Warning Signs from the Future

future-signs-02From bioenhancements becoming the norm, to people constantly wired into augmented reality; from synthetic organs to synthetic meat; driverless taxis to holograms and robot helpers – the future is likely to be an interesting-looking place. That’s the subject in a new Tumblr called Signs from the Near Future, where designer Fernando Barbella explores what signage will look like when we have to absorb all of these innovations into human culture.

Taking its cue from what eager startups and scientists predict, Barbella’s collection of photos looks a few decades into the future where dramatic, sci-fi inspired innovations have become everyday things. These include things like drones becoming a regular thing, driverless taxis (aka. robotaxis) and synthetic meat becoming available, high-tech classrooms servicing the post-humans amongst us, and enhancements and implants becoming so common they need to be regulated and monitored.

future-signs-01Barbella says that the project was inspired by articles he’s read on topics like nanomedicine, autonomous cars, and 3-D food printing, as well as classic books (Neuromancer, Fahrenheit 51), movies (Blade Runner, Gattaca), music (Rage Against The Machine), and TV shows (Fringe, Black Mirror). The designer chose to focus on signs because he figures that we’ll need a little guidance to speed up our learning curves with new technology. As he put it during an interview via email:

New materials, mashups between living organisms and nanotechnologies, improved capabilities for formerly ‘dumb’ and inanimate things . . . There’s lots of awesome things going on around us! And the fact is all these things are going to cease being just ‘projects’ to became part of our reality at any time soon. On the other hand, I chose to express these thing by signs deployed in ordinary places, featuring instructions and warnings because I feel that as we increasingly depend on technology, we will probably have less space for individual judgment to make decisions.

future-signs-07Some of the signs – including one thanking drivers for choosing to ride on a solar panel highway – can be traced back to specific news articles or announcements. The solar highway sign was inspired by a solar roadways crowdfunding campaign, which has so far raised over $2 million to build solar road panels. However, rather than focus on the buzz and how cool and modern such a development would be, Barbella chose to focus on what such a thing would look like.

At the same time, he wanted the pictures to serve as a sort of cautionary tale about the ups and down of the future. As he put it:

I feel that as we increasingly depend on technology, we will probably have less space for individual judgment to make decisions. …I’ve sticked to a more ‘mundane’ point of view, imagining that the people or authorities of any given county would be probably quite grateful for having the chance of transforming all that traffic into energy.

future-signs-03He says he wants his signs to not just depict that momentum and progress, but to reflect the potentially disturbing aspects of those advances as well. Beyond that, Barbella sees an interesting dynamic in the public’s push and pull against what new technology allows us to do. Though the technology grants people access to information and other cultures, it also poses issues of privacy and ethics that hold that back. As a result, privacy concerns are thus featured in the collection in a number of ways.

This includes warning people about “oversharing” via social media, how images snapped using contact display lenses will be shared in real-time with authorities, or how certain neighorhoods are drone patrolled. His images offer a look at why those issues are certain to keep coming — and at the same time, why many will ultimately fall aside. Barbella also stated that has more future signs in the queue, but he says that he’ll stop the moment they start to feel forced.

future-signs-05You have to admit, it does capture the sense of awe and wonder – not to mention fear and anxiety – of what our likely future promises. And as the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousands words”. In this case, those words present a future that has one foot in the fantastical and another in the fearful, but in such a way that it seems entirely frank and straighforward. But that does seem to be the way the future works, doesn’t it? Somehow, it doesn’t seem like science fiction once it becomes a regular part of “mundane” reality.

To see more of his photos, head on over to his Tumblr account.

Sources: fastcoexist.com, theverge.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