Tag Archives: Earth

The Next Trend In Travel Is… Don’t.

By Allison Jane Smith – Bali is in the midst of an ecological crisis. Half of the Indonesian island’s rivers have dried up. Its beaches are eroding. In 2017, officials declared a “garbage emergency” across a six-kilometer stretch of Bali’s coast. At the peak of the clean-up, hundreds of cleaners removed 100 tons of debris from the beaches each day.

The cause? Too many tourists — who just keep coming. This year, the Indonesian tourism ministry hopes Bali attracts 7 million foreign tourists, to an island of only 4 million residents.

Bali is one among many places to feel the ill effects of mass tourism. Thailand closed an entire island because litter and food waste from tourists were destroying the island’s ecosystem.

In Venice, Italy, colossal cruise ships tear straight through the city and affordable Airbnb options push residents out of the housing market.

Across Spain, anti-tourism graffiti can be found in Barcelona, San Sebastian, Bilbao, and Mallorca, declaring “tourism kills,” “tourists go home” and “why call it tourism season if we can’t shoot them?”

When tourism dominates an economy, some governments prioritize tourists over their own citizens. Around the world, people are evicted from their homes to make way for tourism developments.

Globally, displacement for tourism development — including hotels, resorts, airports, and cruise ports — is a growing problem. In India, tens of thousands of indigenous people were illegally evicted from villages inside tiger reserves.

No wonder even those in the business of selling travel are urging tourists to reconsider visiting certain destinations. more>

Local Solutions for Global Problems

By Sébastien Turbot – Historically, cities have played a marginal role in global debates. In the United States, for example, early cities were rife with corruption and factionalism; local politics was messy enough. But today’s urban centers are economically stronger and politically bolder. Twenty-first-century cities’ determination to act in their own interests became clear in late 2017, when more than 50 US mayors pledged to meet the commitments of the 2015 Paris climate agreement – directly challenging President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the deal.

Even without a seat at the table (G7), many of the world’s megacities – powered by strong human capital, competitive markets, and widespread appeal – are already working to build a more progressive, inclusive, and sustainable future. From Buenos Aires to Tokyo, city leaders are making their concerns known globally – often irrespective of national agendas.

Small and mid-sized cities are also raising their international profiles. By investing in “smart” and “resilient” urban planning, governments from Bordeaux in France to Curitiba in Brazil are strengthening their brand identities and luring talent, investment, and businesses from around the world.

Cities power growth through innovation, trade, and exchange. And city services are often more visible to citizens than federal aid; consider, for example, who responds during a traffic accident or a natural disaster.

To be sure, today’s cities face many challenges. more>

Updates from Georgia Tech

Human Factors Research Helps Accelerate Mission Planning
By John Toon – The key to a successful flight mission is planning – sometimes several hours of it. Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) specialists in human factors and human computer interfaces are working with NAVAIR PMA-281, Strike Planning and Execution Systems in Patuxent River, Maryland, to streamline the current mission planning process and identify user interface requirements supporting multi-domain mission management in next-generation naval planning capabilities.

With guidance from the GTRI researchers, the project will improve usability of the mission planning software tools, creating a more consistent and intuitive screen design that’s easier to learn and more logical to follow. This effort could benefit all Department of Defense (DoD) agencies for collaborative mission planning.

“We are working with Navy and Marine Corps aviators to identify areas in mission planning where work-flow can be streamlined, reducing the time required to mission plan,” said Marcia Crosland, project director for GTRI’s Joint Mission Planning System (JMPS) User Interface Design and Usability efforts. “Our task has been to define the user interface concepts and decision-making tools to help reduce the time required for mission planning. We’ve created detailed designs and specifications to direct current and future development of mission planning systems.” more>

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Updates from Georgia Tech

Robot Monitors Chicken Houses and Retrieves Eggs
By John Toon – “Today’s challenge is to teach a robot how to move in environments that have dynamic, unpredictable obstacles, such as chickens,” said Colin Usher, a research scientist in GTRI’s Food Processing Technology Division.

“When busy farmers must spend time in chicken houses, they are losing money and opportunities elsewhere on the farm. In addition, there is a labor shortage when it comes to finding workers to carry out manual tasks such as picking up floor eggs and simply monitoring the flocks. If a robot could successfully operate autonomously in a chicken house 24 hours a day and seven days a week, it could then pick up floor eggs, monitor machinery, and check on birds, among other things. By assigning one robot to each chicken house, we could also greatly reduce the potential for introductions of disease or cross-contamination from one house to other houses.”

The autonomous robot is outfitted with an ultrasonic localization system similar to GPS but more suited to an indoor environment where GPS might not be available. This system uses low-cost, ultrasonic beacons indicating the robot’s orientation and its location in a chicken house. The robot also carries a commercially available time-of-flight camera, which provides three-dimensional (3D) depth data by emitting light signals and then measuring how long they take to return. The localization and 3D data together allow the robot’s software to devise navigation plans around chickens to perform tasks. more>

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Guns and the British empire

BOOK REVIEW

Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution, Author: Priya Satia.
An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Author: Adam Smith.

By Priya Satia – In the mid-18th century, advanced areas of northwest Europe and east and south Asia enjoyed roughly comparable life expectancy, rates of consumption, and potential for economic growth. But around 1800, in what scholars call the ‘great divergence’, the power and wealth of the West suddenly and dramatically eclipsed that of India, China and the Ottoman Empire.

The British in particular found vindication for their expanding empire in ideas of cultural and racial superiority.

Concerned about Britain’s aggressive pursuit of empire, Adam Smith presumed that the universal capacity for knowledge-sharing would ultimately right the wrongs of colonialism.

We know that history did not play out that way. Why not? Why didn’t knowledge-sharing equalize the world? Was Smith too generous or naive in believing that it had cultural purchase beyond Europe?

Smith’s naivety in fact lay in his presumption that the emerging political inequalities that he observed would not also shape the spread of knowledge. Like liberal thinkers today, he imagined that knowledge-exchange somehow transpires regardless of power relations.

In reality, in the 18th century, as now, power shaped knowledge-sharing everywhere.

In Britain, for instance, government offices engaged in military supply often prohibited contractors from patenting their inventions: a patent would slow the spread of innovation to other contractors and thus slow the production of urgently needed supplies.

While the British government thus abetted the sharing of know-how within Britain, it actively stifled such sharing abroad.

British industrialists copied Asian textiles and pottery without scrupling over ‘intellectual property’, but could rely on their government to minimize the threat of colonial competition with their own manufactures. more>

Updates from Georgia Tech

Researchers Boost Efficiency and Stability of Optical Rectennas
By John Toon – The research team that announced the first optical rectenna in 2015 is now reporting a two-fold efficiency improvement in the devices — and a switch to air-stable diode materials. The improvements could allow the rectennas – which convert electromagnetic fields at optical frequencies directly to electrical current – to operate low-power devices such as temperature sensors.

Optical rectennas operate by coupling the light’s electromagnetic field to an antenna, in this case an array of multiwall carbon nanotubes whose ends have been opened. The electromagnetic field creates an oscillation in the antenna, producing an alternating flow of electrons. When the electron flow reaches a peak at one end of the antenna, the diode closes, trapping the electrons, then re-opens to capture the next oscillation, creating a current flow.

The switching must occur at terahertz frequencies to match the light. The junction between the antenna and diode must provide minimal resistance to electrons flowing through it while open, yet prevent leakage while closed.

“The name of the game is maximizing the number of electrons that get excited in the carbon nanotube, and then having a switch that is fast enough to capture them at their peak,” Baratunde Cola, explained. “The faster you switch, the more electrons you can catch on one side of the oscillation.” more>

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When exponential innovation meets the infancy of “Industry X.0”


Accenture – With everything from agriculture to aeronautics in the midst of paradigm shift, a cautious approach to adopting new technologies simply can’t keep pace.

Nor will adopting just one innovation suffice. Effective adaptation almost always involves a combination of innovations working together: a dash of machine learning here, a sprinkle of automation there.

As Accenture Chief Strategy Officer Omar Abbosh describes: “You’re combining a series of innovations, one on the back of the next, to do something fundamentally different… You’ve all heard about Big Data and artificial intelligence and internet of things… They are all very meaningful in their own right, but when they come together they can have a massive impact on business and society.”

The benefits of combination abound. For example, amalgamating just five technologies—autonomous robots, AI, 3D printing, big data, and blockchain—could save industrial-equipment companies a total of $1.6 billion. more>

Updates from GE

Black Hawk helicopters are common on battlefields. Now, a version of the military aircraft is facing wildfires in Southern California. The Firehawk, a customized version of the famous Black Hawk UH-60, can carry 1,000 gallons of water and fly near intense fires.
By Tomas Kellner – “These machines are experiencing some of the most extreme conditions you can image on a helicopter,” says Bill Neth, a senior manager at GE Aviation. “Every time the aircraft is fighting fire, it goes to maximum power six to eight times per hour. It must deal with the heat but also the heavy lifting when the tank if full of water. There is no margin for error.”

Sikorsky originally developed the chopper for the U.S. Army. But engineers modified the Firehawk, which is powered by a pair of souped-up T700 GE helicopter engines, for firefighting, medical evacuation, and other help and rescue missions.

Neth says that GE Aviation engineers studied Black Hawks that returned from Iraq and Afghanistan to improve the hot section of the engine. They put in parts from advanced nickel alloys and made the engines more resistant to wild temperature swings, airborne debris and degradation from thermal distress. The engine can now withstand extreme conditions and still deliver the necessary power.

The engines also power a pump that can fill up the Firehawk’s enormous water tank in just 1 minute through a retractable snorkel hose while hovering over a water source. The helicopter also can land and ingest water through a connector on the side of the tank. more>

Updates from Georgia Tech

Imaging Technique Unlocks the Secrets of 17th Century Artists
By John Toon – The secrets of 17th century artists can now be revealed, thanks to 21st century signal processing. Using modern high-speed scanners and the advanced signal processing techniques, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are peering through layers of pigment to see how painters prepared their canvasses, applied undercoats, and built up layer upon layer of paint to produce their masterpieces.

The images they produce using the terahertz scanners and the processing technique – which was mainly developed for petroleum exploration – provide an unprecedented look at how artists did their work three centuries ago. The level of detail produced by this terahertz reflectometry technique could help art conservators spot previous restorations of paintings, highlight potential damage – and assist in authenticating the old works.

Beyond old art, the nondestructive technique also has potential applications for detecting skin cancer, ensuring proper adhesion of turbine blade coatings and measuring the thickness of automotive paints.

Without the signal processing, researchers might only be able to identify layers 100 to 150 microns thick. But using the advanced processing, they can distinguish layers just 20 microns thick. Paintings done before the 18th century have been challenging to study because their paint layers tend to be thin, Citrin said. Individual pigments cannot be resolved by the technique, though the researchers hope to be able to obtain that information in the future. more>

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Humanity’s fight against climate change is failing. One technology can change that.

By Akshat Rathi – The optimism surrounding renewable energy masks some harsh realities. Despite decades of progress, about 80% of the world’s energy still comes from fossil fuels—the same as in the 1970s. Since then, we’ve kept adding renewable capacity, but it hasn’t outpaced the growth of the world’s population and its demand for energy.

Today, about 30% of total world energy (and 40% of the world’s electricity) is supplied by coal, which emits more carbon dioxide per unit of energy produced than nearly any other fuel source.

The hugely valuable oil and gas industries, accounting for 33% and 24% of total world energy use, respectively, are also entrenched. “Based on what we know now, we would need major technological breakthroughs or weak world growth, including for large emerging and developing economies, for oil demand to peak in the next 20 years,” says Gian Maria Milesi-Ferretti of the International Monetary Fund. Despite the growth in electric vehicles, most oil companies agree that peak oil is “not in sight.”

If you’re still not convinced, consider this: there are a handful of industries essential to the modern way of life that generate large amounts of carbon dioxide as a side product of the chemistry of their manufacturing process. These carbon-intensive industries—including cement, steel, and ethanol—produce about 20% of all global emissions.

If we want to keep using these products and reach zero emissions, the only option is to have these industries deploy carbon capture. more>