocative, anti-leather component of PETA's NSFW initiative last summer. However, the animal rights group might not have to resort to such gimmicky tactics in the future, now that laboratory leather is on the horizon.
"Our emphasis first is not on meat, it's on leather," cofounder and CEO Andras Forgacs told Txchnologist. "The main reason is that, technically, skin is a simpler structure
than meat, making it easier to produce."
Though still in the development stage, Modern Meadow envisions doing so by first extracting, isolating and even genetically modifying cells from live animals. Next, cells would be proliferated in a bioreactor and lumped together to create aggregated spheres of cells. The aggregates would then be put together in layers, allowing them to fuse together, potentially by way of 3-D printing.
Then the bioassembled cells would be put into a bioreactor and given time to mature.
"We create the embryonic precursor and, in the bioreactor, apply
physical cues to let nature take over," Forgacs said. "This stimulates
collagen production in the case of the cells that will become leather
and muscle growth in what will become meat."
Finally, after several weeks of cells being deprived of food, skin tissue turns to hide while the muscle and fat tissue are harvested for food. Being that the hides are hairless and don't have a tough outer skin, the tanning process is condensed, thus decreasing the amount of toxic chemicals needed for the operation.
"Nothing we're doing requires a scientific leap of
faith," Forgacs said. "There's no science we're using that we're not
confident with. This isn't about scientific risks, it's about
Sheep Collar Sends Distress Texts: As wolf populations around the world rebound, livestock are nervous -- as are livestock farmers. In Switzerland, a biologist has developed a collar that can monitor a sheep's heart rate, know when the animals is distressed and then tweet the farmer that something may be wrong.
Prototypes of the collar, which were conceived by Wolf expert Jean-Marc Landry from the Swiss carnivore research group Kora, employ technology similar to heart rate monitors runners use.
The collars were tested on 12 sheep who were scared out of the wool by two muzzled Czechoslovakian Wolfdogs. Final versions of the collars should be available in the Fall, and could either have a computer chip that sends a text message alert to the farmer or plays a loud noise or sprays a chemical repellent to frighten off the wolf. via BBC
I come from a pasty Norwegian breed. In my younger, devil-may-care years, I used to scoff at wearing sunscreen with the belief that the quickest way to skin cancer a bronzed bod was roasting myself at the beach without a drop of SPF in sight.
Not any more. I've read the reports and even witnessed my dad, who has a similar complexion, receive skin test results that came back malignant. Now I'm a liberal sunscreen applier when I go out. Plus, sunscreen makes you smell like you just came from the beach, and I like that. It's my new cologne.
In some ways, our planet is of a pasty breed and needs adequate protection from the sun, too. Many scientists say our planet is getting hotter, compliments of us industrious folks who call Earth home.
Here in Missouri, the grass is brown and the leaves on the trees are wilted. The USDA has declaredevery county in the state as disaster area because of the drought. Just a random old hot-and-dry summer or the consequences of human-induced climate change?
Well, a couple of Harvard engineers aren't waiting around for your opinion. David Keith and James Anderson are preparing to spray thousands of tons of sun-reflecting sulphate aerosols into the sky over Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Why? They believe the particles will reflect the sun's rays back into space and help lower the Earth's temperature.
They plan to do so by using a balloon flying 80,000 feet above the Fort Sumner. The geoengineering project aims to mimic the effects of volcanoes spewing sulphuric ash into the air.
Keith says the project could be an inexpensive way to slow down climate change, however other scientists warn that his methods could have dire effects on the planet's weather systems and food supplies. Environmentalists fear Keith's method is merely a stopgap that undermines efforts to accurately fight climate change by reducing carbon emissions.
The experiment will take place in a year and see the release of tens or hundreds of kilograms of particles that, besides measuring impacts on ozone chemistry, will also find ways to make the sulphate aerosols the correct size.
"The objective is not to alter the climate, but simply to probe the processes at a micro scale," Keith told the Guardian. "The direct risk is very small.
However, Pat Mooney, executive director of the technology watchdog ETC Group, begs to differ:
"Impacts include the potential for further damage to the ozone layer, and disruption of rainfall, particularly in tropical and subtropical regions – potentially threatening the food supplies of billions of people. It will do nothing to decrease levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or halt ocean acidification. And solar geoengineering is likely to increase the risk of climate-related international conflict -- given that the modelling to date shows it poses greater risks to the global south."
What say you? Let the balloon fly or pop it with a BB gun before lifts off?
However, here we are, at the threshold. So let's say you and I take a jaunty stroll through the magical world of bovine artificial insemination, shall we?
When it comes to coitus uninterruptus, save for those of the more oblivious and introverted persuasion, we humans are pretty quick at picking up on the kind of signals that lead to the bedroom. But when it comes to telling whether or not a cow is in heat, as to be expected, we're somewhat less fluent in that language of love.
Rather than get lost in translation, German dairy farmer, Joseph Wintjens, equips his cows with a sex sensor called Heatime. The small box attaches to the collar and measures the cow's temperature twice a day, then sends the data to a computer.
"Often the period between a cow displaying her heat symptoms and ovulating is actually quite small," professor Karl Schellander told DW. Schellander heads the department of animal husbandry at the University of Bonn.
Just like us, when a cow is feeling frisky, its temperature rises. When Wintjens sees this on his computer screen, he knows there's only one thing left to do: dim the lights, turn on some Lovage and defrost some bull semen. Okay, he probably doesn't dim the lights or turn on Lovage, but by golly he sure does get up close and personal with his herd.
Because I have dutifully taken the time to learn about bovine artificial insemination today, so are you. First thing farmer Wintjens does is lube up his arm, which is wrapped in a plastic glove. Again, not too far removed from the precautionary measures that precede some of our own intimate moments.
If you ever catch yourself thinking, "Man, I hate my job," consider this: At least you don't have to stick your arm up a cow's butt. And I do mean arm, as in elbow-deep, because that's how you inseminate a cow. The farmer enters rectally to manipulate the cervix, while the other hand uses a long syringe to inseminate the uterus via the cow's vagina. Bet that unpaid overtime your boss just asked you to work doesn't sound so bad now, does it?
"Well, yes, of course, there are nicer things than digging around in excrement, but someone has to do it," Wintjens said.
Tikun Olam, a government-approved medical marijuana plantation in northern Israel, has developed a new strain of cannabis that contains very low traces of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive constituent in marijuana that makes users feel high.
This new strain, called Avidekel, still retains the medicinal benefits of marijuana, it just doesn't make users feel stoned. That's because it contains less than one percent THC, compared to the Tikun Olam's most popular strand that contains 23 percent.
While THC may be the most popular of the 60-plus cannabinoids found in marijuana, one of the most important is cannabidiol (CBD), known for its anti-inflammatory benefits. Coupled with low doses of THC, Avidekel boasts a 16 percent concentration if CBD, thus offering to relieve pain without making users feel intoxicated.
No big deal, right? After all, most medical-marijuana patients partake solely for the medicinal benefits, right? Surely they don't care about getting high?
(We'll pause here as screams of panic ring out from from the fertile hills of Humboldt County, Calif. to the dispensaries of Boulder, Colo. and on over to the coffee shops of Amsterdam.)
"Sometimes the high is not always what they need. Sometimes it is an unwanted side effect. For some of the people it's not even pleasant," Zack Klein, head of development at Tikun Olam, told Reuters.
After researching CBD-enriched cannabis since 2009, Tikun Olam came up with Avidekel six months ago.
Raphael Mechoulam, a professor of medicinal chemistry at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told Reuters he thought Avidekel is one of a kind.
"It is possible that" Avidekel's "CBD to THC ratio is the highest among medical marijuana companies in the world, but the industry is not very organised, so one cannot keep exact track of what each company is doing," he explained.
All you sparkers of the sweet cheeba, I know it sounds like Avidekel threatens to cash your favorite pastime. Though you may be less stoked to toke it, at least the folks at Tikun Olam have your best interest in mind: your health. After all, the real reason behind all those bong rips is because you are afflicted and in no way, shape or form enjoy getting stoned, right?
Photo Credit: A ripe bud of a flowering Sativa Strain used for medical marijuana. Corbis
Little pots in a kitchen window filled with growing herbs and vegetables look so quaint compared to an Italian design firm's wheel-shaped countertop garden. The idea for their stylish, compact hydroponic plant system originated with NASA.
Milan-based design firm DesignLibero's "Green Wheel" is essentially a plant-growing appliance that works with help from gravity. The wheel rotates plants potted inside around a light while a pump automatically irrigates them. Tiny vases containing coco fiber support more than eight feet of plants and its roots, according to DesignLibero.
NASA originally came up with the rotary garden concept in the 1980s as a way to feed fresh produce to astronauts in space, but the agency never took it all the way. Instead, a number of similar rotary growing systems have been available commercially for a long time -- see the Canadian "Volksgarden" -- but none of them look quite this sharp. DesignLibero head Libero Rutilo described the object as "an iconic garden object for residential use, like a TV," to Fast Company Co.Design writer Mark Wilson.
"It helps you to grow your own fresh herbs and vegetables without leaving home," the designer writes on the firm's site. He also argues that produce from the Green Wheel also reduces transportation and cuts packaging. In the winter, a rotary hydroponic system like this could prevent avid living lettuce buyers like me from having to take all those trips to the grocery store.
As much as a rotary garden solves problems, the components and energy required to run it do introduce new ones. Still, if you've got plenty of cash and want a sculptural element for your house that's also functional, this could be your ticket. Nobody is saying exactly how much the wheel costs or how you can get one, though.
Poking around the DesignLibero site, I discovered that they also created an object called "Fluidity" that serves as both a stylish dish drainer and a plant container that catches all those drips from freshly rinsed plates. Preventing funky gunk under the dish rack while saving water: That's green design I can definitely roll with.
Photo: The Green Wheel hydroponic growing system. Credit: DesignLibero
Recently, I learned about a really effective way to get rid of weeds that peek out from sidewalk cracks: blowtorches. This is old news to most gardeners; using direct fire at the base of weeds has been an alternative to herbicides for decades.
Looking for alternatives to herbicides is one reason that scientists at Leibniz University in Hanover, Germany, to come up with an even more badass method: lasers. Their method could reduce invasive weed species, while reducing the damage herbicides can do to soil and farmland.
Using a greenhouse for their experiment, the scientist set up a contraption that has cameras and a laser set up on an overhead rail. The cameras image the plants and uses software to distinguish plants from weeds. Once the weeds are found, a CO2 laser hits them at their weakest point, which varies by species. Currently, the laser can treat an area of weed growth about a square meter in size. Larger versions of the green house will grow (forgive the pun) from this example.
As awesome as this seems, it does require a little finesse. The power of the lasers has to be just right. If it’s too weak, weeds can grow, rather than die out. Using the lasers on large parcels of land could require robots or airborne drones. But either way, gardening and farming is about to get a lot more technical.