Renewables top 20 percent of Germany’s energy mix for first time

6 Sep


00:18 September 5, 2011

In the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, tens of thousands of German citizens took to the streets calling for the phase out of atomic energy. In May, the German government bowed to public pressure and unveiled its plan to shut down the country’s 17 nuclear power plants by 2021 – with the possibility that three will continue operating until 2022 if the transition to renewable energy doesn’t go as quickly as hoped. Providing some hope that Germany will achieve its ambitious goals, Spiegel Online International has quoted a newly released German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW) report that says, for the first time, renewable sources accounted for more than 20 percent of the country’s electricity generation in the first half of 2011.

According to the report, renewable energy sources provided 18.3 percent of total demand in 2010, but the first six months of 2011 saw that figure rise to 20.8 percent, while Germany’s total usage remained steady from 2010 at 275.5 billion kilowatt hours. Although the report says the rise isn’t linked to the closure of seven nuclear power plants following the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, it provides hope that Germany will be able to achieve the goal stated by Chancellor Angela Merkel for renewable sources to account for 35 percent of total electricity production by 2022.

Of the 57.3 billion kWh provided by renewable sources in the first six months of 2011, wind power was the dominant source supplying 20.7 billion kWh (7.5 percent of total production), followed by biomass with 15.4 billion kWh (5.6 percent), photovoltaic solar with 9.6 billion kWh (3.5 percent), hydroelectric with 9.1 billion kWh (3.3 percent, and waste and other sources providing 2.2 billion kWh (0.8 percent).

Solar power saw the biggest jump, increasing by 76 percent over 2010 with the BDEW citing the reduction in the price of photovoltaic installations as a result of increased competition and the decision of the federal government not to cut subsidies for private solar-power generation as initially planned as the main reasons for the increase.

“Because of the volume of new photovoltaic installations and the amount of sun during the spring, solar energy knocked hydroelectric from third place for the first time,” said the BDEW.

Source: Spiegel Online International


Wikitude Drive AR navigation system keeps your eyes on the road

6 Sep


18:32 September 4, 2011

Although many of us don’t know how we ever managed without our car navigation systems, they are not without their flaws. For one thing, when that voice says “Turn left in 100 meters,” you may find yourself looking out the windshield and wondering “Does that mean this left turn, or the one just past it?” The Wikitude Drive augmented reality navigation app is designed to address these problems, by overlaying directional arrows on real-time video of the road in front of you.

Drive works on select Android smartphones, that have sufficiently capable GPS sensors. Once it is loaded onto such a device, the phone is mounted horizontally on the inside of the windshield. Users have to supply their own suction cup windshield mount.

The phone’s camera provides live video of the road, upon which three-dimensional route markers are superimposed – their transparency can be adjusted. In this way, even when drivers are looking at the screen, they’re still seeing the traffic and pedestrians in front of them. There’s also no ambiguity as to where they should turn. It is possible that the app could give drivers a false sense of safety, however, in that they might forget how little peripheral vision the phone’s camera offers.

Upon leaving the car, drivers can switch to Pedestrian Mode, and continue to use the app to find their way on foot. Because there may be some situations in a which a conventional 3D map-only view is preferable, that mode can also be selected.

Wikitude Drive can be downloaded through the company website, which also has a list of compatible smartphones. So far, the app is only to users in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, France, Italy and the UK.

Blaupunkt’s Travelpilot navigation system is quite similar, although it is available only as a complete device, not an app.

BMW and Husqvarna electric motorcycle concepts

6 Sep


22:51 September 3, 2011


Two of the more intriguing concepts planned for the world’s largest motor show (IAA) in Frankfurt a fortnight from now will come from BMW Motorrad and sister brand Husqvarna.

Almost nothing about the concepts has been disclosed other than their existence and a few cryptic words in a press release which mention an e-mobility BMW Motorrad design study and “a new idea for individual single track mobility” from Husqvarna.

The line that really caught my eye though was “the visionary, extraordinary design concept by Husqvarna Motorcycles targets specifically young customers seeking a single track commuter vehicle outside of the scooter segment.”

Two sketches were among the press kit – one of what looks to be an electric motard from Husqvarna, the other of an electric maxi-scooter from BMW Motorrad.

That’s all we know until the press conference on September 13 when the two design concepts will be presented to the media.

ellen macarthur foundation and DARE digital – circular economy

5 Sep



still from 're-thinking progress: the circular economy' courtesy ellen macarthur foundation

ellen macarthur has just sent us a new short animated video entitled ‘re-thinking progress’ envisioning the future with a circular economy.
the ellen macarthur foundation works with education and business, driving people to re-think, re-design and build a more positive future.
the organization was founded by ellen macarthur who first made headlines as a champion sailor in 2005, when she broke the world record
for her solo circumnavigation of the globe. after this achievement, she began focusing on issues of sustainability and resource use
which lead her to begin the initiative.

ellen macarthur foundation and DARE digital have produced this short animated video to show the outline of the foundation’s philosophy
and how it sees the future within a circular economy.

and from the archive — read designboom’s interview with ellen macarthur here.

still from 're-thinking progress: the circular economy' courtesy ellen macarthur foundation

drew detweiler + lyes belhocine: inspired performance mixer – infiniti digital art competition shortlisted entry

3 Sep

the ‘inspired performance mixer’ by US-based interaction designers drew detweiler + lyes belhocine is an interactive installation
that permits visitors to mix audio video files in realtime through capacitive touch controls and the manipulation of plexiglass cubes.
the artists designed the piece, which integrates several of their previously tested realtime multimedia mixing technology,
for designboom’s ‘infiniti digital art competition‘, which asked participants to design innovative or interactive digital artworks
under the theme of ‘inspired performance’, for installation in new centers that infiniti is opening throughout europe.

with a twelve-loop audio file as the soundtrack, up to twelve video files can be used for mixing via the ‘inspired performance mixer’
interface at a single time. the software was designed modularly to facilitate the use of different video and audio tracks,
requiring only that they be dropped into the proper folder, making the piece easily adaptable to different situations.
the interface design throughout is likewise extensible, permitting both output additions like surround sound audio, and diverse input controls.

while a computer monitor displays visual cues, the mixing controls themselves are accomplished through the manipulation
of the artists’ ‘cubiic’ cubes and ‘zeum mix’ four-channel laser cut interface, the latter of these designed in the shape of the infiniti logo.
the tactile cubes, composed of plexiglass with LEDs and monitored via RFID tags, can be flipped onto different sides to select
different audio tracks. through the custom touch interface, video and audio files can be selected, modified, and otherwise mixed
to create a constantly changing display.

‘inspired performance mixer’ was one of 21 shortlisted entries in the first round of the ‘infiniti digital art competition’.
from these 21 projects, infiniti will select six designs for installation, beginning with the first new center in manchester, UK.
stay posted! designboom will announce the six winners the first week of september.

do you have your own vision for an installation?
the next round of the ‘infiniti digital art competition’ begins this autumn!
a new theme and new design opportunities await your creativity.
check back this october to the designboom homepage or competition call.

FLOATEC project develops new floating house technology for low-lying countries

3 Sep


11:33 September 1, 2011

Venice may soon be sharing its “Floating City” moniker thanks to a research project developing “amphibian houses” that are designed to float in the event of a flood. The FLOATEC project sees the primary market for the houses as the Netherlands, whose low-lying land makes it particularly susceptible to the effects of rising sea levels. Such housing technology could also allow small island-states in the Indian and Pacific Oceans that are at the risk of disappearing in the next 100 years to maintain their claim to statehood through the use of artificial, floating structures.

The lead research partner in the FLOATEC project is Dura Vermeer, a Dutch company that over the past 12 years has become a market leader in the floating building market. Although it might seem difficult, Dura Vermeer’s Edwin Blom says building a floating house is actually a relatively easy construction process. As you might expect, the secret lies in the foundations, which are made up of multiple layers of light plastic foam supporting the concrete, allowing it to float.

However, the technology used up until now has had limitations as there is a maximum size and weight beyond which a structure loses its buoyancy and simply sinks. To solve this problem Dura Vermeer teamed up with Spanish company, Acciona Infrastructures, and a Spanish engineering consultancy, Solintel, to develop a new way to build floating structures that were simpler, more solid and used lighter materials.

The new building method they developed uses expanded polystyrene (EPS), which Blon says is, “the same kind as is used for packaging and which people are familiar with: little white balls glued together.” This modified polystyrene is inserted in multiple layers in between stratums of composite and concrete and divided into beam-like modules that can easily be assembled into a bigger supporting structure a bit like building blocks. The modules are arranged in a floating grid into which the concrete is cast.

Blom says that although the new technology is more advanced than traditional methods, it is still much cheaper as there is a reduction in the amount of material used. “Smaller blocks can now support bigger structures and, in the end, the cost of the whole building is reduced,” he said.

FLOATEC is a European R&D project underwritten by EUREKA, an intergovernmental network established to support market-oriented R&D and innovation projects by industry, research centers and universities across all technological sectors.

Etymotic HD-15 electronic earplugs only block the loud noises

3 Sep


15:54 September 1, 2011

If you work someplace where sudden loud noises frequently but intermittently occur, it can get kind of frustrating – you pretty much have to choose between protecting your hearing with ear plugs, or being able to hear what people are saying when it isn’t noisy. Your basic earplugs, unfortunately, don’t let you hear when things are quiet, but then activate when loud noises occur. Non-basic earplugs, however, do that very thing. Etymotic Research’s HD-15 High-Definition electronic earplugs contain tiny microphones, that instantaneously cause the plugs to block incoming sound waves when they detect noises over a given threshold. When the noise has ceased, the earplugs let the user hear normally again.

Not only do the HD-15s not impede hearing when it isn’t noisy, but with the flick of a built-in switch, they can also amplify ambient sound by 15 decibels. In either setting, they will still block sudden, loud impact sounds when they occur. They have a noise reduction rating of 25 decibels.

These earplugs aren’t the first hearing protection devices to use such technology. The QUIETPRO+ Intelligent Hearing System also uses an integrated microphone to detect loud noises, at which point its noise-reduction function kicks in. It additionally features a conductive microphone that is located inside the user’s ear canal, so they can talk to other people by radio without unfiltered background noise drowning out their voice.

Sensear utilizes a similar system, in which directional microphones enhance speech, but block other sounds. It appears that one advantage that the HD-15s have over QUIETPRO+ and Sensear is that everything is contained with the plugs themselves, with no additional hardware required.

The HD-15 High-Definition electronic earplugs are available for US$499 via the Etymotic website. The company also makes versions optimized for people shooting guns, and for military applications.