Credit: Ryan Pyle/Corbis
Credit: Ryan Pyle/Corbis
Planter Turns Pee into Fertilizer: Go to a big city that limits public bathrooms for "Customers Only" and you're sure to smell the distinct aromas of urine emanating from alleyways and building corners. Everyone pees. So why not use that liquid to nourish a city's plant life? That's what a team of designers in San Francisco wants to do. They've come up with the PPlanter, which transforms pee into fertilizer. The team, which entered their urban biofilter into the San Francisco Urban Prototyping Festival, are targeting homeless people and beer drinkers who really gotta go. At the PPlanter, men pee into the urinal; ladies use a "disposal funnel." A bamboo filtration system converts it into food for plants. An opaque stall door gives users some privacy. via The Atlantic Cities
Tallest Ferris Wheel Coming to NYC: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled plans to build the world's tallest Ferris wheel in Staten Island. The 625-foot-tall attraction, dubbed New York Wheel, will give 1,440 riders a spectacular view of the Statue of Liberty and skyline of downtown Manhattan.
The ride is part of a new development on St. George waterfront that will include a 100-shop outlet mall and a 200-room hotel. City officials hope that the privately funded development draw tourists to New York's least-populated borough and then only one not accessible by subway. The New York Wheel is expected to be turning at the end of 2015. via Yahoo News
Invisibility cloaks and stealth technologies depend on deflecting light or sound waves around an object, making it unseen or unheard.
Some of the newest cloaking techniques depend on using exotic manmade metamaterials. But a team of researchers led by William Parnell at the University of Manchester has found that ordinary rubber can make buildings invisible -- at least to earthquakes.
The idea is pretty simple: Build a giant rubber bumper, fill it with air or some other pressurized fluid,, and install it around the foundation of a building or other structure. When an earthquake strikes, the bumper deflects the seismic waves away from the structure, like water flowing around a rock in a stream.
This would work, at least in theory, because of how seismic waves travel through the ground. They move through dense rock and soil unimpeded, but when they encounter a pressurized, air-filled substance, they change direction, just as light waves do when they pass through a prism or water. The bumper would essentially bend the waves around the building.
The idea would also work against explosives, so it isn't just for earthquakes -- it also might be a way to protect buildings from terrorist attacks, at least if they are aimed at bringing down the structure.
It wouldn't be practical to retrofit every building with this kind of thing. But power lines, government buildings or other important structures could have such bumpers installed.
Top photo: An apartment building in Chile rattled by the magnitude 8.8 earthquake on Feb. 27, 2010. Credit: Wikimedia / Jorge Barrios
A fire starts in a building and as people evacuate, the fire department is called in. It's rush hour, so the roads are jammed. In response, the traffic signals at every intersection are adjusted to allow emergency vehicles to pass unimpeded. Meanwhile, in the building itself, the fire alarm system automatically turns on lights to guide people to safety. Water flow is adjusted in the area to make sure that the firefighters have enough.
This is the scenario envisioned by Living PlanIT, a European technology company that wants to build smarter cities using an operating system, called Urban OS, that works similar to operating systems in ordinary computers. The key is coordinating a network of sensors that would feed the information into the operating. By monitoring waste, water use, traffic flows and even the temperatures of individual rooms, the entire city could be run at peak efficiency. That means saving energy, water and even reducing the waste that goes into landfills (Living PlanIT says it has a system for extracting useful compounds from garbage). It also means being able to respond to emergencies more quickly than now.
The Urban OS will run PlaceApps, the equivalent of apps on a smart phone. These apps, however, would control vital systems in buildings. The OS would also be open to independent developers, and the whole system could even connect to individual smart phones to monitor household appliances, for example.
The company is building a demonstration project in Paredes, Portugal, called PlanIT Valley, though it will be a few years before it is fully up and running.
There are a few issues that will need to be addressed. Privacy is one, as well as the possibility of hacking. Then there’s the relative openness of the system. Living PlanIT has several technology partners but it isn’t clear how open the standards used will be; if the UrbanOS is designed in a way similar to Apple’s OS products, then it means a given city would be locked into a single set of vendors. A more open system would solve that, but then one would have to decide how open -- and how robust -- they should be. That said, with a single platform running a whole city any problems could be addressed more easily.
Ask yourself, is it good that a company headquarters is roughly the size of the Pentagon? Or should that be a red flag? I jest. Somewhat. But that's basically the size of Apple's new building, proposed by CEO Steve Jobs, although a bit of a smaller footprint overall. Check out the graphic below from the Mercury News. In a presentation before the Cupertino City Council on June 7 (see here), Jobs said, "Apple's growing like a weed."
CURIOSITY.COM: 10 Surprising Ways Software Keeps Moving
He said they have almost 12,000 people in the area and were renting buildings at an ever greater radius from their campus. They have a plan that allows them to stay in Cupertino and "continue to pay taxes." Apple bought some land formerly owned by Hewlett Packard, and have designed an unsual building.
"It's a little like a spaceship landed," Jobs told the council. Here's what the building will have:
Credit: Youtube Screen grab; Mercury News
Civil engineers may one day be able tell how healthy a building is with a quick visual check. Combining organic materials that react to ultraviolet light with a stretchable, rubber-like material, Princeton researchers have designed a new kind of sensory skin for monitoring structural integrity.
The material, called polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), is made to be wavy on the micro-scale (one-millionth of a meter). Then it is coated with a layer of organic molecules that give off a particular color of light when a UV beam shines on them. This color is in partly determined by the precise spacing of the micro-ridges in the material -- the rows of ridges make a diffraction grating which reflects the light so as to amplify the signal, an effect known as lasing. So, when the material is stretched out due to something like strain or corrosion on the building, the structural change is literally reflected in a color change. Moreover, the the diffraction grating is so small that treated PDMS can show signs of distress at miniscule scales, much smaller than where any crack would be visible.
The prototype isn't quite ready; as of now the organic molecule coating begins to shred off when the material is stretched too thin. But the researchers are hopeful that this type of building skin could one day be a useful technology for civil engineers. And the lack of electrical wiring, fiber optics, or other expensive sensory equipment to achieve the same job makes the new material economically-appealing too. Engineers examining a building might even be able to do so from afar, since all they need to do is shoot a UV light at a surface and measure the emitted color.
"There's really a critical need to develop better sensors that can be applied to infrastructure systems," University of Michigan professor of civil and environmental engineering Jerome Lynch tells MIT's Technology Review. If this all works out, in the future we might really know when buildings are feeling “blue.”
After all, bidding for a chance to host the Olympic Games is like begging to throw one of the world’s most expensive month-long parties.
Just ask Vancouver, the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Months after the closing ceremony, the Canadian city is scrambling to sell real estate built for athletes and pay off hundreds of millions in debt from public infrastructure improvements.
“I liken these events to weddings,” said Holy Cross University sports economist Victor Matheson. “If you’re the father of the bride, you’re not making any money. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have (the celebration).”
Matheson has studied the economic impact of huge sporting events like the Olympic Games and the Super Bowl, and the research repeatedly shows that the high-profit hopes attached to hosting these events rarely pans out in reality.
The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics reportedly raked in $146 million, but that cash doesn’t have a theoretical “halo effect” within the surrounding Chinese economy.Retailers suffer from the substitution effect, wherein people spend their income on Olympic-related expenses and not goods and service. Hotels and tourism might receive a momentary jolt, but enough non-Olympic tourists specifically avoid visiting cities during the Games that the net effect is minimal.
Instead, the event organizers, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the local Olympic organizing committees take home the gold.
“Anytime you get multiple bidders bidding for a scarce commodity … that means the seller is really in control here, and the IOC knows that,” Matheson explained.
Over the history of the Olympic Games, profits didn’t receive as much attention until the event became such a financial albatross that cities quit vying for it.
“By 1984, there was only one city in the world willing to bid for the Olympics, and that was Los Angeles,” Matheson told Discovery News.
Since the IOC didn’t have a string of suitors that year, it was forced to meet a number of the Los Angeles committee’s demands, such as refusing to provide public financing or build extravagant new sports facilities.
As a result, the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics turned a profit for the first time, bringing in around $335 million in revenue.
That newfound profitability also marked a return to competitive bidding – and public financing – to host the Olympics, with the monetary stakes escalating every four years.
“Almost every city that does this gets into trouble one way or another because they can’t figure out how to stop spending money,” said Allen Sanderson, a sports economist at the University of Chicago. “Athens thought they’d spend around $5 billion on the 2004 Games and ended up spending around $18 billion. London thought they were going to spend ($5 billion), and they’re somewhere around $20 billion or more with two years to go.”
While London doesn’t have much to gain financially from shelling out billions on the Summer Olympics, a 2009 economic study found that hosting the event could specifically benefit developing countries and their economies in the long-term.
“Countries that need to provide a credible signal to both domestic and foreign constituencies that they’ve decided to join the world and engage in economic and political integration can signal this by offering to bear the costs of a mega-event like the Olympics,” said Andrew K. Rose, study author and an economist at the University of California at Berkeley.
Rose’s research also found that merely going through the highly publicized process of bidding for the Olympics without winning can provide the same trade impact as actually hosting it.
In reference to that economic finding, Allen Sanderson at the University of Chicago expressed relief that his home city didn’t snag the bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“Bidding may cost you $50 million, but that might be an inexpensive price to signal to the world that you’re a world-class city,” Sanderson said. “Then hope that you lose and don’t have to carry through with a multi-billion dollar investment.”Photo: London's Aquatic Center and Olympic Stadium under construction. Anthony Charlton/London 2012/Getty Images
With a wave of electric cars about to hit this country, a lot of people are asking how we plan to charge them when we're away from home. Washington state may have the answer.
Gov. Chris Gregoire announced last week her state's plans for the country's first electric highway. Right now, the only thing more common along the highway than a gas station is fast food joints.
But as you can see on this map from the group EV Charger Map, there aren't many electric car charging stations around, and most of the ones that do exist are in California.
The state of Washington wants to change all of that. It's part of the EV Project, a $230 million federal study into the needs and driving habits of electric car drivers. Nearly 15,000 charge stations will be introduced in four states -- Washington, California, Arizona and Tennessee -- and the District of Columbia.
Gregoire's announcement was about Interstate 5, a 1,300-mile highway that stretches from the Mexican border in California to the Canadian border in Washington.
And it's just in time too, as electric cars are about to go mainstream. The Chevy Volt is being put through the final rounds of testing before it is expected to go on the market this November, and Nissan Leaf was recently announced.
Stations on the electric highway won't be more than 80 miles apart, but the Volt is only supposed to get 40 miles before it switches to its gas-powered engine. The Nissan Leaf is supposed to get 100 miles with electricity, but its not as far down the pipeline as the Volt is.
The project still has quite a few important details to sort through, like, um, where exactly the stations will go, how much electricity will cost, and what the source of this electric energy will be. You know, just minor details.
But hey, it's a start.
I've heard of stopping at a traffic light, but how about a traffic light stopping you? Researchers at IBM have filed a patent on technology that would control a vehicle's engine at busy intersections in order to improve fuel efficiency. Shout out to Physorg for flagging this technology. Here's how they describe it:
The system would be able to receive position information from vehicles waiting at red lights to determine a queue of participating vehicles stopped at the signal. It would then determine the time still to elapse before the lights turn green, and if this time is over a set threshold (such as two minutes) the traffic light would then send signals to the vehicle engines to stop them.
When the lights turn green, a “start-engine notification” would be sent to the front vehicle to start its engine first, and a signal would be sent to the second vehicle in the queue an “optimal time” later, and so on.
If something like this ever did come into existence, it would probably wouldn't be mandatory. In one of the proposals, IBM suggests that the capability could be offered as a service. Drivers would sign up for it and receive stop/start engine notifications suggesting that they turn off their cars, while waiting for the light to turn green.
Jeez by the time a technology like this would come into play, I would hope that we're all driving electric cars.
Photo: Jeff Spielman/Getty Images