Archive for the ‘False or true?’ Category

So, yup, Cameron’s Avatar and Nickolodeon Avatar, the Last Airbender (the movie never existed. Period), actually had a common point: veggie communication networks. Yay!

In the first case, Na’vi were already physiologically equipped to connect to the Hometrees. In ATLA, both the Avatar (Aang and Korra incarnations) and Toph use the roots of an ancient Banyan Grove Tree to gain information about what happens on a different part of the world. In both cases, the overall idea was that the world, just like the trees, was one living organism where everything was connected.

Actually, the idea is not as crazy as it might sound. For a time, scientists have been aware of a mutual beneficial relationship between plants and (mycorrhizal) fungi, that grow around their roots and are known to promote overall plant growth. At the moment, they are evaluating whether they allow plants to communicate with each other to warn about coming insects attacks and, hence, prepare their chemical defense systems.

Scientists actually proposed that communication occurs through the release and detection of information-carrying chemicals that traverse the soil matrix through mycorrhizal networks (any brain analogy here?). In this sense, fungi, which are highly interconnected underground via their mycelia, conform a sort of plant Internet.

31_02FungusStructure-L
Image taken from Biology Pictures

This theory was tested by researchers from the University of Aberdeen, the James Hutton Institute and Rothamsted Research. They basically grew multiple sets of bean plants in groups. Some of these plants were connected viamycorrhizal networks, whereas others were kept purposefully isolated from the rest. Then, researchers infested single plants with aphids -a damaging insect-, and found out that clean plants connected to infected ones by the mycorrhizae built up their chemical defenses (i.e. release a chemical attractor for wasps, who feed on pesky aphids), whereas unconnected ones showed no chemical response.

There is also some evidence on airborne plant communication, i.e. veggie WiFi, so we can at least say that both Cameron and Konietzko did their homework right in this case.

Source: Ecology Letters

Most likely, the most coveted gadget in Back to the Future II was Marty’s (pink) hoverboard. This is probably why in 2014 the so called HUVr Tech company played a major prank on gullible consumers and, under the motto “The Future has Arrived”, released a commercial where Tony Hawk himself, as well as other celebrities, explained how well their new hoverboard actually worked. The disappointment among eager consumers was so huge that Hawk and the others had to apologize to the public later for their participation in the “joke”.

This is also probably why Hendo Hoverboards talked Hawk into trying their own hoverboard when they went to Kickstarter for funds.

hendo

After the HUVr Tech fiasco, their proposal was probably received with skepticism and it was less than likely that someone would back the 10000 USD to purchase one of their first platforms. However, their Hawk video actually looks more realistic: the hover is almost touching the floor and its not that stable, either.

It’s not like they are going to explain how they do it, but taking into account the platform motion and how the floor looks, the secret beneath might be Lenz’s Law. One might have actually watched a popular science-fair trick: drop a magnet inside a copper tube and its fall will slow down considerably or even stop.

neodymium-magnet-copper-pipe

Lenz’s law states that an induced electromotive force always gives rise to a current whose magnetic field opposes the original change in magnetic flux. The idea is basically that when the magnet falls into the conductor, it generates a current and, hence, a magnetic field, that is bound to oppose the fall of the magnet.

lenz

The only requirement for this effect is that the conductor must be non-magnetic, that is every metal except iron and steel. The best choice to obtain a strong current would be silver, but for obvious reasons one has to do with copper or aluminium (in this order).

Hard core physicians may find a more detailed explanation on how Lenz’s law works on a plane in here.  Unfortunately, a magnet falling slowly through a pipe is not evidence enough than a board will be able to keep your average person on air, right? The trick might be to arrange magnetic fields properly and feed them enough power. And to have a metallic non magnetic floor, too.

Even if they manage to develop this as a product, there are strong limitations to its use, plus its mobility seems to be severely restricted. However, if you have 10000 USD to spare and want to give it a go, here’s their kickstarter. You are on your own, though!

There are many movies and series about dystopian futures lately -although, unfortunately, many of them have been heavily distorted from the original book version to make them easier to digest by teenagers-. One of the most interesting ones, though, is, in my humble opinion, BBC Black Mirror.  Each episode of the series plays around a single concept, like the impact of public opinion in major political decisions in the age of social networks or the effect of recording every second of life (in an eidetic memory fashion) on human relationships.

I’m going to focus here on episode 2, “15 million merits”. I’m not going into reality shows, virtual reality worlds and the like this time (the real target of the episode), but simply in energy harvesting in a world of dimming resources packed with electronics consumers. The outline of the story is simple: people of lower status are expected to spend most of their time working out in a static bike to pay for their basics: a bed, bland food and access to virtual entertainment (they also need to pay to avoid spam ads and other unwanted stuff). If they provide more energy, they get better rewards. I’m not going any further to prevent spoilers, I’ll just say that this was one of the most disturbing episodes of the series for me, and if anyone has watched “National Anthem”, this is saying a lot.

This idea is not that strange. In Ready, Player One (Ernest Cline), the main character uses a bike device for electricity in his den. This is also, reportedly, the only exercise most people do in a world where they spend most of their time in virtual immersion. In this case the idea has its perks: you save money in your juice bill and keep fit at the same time.

The concept has somewhat been put in motion by the Go Green Fitness center. And in an even more profitable fashion, too. Instead of getting paid to generate energy, you pay yourself to do it: your spinning class is used to power up the facilities. Many of us have used our bike to power up a bulb riding a bike at night. In extreme, a  typical group cycling class with about 20 bikes has the potential to produce up to 3.6 megawatts a year, reportedly enough to light 72 homes for a month. Your reward: a reduction in carbon emissions by over 5,000 pound.

wattsreated

If you feel that whatever you generate should be yours and yours only, there are other portable devices that might do the trick. Orange Dance Charger, for example, promised 15 minutes of talk time in exchange for 1 hour-workout (reportedly 85% efficiency).

More on renewable energy in Got Wind