We live in a time of exponential technological growth. Rapid research developments mean industries are being transformed at an unprecedented rate, from transport to the food we eat. Here are four technologies that could soon redefine the world as we know it.
WIFI HELIUM BALLOONS
Google’s Project Loon, aptly named for its craziness, aims to provide WiFi to the 5 billion or so people who still do not have regular access to WiFi. These are large helium balloons elevated 11 miles up in the air, using patch antennas to transmit signal. They’re powered entirely by solar panels.These ‘Loons’ are directed by complex software algorithms which determine which gust of wind is best for each balloon to catch towards its destination. These instructions cause smaller balloons inside the Loons to inflate and deflate, pushing the device in carefully calculated directions.
Google has partnered with companies in France, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia amongst others in a bid to make this technology as widely available as possible. They’ve already been tested in rural areas in New Zealand, where they’ve become a recognisable feature of the skyline.
THE SOLAR-POWERED PLANE
The Solar Impulse 2 is a 2,300kg plane powered entirely by the sun. Its earlier model was designed to fly for 36 hours without fuel. The updated model, first flown in 2015, remains airborne for five whole days. Beginning their journey in March 2015, Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg became the first people to circumnavigate the world in a solar-powered airplane. Equipped with 72 metres of solar-powered wingspan, this machine promises an eventual alternative to fuel-based flight, currently estimated to be responsible for 705 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. Solar Impulse 2 uses stored energy to fly at night. The plane is carefully engineered to make the most of the sunlight it converts to energy, prompting it to gradually descend to an altitude of 5,000 feet in evenings to avoid exhausting its reserves.
MECHANICAL POWER TREES
We know what wind energy harvesting currently looks like: giant mechanical windmills often nestled between expansive pastoral fields. But this may be set to change – tree-like structures could soon act as smaller, less obtrusive power plants. These mechanical energy-conversion trees could offer a viable alternative to wind energy farms in areas where physical space is too limited.They’re also symptoms of the changing aesthetics of sustainable technology, where the natural world is better incorporated into our sustainable energy initiatives. The trees are simple in appearance, sporting a few branches around a trunk of variable size. No leaves are needed – the branches themselves harvest kinetic energy from wind, seismic, or human movements. The project remains in early stages, with primary research being conducted at Ohio State University in the US. Early applications could see the technology being used to power structural sensors on buildings and bridges, and eventually provide power to entire cities.
IN VITRO MEAT
Planet Earth is accelerating towards a protein crisis. We have an insatiable hunger for animal meat, but the meat industry, whose injustices are already widely documented and protested against, could not possibly accommodate the current rate of population growth. In Vitro meat may be the solution to this impending crisis. In 2013, Dutch scientists managed to produce edible lab meat using tissue- engineering technology. Though it’s relatively expensive to produce right now, figures predict that, if widely adopted, lab- produced meat could reduce the carbon emissions of traditional meat production methods by 90 per cent. This effectively negates the problems the meat industry causes – environmental damage inflicted by supply chains, agricultural land shortage, animal cruelty, etc. The taste of lab meat is reportedly indistinguishable from animal-sourced meat, and is able to be augmented with additional nutrients that normal meat couldn’t provide. We may be a few years away from widespread implementation of lab-produced meat, but this technology could forever transform our food consumption.
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Photo Credit: SolarImpulse.com