Future of Engineering
Monday, June 9, 2008
Urgent! Water Me - SOS Phone Call From Plants
But not everyone has the time to look after it. The neglected plants cannot voice out their concerns. They just wither away hoping you would notice. Alas by the time you turn your attention to the plant, it would have reached the point of no return.
If only it had been able to ask for help it would have survived.Botanicalls tries to do that. It helps in establishing a contact between plants and people. When a plant on the Botanicalls network needs water, it can call a person and ask for exactly what it needs. You must be wondering how a voiceless plant can 'talk'. The techie stuff below tells you how it's possible.
Each plant on the Botanicalls system is equipped with sensors connected to an Arduino microcontroller which contains code particular to that plant type. When a plant's microcontroller determines that the plant needs to make a phone call based on current sensor information, it sends data through an Xbee wireless radio to an Xport gateway. This gateway connects to the internet, where it contacts a PHP script with the plant's ID number and type of need. PHP then packages this information and passes it on to Asterisk, an open-source telephone system, which generates the call. When the call is placed, a prerecorded audio file is played, expressing the particular desire of that plant.
Spider plant, scented geranium, pothos, chives and Cuban oregano were some of the plants that were used for testing. Looks like one has to wait for the rose plant to send an SOS.
Till then these plants that have asked; shall receive.
Twitter messages from pothos plant.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
MIT Award Winning MoneyMaker Pressure Pump Boon For Farmers
Dr Martin Fischer, who holds a PhD in mechanical engineering from Stanford University, has applied this principle in real life. Instead of collecting funds for poor Africans, he has created a profitable tool that would pull them out of their poverty.
Dr.Fischer's Super MoneyMaker Pressure Pump is a mini-irrigation solution for the farmer with a small plot, up to a few acres of land. This invention is a boon for farmers who can't go in for costly options. The pump can pull water from 30 feet below the ground and draw water up to 46 feet above ground through pressurization. This means the water can be sprayed from the source for up to forty-six feet.
To can be easily operated with the hands,legs and body weight. Three models are available and the price ranges from $33 to $100. Currently Super MoneyMaker Pressure Pump is marketed only in Africa.
It is being marketed by Fischer's non-profit organisation Kickstart. KickStart is a non-profit organization that develops and markets new technologies in Africa. Kickstart helps out the farmers in Kenya, Tanzania, and Mali.
Dr.Fischer's has been awarded the Lemelson-MIT Award for sustainability for his invention.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Ifugao Rice Terraces - Maintaining Fertility, Less Soil Erosion
Of the several rice terraces in Ifugao, the Banawe rice terraces are largely touted as the eighth wonder of the world. It is also well known that the Banawe and other Ifugao rice terraces were built without forced labor, unlike the other Seven Wonders of the World, which employed slaves.
Age notwithstanding, the rice terraces are more than a sight to behold and an ancient monument they are actually a very functional agriculture and ecological masterpiece. Likewise, the rice terraces have been producing rice for centuries, showing that the Ifugaos were able to maintain the fertility of the rice fields soils and even contain soil erosion.
More from here
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Sewage-Based Fertilizer (Biosolids / Sludge) Safety Doubted
The Associated Press also has learned that some of the same contaminants showed up in milk that regulators allowed a neighboring dairy farmer to market, even after some officials said they were warned about it.
About 7 million tons of biosolids - the term that waste producers came up with for sludge in 1991 - are produced each year as a byproduct from 1,650 waste water treatment plants around the nation. Slightly more than half is used on land as fertilizer; the rest is incinerated or burned in landfills. Giving it away to farmers is cheaper than burning or burying it, and the government’s policy has been to encourage the former.
In 1999, the agency awarded a $12,274 grant to the University of Georgia to study the problem of sludge's negative impacts on the environment. That research would result in a study published in 2003 in the Journal of Environmental Quality finding that the city’s sludge was safe and that EPA’s regulations were working.
More from here
Monday, April 7, 2008
Hybrid Rice Seeds Not A Boon for Bangladesh?
Based on the estimates of hybrid seeds sold this year about 7 lakh hectares must have been under hybrid rice cultivation, according to sources.
The higher acreage under hybrid rice has come about despite opposition from environmental activists who claim that it will make farmers dependant on multinational companies that have the patent over the seed technology. “The seed will not be in the hands of farmers. It will always be in market and with the company. Hybrid will be the next future disaster,” says Farida Akhter of Nayakrishi Andolon, a non-governmental organisation, which works closely with farmers to preserv ecological agriculture.
Full report here
Saturday, April 5, 2008
Vivarium Design Using 3D Simulation and Industrial Engineering
When designing a new facility or making changes to an existing small animal vivarium, conventional wisdom would lead planners and operations personnel to pack a holding room with as many cages as possible to maximize room density, and thus provide the greatest return on capital investment and lowest costs per diem. While all this seems logical and quite necessary, in many cases, the return on investment is more than offset by ongoing manpower penalties associated with animal husbandry and colony management staff working in holding rooms that are not optimized .
So how do others do the ? Planners and operations managers in other industries such as automotive, consumer goods, and telecommunications utilize industrial engineers to work alongside architects in the planning and design of new or renovated facilities. This is done to ensure that both manpower and building arrangements are optimized for a given operation.
Perhaps vivarium design and renovation should utilize these techniques too, feels this report
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
The Vertical Farm Project - A Better Land Use Method
By the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth's population will reside in urban centers. Applying the most conservative estimates to current demographic trends, the human population will increase by about 3 billion people during the interim. At present, throughout the world, over 80% of the land that is suitable for raising crops is in use. Historically, some 15% of that has been laid waste by poor management practices. What can be done to avoid this impending disaster?
A Potential Solution: Farm Vertically
An entirely new approach to indoor farming must be invented, employing cutting edge technologies. Vertical farms, many stories high, will be situated in the heart of the world's urban centers.
More from here
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Disappearing honeybees threaten food security, biofuels
Since the end of 2006, beekeepers in the US, Europe, Canada, South America, Central America, and Asia, have reported honeybee colony losses of between 30% and 90%.
This means that many bees do not return to the spring pollination areas. The occurrence has been termed colony collapse disorder (CCD).
Full story here
Engineering fungal resistance in rice
However, using genetic engineering, Min Shao and his collaborators at Nanjing Agricultural University, Nanjing, China, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, USA and Huazhong Agricultural University, Wuhan, China were successful in incorporating genes into rice varieties that are responsible for triggering natural plant defense mechanisms. The end result yielded a rice variety that effectively protects against several plant pathogens. Their work is published in a recent issue of Plant Biotechnology Journal.
Full story here
"Doomsday Seed Vault" in the Arctic & Bill Gates
On this God-forsaken island Bill Gates is investing tens of his millions along with the Rockefeller Foundation, Monsanto Corporation, Syngenta Foundation and the Government of Norway, among others, in what is called the ‘doomsday seed bank.’ Officially the project is named the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, part of the Svalbard island group.
The seed bank is almost ready for ‘business’ according to their releases. The bank will have dual blast-proof doors with motion sensors, two airlocks, and walls of steel-reinforced concrete one meter thick. It will contain up to three million different varieties of seeds from the entire world, ‘so that crop diversity can be conserved for the future,’ according to the Norwegian government. Seeds will be specially wrapped to exclude moisture.
Full story here
Origin Agritech Announces World's First Genetically Modified Phytase Corn
Phytase is currently used as an additive in animal feed to breakdown phytic acid in corn, which holds 60% of the phosphorus in corn. Phytase increases phosphorus absorption in animals by 60%. Phosphorus is an essential element for the growth and development of all animals, and plays key roles in skeletal structure and in vital metabolic pathways. Phytase, as an additive for animal feed, is mandatory in Europe, Southeast Asia, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan for environmental purposes.
Full news release here
Professor Foresees Taking Crops to Mars and Moon
Giacomelli emphasizes that technology will create efficient crop production in an environment where nature largely discourages growth. While growing controlled-environment crops is costlier and uses 10 to 100 times more energy than conventional production methods, ultimately it is a priceless consideration for future space explorations, according to him.
While it sounds rather fascinating, I'm wondering whether this is something that can happen (if at all) only far too much into the future. We haven't even had humans go remotely near any planet (other than our own that is) even for brief exploration. In such a scenario, doesn't it sound implausible that we will need to grow crops on Mars in our generation or the next for sustaining ourselves? Quizzical, I ventured to search for any other mention of such extra-planetary farming and food ideas.
I did not have to look for long, before I came across the following tidbit:
"Japanese researchers have proposed a diet that provides the maximum nutrition for the smallest amount of resources for astronauts living for extended periods on Mars. The problem? The smell. Of the seven 'wonder' foods suggested, Azolla or mosquito fern is incredibly nutritious but the smell, the researchers noted, "might cause a problem of acceptance as food material."..."
A bit more of focussed searching and I came across an article that made me realise that folks are really serious about colonizing Mars and doing something with the planet...In this paper, "the economic viability of colonizing Mars is examined. It is shown, that of all bodies in the solar system other than Earth, Mars is unique in that it has the resources required to support a population of sufficient size to create locally a new branch of human civilization. It is also shown that while Mars may lack any cash material directly exportable to Earth, Mars' orbital elements and other physical parameters gives a unique positional advantage that will allow it to act as a keystone supporting extractive activities in the asteroid belt and elsewhere in the solar system." Serious, isn't he? This appears to have been written over ten years back, so not sure if Mr. Zubrin is still as optimistic.
And finally, there was this page from The Caves of Mars that was again focussed on the types of crops that are ideally suited for Mars. "Bioregenerative life support on Mars will require more than your 'garden variety' crops. Some the features we should be looking for is rapid growth, low light requirements, wide pH range and high nutrition with minimal wastes. And the simpler the required infrastructure, the better." The crops suggested by the Caves of Mars? Duckweed, (Lemna minor) and Water Fern, (Azolla filiculoides).
I'd have thought there would be more, but I was not able to gather much more information from the web - surprising, I admit. I am going to keep an eye out on this topic, never knew there were people around the world who could be interested in figuring how folks would eat on Mars. I'd have thought they should have been more interested in finding out what could eat off humans in Mars, but then that's why I'm called a pessimist in a writer's clothing.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Maerogel - Rice Husk to Aerogel, Insulator - Halimaton Hamdan
Aerogel, the lightest solid known to man, was invented in 1931 by an American scientist, but its high cost has limited its use.
Halimaton Hamdan, a University of Cambridge-trained chemistry professor, said her process cuts the cost of producing aerogel by 80 percent, making it so affordable that it could become a commonplace material with widespread use.
So what is aerogel and what are its interesting properties in the first place?
Nicknamed "frozen smoke" because of its cloudy appearance, aerogel is made from silica, the basic ingredient in sand, and is over 95% per cent air by volume. The result is a nearly weightless and translucent material with a white powder that seems to float inside.
Aerogel can withstand mechanical pressure 2,000 times its own weight, making it suitable for bomb-proof panels. It also makes good sound-proofing material. Additionally, aerogel can also absorb oil spills and pollutants in the air - NASA fitted a space probe in 1999 with a mitt packed with the substance to catch the dust from a comet’s tail.
Summary of aerogel properties
1. Space Age nanomaterial (top 10 materials of the millenium)
2. Gel filled with air
3. Fourth state matter
4. Frozen smoke
5. Lightest solid – 3 times the density of air
6. Consists of 96% air
7. Porous amorphous solid with pore diameter of 1-30 nm
8. Large surface area – 600-900 m2 per g
9. Dielectric material – thermal, electrical and acoustic insulator
And what is Maerogel?
It is a silica aerogel produced from rice husk
It is a novel nanomaterial of a highly divided state and exhibits unconventional properties which offers more cost effective methods of production and application.
Aerogel has been around since 1931, but its high cost has limited its use. The new process to make Maerogel cuts the cost of producing aerogel by 80 per cent, making it so affordable that it could become a commonplace material with wide use.
Comparison between Maerogel and Aerogel
1. Maerogel is more superior in quality than the current commercial aerogel. Being an inert, non-toxic and environmentally friendly amorphous material, Maerogel possesses established physico-chemical properties which can be modified for specific applications.
Silica aerogel has been used as a catcher’s mitt in spacecraft to
2. Cheaper alternative of precursor
3. Silica aerogel from rice husk
4. Simpler preparation technique
Product Features & Physical Properties of Maerogel
1. Merogel contains pores and properties which are smaller than the wavelength of light and is the lightest solid material
2. A nanomaterial of a highly divided state and exhibits unconventional properties which offers more cost effective methods of
production and application.
Apparent density 0.03 g/cm3
Internal Surface Area 800-900 m2/g
Mean Pore Diameter 20.8 nm
Thermal Tolerance to 500 oC, mp > 1200 oC
Thermal Conductivity 0.099 Wm-1 K-1
Some useful applications of Maerogel:
1. Dust capture for space applications - capture dust from a comet.
2. Because of being nearly weightless, aerogel is an excellent thermal insulator; particularly for the space crafts industry, where in the vacuum of space, Maerogel provides seven-fold better insulation then fiberglass. also applications in vacuum and heat insulation of hot water tanks, boilers, and refrigerators
3. It is a dielectric with potential applications as support in computer chips, active electronic materials and battery components. Also spacers in computer chips – double the speed of computers
4. Ultracapacitor technology
6. Ultralightweight composites, sensors, lenses
7. Window panes – 1” layer of aerogel provides the same insulation value as 15 standard thermopanes
8. A promising material for translucent roofing and particularly potential applications in computer chips, active electronic
materials and battery components.
Sources: ZNMG & this (PDF)
Saturday, February 9, 2008
Drought Resistant / Tolerant Crops - Monsanto, Pioneer Realize Urgency
Research into drought-tolerant crops takes on added urgency as the world braces for worsening drought and hotter temperatures.
This work is part of a global race pitting Pioneer, Monsanto and other biotech companies against each other in a race to develop new strains of corn and other crops that can thrive when water is in short supply.
“Equipping plants to be able to maintain productivity in the driest years is of critical importance,” said Bill Niebur, global vice president for research and development at Pioneer, a division of DuPont.
Full report here
10 reasons why organic can feed the world