Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

26 AUGUST, 2010

Seaswarm: MIT’s Fleet of Oil Spill Cleaning Robots


Geeks for the Gulf, or what paper towels have to do with nanotechnology.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is easily the biggest environmental disaster of our time, bespeaking not only our capacity to do harm but also our inability to intercept the very harm we’ve inflicted. Since April 20, close to 200 million barrels of crude oil gushed into the Gulf, devastating the region’s ecosystem and economy. The world’s leading scientists, engineers and innovators failed to respond efficiently, offering no fix for nearly three months. Even though the leak was finally stopped on July 15, only 3% of the spill has been removed from the ocean and the remainder poses serious ecological risks, with no viable cleanup solution to date.

Enter seaswarm — a potentially gamechanging fleet of low-cost oil absorbing robots from MIT’s SENSEable City Lab.

The small, inexpensive, self-organizing skimmer operates autonomously and rolls out over the surface of the ocean, much like a paper towel soaking up the spill. It uses a breakthrough nanotechnology developed at MIT to separate the oil from the water and process it on-site. The nanofabric can be reused, enabling a constant cleanup process as the fleet of robots communicate and propel themselves across the ocean collecting oil.

The units are powered by solar cells and use a touch of biomimicry to mimic swarm behavior via GPS, ensuring even distribution across the spill site.

According to MIT, 5000* seaswarm robots operating continuously for a month will be enough to clean up the Deepwater Horizon spill. And as far as we’re concerned, a promise of this magnitude coming from the world’s most reputable innovation hub should be sending governments and philanthropists alike running for their checkbooks to make this happen, stat.


*UPDATE: The article originally stated 500, not 5000. We’ve fixed the typo thanks to commenter Helio Centric below, who kindly (!) pointed it out.

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24 AUGUST, 2010

News21: Next-Gen Storytelling for the Multimedia Age


From frontlines to bylines, or what the future of journalism has to do with a countryside ranch.

A few weeks ago, Neil Burgess, former head of Magnum Photos, caused quite a stir by declaring photojournalism dead. While his argument had a handful of strong points reagarding the economics of photographic storytelling, it was held together by a rather narrow and traditional definition of photojournalism as a genre within print and news media. Today, we look at an inspired project that holds promise for the future of photojournalism in a way that makes Burgess’ argument crumble.

News21 is national education initiative pushing for new forms of investigative reporting and multimedia storytelling. Led by a dozen of America’s leading research universities and backed by the Carnegie-Knight Task Force, the project aims to approach journalism education from all angles — curriculum, policymaking, hands-on experience, cross-disciplinary collaboration.

Since 2006, News21 has been initiating annual projects grouped under umbrella themes that change every year — Liberty vs. Security in 2006, Faces of Faith in America in 2007, What’s at Stake around the 2008 Election and Changing America in 2009. This year, the project tackles a complex, multifaceted and highly controversial issue: War.

In late May, 10 journalism students spanning the entire spectrum of print-online, broadcast, graphics and photography staked out in a bunkhouse ranch in northeastern Washington state, where for six weeks they tasked themselves with getting to know the area’s thriving community of war veterans. The team set out to explore the consequences of war — from PTSD, to divorce to criminal activity to suicide — through the rich human stories of the veterans.

From an infographic map of veteran population to an interactive gallery bespeaking the diversity of a group so often addressed as a lump-sum monolith, the results are brimming with beautifully crafted photojournalism, meticulously edited multimedia storytelling, and thoughtful art direction.

One hidden yet priceless piece of the project we’d like to point you to is the Innovation Lessons section, culled from News21’s experience-gleaned insights. From the dynamics of team reporting to the importance of visual thinking to the intricacies of non-linear storytelling, the section is a deluge of invaluable practical guidance applicable to any loosely defined journalist, from the professional magazine editor to the blogger to the photojournalist.

Follow @news21 on Twitter for updates on the project and an altogether excellent feed of next-gen journalism.

via NPR

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29 JULY, 2010

Garmz: Goodbye Fashion Industry, Hello Designers


From concept to closet, or what multipurpose bags have to do with democracy.

We’ve seen how the web has democratized creative entrepreneurship and revolutionized the production and distribution of music and art. Today, we’re looking at a new project that aims to do the same for fashion design.

Garmz is an effort to empower young designers by disengaging them from the bureaucratic, corporate world of the fashion industry and allowing for their creative voices to be heard — and bought. In an industry that makes it near-impossible for new designers to break through, one that uses trend dictatorship to shape mass taste and dismisses creative deviations, Garmz offers designers a platform for taking their designs from idea to wardrobe, showcasing, funding, producing and distributing them to a worldwide audience.

The way it works is simple: Designers submit their designs and users vote on them. Once a design reaches a set level of votes, it moves into production — Garmz works with the designer to get a prototype going, then produces a full batch of 150 items in their fashion studio in Vienna. The garments are sold through the Garmz webshop and shipped to customers worldwide with Garmz handling all backend issues, including warehousing, shipping and returns.

So, basically, Threadless for fashion.

While Garmz makes money via revenue share, designers keep the vast majority of profits, determine their own price point and profit margin above the fixed costs, and maintain 100% of the copyright on their designs. All in all, Garmz offers a promising model for the decentralized, democratic propagation of fashion, giving today’s emerging merchants of style not only a platform of self-expression but also a viable business model.

via @Thomas_Wagner

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