Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How to Make Light Transmitting Concrete

Instructables - a member populated web archive of do-it-yourself tutorials - has a step-by-step guide on how to make light transmitting concrete using several simple materials. By setting fiber optic wires into a clay mold and pouring concrete around the assembly, the result is a solid disc (or other clever shape!) with the ability to transmit light through it's mass. The effect is quite beautiful. The traditional weight of the concrete is never lost and still remains inherent in the object, and yet a light, ethereal quality is achieved. Perhaps the area under bridge overpasses might never be dark and inhospitable again. Rather, the bridge would glow and shimmer with the movement of the cars against the sunlight beyond.

Seen on Instructables by member Nepheron and on Gizmodo.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Harvesting Water from the Sky

In many places around the world, getting fresh water is not as simple as turning on the faucet. In fact, in rural areas around the world, limited access to fresh water supplies force inhabitants to walk miles to fetch water. This hike not only entails long walks and the carrying of heavy water-laden receptacles, but in many rural developing countries, the groundwater may also be contaminated or in short supply. However, in areas where fog or low-lying cloud cover is frequent enough, there is a low-tech solution that could provide clean drinking water to communities. A recent installation in Venda, South Africa - part of the fog harvesting research project by The University of South Africa, has proven the technology successful by supplying approximately 300 litres of water per day on average to the community of Tshanowa. The system is relatively simple. According to Professor Jana Oliver of UNISA School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences:
"Each collection system consists of three six-meter-high (twenty feet) wooden poles, mounted nine meters (thirty feet) apart. Steel cables stretch horizontally between the poles and anchor the structure. A double layer of 30 percent shade cloth is then draped over the cables and fixed to the poles on each side. This forms a fog collection screen of about 70 square meters (750 square feet), with a gutter attached to its lower end. The technology behind fog collection is extremely simple, during foggy conditions, the tiny fog particles are blown against the screen and deposited on it. As the drops become larger, they trickle downwards and drop into the gutter. From there, the water is channeled through a filter to a pipe that leads to a water collection tank."
Due to the simplicity of construction and also the technology behind the concept, this seems to be a solution that would work very well in areas with little access to suitable or existing infrastructure.
A similar project by Imke Hoehler called Dropnet also uses the same technology as the UNISA but has redesigned the system to be smaller and more portable. Whereas the UNISA project is a built-in-place installation, the Dropnet can function as a re-deployable system.

UNISA project seen on NatGeo News Watch and The University of South Africa.
Dropnet project found on Designboom.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Fab Fi, Or How to Make the Internet From Junk

Dubbed Fab-Fi by it's creators at the MIT Media Lab, this rusty contraption is actually a handmade reflector for a wireless internet network in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. While traveling in the region, members of the Bits and Atoms Lab showed locals how to build the reflectors from scraps of metal, wires, and tin cans. Since then, members of the community have built enough reflectors and, in conjunction with wireless routers, have boosted the range of internet connection to many locals who would have no access otherwise with 25 simultaneous live nodes in Jalalabd.
When compared to a similar World Bank funded initiative to install internet infrastructure in the region - which took 7 years and millions of dollars worth of investment to achieve similar results - the idea that teaching concepts is sometimes the best solution. Imported infrastructure is often expensive and highly sophisticated, whereas a piece of technology developed from a concept that uses local materials and methods can evolve into an extremely potent solution. By using
materials that already exist at hand, the users are most likely tapping into a material stream that is both local and readily available. As these materials are probably common to their makers, their use and manipulation is that much more of a familiar process. Furthermore, the possession of imported infrastructure is often kept to the supplying entity. With locally created technology, the process can become part of a user-generated economy - something that will do more good for a distressed region than any type of imported technology.

Seen on Gizmodo.