The Internet Revealed: Invisible Wi-Fi with Light Graffiti

digital_etherealThe world today is permeated by invisible waves that confer the ability to communicate, share, download, upload, invade, spy and monitor. In other words, so much depends upon it and so much happens within it. As a result, it would be nice if people could see it for once. That’s the idea behind “Digital Ethereal”, a project being led by artist and researcher Luis Hernan of the University of Newcastle in the UK, that seeks to give visual representation to this invisible world.

By using different colors of light – red, yellow, green and blue – he was able to reveal the different strength of Wi-Fi signals in the world around us, showing the “ghost in the machine” as it were. He has called his device the Kirlian Device – named for Russian inventor Semyon Davidovich Kirlian, who discovered Kirlian photography, a technique for photographing electrical discharges, usually invisible to the naked eye.

digital_ethereal1As Hernan explained on his website:

This project came about as a design discourse on digital technologies, and the invisible infrastructure underpinning it. I believe our interaction with this landscape of electromagnetic signals, described by Antony Dunne as Hertzian Space, can be characterized in the same terms as that with ghosts and spectra. They both are paradoxical entities, whose untypical substance allows them to be an invisible presence…

Quite simply, the Kirlian Device measures the properties of Wi-Fi signals in its immediate vicinity, and shows a corresponding color. Much like the color spectrum, red is at one end, indicating a strong signal, while blue is at the opposite end indicating a weak one. As Hernan moves around, he uses long exposure photography to reveal Wi-Fi “ghosts” – what he dubs “wireless spectres”. In this way, his project has a certain spiritual quality.

In the same way, they undergo a process of gradual substantiation to become temporarily available to perception. Finally, they both haunt us. Ghosts, as Derrida would have it, with the secrets of past generations. Hertzian space, with the frustration of interference and slowness.

digital_ethereal2As he explained during an interview with Discovery:

The device is moved through the space, which is then registered in a long-exposure photograph. This process lasts for several minutes, and due to the brightness of the device, my figure is ghosted away in the process. In some pictures you can see my feet or even my blurred head underneath the light strikes… 

For the purpose of his project, Hernan built his Kirlian Device out of an Arduino UNO board and Wi-Fi Shield which were connected to a strip of LED lights. But he’s also released a free Android app so that users can try it for themselves, and invited potential collaborators to drop him a line via his website. In the meantime, Hernan is currently pursuing his PhD with the Architecture and Interaction Design group at Newcastle University in the U.K.

And be sure to check out the video of the recent exhibition of Digital Ethereal:


Source:
cnet.com
, news.discovery.com

Powered by the Sun: Solar-Powered Roads

solar_roadsCurrently, there are nearly 30,000 square kilometers (18,000 square miles) of roads in the United States. And by some estimates, there are also as many as 2 billion parking spaces. That works out to some 50,000 square kilometers (31,000 square miles) of usable surface that is just soaking up sun all day long. So why not put it to use generating solar power? That’s the question a entrepreneurial couple named Scott and Julie Brusaw asked themselves, and then proceeded to launch a solar startup named Solar Roadways to see it through.

Their concept for a solar road surface has the potential to produce more renewable energy than the entire country uses. In fact, they’ve actually already developed a working prototype that’s been installed in a parking lot, and they’re now crowdsourcing funds in order to tweak the design and move towards production. Once completed, they hope to re-pave the country with custom, glass-covered solar panels that are strong enough to drive on while generating enough power to perform a range of functions.

solar_roads1These include providing lighting through a series of LEDs that make road lines and signs that help reduce nighttime accidents. Embedded heating elements also melt ice and snow and are ideal for winter conditions. The surface could also be used to charge electric vehicles as oppose to fossil fuels, and future technology could even allow for charging whilst driving via mutual induction panels. Amazingly, the team also found that car headlights can produce energy in the panels, so cars driving around at night would be producing some electricity.

Since 2006, Solar Roadways has designed and developed hexagonal glass solar panels studded with LED lights that could be installed on a variety of surfaces such as roads, pavements and playgrounds. These panels would more than pay for themselves and would benefit both businesses and homeowners as the energy generated from driveways and parking lots could be used to power buildings, and any excess can be sold back to the grid.

solar_roads3A glass surface may sound fragile, but the prototypes have been extensively tested and were found to be able to easily withstand cars, fully loaded trucks, and even 250,000-pound oil drilling equipment. The textured surface means it isn’t slippery, and since it can self-power small heaters inside to melt ice in winter, it’s supposedly safer than an ordinary road. As Scott Brusaw put it:

You first mention glass, people think of your kitchen window. But think of bulletproof glass or bomb resistant glass. You can make it any way you want. Basically bulletproof glass is several sheets of tempered glass laminated together. That’s what we have, only our glass is a half inch thick, and tempered, and laminated.

Recycled materials can also be used to produce the panels; the prototypes were constructed using 10% recycled glass. All of the panels will be wired up, so faults can be easily detected and repaired. They team have also designed a place to stash power cables, called “Cable Corridors”, which would allow easy access by utility workers. Furthermore, they also believe that these corridors could be used to house fiber optic cables for high-speed internet.

solar_roads2Obviously, this project isn’t going to be cheap, but Solar Roadways has already surpassed their goal of raising $1 million on their indiegogo page (they have managed to raise a total of $1,265,994 as of this articles publication). With this money, they will now be able to hire engineers, make final modifications, and move from prototype to production. They hope to begin installing projects at the end of the year, but a significantly larger amount of money would be required if they were to try to cover all the roads in the US!

However, given the increasing demand for solar technology and the numerous ways it can help to reduce our impact on the environment, it would not be surprising to see companies similar to Solar Roadways emerge in the next few years. It would also not be surprising to see a great deal of towns, municipalities and entire countries to start investing in the technology in the near future to meet their existing and projected power needs. After all, what is better than cheap, abundant, and renewable energy that pretty much provides itself?

For more info, check out Solar Roadways website and their Indiegogo campaign page. Though they have already surpassed their goal of $1 startup dollars, there is still five days to donate, if you feel inclined. And be sure check out their promotional video below:

Sources: iflscience.com, fastcoexist.com, solarroadways.com, indiegogo.com

The Future is Here: Pure LiFi Wireless Internet

lifi_internet1It’s known as “Light Fidelity”, a new form of wireless data transmission that does away with radio signals in favor of optics. And much like the concept of an optic computer – which uses photons to transfer and store information rather than electrons – it’s long been considered as the next possible leap in internet technology. Hence why it was being demonstrated at this year’s Mobile World Congress – the world’s largest exhibition for members of the mobile phone, internet and IT industry.

Despite its monumental growth in the last decade, Wi-Fi remains somewhat hindered by the fact that it relies on microwaves in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, a radio spectrum which is limited. LiFi, however, relies on the transmission of light and could be deployed in everyday LED bulbs, covering the entire interior of a home or office. These LED bulbs would send information out in what appears to be a constant stream of light, but which is actually made up of millions of micropulses a second.

Mobile-World-Congress-MWC-PreviewA system based on this would be capable of transferring far larger bundles of data than one based on microwaves. The system that was on display at MWC this year ran at 150 Mbps. But with a more powerful LED light, it could conceivably reach a rate of transfer equal to 3.5 gigabytes per second. That’s 210 gigabytes a minute, and 12.6 terabytes (that 12 and a half trillion bytes, people!) every hour, far in advance of what current WiFi offers (which maxes out at 450 mbps).

To put that in perspective, as of March 2014, the US Library of Congress estimated that their web had cataloged 525 terabytes of web archive data, with an addition 5 terabytes added every month. This means that a LiFi connection running at full capacity transfers in one hour what the Library of Congress processes in over two months! In short, the widespread use of LiFi would mean an explosion in information the likes of which has not been seen since the internet first went online.

Pure_LiFi_MWC2014Granted, there are still some limitations, like how any computer running off of LiFi needs a special adapted, and interrupting the light source will cause information transfers to cease. And I can’t help but wonder what micropulsing lights will do for people with epilepsy, not to mention the rest of us. However, such concerns are likely to be addressed long before LiFi sees any adoption on a grand scale, which is likely still a decade away at this point.

This year, the MWC conference took place in Barcelona, a place committed to the concept of the Internet of Everything (IoE) and the building of the world’s first truly “smart city”. In the coming months and years, I anticipate that this Spanish haven for technological innovation and integration will feature plenty of LiFi. So if you’re traveling there, you might want to look into getting an adapter for your laptop.

And in the meantime, enjoy this video – courtest of CNET First Look – that takes a look at this year’s LiFi demonstration at MWC 2014:


Sources:
news.cnet.com, loc.gov

The Future of Medicine: New Blood-Monitoring Devices

medtechNon-invasive medicine is currently one of the fastest growing industries in the world. Thanks to ongoing developments in the fields of nanofabrication, wireless communications, embedded electronics and microsensors, new means are being created all the time that can monitor our health that are both painless and hassle-free.

Consider diabetes, an epidemic that currently affects 8% of the population in the US and is growing worldwide. In October of 2013, some 347 million cases were identified by the World Health Organization, which also claims that diabetes will become the 7th leading cause of death by 2030. To make matters worse, the conditions requires constant blood-monitoring, which is difficult in developing nations and a pain where the means exist.

google_lensesHence why medical researchers and companies are looking to create simpler, non-invasive means. Google is one such company, which back in January announced that they are working on a “smart” contact lens that can measure the amount of glucose in tears. By merging a mini glucose sensor and a small wireless chip into a set of regular soft contact lenses, they are looking to take all the pin-pricks out of blood monitoring.

In a recent post on Google’s official blog, project collaborators Brian Otis and Babak Parviz described the technology:

We’re testing prototypes that can generate a reading once per second. We’re also investigating the potential for this to serve as an early warning for the wearer, so we’re exploring integrating tiny LED lights that could light up to indicate that glucose levels have crossed above or below certain thresholds.

And Google is hardly alone in this respect. Due to growing concern and the advancements being made, others are also looking at alternatives to the finger prick, including glucose measures from breath and saliva. A company called Freedom Meditech, for example, is working on a small device  that can measure glucose levels with an eye scan.

I_Sugar_X_prototype1Their invention is known as the I-SugarX, a handheld device that scans the aqueous humor of eye, yielded accurate results in clinical studies in less than four minutes. John F. Burd, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer of Freedom Meditech, described the process and its benefits in the following way:

The eye can be thought of as an optical window into to body for the painless measurement of glucose in the ocular fluid as opposed to the blood, and is well suited for our proprietary optical polarimetric based measurements. Based on the results of this, and other studies, we plan to begin human clinical studies as we continue our product development.

Between these and other developments, a major trend towards “smart monitoring” is developing and likely to make life easier and cut down on the associated costs of medicine. A smart contact lens or saliva monitor would make it significantly easier to watch out for uncontrolled blood sugar levels, which ultimately lead to serious health complications.

I_Sugar_X_prototype2But of course, new techniques for blood-monitoring goes far beyond addressing chronic conditions like diabetes. Diagnosing and controlling the spread of debilitating, potentially fatal diseases is another major area of focus. Much like diabetes, doing regular bloodwork can be a bit difficult, especially when working in developing areas of the world where proper facilities can be hard to find.

But thanks to researchers at Rice University in Houston, Texas, a new test that requires no blood draws is in the works. Relying on laser pulse technology to create a vapor nanobubble in a malaria-infected cell, this test is able to quickly and non-invasively diagnose the disease. While it does not bring medical science closer to curing this increasingly drug-resistant disease, it could dramatically improve early diagnosis and outcomes.

malaria-blood-free-detectorThe scanner was invented by Dmitro Lapotko, a physicist, astronomer, biochemist, and cellular biologist who studied laser weapons in Belarus before moving to Houston. Here, he and his colleagues began work on a device that used the same kind of laser and acoustic sensing technology employed on sub-hunting destroyers, only on a far smaller scale and for medical purposes.

Dubbed “vapor nanobubble technology,” the device combines a laser scanner and a fiber-optic probe that detect malaria by heating up hemozoin – the iron crystal byproduct of hemoglobin that is found in malaria cells, but not normal blood cells. Because the hemozoin crystals absorb the energy from the laser pulse, they heat up enough to create transient vapor nanobubbles that pop.

malariaThis, in turn, produces a ten-millionth-of-a-second acoustic signature that is then picked up by the device’s fiber-optic acoustic sensor and indicates the presence of the malaria parasite in the blood cells scanned. And because the vapor bubbles are only generated by hemozoin, which is only present in infected cells, the approach is virtually fool-proof.

In an recent issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Lapotko and his research team claimed that the device detected malaria in a preclinical trial on mice where only one red blood cell in a million was infected with zero false positives. In a related school news release, the study’s co-author David Sullivan – a malaria clinician a Johns Hopkins University – had this to say about the new method:

The vapor nanobubble technology for malaria detection is distinct from all previous diagnostic approaches. The vapor nanobubble transdermal detection method adds a new dimension to malaria diagnostics, and it has the potential to support rapid, high-throughput and highly sensitive diagnosis and screening by nonmedical personnel under field conditions.

At present, malaria is one of the world’s deadliest diseases, infecting hundreds of millions of people a year and claiming the lives of more than 600,000. To make matters worse, most the victims are children. All of this combines to make malaria one of the most devastating illness effecting the developing world, comparable only to HIV/AIDS.

malaria_worldwideBy ensuring that blood tests that could detect the virus, and require nothing more than a mobile device that could make the determination quickly, and need only a portable car battery to power it, medical services could penetrate the once-thought impenetrable barriers imposed by geography and development. And this in turn would be a major step towards bringing some of the world’s most infectious diseases to heel.

Ultimately, the aim of non-invasive technology is to remove the testing and diagnostic procedures from the laboratory and make them portable, cheaper, and more user-friendly. In so doing, they also ensure that early detection, which is often the difference between life and death, is far easier to achieve. It also helps to narrow the gap between access between rich people and poor, not to mention developing and developing nations.

Sources: fastcoexist.com, news.cnet.com, businesswire.com, googleblogspot.ca, who.int

Climate Crisis: City Farms

dragonfly-vertical-farm-for-a-future-new-york-1Hello again, folks. As you all know, this summer has brought some rather dire news on the climate front as unpredictable weather patterns have led to flooding in many parts of the world. And as climatological researchers and scientists have predicted, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as rising global temperatures will lead to melted icecaps, higher sea levels, severe droughts, wildfires and coastal storms.

But as I always like to point out, there are solutions to these problems, or at least ways to mediate them. Given the central role played by overpopulation and urban sprawl in climate change, many of these proposed solutions have to do with finding new ways to house, feed, and provide from future generations – ones which emphasize sustainability and clean energy.

city_farmsWhen it comes to feeding future generations of people, the question of what will be on the menu and where it comes from are paramount. In recent decades, massive crop failures, protracted droughts, and numerous food-borne disease outbreaks caused by microbes such as salmonella, E. coli, toxoplasma and listeria have forced people to contemplate where their food comes from and how it is produced.

The proposed solution is to rethink farming, moving out of the old paradigm of farming the lands around human settlements and moving them inside. These city-based agricultural projects include rooftop gardens, rooftop greenhouses, planting beds, empty lots as farmland, and vertical farms that occupy tall buildings and abandoned warehouses. Collectively, these examples show the validity of growing food in the city. Not only could be they be carried out efficiently, but they could also operate without the pollution associated with outdoor farming.

city_farms1In truth, the concept is not entirely new, as “victory gardens” or other variants have been a means of producing agricultural goods whenever national farms found themselves overburdened. These were all the rage in Britain, Canada, the US and Germany during World War I and II when naval blockades and military demand forced people to plant their own vegetables in their backyards.

In addition, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba found itself in a serious agricultural crisis. As a result, they turned to a vast network of ‘organoponicos’ – growing food for city dwellers in spare plots. These miniature agricultural operations not only staved off starvation and malnutrition during times of shortages, but became a model for sustainable local efforts that are currently being used around the world.

city_farms2For example, in Wilcox, Arizona, their is the EuroFresh Farms indoor-operation – a 318 acres (1.3 square km) of one-storey-high hydroponic greenhouses that supplies fresh tomatoes and cucumbers.  Similarly, the FarmedHere operation in Bedford Park, Illinois consists of a 8,360 square meter (90,000 square foot) empty warehouse that is several storeys tall that produces tilapia, a variety of leafy green vegetables, and several value-added products.

And in Sweden, the company known as Plantagon is building a vertical farm in the city of Linkoping, and has partnered with a Chinese company to research similar methods for the state of China. In addition, limited forms of vertical farming also exist in Japan, Korea, Singapore, the United States, and Canada, with new farms being planned for a number of cities in the United States.

city_farms4As always, technological innovation is assisting in the process. This includes such things as grow lights that have replaced expensive fluorescent fixtures with light-emitting diodes that can be adapted to emit light spectra tailored for growing green plants. In addition to costing less to run, their yields are demonstrably higher, especially where leafy greens and tomatoes are concerned.

Another concept which is being embraced is aquaculture – indoor fish hatcheries – which could provide meat protein to go with all these vegetables. Such operations include Hazorea Acquatics, a koi farming operation, as well as the carp and mullet farm pictured below, both of which are located in Israel . Similar operations are popping up in the US, Netherlands, Denmark, Scotland and Canada, where barramundi, sturgeon, tilapia, eels, catfish, trout and salmon are being raised.

city_farms5Looking to the long-run, urban agriculture has the potential to become so pervasive within our cities that by the year 2050 they may be able to provide its citizens with up to 50% of the food they consume. In doing so, ecosystems that were fragmented in favor of farmland could be allowed to regain most of their ecological functions, forests could recover, and the impact on the environment would very beneficial, for the planet as well as humanity.

In addition to ensuring that the greatest consumers of CO2 – trees and other flora – could re-advance on the landscape, allowing natural spaces to recover from the damages of agriculture would also bring countless species back from the brink of extinction. Loss of habitat is one of the chief causes of wildlife becoming endangered, and farm runoff is one of the greatest factors effecting our rivers and fish stocks.

Combined with water treatment and recycling that also happens on-site, solar, wind and peizoelectric power, and carbon capture that can turn CO2 into biofuel, skyscrapers and urban environments may very well advance to become at the forefront of the sustainability, environmental and clean energy movement. What was once the problem would thus become the solution. Truly innovative…

Source: bbc.com/future

The Future is Here: The ASB Glassfloor!

GlassFloor_TitelIt looks like something out of Tron, doesn’t it? In truth, its LED lights underneath a glass surface, but the end result is nothing short of awesome, not to mention convenient. It’s known as the ASB Glassfloor, the latest creation from German manufacturer Germany’s ASB Systembau. Using a system where an aluminum substructure supports the surface and LED’s provide light lines, a gymnasium or sports arena can be converted from a volleyball court, to a basketball court, to a series of tennis courts by simply pushing a button.

What’s more, ceramic dots on the glass re-create the feel of a wooden surface, while special etchings diffuse the LED light and prevent glare from bothering athletes. And for those who worry that the entire thing will shatter as soon as the home team takes the floor, know that this “glass” is actually a high-tech tempered security variety that is actually more durable and longer lasting than a conventional wood floor, meaning it can bear the weight of multiple teams, and is even available in different colors.

And finally, the company also indicated that since the floor’s are basically one large display device, that they can be programmed to broadcast ads in certain spaces, and that the entire floor itself can be turned into a single screen. Hence, while the player’s are playing, people can also enjoy small ads running in the end zone or sidelines, just in case they felt sports weren’t saturated by enough product placements! And at halftime, the floor can put on a show, either on its own or with the help of cheerleaders and a marching band.

My, with all the new display technologies and high-tech surfaces coming out, one would think the entire future is going to be made of “smart glass” and inundated with images and texts. Seems nobody can be satisfied with a simple, non-augmented window or floor anymore. Oh well, it looks cool and that’s what matters!

ASBGlassFloor-3xTo see the Glassfloor in action, click on the gif image above, or watch the video below: