Archive for August, 2009
By the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth’s population will reside in urban centers. Applying the most conservative estimates to current demographic trends, the human population will increase by about 3 billion people during the interim. An estimated 109 hectares of new land (about 20% more land than is represented by the country of Brazil) will be needed to grow enough food to feed them, if traditional farming practices continue as they are practiced today. At present, throughout the world, over 80% of the land that is suitable for raising crops is in use (sources: FAO and NASA). Historically, some 15% of that has been laid waste by poor management practices. What can be done to avoid this impending disaster?
A Potential Solution: Farm Vertically
The concept of indoor farming is not new, since hothouse production of tomatoes, a wide variety of herbs, and other produce has been in vogue for some time. What is new is the urgent need to scale up this technology to accommodate another 3 billion people. An entirely new approach to indoor farming must be invented, employing cutting edge technologies. The Vertical Farm must be efficient (cheap to construct and safe to operate). Vertical farms, many stories high, will be situated in the heart of the world’s urban centers. If successfully implemented, they offer the promise of urban renewal, sustainable production of a safe and varied food supply (year-round crop production), and the eventual repair of ecosystems that have been sacrificed for horizontal farming.
It took humans 10,000 years to learn how to grow most of the crops we now take for granted. Along the way, we despoiled most of the land we worked, often turning verdant, natural ecozones into semi-arid deserts. Within that same time frame, we evolved into an urban species, in which 60% of the human population now lives vertically in cities. This means that, for the majority, we humans are protected against the elements, yet we subject our food-bearing plants to the rigors of the great outdoors and can do no more than hope for a good weather year. However, more often than not now, due to a rapidly changing climate regime, that is not what follows. Massive floods, protracted droughts, class 4-5 hurricanes, and severe monsoons take their toll each year, destroying millions of tons of valuable crops. Don’t our harvestable plants deserve the same level of comfort and protection that we now enjoy? The time is at hand for us to learn how to safely grow our food inside environmentally controlled multistory buildings within urban centers. If we do not, then in just another 50 years, the next 3 billion people will surely go hungry, and the world will become a much more unpleasant place in which to live.
Source | The Vertical Farm Project
This little guy is not just a platform for pursuing robot sentience. He’s not just an adventurer. I think he’ll be the way that robots achieve wisdom, compassion, and evolve into VALIS–the vast active living intelligence system, known by some as the Singularity
The federal government is behind the times when it comes to making decisions about advancing the solar industry, according to several solar-industry experts. This has led, they argue, to a misplaced emphasis on research into futuristic new technologies, rather than support for scaling up existing ones. That was the prevailing opinion at a symposium last week put together by the National Academies in Washington, DC, on the topic of scaling up the solar industry.
The meeting was attended by numerous experts from the photovoltaic industry and academia. And many complained that the emphasis on finding new technologies is misplaced. “This is such a fast-moving field,” said Ken Zweibel, director of the Solar Institute at George Washington University. “To some degree, we’re fighting the last war. We’re answering the questions from 5, 10, 15 years ago in a world where things have really changed.”
In the past year, the federal government has announced new investments in research into “transformational” solar technologies that represent radical departures from existing crystalline-silicon or thin-film technologies that are already on the market. The investments include new energy-research centers sponsored by the Department of Energy and a new agency called ARPA-Energy, modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Such investments are prompted by the fact that conventional solar technologies have historically produced electricity that’s far more expensive than electricity from fossil fuels.
In fact, Energy Secretary Steven Chu has said that a breakthrough is needed for photovoltaic technology to make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gases. Researchers are exploring solar cells that use very cheap materials or even novel physics that could dramatically increase efficiency, which could bring down costs.
But industry experts at the Washington symposium argued that new technologies will take decades to come to market, judging from how long commercialization of other solar technologies has taken. Meanwhile, says Zweibel, conventional technologies “have made the kind of progress that we were hoping futuristic technologies could make.” For example, researchers have sought to bring the cost of solar power to under $1 per watt, and as of the first quarter of this year one company, First Solar, has done this.
These cost reductions have made solar power cheaper than the natural-gas-powered plants used to produce extra electricity to meet demand on hot summer days. With subsidies, which Zweibel argues are justified because of the “externalities” of other power sources, such as the cost from pollution, solar can be competitive with conventional electricity even outside peak demand times, at least in California. And projected cost decreases will make solar competitive with current electricity prices in more areas, even without subsidies.
Representatives of the solar industry say the federal government should do more to remove obstacles that are slowing the industry’s development. One issue is financing for new solar installations, which can be much more expensive if lending institutions deem them high risk. A recent extension of federal tax credits and grants for solar investments is a step in the right direction, many solar experts say. But more could be done. A price on carbon would help make solar more economically competitive and more attractive to lenders.
Moving reality a step closer to “Fantastic Voyage,” researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed a micro robot that can crawl through the human body.
“Micro robots are being developed in many research centers, but this is the first time we’ve been able to create one that can crawl through the body,” says Professor Moshe Shoham of the Technion Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, who headed the university’s research team. Prof. Shoham is the developer of the FDA-approved SpineAssist spine-surgery robot.
The robot is propelled by micro legs, a mechanism especially adapted to the movements of a tiny body through water. It is only a millimeter in diameter and 14 millimeters long, fitting on the tip of a finger, so it can get into the body’s smallest areas. It is powered by either actuation through magnetic force located outside the body, or through an on-board actuation system. Made of silicone and metal, it can be made completely biocompatible, so it could remain in the body much as a stent placed in arteries does.
“In the future, we hope the robot will be able to travel through a blood vessel, the digestive tract or the lungs, delivering targeted medicines to specific locations, clearing blockages, performing biopsies, or placed inside a shunt to drain body fluids from clogged areas,” Shoham explains.
The development has been presented at scientific conferences where it has aroused great interest. Professor Menashe Zaaroor and research engineer Oded Salomon also participated in the research.
However, Prof.Shoham explains that a final product will not be ready for several years. A small enough camera needs to be developed, and an actuation device that will steer the robot once inside the body needs to be perfected. Animal trials are being performed, but human trials are about two years away.