Uber and NASA To Launch Flying Taxis By 2020

Flying cars may not yet be a reality, but if bridges can sail rivers, can’t be too far behind. Picking up the pace are Uber and NASA, which plan to test their flying vehicles as early as 2020.

Uber is looking to speed development of a new industry of electric, on-demand, urban air taxis, [Chief Product Officer] Holden said, which customers could order up via smartphone in ways that parallel the ground-based taxi alternatives.

Much like a regular Uber, the airborne taxi will hold up to 4 passengers. It will also run at 200 miles an hour — perfect for traffic congested cities. NASA has stepped in to develop a software for air traffic management as well as ensure the taxis are safe.

“We are very much embracing the regulatory bodies and starting very early in discussions about this and getting everyone aligned with the vision,” he said of Uber’s plans to introduce what he called “ride-sharing in the sky”.

Autonomous vehicles may not be everyone’s cup of tea — much less when they’re in the sky. But if NASA is on board with it, it’s likely we will be, too.

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Nature Park Installs Colorblind-less Viewfinders

For decades, technology has paved the way for treating detrimental illnesses such as HIV and leukemia. While some conditions remain without a cure, therapy and devices have made everyday living more bearable. A Tennessee nature park gave back to its colorblind visitors by installing a special viewfinder.

“To realize, through red/green deficiencies and other forms of colorblindness, there potentially are more than 13 million people in our country alone who cannot fully appreciate the beauty our state has to offer, we wanted to do something about that,” [said Kevin Triplett, the commissioner of the state’s Department of Tourist Development.]

The colorblind-less viewfinders alleviate specific color deficiencies, allowing tourists to marvel at the park. In the fall, trees don an incredible concoction of reds and yellows, a first sight for some.

“I’m glad to have seen it. I just wish I had seen this all my life,” [local Jim] Nichols said through tears. “Kinda like what I would imagine the difference between here and heaven.”

Positive responses from colorblind sightseers had the state installing more viewfinders across other parks. And there you have it — never take your senses for granted. Not everyone can enjoy them the way we do.

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China Testing Trackless Autonomous Train

It’s been a year of firsts for the railway system — from going solar to launching its fastest model. Pushing its limits even further, China is test-driving its Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit system, which is fully electric and trackless.

ART bears the physical appearance of a train but it doesn’t rely on following a track. Instead, it follows a virtual route using an electric powertrain and tires. It’s expected to function much like an urban train or a tram, but since there’s no investment cost in laying down rails, it should be much cheaper to implement.

The train can only travel 15 kilometers at a time, but can fully recharge in just 10 minutes. Environmentalists will likely tip their hats off to the new system — it’s entirely emissions free! Smoggy China could surely use more sustainable public transport alternatives. Thankfully, its government has been taking other measures to ensure that its locals don’t further experience pollution-caused health issues.

40 percent of China’s factories have been shut down, and authorities are reportedly working on a timetable to end the sale of gas- and diesel-powered cars.

A round of applause for China — sounds fresh!

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Smart Solar Greenhouse Grows Healthy Crops

Step aside, fossil fuels — everyone is going solar. With eco-houses and trains now on the market, we might as well redesign as much as we can into solar. This is where electricity-generating greenhouses are stepping in.

Electricity-generating solar greenhouses utilize Wavelength-Selective Photovoltaic Systems (WSPVs), a novel technology that generates electricity more efficiently and at less cost than traditional photovoltaic systems… WSPVs absorb some of the blue and green wavelengths of light but let the rest through, allowing the plants to grow.

In testing a variety of plant species, researchers at UC Santa Cruz found that 80% remained unaffected by changes. The remaining 20%? They actually grew better under the building’s bright magenta windows.

“If greenhouses generate electricity on site, that reduces the need for an outside source, which helps lower greenhouse gas emissions even more,” said [professor Michael] Loik. “We’re moving toward self-sustaining greenhouses.”

The greenhouse uses 5% less water — a success, taking into account that greenhouses occupy 9 million acres of land. And just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, the system costs 40% less than traditional means. Clearly, percentages have demonstrated a win-win situation for these buildings, which will hopefully bring users 100% satisfaction.

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Germany Gifts Households With Free Wind Energy

Rarely does a community experience a surplus of energy — much less clean energy. In fact, rural areas are still depending solely on whatever they can gather from eco-boxes. Germany, on the other hand, may be the first to boast an energy overflow. As it happens, in a single weekend, the country produced enough wind energy to provide households with extra — for free!

[Bloomberg], which tracks daily wind power in Europe, said that over 24 per cent of the EU’s electricity demand was powered by wind on Saturday, the highest per cent ever recorded.

Wind farms amassed an impressive output of 39,409 megawatts altogether. That’s almost equally as shocking as electricity itself. But considering much of Germany’s power grid is wind-generated, everything falls perfectly into place.

Offshore wind accounted for 2.8 per cent of the EU’s electricity demand while onshore wind accounted for 21.8 per cent. Wind represented 61 per cent of electricity demand in Germany.

Good weather may have played a hand in helping Germany strike gold (or air) — but its eco-initiatives surely take the cake.

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Mini Treatment Plant Putting Sewers To Good Use

As the planet is hastily running short of natural resources, communities are looking to waste as an asset. Anything from biochar to human excrement are now staples in energy production. To bring everything together, engineers have created the NEWgenerator, which processes materials found in sewage.

First, the waste is fed into a bioreactor, where anaerobic microorganisms break down the solids and produce biogas.

The methane produced is chemical-free and perfect for cooking and heating. To complete the cycle, USF engineers have also made the most of liquid and solid waste.

The water that passes through is… disinfected with chlorine, and while the end result is probably still not drinkable, it’s clean enough to use to flush the toilets in the block or irrigate crops.

The remainder of the waste can be used as fertilizer. So far, the system is testing waters in India and South Africa. Each device is usable for up to 100 people a day, with future versions projected to reach thousands. Considering that millions are without access to basic amenities, the NEWgenerator is a game-changer for marginalized communities.

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Cemented Plastic Makes Concrete Stronger

The existence of eco-friendly, weather-resistant structures such as Thailand’s bamboo building are evidence that designers are saving the planet. To drive a point, MIT students are embedding irradiated water bottles into cement to make concrete more robust and sustainable.

The research revealed that exposing the plastic to gamma radiation actually made it stronger. The irradiated plastic was then ground into a powder and mixed with cement. The subsequent concrete was up to 20 percent stronger than concrete made without the irradiated plastic.

Engineers found the added plastic (only 1.5% of the concoction) made concrete significantly denser. If you’re skeptical about incorporating the mix into future room renovations, don’t worry — it isn’t radioactive. Furthermore, using plastic will potentially relieve a few dozen landfills.

“Concrete produces about 4.5 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions,” says [MIT professor Michael] Short. “Take out 1.5 percent of that, and you’re already talking about 0.0675 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. That’s a huge amount of greenhouse gases in one fell swoop.”

Environmentalists might campaign for a plastic-free society — but it isn’t the easiest option. Perhaps, now, it’s all about redirecting your waste to where it will be most useful.

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Food Waste To Be Used In Construction Projects

Nowadays, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” has never been truer. We’re turning garbage into anything from furniture to vodka, and it seems we can push the limits even further. Engineering group Arup is proving just that, proposing the use of food waste in building materials.

The report aims “at demonstrating that a different paradigm for materials in construction is possible.” This could be done by diverting, in part, organic waste that is traditionally managed through landfill, incineration and composting to become a resource for the creation of construction engineering and architecture products.

According to Arup, bananas can produce textiles, while mushrooms can grow actual towers. It seems, with food waste, it’s best to let one’s imagination run wild — and for good reasons.

Using food waste for building materials would help create a circular economy where organic waste, instead of being disposed, is the main resource… This would help ameliorate rising levels of waste and shortfalls of raw material, as well as providing the industry with cheap, low carbon materials.

Looking to renovate your home? No need for concrete fillers — just use rice!

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Middle Schooler Builds Lead Testing Kit

Nowadays, children have become more eager to explore issues outside of the classroom. Anything from vehicular traffic to eye diseases are inspiring them to create. Next in line as America’s Top Young Scientist is Gitanjali Rao, whose handmade device detects lead contamination in water.

“I had been following the Flint, Michigan, issue for about two years,” [said] Rao… “I was appalled by the number of people affected by lead contamination in water and I wanted to do something to change this.”

The determined seventh-grader, with the help of her engineer parents and local universities, came through with Tethys. Using carbon nanotube sensors, the device can accurately detect lead and send information to any smartphone. She subsequently won the Young Scientist challenge and pocketed $25,000.

“Advice I would give to other kids would be to never be afraid to try,” Gitanjali said. “I had so many failures when I was doing my tests. It was frustrating the first couple of times, but towards the end, everything started coming together.”

Rao intends to invest part of the prize money into developing Tethys. The rest will fund her schooling — bright minds deserve the best education.

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Deep Water Wind Farm Is Powering The Scottish Grid

Following the success of solar power, developers have been harvesting clean energy from other sources. Now that we can accumulate electricity through passing vehicles and even cow excrement, nothing else seems far-fetched. Wind power may be nothing new, but these floating offshore turbines are the first of their kind.

The 30MW installation… will demonstrate that offshore wind energy can be harvested in deep waters… where installing giant turbines was once impractical or impossible. At peak capacity, the wind farm will produce enough electricity to power 20,000 Scottish homes.

The irony behind the nautical wind farm is its contractor — Statoil. The company is a corporate giant notorious for oil drilling. It’s somewhat of a paradox, but I’m a fan. Statoil claims that the wind farm’s offshore location is also beneficial.

The farther out you can place offshore turbines, the steadier and faster the wind is. It also comes with the added benefit of avoiding any community arguments over clean ocean views… [also] unimaginably large rotor components can be delivered by sea rather than by land, where roads have weight limits.

In the end, Statoil is living proof that you can easily give back what you take from nature. While we’d rather leave Mother Nature alone entirely, compensation is better than nothing.

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