Monday, December 7, 2009

Carnivorous Tomatoes and Passive Consumption

"Feed me Seymour!" While compiling a report on carnivorous plants to celebrate the bicentenary of Charles Darwin's birth, researchers at the Royal Botanical Gardens Kew have made a shocking discovery that many common plant species are, in fact, carnivorous. Unlike many familiar carnivorous plants such as the infamous venus fly-trap and the pitcher plant which are highly specialized and actively catch and consume prey, many other plants consume prey through more passive means. For instance, many common varieties of the tomato plant are covered in thick sticky hairs that will catch and contain small aphids and other insects.
However, lacking an external apparatus to consume the trapped insect, it has been found that the plant will wait for the insect to decompose and fall to the ground, fertilizing the soil. According to the report:
Domestic varieties of tomatoes and potatoes retain the ability to trap and kill small insects with their sticky hairs and are likely to absorb the nutrients through their roots when the animals decay and fall to the ground.
Among other common plant species found to behave in a similar way are several different varieties of potatoes, ornamentals, and even the petunia. It is interesting to note the long-term strategy of the plants. Where most carnivours are documented as predators who hunt/trap their prey to consume it immediately, this discovery shows that some carnivors will actually invest in a long-term solution that works through improving the local environment. While most predators ingest prey and benefit exclusively from the meal, the predator that lacks an instrument to intake directly must enrich the soil and only benefit indirectly. This idea of passive consumption is a philosophy that could find potential in other fields of science or development. Could the construction industry or energy producing sectors benefit from a philosophy of long-term passive consumption? It seems plausible that more localized long-term indirect investments could help to produce better yields not just for the industry, but also for connected economies and environments.

Seen on The Independent.
Venus Fly Trap photo via Warped Photos Blog.
Movies to see: Little Shop of Horrors and Day of the Triffids.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Concrete Cloth

Winner of the 2009 Material ConneXion Material of the Year is Concrete Cloth by UK based company Concrete Canvas. The material is a layer of fiber reinforced cement sandwiched between a cloth outer layer and in interior PVC backing. The result is a flexible fabric that, once hydrated, will set in two hours into a lightweight concrete shell or surface. The cloth was initially developed for use as part of the Concrete Canvas Shelter. According to Concrete Canvas:
Concrete Canvas Shelters are rapidly deployable hardened shelters that require only water and air for construction. The 25sqm variant can be deployed by 2 people without any training in under an hour and is ready to use in only 24 hours. The key to CCS is the use of inflation to create a surface that is optimised for compressive loading. This allows thin walled concrete structures to be formed which are both robust and lightweight. CCS consist of a cement impregnated fabric (Concrete Cloth) bonded to the outer surface of a plastic inner which forms a Nissen-Hut shaped structure once inflated.
The shelters are seen as an innovative solution to disaster response and other humanitarian crisises that require immediate relief housing and infrastructure construction. Although the system can be erected quickly by two people with little training, once set, the material has a ten year life span which makes it ideal for both short term response as well as mid to long-term transition shelters. Apart from the shelter design system, the cloth alone is already being used in numerous civil and military use applications including slope protection, ditch lining, and pipeline protection. It is evident that the potential for a flexible material that can be set and hardened in place is great. New and innovative applications for this simple system are sure to emerge.

Seen on Inhabitat and Dezeen.
Images via Concrete Canvas.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Of Suits and Robots

Straight out of The Jetsons comes Alton Lane, a "premium custom clothing" maker in New York City that provides custom suit fitting - by robots. Stepping inside what looks to be a blacked out phone booth, digital scanning technology initially developed for airport security surveys the human topography and creates a virtual avatar complete with all requisite measurements. Sadly, small scurrying nano-bots don't appear to assemble the suit on-person, rather the measurements are passed on to human tailors in meat-space who custom cut and tailor the suit. However, all irony is not lost, as Alton Lane is located within the famous Flatiron Building - one of the most progressive buildings of its time.
Seen on UrbanDaddy.
Jetsons imave via Dental Collectibes
Flatiron image via SkyscraperCity.