MIT’s mind-reading AlterEgo headset can hear what you’re thinking

April 6, 2018 by  
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Have you ever wished you could simply think a command and your computer would respond? That’s the future envisioned by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers who created AlterEgo, a wearable system that allows you to converse with a computer without using your voice or movement. According to a video on the project from MIT Media Lab, the ultimate goal of AlterEgo is “to combine humans and computers.” A computing system and wearable device comprise AlterEgo, a futuristic project led by graduate student Arnav Kapur of the Fluid Interfaces group at MIT . Electrodes, a machine learning system, and bone-conduction headphones help get the job done: the electrodes “pick up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face that are triggered by internal verbalizations — saying words ‘in your head’ — but are undetectable to the human eye,” according to a MIT News statement. A machine learning system, trained to correspond certain signals with words, receives the signals. The bone-conduction headphones “transmit vibrations through the bones of the face to the inner ear.” Related: Elon Musk’s latest company aims to make us cyborgs within the next four years The video on AlterEgo shows Kapur experimenting with the device, asking for the time or adding up prices in a grocery store without ever saying a word out loud. While the commands he gives are simple, typically involving a single word or number, the video feels like a scene right out of science fiction. MIT professor Pattie Maes, who is Kapur’s thesis advisor, said in MIT’s statement, “We basically can’t live without our cell phones , our digital devices. But at the moment, the use of those devices is very disruptive. If I want to look something up that’s relevant to a conversation I’m having, I have to find my phone and type in the passcode and open an app and type in some search keyword, and the whole thing requires that I completely shift attention from my environment and the people that I’m with to the phone itself.” Part of the goal for a project like AlterEgo is to allow users to stay in the moment. In a usability study with the prototype wearable interface, the system’s average transcription accuracy was around 92 percent, according to MIT News. Kapur, along with Maes and undergraduate student Shreyas Kapur, wrote a paper on AlterEgo and presented it at the Association for Computing Machinery ‘s ACM Intelligent User Interface conference , which took place last month in Tokyo, Japan. + MIT News Image via Lorrie Lejeune/MIT

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MIT’s mind-reading AlterEgo headset can hear what you’re thinking

Solar-powered house in Ontario redefines sustainable living in the wilderness

April 6, 2018 by  
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This remote cottage , nestled deep in a thick forest 160 miles from Toronto, Canada, allows for sustainable living deep within its wooded surroundings. It occupies a quiet lakeside site and functions as a weekend retreat for the architect’s family. The project was conceived by architect Kelly Doran and designed by his non-profit, MASS Design Group , which is known for innovative, sustainable projects like the Butaro Hospital in Rwanda . The 2,500-square-foot home has a simple layout, with the porch, kitchen, dining room and living area linearly connected from west to east. There is a wood-burning stove at the center of the structure. Each of the three bedrooms offers views of Lake Havelock and access to the deck that runs the length of the house. Related: Modern solar-powered Ontario home is insulated with straw bales Built-in bookcases and cabinets offer plenty of storage space , while clerestory windows facilitate cross-ventilation . Beautiful furniture pieces and fixtures, like the Hiroshima woodseat armchairs by Naoto Fukasawa for Mjolk , and pendants by Jasper Morrison and Peter Bowles provide a more contemporary feel. A garage is housed in the wing that is perpendicular to the main body of the house. A nearby solar array powers the tightly insulated house, which also has a septic tank and leach field for wastewater processing. The house is in a remote location, with only a private logging road as an access route. Surrounded by wilderness, with just three other neighbors, this home is focused on serenity. + MASS Design Group Via Dwell Photos by Marcus Oleniuk

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Solar-powered house in Ontario redefines sustainable living in the wilderness

Iceland is replanting its forests 1,000 years after vikings razed them

April 6, 2018 by  
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Iceland has become a popular tourist destination due in no small part to its breathtaking views and unique geological features, but it is also one of the worst examples of deforestation on the planet. When settlers first arrived in Iceland in the ninth century, up to 40 percent of the land area was covered with forests. The Vikings cleared these trees for fuel and to make space for grazing. Erosion from overgrazing and disruption from volcanic events left Iceland nearly without woods. Now, in collaboration with forest farmers and local forestry societies, the Icelandic Forest Service is working to regrow what was lost centuries ago and bring forests back in Iceland. Icelandic Forest Service director Þröstur Eysteinsson understands the true magnitude of what the organization he leads is trying to accomplish. “Iceland is certainly among the worst examples in the world of deforestation . It doesn’t take very many people or very many sheep to deforest a whole country over a thousand years,” said Þröstur . “To see the forest growing, to see that we’re actually doing some good is a very rewarding thing.” Þröstur is motivated by a driving desire to build ecological resilience . “My mission is to support growing more forests and better forests, to make land more productive and more able to tolerate the pressures that we put on it.” Related: Iceland makes it illegal to pay women less than men in world first The only native forest-building tree, the downy birch, has struggled to establish itself in new forests. With assistance from the Euforgen program, the Iceland Forest Service is introducing locally-tailored, non-native tree species, most of which are from Alaska , into Iceland woodlands. These newly mixed forests are “growing better than anybody ever thought,” according to Þröstur. The ultimate goal is to improve Iceland’s forest cover from the current two percent to twelve percent by 2100, with help from carefully curated non-native trees . Via Treehugger Images via Deposit Photos and  Icelandic Forest Service

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Iceland is replanting its forests 1,000 years after vikings razed them

This revolutionary sustainable community in Atlanta is still thriving 15 years after its founding

April 6, 2018 by  
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Almost 15 years since the sustainable community of Serenbe built its first home, the modern-day green utopia is still thriving. Located just southwest of Atlanta,  Serenbe is an experimental green community designed by architect Dr. Phill Tabb, who lives on site in a net-zero home . The progressive neighborhood, hidden amid 1,000 acres of natural forest landscape, was created with four main pillars in mind: arts, agriculture, health, and education. In 2001, architect Dr. Phill Tabb designed the masterplan for Serenbe Community – a sustainable neighborhood set in a natural landscape, but with connections to the typical urban amenities. One of the core pillars of the community’s plan was land preservation. Accordingly, the homes were built into strategic locations throughout the hilly landscape that would minimize the impact on the surrounding environment and give residents easy access to nature. Related: EarthCraft-certified Organic Life House teaches Atlanta agrihood residents about healthy living Nearly all of the homes at Serenbe abut a natural area, and manicured lawns are not allowed. All landscaping is natural and edible. The homes themselves are heated and cooled with ground-sourced heat pumps. Most use grey water systems , and a community-based vegetated wetland treats all the wastewater. The neighborhood is an active, vibrant area, arranged according to what Tabb calls the “hamlet constellation theory.” Tabb explained, “I love the hamlet constellation theory, which is something that I developed with the creation of Serenbe…. I found that we could proliferate [sustainable designs] into a constellation. Serenbe is a constellation of individual hamlets that come together to form the larger concept of Serenbe. It is a way of reaching out. Now my pilgrimage has led me to suggesting that constellations like Serenbe be married to the emergence of new high tech companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, etc.” Today, over 600 residents live in the hamlets, which are connected to the surrounding restaurants and shopping areas via walking trails. Each hamlet reflects a different pillar of the community. For example, Selborne Hamlet is geared towards the visual, performing and culinary arts. Grange Hamlet sits adjacent to Serenbe Farms, a 15-acre organic farm . The third neighborhood, Mado Hamlet, integrates health and wellness functions with community, including a destination spa, recuperative hotel, fitness center and additional centers. The hamlets were developed one at a time, each one more sustainable than the last. The Grange Hamlet saw the construction of the community’s first off-grid homes , which have become more and more prevalent as the development continues to grow. Residents of Serenbe enjoy a wide range of amenities, including restaurants, retail shops, and co-working spaces, all of which work around the community’s eco-friendly core values. In fact, the development is home to  the Blue Eyed Daisy , the country’s smallest Silver LEED-certified building. For the past year, Dr. Tabb has lived within the community he designed. His net-zero Watercolor Cottage, built in accordance with EarthCraft building standards, is surrounded by a wooded lot on three sides. A large glazed wall opens up to an outdoor fruit and vegetable garden integrated into the home’s layout. The two-story structure has a passive solar heating system, as well as geothermal heating and cooling systems. A rooftop PV solar array provides the home’s electricity needs, and works in conjunction with a Tesla Powerwall system. + Serenbe Community Images via Dr. Phill Tabb and Serenbe

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This revolutionary sustainable community in Atlanta is still thriving 15 years after its founding

Load up on Tabasco while you can – because the island it comes from is being swallowed by the sea

April 4, 2018 by  
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If your idea of the perfect Bloody Mary involves a dash of Tabasco, better stock up while you can. Over one hundred miles west of New Orleans , Avery Island, the birthplace of Tabasco sauce, is disappearing as its land slowly washes away with the sea. As with much of the American Gulf Coast, Avery Island is plagued by rising sea levels, erosion, and human-caused environmental damage. Despite Avery Island’s relatively high elevation at 163 feet above sea level, the island is losing 30 feet of wetland per year due to saltwater encroaching via canals dug by the oil and gas industry. Meanwhile, the island’s elevation is shrinking by a third-of-an-inch each year. Tony Simmons is the latest in a long line of McIlhenny family members to lead the company that has produced Tabasco sauce for 150 years. Simmons’s ancestor Edmund McIlhenny first began making Tabasco sauce after discovering a particularly well-suited pepper plant growing behind a chicken coop on Avery Island, a long-time refuge now retreating. “It does worry us, and we are working hard to minimize the land loss,” Simmons told the Guardian . “We want to protect the marsh because the marsh protects us.” Related: This Louisiana craft beer pioneer ‘went green’ long before it was cool Technically, Tabasco isn’t going anywhere. If Avery Island continues to shrink, McIllhenny may someday have to consider relocating away from its historic homeland. “We don’t think it will come to that, but we are working to do everything we can to make sure it won’t happen to us,” said Simmons. “I mean, we could make Tabasco somewhere else. But this is more than a business: this is our home.” If the island experiences an additional sea level rise of two feet, which is widely expected to occur, only the highest points of the island will be safe. Despite the resilience of the people who live there, the future of Avery Island and similar communities in Louisiana looks stormy. “It is a ripped-up rug. It would take decades to put it back together, even without sea level rise ,” Oliver Houck, an expert in land loss at Tulane University, explained to the Guardian . “Avery Island is going to become an actual island, there won’t be much left. The state has decided to put all its eggs into restoring the eastern part of the state. I hate to use the words ‘written off’, but those coastal communities are on their own.” Via The Guardian Images via Depositphotos ( 2 ) and Paul Arps/Flickr

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Load up on Tabasco while you can – because the island it comes from is being swallowed by the sea

The Seychelles creates debt-for-conservation deal with Leonardo DiCaprio

February 22, 2018 by  
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The Seychelles, an island nation in East Africa, recently announced the creation of two new Marine Protected Areas roughly as big as Great Britain. It’s part of what The Telegraph called a debt-for- nature swap: the island nation gets a $20 million debt relief plan backed by investors (including the foundation of our favorite eco hero Leonardo DiCaprio ), and in return it will place controls on fishing and tourism industries. In a debt-for- conservation deal designed by The Nature Conservancy , the Seychelles will protect areas covering 81,000 square miles. The move is not without controversy: fishing is limited in areas commercial fishermen and tour operators for years; in some places, like the Aldabra region, people won’t be allowed to fish at all. Tourism has been successful in the Seychelles in recent years, but The Telegraph said record numbers of visitors have taken their toll on the islands; commercial fishing has increased to meet demand. Biodiversity has eroded in the wake of two recent coral bleaching events. The Telegraph said debt restructuring will essentially send Seychelles repayments into a trust set to invest in plans to foster a sustainable blue economy. Related: Leonardo DiCaprio launches a new fund to save the lions Nature Conservancy said the Seychelles are among the nations most vulnerable to climate change because of their dependence on marine resources. They said the Marine Protected Areas will help the nation better prepare for the impacts of sea level rise , warming waters, and ocean acidification . “Without these Marine Protected Areas, activities like oil and gas exploration, deep-sea mining, dredging, and controversial fishing techniques could take place in one of the planet’s most biodiverse oceans with little or no restriction or direction,” the organization said. Today, Seychelles announced two new marine protected areas that equal the size of Great Britain. Join me and @nature_org in congratulating all those who made it happen. https://t.co/OygRCaKY37 — Leonardo DiCaprio (@LeoDiCaprio) February 21, 2018 DiCaprio tweeted the news, along with a link to a Nature Conservancy page where those in support can sign a letter congratulating the citizens of Seychelles. DiCaprio said, “This effort will help the people of Seychelles protect their ocean for future generations, and will serve as a model for future marine conservation projects worldwide. These protections mean that all species living in these waters or migrating through them are now far better shielded from overfishing , pollution, and climate change.” + Nature Conservancy + Congratulate the citizens of Seychelles Via The Telegraph Images via IIP Photo Archive on Flickr , Depositphotos , and Pixabay

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Richard Branson signs deal for India’s first super-speedy hyperloop route

February 19, 2018 by  
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Travelers spend around three hours journeying from Mumbai to Pune by train today in India . A hyperloop could revolutionize the trip, slashing it down to a mere 25 minutes. And that’s exactly what Richard Branson -backed Virgin Hyperloop One aims to do. They signed an agreement with the state of Maharashtra, as the state announced their intention to construct what could be India’s first hyperloop route between Pune and Mumbai. Virgin Hyperloop One just signed an historic agreement with the Indian state Maharashtra. They plan to construct a hyperloop between Mumbai and Pune, a corridor 130,000 vehicles travel daily right now. They’ll begin with an operational demonstration track. Branson said in a statement , “I believe Virgin Hyperloop One could have the same impact upon India in the 21st century as trains did in the 20th century.” Related: Virgin Hyperloop One: Richard Branson invests in Musk-inspired high-speed transportation system 26 million people would be connected by the new route, which would link the two cities and Navi Mumbai International Airport. The electric transportation system would cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 150,000 tons a year. And a pre-feasibility study conducted by Virgin Hyperloop One revealed over 30 years the route could offer $55 billion in socio-economic benefits, as people save emissions and time. The hyperloop route would support 150 million passenger trips a year, according to Virgin Hyperloop One, saving more than 90 million hours. Devendra Fadnavis, Maharashtra chief minister, said the route would create tens of thousands of jobs in manufacturing, construction, service, and information technology. What comes after a signing? First, a six-month in-depth feasibility study. The study will scrutinize environmental impact, cost, funding models, regulations, and economic and commercial aspects. A procurement stage would follow to nail down a public-private partnership structure, and then construction would begin, with the demonstration track built in the first phase. According to Virgin Hyperloop One, the demonstration track could be built “in two to three years from the signing of the agreement,” and the second phase could see completion of the full route in five to seven years. + Virgin Hyperloop One + Virgin Images via Virgin Hyperloop One ( 1 , 2 )

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Richard Branson signs deal for India’s first super-speedy hyperloop route

46 tons of Mardi Gras beads found clogging New Orleans catch basins

February 1, 2018 by  
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In New Orleans , clean-up crews have found 46 tons of Mardi Gras beads in the catch basins on St. Charles Avenue between Poydras Street and Lee Circle. These festive plastic staples were clogging 15,000, or fully one-quarter, of the city’s basins, which are used to drain and protect the city from flooding . As part of a $7 million contract, crews from Baton Rouge-based EnviroSystems used nearly two-dozen vacuum trucks to extract 7.2 million pounds of debris, of which 93,000 pounds were Mardi Gras beads. “This is a staggering number,” interim director of the New Orleans Department of Public Works Dani Galloway told the Times-Picayune . In response to the massive amount of Mardi Gras beads posing a threat to the city’s ability to drain itself in case of flooding, the Public Works and Sanitation departments are currently brainstorming ways to prevent further damage from beads, including installing temporary “gutter buddies” to keep the beads out. During a press conference, Galloway also emphasized the need of ordinary citizens to step up and clear catch basins in their own neighborhoods. Dozens of residents in every city district have already received training on how to properly clean the catch basins. Related: New Orleans doesn’t need a hurricane to be inundated with water The clean-up operation comes after extensive flooding during the summer of 2017, which was blamed in part on the city’s backlog of clogged catch basins. This backlog existed despite $3 million having been allocated to deal with the problem. Following last summer’s flooding, the New Orleans City Council approved a $22 million emergency plan to address the issue . Although external contractors were hired to do the work, much of the labor was sourced within the city. “They are our own people doing this work,” said Galloway . “This is important because it maximizes economic impact on the city’s contracts for the people that live and work here.” Via the Times-Picayune Images via Depositphotos and Flickr/Infrogmation of New Orleans

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46 tons of Mardi Gras beads found clogging New Orleans catch basins

MVRDV unveils solar-powered Milestone building that looks like a crystal rock

January 31, 2018 by  
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MVRDV just unveiled designs for a new mixed-use building in Esslingen, Germany that looks as if it were unearthed from a crystal mine. Dubbed The Milestone, the 6,500-square-meter tower “will literally be a milestone,” say the architects, due to the structure’s crystalline facade that and eye-catching design that symbolizes the city’s future ambition. The building also incorporates sustainable building elements, such as photovoltaic panels and fritted glass to reduce solar gain, and is expected to become partly self-sufficient in the future. Located in Stuttgart in the south of Germany , Esslingen boasts a robust historic core as well as a number of recent regeneration projects in the area of “Neue Weststadt” around the main railway station. The Milestone was commissioned to draw attention to the town and its ambitious projects in the center of the newly developed district that will accommodate a university, housing, and retail. “MVRDV’s ambition is to generate a building that shows the city of Esslingen and at the same time, opens up to its surrounding and its users,” write the architects. “To the people who pass by on the train, and to those that look at the city from the hills ‘Here We Are.’ It shows its pride, its history and its future.” Related: China’s new futuristic library is unlike any we’ve seen before The Milestone’s part-mirrored, part-transparent facade will feature an interactive surface that communicates the area’s topography and history. Each square “pixel” panel on the facade is embedded with technology and integrated QR codes to show stories of the city and users will be able to learn more through an accompanying smartphone app. The large gap in the pixelated facade, called the “Essingler Room,” is for public use and made up of stairs, terraces and platforms that provide views of vineyards and surrounding hills. Public amenities will include a restaurant cafe and meeting areas, while the upper levels are occupied by modern office spaces. Construction is slated to begin in 2020. + MVRDV Images via MVRDV

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MVRDV unveils solar-powered Milestone building that looks like a crystal rock

Mirrored nativity in Italy invites passersby to reflectliterallyfor the holidays

December 29, 2017 by  
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The holiday season is a time for reflection—a tradition that Italian studio thesignlab took to its literal meaning with the installation of a nativity crib clad in mirrored panels. Located in the center of Tuscany’s Piazza San Michele, the contemporary pavilion’s use of mirrors invites passersby to observe and celebrate the diversity of the people around them. The reflective building, named Welcome Difference, appears to disappear in the historic plaza during the day but calls attention to itself at night thanks to a glowing light display. Welcome Difference was created as part of Andare oltre si può’s annual XMAS LIGHT program, now in its fifth iteration. The mirrored installation is a modern interpretation of the traditional nativity scene with the central figures of the story reduced to simple glyphs. At night, these characters and the accompanying symbols light up. Related: Mirror-covered ‘Mirage’ house disappears into the California desert “It is a magical nativity scene in which everyone can be reflected in the Nativity family,” said Welcome Difference creator Domenico Raimondi. “Visitors can reflect, reflect, look inside but above all see who stands next. With Welcome Difference, the differences are presented, flanked, shown and invited to reflect on the theme of Christmas . We firmly believe that we must not be afraid of differences and differences, especially in this period.” Welcome Difference was unveiled on November 24 and will be displayed until January 8, 2018. + thesignlab

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