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08 Jul 14:15

11 green building materials that are way better than concrete

by Emily Peckenham

1. Straw Bales

Rather than relying on new research and technology, straw bale building hearkens back to the days when homes were built from natural, locally-occurring materials. Straw bales are used to create a home's walls inside of a frame, replacing other building materials such as concrete, wood, gypsum, plaster, fiberglass, or stone. When properly sealed, straw bales naturally provide very high levels of insulation for a hot or cold climate, and are not only affordable but sustainable as straw is a rapidly renewable resource.

[caption id="attachment_852042" align="alignnone" width="889"] ®Flickr/Willie Angus[/caption]

2. Grasscrete

As its name might indicate, grasscrete is a method of laying concrete flooring, walkways, sidewalks, and driveways in such a manner that there are open patterns allowing grass or other flora to grow. While this provides the benefit of reducing concrete usage overall, there's also another important perk -- improved stormwater absorption and drainage.

3. Rammed Earth

What's more natural than the dirt under your feet? In fact, walls that have a similar feel to concrete can actually be created with nothing more than dirt tamped down very tightly in wooden forms. Rammed earth is a technology that has been used by human civilization for thousands of years, and can last a very long time. Modern rammed earth buildings can be made safer by use of rebar or bamboo, and mechanical tampers reduce the amount of labor required to create sturdy walls.

4. HempCrete

HempCrete is just what it sounds like - a concrete like material created from the woody inner fibers of the hemp plant. The hemp fibers are bound with lime to create concrete-like shapes that are strong and light. HempCrete blocks are super-lightweight, which can also dramatically reduce the energy used to transport the blocks, and hemp itself is a fast-growing, renewable resource.

[caption id="attachment_852032" align="alignnone" width="889"] ®Flickr/Carolina Zuluaga[/caption]

5. Bamboo

Bamboo might seem trendy, but it has actually been a locally-sourced building material in some regions of the world for millennia. What makes bamboo such a promising building material for modern buildings is its combination of tensile strength, light weight, and fast-growing renewable nature. Used for framing buildings and shelters, bamboo can replace expensive and heavy imported materials and provide an alternative to concrete and rebar construction, especially in difficult-to reach areas, post-disaster rebuilding, and low-income areas with access to natural locally-sourced bamboo.

6. Recycled Plastic

Instead of mining, extracting, and milling new components, researchers are creating concrete that includes ground up recycled plastics and trash, which not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions, but reduces weight and provides a new use for landfill-clogging plastic waste.

7. Wood

Plain old wood still retains many advantages over more industrial building materials like concrete or steel. Not only do trees absorb CO2 as they grow, they require much less energy-intensive methods to process into construction products. Properly managed forests are also renewable and can ensure a biodiverse habitat.

RELATED: Energy efficient timber cabin in Norway

8. Mycelium

Mycelium is a crazy futuristic building material that's actually totally natural - it comprises the root structure of fungi and mushrooms. Mycelium can be encouraged to grow around a composite of other natural materials, like ground up straw, in molds or forms, then air-dried to create lightweight and strong bricks or other shapes.

[caption id="attachment_852040" align="alignnone" width="889"] ®Flickr/Zack Detailer[/caption]

9. Ferrock

Ferrock is a new material being researched that uses recycled materials including steel dust from the steel industry to create a concrete-like building material that is even stronger than concrete. What's more, this unique material actually absorbs and traps carbon dioxide as part of its drying and hardening process - making it not only less CO2 intensive than traditional concrete, but actually carbon neutral.

[caption id="attachment_852034" align="alignnone" width="889"] ®Flickr/Alan Stark[/caption]

10. AshCrete

AshCrete is a concrete alternative that uses fly ash instead of traditional cement.  By using fly ash, a by-product of burning coal, 97 percent of traditional components in concrete can be replaced with recycled material.

[caption id="attachment_852039" align="alignnone" width="889"] ®Public Domain Pictures[/caption]

11. Timbercrete

Timbercrete is an interesting building material made of sawdust and concrete mixed together. Since it is lighter than concrete, it reduces transportation emissions, and the sawdust both reuses a waste product and replaces some of the energy-intensive components of traditional concrete. Timbercrete can be formed into traditional shapes such as blocks, bricks, and pavers.

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12 May 18:58

Meet Google's Secret Weapon For Understanding Language: 'Parsey McParseface"

by Dave Gershgorn
Google will release the code to it's SyntaxNet language understanding A.I.

What's in a name?

'Parsey McParseface' Is Google's Open Language Processor…
23 May 15:56

India Just Launched A Mini-Space Shuttle

by Sarah Fecht

Reusing a reusable spacecraft design

This morning India's uncrewed, 23-foot-long RLV-TD (Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator) traveled 40 miles into the sky…
09 Jun 18:31

Geo-Injection System Can Turn Carbon Dioxide Into Stone

by Mary Beth Griggs

Much faster than anyone thought possible

Researchers may have figured out a way to solve our carbon emissions problem--turn the gasses into stone.
14 Jun 01:54

Spoiler Alert: Everything is Politics

by Maki Naro

You can't escape it.

The study of power dynamics goes far beyond people shouting from podiums…
21 Jun 21:41

Rolls Royce Is Planning A Future Of Sailing Without Sailors

by Kelsey D. Atherton
Land Based Control Center For Autonomous Ship Concept Art

“This is happening. It’s not if, it’s when.”

Ships without sailors.
27 Jun 18:49

A Tiny Highway In Sweden Is Now Electrified

by Kelsey D. Atherton
Hybrid Diesel Electric Truck

Pilot program for fossil-fuel free transport

Electric highway.
07 Jun 14:26

Trashbot Separates Recycling, A Job That's Too Hard For Us To Do Ourselves

by Charlie Sorrel

The simple task of picking a bin can't be trusted to humans.

The Trashbot is the answer to the question: "What do we do about lazy humans who drop their trash in the wrong recycling bin?" "Trashbot sorts TRASH!" is what this recycling robot might say (if it had the hysterical mechanical voice of a Dalek).

Read Full Story

06 Apr 20:39

Your Water Heater Can Become A High-Power Home Battery

by Jeremy Deaton
Water Heater Battery

No need to rely on the Tesla Powerwall

For a few hundred dollars, an electric water heater can be made to work like a battery, providing cheap, clean energy at a fraction of the cost of a Tesla Powerwall.
01 Apr 19:52

You’ve Been Looking at Amazon Dash All Wrong

by G. Clay Whittaker
amazon dash button

Amazon’s push-button technology is about augmenting your appliances and your life

Amazon Dash is expanding its offerings in ways that have had us thinking. This seemingly unnecessary technology has a lot of potential as it evolves. The best part is that, if Amazon develops it correctly, Dash will only be limited by your own creativity.

22 Mar 10:00

Destroying Nature is Destroying Life Ad

by Baptiste

Les activistes environnementaux de Robin Wood & l’agence Grabarz & Partner ont fait appel à Illusion pour imaginer des visuels illustrant l’idée que détruire la nature revient à détruire la vie. Un rendu incroyable grâce à un jeu sur la double exposition qui souligne parfaitement l’urgence de la situation et le message véhiculé. Impressionnant.

Destroying Nature is Destroying Life Ad5 Destroying Nature is Destroying Life Ad4 Destroying Nature is Destroying Life Ad3 Destroying Nature is Destroying Life Ad2 Destroying Nature is Destroying Life Ad1
03 Feb 15:23

A Concept for a Waterborne, Eco-Friendly, Partial-DIY Vehicle for Developing Nations

Unless you're Izzy Swan, a vehicle is something you buy. It's ready to go; they're turnkey affairs, which is probably where that phrase came from. But this interesting concept by a pair of industrial designers proposes an alternate system, whereby a corporation would sell the motive power and local communities would build the vehicle bodies themselves.

From Seoul-based WooSung Lee and ChanYeop Jeong comes this Bamboo Recumbent concept, their entry in the 2016 Michelin Design Challenge:

It was designed with a specific region in mind, the impoverished and flooding-prone Navotas region in the Philippines, where folks are reportedly living in conditions like this:

Navotas which is located in the central region of the Philippines. It's a typical slum where 25 million people live in floating bamboo houses because Navotas is a flood-prone region.
When the rainy season begins, the whole village is covered with waste from the landfills. The whole village suffers from epidemics due to poor sanitation.

Lee and Jeong's idea is that Michelin would manufacture a pedaling rig, similar to what you'd see on a recumbent bike, and provide it along with axles, a crankshaft and four paddle-wheel assemblies. The target user would then lash widely-available local bamboo into a structure that the Michelin components would integrate with.

Part of their concept entails kitting the raft out with a series of Lifestraw filters, the idea being that the craft would purify the water as it went along. Obviously this doesn't seem realistic from a volume perspective, particularly after looking at those photos above, but this is a concept, after all.

Lee and Jeong took third place in the competition, whose theme was "Mobility for All." You can see the rest of the entries here.

05 Feb 13:32

Expanding the Notion of Cycling Infrastructure

Cycling has long been hailed as a kind of all-purpose urban panacea, an all-purpose solution for congestion and the first-and-last-mile—getting people to and from a transportation hub. Now, Beijing's People's Architecture Office has designed a bike — by a slight stretch of the imagination — into a destination in itself. Billed as "architecture for events and architecture as event," the People's Canopy is a kind of pedal-powered pop-up pavilion: The expandable two-story canopy is set on unicyclic "feet," such that it functions as its own transportation system, a simple and elegant form of mobile placemaking.

The People's Canopy was commissioned by In Certain Places — an ongoing program of urban interventions and events — for the Lancashire Encounter, an arts festival in the city of Preston, UK in September of last year. As ICP curators Charles Quick and Elaine Speight and PAO principal James Shen explain in the expository video, it is a connective space in several ways, not only as a civic gesture of activating an urban space but a kind of cultural exchange, transposing the vernacular canopies of Southern China to a rainy locale on the other side of the world.

Shen also shared some additional insights about the event, production and future of the People's Canopy:

On one hand, the cycling aspect is a matter of practicality, as it does make it very convenient to move the canopies across large distances for use at various sites. On the other hand, it makes a spectacle out of this communal activity. For eight people to cycle together and navigate the canopies through the city requires real teamwork. At a length of 10m and 4.5m in height the double decker bus size of the vehicles and the parade-like aspect of the cycling makes moving the canopies around an urban event. And when parked and expanded, the canopies take on a different role and become backdrops for events.

Cyclists on bicycles flanked the canopies as they were being cycled and there were people cycling and skateboarding under the canopies when they were expanded. The project certainly promotes cycling in the city, but it is also a celebration of public occupation of space: The canopies transform roads for pedestrian use, allowing cities to experiment with multifunctional uses of space. Simply providing covering does a lot to promote public activity, especially in a rainy city like Preston.

A dozen canopies were designed and manufactured in China then shipped to Preston in two shipping containers where they were then assembled. So far they have been moved between at least four locations in the city, including the University of Central Lancashire and the center of Preston. The canopies were physically cycled between each of these locations by volunteers.
The People's Canopies were put in storage in Preston after last year's event and will continue to be used in Preston for years to come. Since the festival, another set of People's Canopies was installed in Hong Kong for the Urbanism/Architecture Biennale. They are there until March and are currently being used to host a variety of events. Those who have taken a seat in the People's Canopy include filmmaker Christopher Doyle and Mr. Mobile Architecture Peter Cook, who immediately incorporated the project into his keynote talk at the biennale.

We've also received a request from an organization in Kolkata India who want to use the People's Canopies for a food festival there. I imagine we'll be getting more interest from people as we start to promote the project. And these are mass-produced, prefabricated, modular structures. I would consider the People's Canopy to be product design on an architecture scale. But with canopies weighing up to one ton each, the need for street closures, and structural and wind-load certification, it's not such a simple thing for People's Canopies to roll into a city near you. Because they are architectural in size, they come with a range of health and safety concerns. 

Bonus: A brilliant clip of the People's Canopy in Hong Kong, and a time-lapse video of the construction process.

09 Feb 14:30

A Building That Eats Smog

by Nicole Lou

George Mirecourt/Corbis

Palazzo Italia

In addition to buildings like Palazzo Italia, air-clearing concrete could pave sidewalks, highways, or other places with heavy pollution.

A new construction material could make the concrete jungle function a bit more like a natural one. Palazzo Italia, which debuted at the 2015 World’s Fair in Milan, is the first building made of concrete that’s designed to clear the air.

The facade, a mixture of cement and titanium dioxide, captures nitrogen-oxide pollution and converts it into a harmless salt that easily rinses off the walls when it rains.

Palazzo Italia also consumes 40 percent less energy than a conventional building of its size, and emits zero air pollution.

“We wanted the building to be an osmotic organism,” says lead architect Michele Molè—like a tree that breathes in carbon dioxide and exhales oxygen.

140: Energy, in kilowatts, generated by the building’s photovoltaic glass roof, enough to power nearly 11,000 CFL lightbulbs

This article was originally published in the January/February 2016 issue of Popular Science.

24 Feb 21:34

Which "Maker Persona" are You? Take Autodesk's Quiz

In our Weekly Maker's Roundup, we post videos from a cross-section of folks whom we hope will appeal to the Core77 audience. What they all have in common is that they create physical objects and record the act, but beyond that they have wildly different styles, skillsets and personalities. In fact we'd be hard-pressed to place makers of any sort into highly specific categories.

That hasn't stopped Autodesk from trying, however. In an effort to "[investigate] the personas that form the maker and designer community, to see if they fall into specific categories, and how these differ in each culture," the company worked with a Professor of Psychology from City University London to pigeonhole makers into five personas:

They then came up with a questionnaire designed to reveal which of these categories any given maker falls into, and surveyed over 4,000 people in six countries:

Curious to see which category you fall into? The online questionnaire is here.

16 Dec 14:32

This self-inflating bicycle tube pumps itself up as you ride

by Katie Medlock

PumpTire Bike Tube

Years ago, PumpTire developed a self-inflating bicycle tire that used the compression of the tire on the ground to suck air inside. Unfortunately, the entire tire had to be replaced once it wore down. Now the developers have used the same principles to create a self-inflating bike tube – and it’s compatible with standard bike tires.

PumpTire Bike Tube pumptire, bicycle tire, bike tire, tire pressure, bike tire pressure, bicycle safety


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24 Dec 14:24

Innovative new wind turbine from Iceland is tough enough for the strongest gales

by Cat DiStasio

iceland, wind power, wind turbine, wind energy, icewind, icewind cw1000, residential wind power, residential wind turbine, wind turbine high winds, high winds energy

Iceland already runs on 100 percent renewable energy. Most of it comes from geothermal sources, but researchers have been working on ways to harness the incredibly powerful winds in the region as well. Traditional wind turbines would spin out of control in the high winds common to the small country, but one bright inventor realized that an entirely different type of wind turbine could withstand the winds. In fact, IceWind’s CW1000 wind turbine may be even better than its skinny counterparts.

iceland, wind power, wind turbine, wind energy, icewind, icewind cw1000, residential wind power, residential wind turbine, wind turbine high winds, high winds energy iceland, wind power, wind turbine, wind energy, icewind, icewind cw1000, residential wind power, residential wind turbine, wind turbine high winds, high winds energy iceland, wind power, wind turbine, wind energy, icewind, icewind cw1000, residential wind power, residential wind turbine, wind turbine high winds, high winds energy


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29 Dec 18:30

Milan and Rome just banned cars for three days to fight smog

by Katie Medlock

milan transportation, milan pollution, milan air pollution, air pollution, milan air quality, italy air quality, milan smog, italy smog, air quality

Facing a month-long stretch of pollution levels above a healthy threshold, the Italian cities of Milan and Rome have decided to implement a three-day ban on private car use. The ban will take place this week from Monday through Wednesday, during which time car use will not be permitted from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. Vehicle pollution in the country has become more potent during a recent dry spell and accounts for an increased number in acute cardiovascular disease, according to the AP. The few days of nearly carless activity will hopefully provide some needed respite for residents.

milan transportation, milan pollution, milan air pollution, air pollution, milan air quality, italy air quality, milan smog, italy smog, air quality milan transportation, milan pollution, milan air pollution, air pollution, milan air quality, italy air quality, milan smog, italy smog, air quality


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06 Jan 13:00

Growing Power raises 100,000 fish and 1 million pounds of food year-round on just 3 acres

by Greg Beach

Will Allen, Will Allen Growing Power, Will Allen Aquaponics, Growing Power Aquaponics

Gardeners and farmers who live in colder climates are well aware of the limitations posed by a short growing season. But these challenges often yield outstanding innovative practices, such as those used by Growing Power in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Growing Power harnesses natural cycles to power a farm that produces over one million pounds of food every year. Because of its ultra efficient greenhouse system, Growing Power is able to continue its harvest even through the frigid Great Lakes winters.

Will Allen, Will Allen Growing Power, Will Allen Aquaponics, Growing Power Aquaponics Will Allen, Will Allen Growing Power, Will Allen Aquaponics, Growing Power Aquaponics Will Allen, Will Allen Growing Power, Will Allen Aquaponics, Growing Power Aquaponics


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14 Jan 16:00

12 top projects by 2016 Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena

by Lucy Wang
18 Nov 15:10

Reference: The Ultimate Wood Joint Visual Reference Guide

Dating all the way back to Neolithic times, the mortise and tenon is the oldest wood joint known to mankind. While the specific provenance of the joint is unknown, I'm willing to bet the inventor wasn't a virgin.

NSFW

In the thousands of years since, craftspeople have developed an almost absurd variety of joints, some of which you learned in the ID shop at school, some of which you've never heard of, and that one that you can always see in your head but have forgotten the name of. To help you remember for the next time you're building something out of wood, or to give you some alternatives for any current designs you're working on, here are some visual guides:

Joints by Application:

Joints for Chairs, Frames and Tables

[This unattributed image has been floating around the web. If anyone knows the provenance, please let us know in the comments so that we can properly attribute it.]
[This unattributed image has been floating around the web. If anyone knows the provenance, please let us know in the comments so that we can properly attribute it.]

Joints for Tabletops and Cabinets

[This unattributed image has been floating around the web. If anyone knows the provenance, please let us know in the comments so that we can properly attribute it.]

Joints for Boxes and Drawers

[This unattributed image has been floating around the web. If anyone knows the provenance, please let us know in the comments so that we can properly attribute it.]

Joints by Machine:

Typical Router Joints

Via Shopsmith

CNC Mill Joints, Corner

CNC Mill Joints, Tee and Cross

CNC Mill Joints, Splice

CNC Mill Joints, Box

CNC Mill Joints, Miscellaneous/WTF

Books

Here are some books that those of you researching or making joints may want to peruse:

The Joint Book: The Complete Guide to Wood Joinery

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                

  

The Complete Guide to Joint-Making

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joining Wood: Techniques for Better Woodworking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Classic Joints with Power Tools

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Art Of Japanese Joinery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Complete Japanese Joinery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you've got any more joint resources you'd like to see included, please let us know in the comments and we'll expand this section.

02 Dec 18:21

Reader Submitted: The Floyd Bed: A Bed Frame Built for City Living

The Floyd Bed is a truly adaptable bed frame designed for city living, and perfect for that foam mattress living on the floor —modular, sturdy and moves with you (not to mention it's also beautiful!). Engineered to be the last bed frame you'll have to buy.

The Principal of the Fourth Bridge
Initial Prototype of the Floyd Bed Frame
One of our manufacturers
Putting together the Floyd Bed is simple
View the full project here
17 Dec 15:04

A Nestable Design Approach to Temporary Shelters

From ex-frog-designer Michael McDaniel, here's a design for a disaster relief shelter that takes a very different approach from Ikea's Better Shelter. One of the first questions for those seeking to deploy such shelters is how to efficiently transport them. Ikea answered this by developing a flatpack design. McDaniel, on the other hand, has exploited draft angle to create a design that can be nested like coffee cups.

Like Ikea's Better Shelter, McDaniel's solution, called the Exo, requires four people to assemble. Beyond that, the differences are sharp: The former generates electricity; the latter requires it. The Better Shelter needs to be assembled from components and anchored to the ground, whereas the Exo is dropped into place on top of a base that has been filled with sand for stability. The Better Shelter sleeps four at floor level, whereas the Exo sleeps four via a pair of built-in bunk beds.

Let's take a closer look at the Exo, which is produced by McDaniel's company, Reaction:

Another key difference between the two designs is the ease-of-assembly factor, which can impact the ultimate application. The speedy set-up time of the Exo makes them ideal for renting out to festivalgoers, campsites or folks looking to set up an AirBNB unit on their property.

Perhaps the largest difference, however, is cost. Turning back to disaster relief, what type of unit an organization will deploy boils down to two things, assuming availability: How much does it cost to buy, and how much does it cost to ship? The answer makes it apparent that the Better Shelter and the Exo will never be competing for the same "market:" The Better Shelter rings in at about US $1,150, whereas the Exo runs a whopping $6,000 to $12,000 per unit. (Fortune says $6,000; Wired says $12,000. At press time we hadn't received clarification from Reaction's press rep.)

The exponentially higher cost means the Exo is probably destined for American use only. Indeed, Reaction's manufacturing base in Texas is an ideal location to serve America's disaster-prone Gulf Coast and Tornado Alley.

You may be wondering: Geography aside, wouldn't it still be cheaper for FEMA to order Better Shelters, presumably produced in Europe or Scandinavia, and have them shipped over? Maybe, but it's unlikely that will happen. According to an AP article from 2007, the famously bungling FEMA paid $19,000 per single family trailer following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. And CNS News reports that the math got even worse by 2013, when FEMA was paying first $24,000, then $48,000 per trailer:

…The smaller park models (33 feet wide and 12 feet long) cost taxpayers about $24,000 each, half the amount FEMA is spending on 64-foot long, 14-feet wide manufactured housing units the agency is now using exclusively to house disaster victims.

And of course, one of those FEMA trailers takes up an entire truck for shipping. So economically speaking, the Exo is not competing with tents nor Ikea's Better Shelter; it's competing with those FEMA trailers. Assuming there's pressure to buy American, the Exo seems a far better deal than the trailers and is far more efficient to ship.

If you're wondering where the higher cost of the Exo comes from, we assume the bulk of the cost comes from the proprietary materials developed to build it. You'll learn about those and hear McDaniel's development story in the next entry.

18 Dec 17:38

Core77 Questionnaire: Nicholas Felton

This is the latest installment of our Core77 Questionnaire. Previously, we talked to Michael Bierut.

Name: Nicholas Felton

Occupation: Information designer

Location: Brooklyn

Current projects: I’m wrapping up my tenth and final Annual Report, doing a couple client projects, and finishing up a book that should be released in the spring.

Mission: My primary mission is to help people understand the data that they generate, and to express themselves or tell stories using that data.

Nicholas Felton

When did you decide that you wanted to be a designer? I realized pretty early on that I wanted to work in design. Probably late middle school. I started getting internships in high school, working at a video production house and starting to do graphic and motion design. That led me to studying graphic design and starting my career in New York. But it wasn’t until around 2005 that I discovered the narrative potential of working with data, and how fulfilling I found it to work with.

Education: I went to the Rhode Island School of Design, where I got my undergraduate degree in graphic design. I’ve been working ever since.

The cover of Felton's tenth and final annual report. (Click images to enlarge.)

First design job: My first design job out of school was at an advertising agency in New York. I was brought on at first to be an art director, and I was able to parlay that into a small, dedicated design group within the agency.

What was your big break? Working on the Annual Reports was certainly my big break, after several attempts of doing personal and professional projects that I thought would make a name for myself. It’s rooted in the same desire that drives journaling or a travel log, but is based on a single year. That was the one that truly started to carve out a substantial niche.

Inside the 2014 report. Felton began the project in 2005, weaving together information about his personal activities—where he’s traveled, the books he’s read, how much sleep he’s gotten, and much more—into dense, beautiful infographics.
From the 2013 report, which focused on Felton’s communications data
The contents of the 2012 report were gathered with a custom-built iPhone app called Reporter.

Describe your workspace: I have a shared office space in Brooklyn near the Navy Yard. We have a big white box with nice light and then a bunch of huge white tables with the requisite monitors and laptops everywhere. Eames chairs, nice shelves. Lots of books.

What is your most important tool? Certainly the laptop. Working with computers has made up for my inability to draw very well. A notebook is also very important for working out ideas.

What is the best part of your job? The most rewarding things I’ve done have been making products that have impacted other people’s lives. Taking some of the stuff I’ve learned in my own projects and translating that into experiences or applications that other people can use for their own goals. Working on the design of the Facebook timeline was probably the most impactful thing that I’ve done and maybe will do. On a smaller scale, there’s Reporter, which is an iOS app I released last year. It hasn’t had the kind of impact that timeline has, but on a personal level, meeting people who have said it’s improved their lives significantly—that’s always a great experience.

What is the worst part of your job? Working for myself. Not having help and trying to balance all the things that I want to do with generating an income and trying not to say no to great projects. The work-life balance gets kind of difficult sometimes.

Felton's desk in his Brooklyn studio
By delivering a few randomly timed surveys each day, Reporter attempts to measure and visualize subtle aspects of users' lives.

What time do you get up and go to bed? Usually I get up at 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. and go to bed around midnight.

How do you procrastinate? The Internet probably, but also just the ways that you trick yourself into thinking you’re getting stuff done. Like cleaning up your desk and reorganizing; those tasks that feel productive but are basically just designed to delay the inevitable things you don’t want to do.

What is your favorite productivity tip or trick? Right now I’m trying to sprint on a thing that has to be done today, so I quit my e-mail. Just turned it off. If I need to check it, I’ll check it on the phone, but I’m leaving it off on my computer to make sure that that little red dot is not going to distract me. I can’t ignore the notification in Mail if it’s there.

Felton’s labels for the winemaker Between Five Bells include seasonal temperature and rainfall data.

What is the best-designed object in your home? One that I sometimes marvel at is the Global knife set. They’re these Japanese knives that have a monolithic construction where the handle turns into the blade. Some of them were gifts but I started the collection myself, and I really take the time to appreciate them every once in a while.

Who is your design hero? I don’t know if he’s a hero but I have a lot of respect for Brian Eno. He’s a person who I think has done a good job with the work-life balance. I casually knew his music, but then I saw him speak once and was kind of transfixed. He also published a diary that was a year in his life. It was a very intimate way of learning some of the details about all the people he was collaborating with, and how he was putting on art exhibits at the same time he was working on music, traveling the globe, seeing his family and interacting with them. I’ve thought about that quite a bit since I read it. He seems to always be pushing himself, and he’s someone I certainly look up to.

For Wired, Felton visualized ten years of Wikipedia data.

What is the most important quality in a designer? Stubbornness. Pursuing one idea relentlessly. It has served me well.

What is the most widespread misunderstanding about design or designers? I think one of the things that’s not widely known is how much design factors into the systems we use continuously (or take for granted). Like all the design that goes into the typography and the systems that make the highway system work. I don’t know if people really contemplate the depth to which design is a functional part of our lives, and not just decorative.

What is exciting you in design right now? I’ve moved more and more into using code to create my design. So I tend to be pretty inspired by the people who are at the forefront of the field. I’m always trying to expand my abilities. Practice, practice, practice—to be able to make the kind of things that I want to create.

22 Dec 15:22

Seven Surprisingly Large Concept Houses that Unfold from Trailers

We think of trailer park homes as being lamentably small--unless you upgrade to a double-wide. But what if you could upgrade to a quadruple-wide? Or heck, a quadruple-wide and triple-high? Invention and patent maven Semenov Dahir Kurmanbievich has worked out CG animations (if not the practical engineering) for how a fold-out trailer-borne house would unfurl, and just how big they could be:

It would be neat if every trailer park secretly does, in fact, operate like this; but when they hear visitors are coming, everyone folds their houses up tight for appearance's sake.

18 Nov 21:08

These Biohackers Are Creating Open-Source Insulin

by Alexandra Ossola

Counter Culture Labs

Is this where generic insulin might be discovered?

The 370 million people worldwide with diabetes rely on injections of insulin to regulate the amount of sugar in their blood, since their bodies can’t make the hormone themselves. Since there are no generic versions available in the United States, insulin is very expensive—that cost was likely a large proportion of the $176 billion in medical expenditures incurred by diabetes patients in 2012 alone. Now a team of biohackers with Counter Culture Labs, a community lab in Oakland, California, wants to pave the way towards generic insulin, and they’ve started a crowdfunding page for their project.

The biohackers’ goal is fairly straightforward: To make and refine synthetic insulin from E. coli bacteria and document their process. The result, they hope, will be that a generic pharmaceutical company will use that protocol to make insulin that’s affordable for diabetes patients all over the world. There are several types of insulin that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration—some are long-lasting, others are fast-acting—but they are all protected by patents, so there are no generic versions. “It takes legitimate scientific research to create a biosimilar generic [drug], and generic companies don’t want to do scientific research,” says Maureen Muldavin, a program manager at Counter Culture Labs and a biohacker involved in the Open Insulin project.

Biosimilar drugs are not easy to concoct, Muldavin says, and insulin in particular is a challenge because of its structure. “It’s not as simple as putting the genetic code [in the bacteria] and out pops insulin,” she says. With the money raised in their crowdfunding campaign, the researchers plan to spend the next year figuring out how to make insulin from E. coli and purifying it. Since the resulting insulin probably won’t be pure enough to inject into human patients, so they will check that their insulin would be viable through other tests with antibodies. With the open-sourced insulin protocol, pharmaceutical companies could seek FDA approval to start producing generic insulin.

Kevin Riggs, an instructor in medicine at Johns Hopkins University who co-authored an article about generic insulin earlier this year, doesn’t think that Open Insulin will be enough to bring a generic insulin drug to the market. “I don't think the major hurdle is that the companies don't know how to make insulin, because that part is reasonably straightforward,” he says. “The real hurdles are getting the drug approved by the FDA (and since insulin is a biologic drug, it requires a lot more original data than an application for a small-molecule generic would), and then upfront manufacturing costs (because making a biologic drug is different, so it requires different equipment).” He suspects that it will take “an altruistic entity with a lot of start-up money” to make generic insulin commercially available.

But the biohackers behind Open Insulin also have their own agenda—they want to show the world that biohackers can make real scientific contributions, even if they’re not affiliated with an established world-class laboratory. “We want to show that a bunch of people with varying levels of scientific training can come together with a minimal budget and community space and do legitimate scientific research,” Muldavin says.

Even if their project is successful, it doesn’t yet mean that you can brew your own insulin at home quite yet—Muldavin estimates that’s about 20 years away. In that amount of time, she anticipates that researchers will be able to sell kits so that patients can brew all sorts of their own drugs at home. “We’re truly in a golden age of biology,” Muldavin says. “Every year it gets so much easier and cheaper to do genetic engineering.”

To meet their goal, the biohackers need to raise just over $3,000 in 16 days.

18 Jan 19:52

It's a tricycle, it's an EV, it's another solar-electric velomobile!

by Derek Markham
The fully-enclosed evovelo mö promises to 'combine conventional car comfort with the benefits of a bicycle.'
23 Nov 22:26

A Brief History of Space Stations before the ISS

by Amy Shira Teitel

A century before Apollo astronauts walked on the Moon, science fiction told the public of a future with outposts on the Moon and orbiting high above the Earth. In the decades that followed, these earliest space station concepts evolved into orbital platforms that could launch manned missions to the Moon and Mars. After its inception, NASA picked up where visionaries left off, dabbling in space stations of varying layouts and capabilities before building the International Space Station that orbits the Earth today.

Noordung's Wheel

Austrian Herman Noordung's 1929 concept for a toroidal space station that would generate artificial gravity by spinning.

NASA

Earliest Concepts in Science Fiction

Between October 1869 and February of 1870, readers of the Atlantic Monthly were introduced to the idea of living off the Earth through Edward Everett Hale’s science fiction story, "The Brick Moon.” Hale’s story tells of a 200-foot diameter brick sphere designed to orbit the Earth as a navigational aid for ships. But the brick moon is accidentally put into orbit with people on board. Halle followed this story with a sequel, ‘Life in the Brick Moon,’ wherein the characters find ways to survive in their new home. Not only do they live in the artificial satellite, they communicate with the Earth turning the brick moon into a communications satellite.

The term “space station” was coined more than fifty years later by Romanian rocket pioneer Hermann Oberth. Writing in 1923, he envisioned a platform orbiting the Earth that would serve as a starting point for missions to the Moon and Mars. His idea was shared by Austrian Herman Noordung who, in 1928, published a blue print for an orbital outpost composed of multiple modules each with its own unique function.

Both Oberth and Noordung imagined their space stations would be launched by massive rockets, and an ocean away American engineer Robert Goddard was taking major strides towards developing these rockets. Goddard was among the first to experiment successfully with liquid propulsion, harnessing a reaction far more powerful than the black powder rockets that were prevalent at the time. And he wasn’t the only one. In Germany, an amateur rocket group called the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (Society for Space Travel) was also having moderate success with liquid propelled rocket. In 1932, one member of the VfR, Wernher von Braun, was handpicked by the German Army to continue his work, developing liquid rockets for the military.

Von Braun's Space Station

Von Braun presents his toroidal space station on Walt Disney's Tomorrowland TV show.

via aerospace.photo

Military funding from the Reich before and during the Second World War brought rocketry to maturity, and by the war’s end von Braun’s team had a functioning rocket on their hands with the V-2. The technology was picked up by both American and Soviet scientists, but the bulk of leftover hardware and key team members migrated to the United States in 1945, including von Braun who added "spaceflight popularizer” to his resume before long.

Through collaborations with Collier’s Magazine and Walt Disney on the Tomorrowland TV series, von Braun brought his vision of a wheel-shaped space station to the public. This orbital platform would be an Earth observation post, a microgravity laboratory, as well as an observatory. It would also be a starting point for missions to the Moon and Mars, serving as a cornerstone in man’s exploration of the inner solar system.

NASA's Inflatable Wheel

NASA explored inflatable toroidal space stations in the early 1960s. Most of these concepts were studied out of the Langley laboratory.

NASA

Space Stations for the New Space Agency


These futuristic space station concepts started inching towards reality in 1958. NASA was created to manage all spaceflight programs with the overarching goal of getting an astronaut in space before the Soviet Union lunched a cosmonaut. Anticipating putting the first man in space, NASA was already considering a space station as its second program in 1959, something that would help the agency learn to live and work in space before serving as a jumping off point for manned missions to the Moon. But Yuri Gagarin beat an American astronaut into orbit, derailing NASA’s long-range plan. President John Kennedy considered all possible next steps for America in space and determined that a mission to the Moon would be a better show of technological dominance than a space station.

NASA was laser focused on the Moon landing goal throughout the 1960s, but the a space station was never truly off the drawing board. Spurred on by Apollo’s high funding level and the growing national interest in spaceflight, an orbital outpost was again seriously considered in 1964 NASA’s main post-Apollo program. Four years later, it was officially on the books.

Space Base

This 1969 concept was for a 100-man space station called Space Base. It was intended as a laboratory and living space that could double as a home port for nuclear-powered space tugs that could ferry astronauts to the Moon.

NASA

In 1969, NASA proposed a 100-man space station called Space Base. The idea was to build a platform that would serve as a laboratory for scientific and industry-sponsored microgravity experiments as well as a home port for nuclear-powered space tugs to ferry astronauts to and from an outpost on the Moon. Scheduled for orbital assembly to be completed by 1975, it didn’t take NASA long to realize that the cost of using expendable rockets (like the Saturn family that launched Apollo to the Moon) to both build and supply Space Base would exceed the construction cost of the station. The only way the project wouldn’t be a loss for NASA would be to build and supply it with a reusable vehicle, a sort of shuttle to ferry supplies and astronauts to Space Base over multiple missions. This became the Space Transportation System, more colloquially known as the space shuttle.

But a space shuttle was in the future. For the moment, NASA had an excess Apollo hardware from three cancelled lunar missions and opted to turn it into a short-term space station program called Skylab. The station itself was made form a repurposed S-IVB upper stage and launched on the last Saturn V in May of 1973. In the year that followed, Skylab hosted three crews, ultimately proving that humans can not only live and work in space, they can be instrumental in large-scale orbital construction efforts as well. The first Skylab crew performed emergency spacewalks to successfully free a jammed solar array, effectively saving the station.

Skylab

Skylab was America's first space station. Launched in 1973, it hosted three crews before it was abandoned in orbit and left to fall to Earth. It reentered the atmosphere in 1979.

NASA

Skylab was never intended to be a long-term space station; it wasn’t designed to be resupplied, refuelled, or boosted into a higher orbit. After the last crew left in February of 1974, the station was abandoned and its orbit was left to decay. NASA briefly considered using a space shuttle orbiter to boost it into a higher orbit and revisit the station, but increased solar activity had expanded the Earth’s atmosphere, the fringes of which were dragging on the station more than expected. NASA simply couldn't have a shuttle ready in time. Skylab reentered the Earth’s atmosphere over western Australia in July of 1979.

The Beginnings of a Real Space Station

As the Skylab program unfolded, NASA forged ahead with the reusable space shuttle that would facilitate building and maintaining a long-lasting space station. But the project as initially conceived by the agency proved too ambitious for its shrinking post-Apollo budget. The economic, political, social, and cultural landscape in the early 1970s wasn’t conducive to another program on the same scale as Apollo. The agency was forced to choose between an orbital outpost or a the vehicle needed to build it. The latter won, and the space station was put on hold while NASA developed its space shuttle.

With the station’s future uncertain, NASA began exploring the potential of working with international partners to defray its cost. In 1973, the United States and Europe formally entered into a partnership that would see the European Space Agency supply mini laboratory modules called Spacelabs to NASA. These small units were designed to launch in the shuttle’s massive payload bay and serve as experiment facility for up to three weeks in orbit, a proof of concept for a later station. The first Spacelab reached orbit in 1983 as part of the payload of STS-9.

The Dual Keel Space Station

NASA's dual keel space station layout.

NASA/MSFC

From Dream to Reality

In his State of the Union Address on January 25, 1984, President Ronald Reagan called for NASA to collaborate with international partners to build a space station within a decade. It was the political backing the space station program desperately needed. With congressional support and a formal presidential mandate in place, the agency established the Space Station Program Office in April and issued requests for proposals to industry leaders that fall. Two years later, Japan and Europe signed on to contribute modules and Canada agreed to supply a manipulator arm. The station was emerging from these early design stages with a dual keel arrangement with a central truss to hold the main living and working quarters as well as solar arrays.

But setbacks seemed to trump every step forward. One problem was the steadily rising cost. NASA’s original projection of $8 billion for three separate facilities — the main living space and two automated laboratory platforms — proved ambitiously low. The Challenger disaster also took its toll on the space station. The loss of seven astronauts raised safety concerns that ended with the decision to give astronauts on board the space station some escape system. This forced design changes that in turn increased the station’s weight.

Freedom

This 1991 concept art shows space station Freedom in orbit around the Earth. Freedom was the first true space station concept NASA tried to get off the ground. It was designed to be the launch point for missions to the Moon and Mars in addition to an orbital living and work space.

NASA

The solution was to replace the dual keel arrangement with a single truss design and to make the laboratory modules smaller overall. This new design was finalized in 1987. In 1988, Reagan gave the station a name: Freedom.

Bush Puts NASA on a Path to Mars.

In July of 1989, just six months after taking office, President George Bush attempted to have his own “Kennedy moment.” In a speech commemorating the 20th anniversary of Apollo 11 mission, he called for the United States to return men to the Moon and send astronauts on to Mars within three decades. And he endorsed space station Freedom as the cornerstone of this long-range effort. The plan was, roughly, a tripartite one. Immediately in the 1990s construction of space station Freedom was to be NASA’s main endeavour. Lunar missions were slated to resume in the early 21st century with the establishment of a lunar base for long term exploration. These two steps would lay the groundwork for a manned mission to Mars as early as the late 2010s. The ultimate goal was a permanent outpost on the red planet.

Bush’s call for a Mars landing yielded a 90-day study to solidify the program’s prospective timeline, goals, and cost. The idea was for Freedom to evolve alongside the effort to land men on Mars. It would serve as an orbital test bed where NASA would iron out the technologies needed to support long-duration deep space missions, and with crews staying on board for up to six months at a time it would be a way for the agency to learn about human survival in space in the relative safety of low Earth orbit.

Astronaut Ferry

This concept art from 1989 shows the ferry spacecraft used to take astronauts between a space station and the Moon, and possibly Mars.

NASA

The subsequent phase of lunar missions would rely heavily on Freedom. The crew, vehicles, and supplies would launch to the space station where they would load into a transfer vehicle. That transfer vehicle would then travel to low lunar orbit where it would meet an excursion vehicle that would either be waiting in a parking orbit or would launch from the surface to meet the arriving spacecraft. The excursion module would then take the crew to the lunar surface while the transfer vehicle would return to Freedom for maintenance and resupply. The crew could stay on the Moon for as long as a year, serviced by that same transfer vehicle ferrying between Freedom and the Moon. A similar arrangement was planned for missions to Mars.

From Freedom to ISS

As the 1990s dawned, Freedom was getting increasingly heavy and complicated with new requirements like the provision for spacewalks to support in-orbit assembly. Freedom’s cost rose to $38.3 billion, a figure that now included the shuttle launches but was still a far cry from the original $8 billion estimate. In 1993, President Bill Clinton called for the station to be redesigned once again in an attempt to lower the cost and bring in more international partners. Three redesigned station were put forth, and the proposal called Alpha was chosen by the White House.

Alpha

This 1995 concept shows space station Alpha, an early version of what eventually became the International Space Station.

NASA

Alpha used 75 percent of the hardware from Freedom, and before long Russia offered pieces of its unflown Mir 2 space station to lower the overall cost. This new station developed as one that promised to be far more capable than Freedom. In the course of the redefinition process, Alpha took on the moniker “International Space Station.” NASA’s Johnson Space Centre became lead centre behind the program, and Boeing signed on as prime contractor.

The ISS program kicked off with the Shuttle-Mir program, the first cooperation between the United States and Russia since 1975’s Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. In February of 1994, cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev became the first Russian astronaut to fly on a shuttle with the STS-60 crew. A year later, the orbiter Discovery rendezvoused with Mir during the STS-63 mission. In March of 1995, U.S. astronaut Dr. Norman Thagard launched with two cosmonauts aboard Soyuz-TM 21 for a three month stay on Mir. At the end of the mission, the orbiter Atlantis docked with Mir to collect the crew and bring them home. In November of 1995, the orbiter Atlantis launched on STS-74 and delivered a Russian-built Docking Module to Mir marking the first time a module was added to a working space station in orbit. These shuttle-Mir missions gave NASA astronauts their first exposure to long-duration spaceflight since Skylab and also taught both nations valuable lessons in working together and building a multi-module station in space.

The ISS began taking shape in earnest in 1998. On November 20, the Zarya Control Module launched on a Russian Proton rocket. It was the first piece of the station, the battery power and fuel storage unit onto which later modules were added. The Unity node followed in December, and in May of 1999 the shuttle orbiter Discovery fitted the station with logistics and stocked it full of supplies. Four assembly missions in May, July, September, and October of 2000 saw addition of the Zvezda Service Module as well as installation of the Z1-Truss, a third pressurized mating adapter, and a Ku-band antenna. These missions also delivered supplies and performed maintenance on the Station. It was finally ready for a human crew.

On October 30, 2000, Expedition 1 launched on a Soyuz rocket and docked with the International Space Station. The crew of Yuri P. Gidzenko, William M. Shepherd, and Sergei K. Krikalev became the first to live and work on board the orbiting outpost. Another thirty-two assembly missions completed the ISS, bringing the dream of a space station to life nearly a century and a half after Hale’s story captured imaginations.

Sources: Report of the 90-Day Study on Human Exploration of the Moon and Mars; A History of US Space Stations; NASA's Space Station Evolution and Current Status; ISS assembly timeline; Hale's "The Brick Moon"; "Tomorrowland" TV episodes (part 1 is here, and you can find the rest on You Tube or buy it on Amazon).

24 Nov 22:52

Weird Wheels Move Robot In Four Directions Without Twisting

by Kelsey D. Atherton
Mecanum Wheel Robot

Mecanum Wheel Robot

Screenshot by author, from YouTube

Wheels, as we know them, could stand a little reinvention. They take fiddling and time to move into parallel spaces, and the whole world would be a better place if wheels could simply pull us sideways without any forward momentum. Fortunately, "mecanum wheels" exist. Here, watch a robot demonstrate them:

Here’s how botmaker MicroRobo describes their creation:

This Mecanum wheel mobile Arduino robotics car can be made to move in any direction and turn by varying the direction and speed of each wheel. Moving all four wheels in the same direction causes forward/backward movement, running left/right sides in opposite directions causes rotation, and running front and rear in opposite directions causes sideways movement. The platform rear wheels are mounted in a particular way, so that the suspension structure ensures that all four wheels can adhere to the ground, even when the ground is uneven.

Watch more of the robot's weird movements below:

[Digg]

11 Dec 22:18

New ‘OpenAI’ Artificial Intelligence Group Formed By Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, And More

by Dave Gershgorn
Elon Musk speaks ahead of COP 21 Paris Climate Talks

ASSOCIATED PRESS/Francois Mori

Elon Musk speaks ahead of COP 21 Paris Climate Talks

The SpaceX and Tesla founder gave a talk ahead of the climate conference in 2015.

In the last few years, the world of artificial intelligence has mainly been dominated by large internet companies with huge computing infrastructures like Google and Facebook, or research universities like MIT or Stanford.

Now, there’s another player in town: OpenAI. The non-profit research firm is backed by heavy hitters like co-chairs Elon Musk (of SpaceX and Tesla fame), Y Combinator’s Sam Altman, as well as investor Peter Thiel (who worked with Musk at PayPal). They claim to have garnered a billion dollars in private funding, from people like Thiel and Amazon Web Services.

“We believe AI should be an extension of individual human wills and, in the spirit of liberty, as broadly and evenly distributed as is possible safely.”

“We believe AI should be an extension of individual human wills and, in the spirit of liberty, as broadly and evenly distributed as is possible safely,” OpenAI writes in its first blog post, published just a few moments ago.

The goal? Make the scope of A.I less narrow. Right now, machines are either good at identifying people, or answering questions, but not both. But the ultimate goal in A.I research is to “generalize” intelligence—have an algorithm that can do it all.

In pursuit of that, OpenAI's founding team hired Ilya Sutskever as research director. Sutskever is currently a research scientist at Google who has worked with some of the most well-known names in A.I. and machine learning, like Geoff Hinton and Andrew Ng (who work with Google and Baidu respectively).

The organization is a non-profit, and only hopes to spend a small fraction of their billion dollar seed in the next few years. They hope to “freely collaborate” with other institutions, which makes sense, as nearly everyone on their research team comes from a prestigious institution like Google, Stanford, and New York University.

Musk's involvement in particular is noteworthy, given the SpaceX founder has previously expressed fears that artificial intelligence could be more dangerous than nuclear weapons. OpenAI would appear to be in part an effort to power-check the development of A.I. going forward.

Developing...