Bucky Fuller (1895-1983) is widely recognized as one of the
world’s great modern visionaries of the 20th century. He was a
natural Futurist, not because of his intellect, but his wisdom to
challenge widely held assumptions from the world around him.
He blended his skills as a writer, thinker, and engineer into a
concept he called “Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science.”
Bucky believed that the essence of human life on the planet is to
solve problems and continue expanding our awareness and views of
what is possible.
Our best strategy for addressing problems of the 21st century
might be to revisit the core principles of his philosophy related
to design, shape and energy. If the Whitney curators, are correct,
Bucky Fuller might turn out to be one of the most influential
thinkers of not one, but two centuries.
Because they are investing in the future design of catalysts!
And their strategy is to innovate at the nanoscale.
The Beginning of Nano
Physicist Richard Feynman is often credited with launching the
‘nanoscale’ era of engineering with his famous lecture ‘Plenty of
Room at the Bottom’ at Caltech in 1959. Feynman
described our future ability to manipulate individual atoms and
eventually create complex mechanical structures made of the
Fifty years after Feynman’s lecture, researchers and startups
are making significant progress in designing nanoscale structured
materials that will have an enormous impact on all aspects of the
energy industry from production, to storage to end use
What is disruptive about catalysts?
Simply put, catalysts help us get more output with less energy
input. Catalysts speed up the reaction of photo-, chemical and
electrochemical changes in everything from batteries, fuel cells,
and solar cells, to the refining of coal, gasoline, diesel, and
natural gas, and the production of hydrogen and biofuels. Catalysts
also help to reduce the energy required to create plastics,
biomaterials, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizer.
The rules of the energy industry game are being re-written by
companies designing synthetic metal and carbon-based catalysts that
change our notions of what is possible in the years ahead. Other
companies are attempting to harness, or mimic, naturally occurring
bio-catalysts that gracefully manipulate energy in all living
things from algae/bacteria to plants to human beings.
Catalysts are the silent work horses of our modern world but you
seldom, if ever, hear or see the word mentioned in mainstream
conversations about energy. Yet they hold the key to unlocking
human potential without draining the planet’s resources. Catalysts
can help realize the vision of a world powered by cheap, abundant,
clean energy. (Continued)
In the not too distant future cancer will be eradicated, clean
and powerful new forms of energy will be the norm and people all
across the globe will have access to clean drinking water. While to
some such predictions may sound like narrative straight out of a
utopian sci-fi novel, according to best-selling author and futurist
Uldrich those are realistic possibilities in a world driven by
A global futurist, speaker and proprietor of well respected
consulting firm Nanoveritas, Uldrich advises a
variety of businesses on nanotechnology
developments and, more broadly, how to keep ahead of the curve of a variety of
rapidly advancing technologies. On July 10, 2008, I had the
opportunity to interview Mr. Uldrich and discuss a host of
interesting issues including robots in hospitals, solar panels
mixed into wallpaper and paint, and the potential for low-cost
solar cells to uplift underdeveloped regions around the world. In
the days that followed, Mr. Uldrich announced his bid for the U.S.
Senate which, if successful, would make him the first professional
futurist to hold national office.
Here’s the full text of the audio interview with the man who
could become the next U.S. Senator from the great State of
Minnesota, chock full of wisdom and also some great advice for both
students and lay persons looking to get a leg up on the future:
M: What do you do and how is that related to the
JU: I am a writer and a public speaker and all of my books focus
on the future. Really since my first book on nanotech 5 years ago,
I have broadened out to looking at all emerging technologies and
all of my speaking engagements are around trying to prepare
business and trade organizations to prepare for the future.
Lucky for us the sun is a wonderful source of clean energy. Its
rays can be harnessed and transformed into electricity using
semi-conductor-based solar cells that power homes, buildings, and
even transportation. Researchers have spent decades trying to
refine this process.
Recently, MIT researchers have made a
significant mark in this endeavor. Associate Professor Marc A.
Baldo, leader of the project, and a team of four graduate students
of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science,
have constructed a cost-efficient solar concentrator device based
on a failed 1970s model that uses glass and dye. In practical
terms, the concentrator device is a high-efficiency window.
Currently, solar concentrators on the market track the sun’s
rays using large mobile mirrors that are both expensive to arrange
and to maintain. Furthermore, Baldo explains, the solar cells that
house these concentrators must be cooled, thus the entire assembly
Baldo’s new solar concentrator increases the amount of usable
energy by a factor of 40, all while cutting costs by reducing the
amount of solar cell, which because its base is silicon is rather
The device consists of glass coated with a mixture of relatively
inexpensive dyes that absorbs the light and re-emits it on a new
wavelength into the glass to be collected by the solar cells, which
are located on the edges of the glass.
Baldo says the 1970s model failed in two ways: the collected
light was absorbed before it reached the edges of the glass and the
dyes were unstable.
Using optical techniques developed for lasers and other diodes,
the MIT engineers found the perfect ratio
of dyes that would allow the light that is absorbed and emitted to
travel a longer distance before reaching the solar cells.
Ah, space tourism. You ditched
Paris or Tokyo to the dismay of your spouse and now sit some 600
miles above Earth with an ice-cold Mojito in hand. “See, honey?
This isn’t so bad.” As you take a sip the pilot speaks over the
intercom about some turbulence. That’s fine you think, it can’t be
bad as the bumpy airplane trips to Los Angeles back when you were a
Just then, you see gold specks scream pass the window at 17,500
miles an hour, followed by the loud thud of a space helmet that
leaves a considerable dent in your window outside. The entire
space-plane trembles violently as red lights flood on. The pilot
reassures that it was just space turbulence and to strap on seat
belts. “This wasn’t mentioned in the catalogue” you thought, your
spouse giving you a look that you know all too well.
This may not be the common vision of space tourism but the
reality is that since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik back in
1958 there is an estimated one million pieces of junk floating in
orbit. Of those, 9,000 objects are bigger than a tennis ball, large
enough to cause catastrophic damage to moving space shuttles,
satellites, and space stations. Most are pieces from old satellites
and garbage left behind by previous missions. Adding to this mess
are nuts, bolts, and screwdrivers that have errantly drifted into
space from missions, and an expensive Hasselblad camera with exposed
pictures still inside.
According to the European
Space Agency, of the 5,500 tons of material in orbit, 93% is
junk that includes parts of old spacecraft, depleted rocket
boosters, garbage bags ,and even nuclear coolant. Each piece can
and are dividing into more pieces. Only 7% of the material in orbit
is operational spacecraft in use.
Besides posing an ethical problem of using our orbit as a
landfill, the junk pose a big problem to current and future
missions because of their ultra-high velocities in orbit. At 17,500
miles per hour, a millimeter speck of paint has the same amount of
energy as a .22 caliber long rifle bullet, a pea sized piece has
the lethal potential of a 400-lb safe traveling at 60 mph, and a
tennis ball sized piece of metal is essentially 25 sticks of
So what can we do about this junk? Is there a way to get it out
of orbit? Perhaps zap it? Or give it a nudge? (cont.)
One of the advantages that robotics, computers and anything that
uses AI in general have is that they are non-biological substrates
that allow for recombination of many different aspects from the
physical world. In the video below, Intel’s robotic hand
incorporates “pre touch” which is inspired by the electrolocative
ability found in sharks (and other fish) that is believed to be the
most sophisticated of any animal. By sending electrical impulses
towards an object, the robotic hand is able to prejudge and react
to an articles’ position. So in essence, engineers are grafting one
animal’s highly evolved ability onto a non-biological substrate, in
order better replicate the ability of another’s. Pretty cool.
In just ninety seconds, the Great Kanto
Earthquake destroyed Japan’s economy in 1923 throwing the
country into chaos. Instability opened the door for a military
government, which quickly led to war in Southeast Asia, then to
WWII, dishing out unimaginable horrors to
Could a 1923 disaster repeat itself? What if the Southern
California “Big One”, forecast for years by experts, actually
happened and 16 million people suddenly found their homes submerged
in the Pacific Ocean? Could an event like this destroy the American
economy, and how would that affect the rest of the world?
Property losses from violent weather are increasing. The recent
Myanmar cyclone and
China earthquake have both caused huge losses in lives,
weakened economies and devastated areas. Everyone enjoys nature’s
breathtaking beauty and we could not exist without its bounty, but
sometimes this Earth we call home can be harsh and unforgiving.
Forward-thinking scientists believe current knowledge of weather
modification, combined with our newest wonder science – molecular
nanotechnology – will one day provide an opportunity for humanity
to inoculate itself against natural disasters.
Geologists describe earth’s atmosphere as an envelope of air,
rotating with the continents and oceans; receiving enormous amounts
of energy from the Sun’s radiation, which powers weather events.
Typical energy expended in a tornado funnel is equal to about fifty
kilotons of explosives; a thunderstorm exchanges about ten times
this much during its lifetime; and a moderate size Atlantic
hurricane can build up to more than 1,000 megatons of energy.
Google Earth took another baby-step into the future yesterday
with the integration of geographically pertinent news feeds.
“By spatially locating the Google News’ constantly updating
index of stories from more than 4,500 news sources, Google Earth
now shows an ever-changing world of human activity as chronicled by
wrote product manager Brandon Badger .
I took the new layer function for a spin and found it to
be rudimentary and moderately useful. But it’s clear the service
will gradually become more valuable as Google adds more
geographically tagged stories/feeds, filtering options and
sub-layers that I can toggle on or off at will.
Ultimately it seems likely that the new feature will work
hand-in-hand with search, possibly even showing up on Google’s main
results pages alongside maps, pictures and video which were added
earlier this year.
My main take-aways: Google’s inexorable march toward an
information-dense and variably sortable Earth platform continues.
As the company continues to systematically add physical and
information “resolution” to its Earth application, I expect it will
evolve into a resource that I and billions of others use on a daily
basis and become one of Google’s top money makers.
As the geospatial web evolves we’re going to see volumes of
products that mash together data and location, ultimately bringing
us to a state where all physical places can be experienced a
thousand different ways.
One of the more promising masher prototypes I’ve seen to date is
a product called Enkin that smoothly blends “GPS,
orientation sensors, 3D graphics, live video, several web services
and a novel user interface into an intuitive and light navigation
system for mobile devices.” In other words, you can walk around
with your mobile device, flip between real and simulated views, and
generate tags that exist on both layers.
Developed by a pair of nerdy, ambitious Germans for the Google
Android Developer Challenge, Enkin is truly a breakthrough package
of gizmos that clearly demonstrates the potential for Physical/Web
mixing and overlays.
Take a look at their slow-paced, yet wowing demo vid:
Judging by the simplicity of the device, I think it’s fair to
assume that we’ll see such real-time location-informed mashers
built into devices like the iPhone inside of two years, and
incorporated into GPS navigation systems
for automobiles inside a year.
The world is about to get tagged. Big props to Google’s
self-serving yet positive-sum innovation contests.
As a response to Accel Rose’s post on the future of cities by
Stewart Brand, I thought I would pass this along as a supplement.
It’s a one-hour presentation on the “City-Planet”, a long-term
trend barely noticed by anyone.
According to Brand, “The massive urbanization of the world now
going on is changing everything, affecting economics, the
environment, and global population—- most of it, in surprising
ways, for the better. The more I delve into the subject, the more I
find it packed with news which is not being widely reported or
This is one of a monthly series of Seminars About Long-term
Thinking, given every second Friday in San Francisco, CA, organized
by The Long Now
This is a great 30 minute video featuring Sir Norman Foster, one
of the preeminent architects of our age, that brings us up to speed
on many of the intertwining issues within the ecological agenda,
the defining issue of our generation. From the perspective of the
design process, Foster discusses how green design is producing the
iconic products of our age. He takes it a step further by
discussing the interconnection of buildings, cities, and
It nicely summarizes the problems we face today coupled with
potential solutions, by one of the greatest designers of our time.
Showing how technology and computers can assist in green design,
Foster describes how we must look to technology to move forward the
most important work of our age. (cont.)