Today I thought we’d take a little tour through the wonderful world of technology. We’ll amble through water walls, do a little relaxing and find out when noise is a good thing. So let’s go see what those wonderful zany scientists have dreamed up lately.
THIS PICTURE IS ALL WET
An MIT-designed building with walls made entirely of water made headlines in Europe last summer at the Zaragoza World Expo in Spain. The Digital Water Pavilion was selected as Time magazine’s "Best invention of the Year" in the field of architecture when its plans were unveiled, and was the first of its kind. It illustrates the potential of digital architecture to create spaces that dynamically adjust to people and conditions.
"Water has long been recognized as one of the most dynamic and engaging elements of urban public space," commented William J. Mitchell, head of MIT’s Design Laboratory and former dean of architecture at MIT. "For centuries, architects have shaped and directed it by means of channels and pipes, nozzles, valves, and pumps."
The ‘water building’ combines sensor technology, embedded intelligence, networking, computer-controlled pumps and valves and other new technologies open up the exciting possibility of urban-scale, precisely controlled, highly interactive water.
The "water walls" that make up the structure are generated by high-speed computer controlled solenoid valves. They can be programmed to take varying shapes, to display patterns, images and text, and to respond dynamically to input from sensors.
"This capability enables architects to challenge many traditional ideas about architectural form," says Mitchell. "Doors, for example, need not have fixed locations. When you walk up to them, water walls can open like the Red Sea for Moses, and then seamlessly close behind you."
The inventors say the concept of digital water is like a large scale inkjet printer: The opening and closing of valves, at high frequency, produces a curtain of falling water — a pattern of pixels created from air and water instead of illuminated points on a screen. The entire surface becomes a one-bit deep digital display that continuously scrolls downward.
All the pavilion walls are made of digital water, along with vertical partitions on the edge of the roof and inside it. The only solid element of the pavilion is the roof — a high-tech, 15-foot thick moveable structure covered by water. The roof rests on moveable pistons and moves up and down depending on wind conditions. It can also be lowered to the ground, at which point the building disappears altogether.
The building contains 3,000 digitally controlled solenoid valves, several dozen pumps, 12 hydraulic stainless steel piston and a digital control system based on open source software. The water used is fully recycled; some of it is lost because of evaporation, but it is supplemented by rainfall at the pavilion’s site.
The MIT-designed Digital Water Pavillion, featuring water walls that can be programmed to display patterns and images at the Zaragoza World Expo in Spain. (Credit: Photo / Carlos Muntadas)
Wow, water walls! What will they think of next? Well, is your job stressful? Relatives getting you down? Read on!
English psychology professor Richard Wiseman has designed and constructed a large-scale multi-media space that aims to calm even the most stressed out of minds. He constructed a room at the de Havilland campus of the University of Hertfordshire where groups of up to ten visitors at a time were invited to lie on soft matting and rest their head on lavender-scented pillows. In each fifteen minute session, people will be bathed in a calming glade-like green light, listen to a specially composed soothing soundtrack, and look at a completely clear artificial blue sky.
“The pace of modern-day life, credit crunch, and financial crisis is making many people feel very stressed and so we have created this space to help them relax”, noted Professor Wiseman.
“Research suggests that the subdued green light enhances the production of dopamine in the brain and provide a calming sensation. In addition, the artificial blue sky helps create a mild form of sensory deprivation that will help them turn their attention inward and distract them away from daily stress.”
The music was written by music professor Tim Blinko and features a solo soprano voice, chosen for the soothing properties of the human voice, a Tibetan singing bowl, used in meditation and a string ensemble.
And in case you are wondering if you’re a candidate for Professor Wiseman’s room, just answer these questions. Four or more ‘yes’ responses suggest that it might be time to take your foot off the accelerator and slow down.
1) Do you seem to glance at your watch more than others?
2) When someone takes too long to get to the point, do you feel like hurrying them along?
3) Are you often the first person to finish at mealtimes?
4) When walking along a street, do you often feel frustrated because you are stuck behind others?
5) Would you become irritable if you sit for an hour without doing anything?
6) Do you walk out of restaurants or shops if you encounter even a short queue?
7) If you are caught in slow-moving traffic, do you seem to get more annoyed than other drivers?
Since we probably won’t be able to head for Professor Wiseman’s room, here are some tips he gives to combat stress:
1) Head for the ranch. Research shows that spending around thirty minutes in green and quiet surroundings will make you feel significantly more relaxed.
2) Listen to soothing music. Listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, a relaxation tape, or nature sounds lowers your blood pressure.
3) Carry out a relaxation exercise. Starting at your toes and working upwards, spend a few moments slowly tensing, and then releasing, the muscles of each part of your body.
4) Spend time with friends. Being with people you like helps distract you from anxious thoughts and lifts your mood.
5) Help others. Research shows that even carrying out a small act of kindness, such as making a donation to charity, helps improve your mood and decreases stress.
6) Accept what you can’t change. There is no point dwelling on the past, or thinking about what can’t be altered. Instead, focus on how you can create a better future.
7) Smile more. Don’t take life too seriously, and improve your ability to cope with stressful situations by seeing the funny side of whatever happens.
Use lavender. Research shows that most people find the smell of lavender especially relaxing, and that it also helps them get a good night’s sleep.
9) Hit the gym. Exercise promotes the production of endorphins, which, in turn, make you feel better about yourself and become more relaxed.
10) Look at the sky. If it is a nice day, lie on the grass, look up at a clear sky, and allow positive thoughts and images to drift through your mind.
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The World’s most relaxing room. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Hertfordshire)
So, now that we’re all relaxed, let’s move on to some stress inducers again. You know and I know that the world is running out of oil. The gas-burning automobile will certainly be a distant memory for our adult grandchildren and possibly our adult children.
The first transition to more eco-friendly vehicles will certainly be hybrid cars. There are hybrid cars on the road today. But they do have some interesting problems. For one thing, they seem to be a little hard on pedestrians.
HONK IF YOU’RE HYBRID
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out one problem with hybrid and electric cars. They’re too quiet. They don’t make the noises pedestrians and bicyclists are used to hearing as a vehicle approaches them on the street or at an intersection. In a recent study, researchers examined people’s preferences for sounds that could be added to quiet vehicles to make them easier to detect.
Though the safety of quiet vehicles can be a problem for everyone, it’s of real concern to the National Federation for the Blind, which has called for quiet vehicles to emit a continuous sound. The authors also suggest that older individuals with diminished sensory and motor skills should be considered as solutions are developed.
The scientists evaluated the responses of 24 college-age participants to six categories of sounds that could be added to quiet vehicles: engine, horn, hum, siren, whistle, and white noise. Three variations of each type of sound were tested. Unsurprisingly, the participants rated automotive engine sounds the highest, followed by white noise and hum.
Automakers have continually worked to refine passenger vehicle power trains to be smoother and quieter but now find themselves faced with demands to make their quiet vehicles louder. Noise pollution caused by adding sounds to these vehicles could be limited by the use of a "smart" system that would change the level of emitted sound depending on the levels of noise emitted by other cars and background noise. These systems would turn themselves off if the vehicle produces adequate sound on its own.
At least one automaker, Lotus Engineering, has attempted to address the quiet hybrid issue. The company introduced "Safe and Sound," which mimics the sound of an internal combustion engine and operates when the vehicle is in electric-only mode.
The authors note that their research is also applicable to silent-engine vehicles such as electric golf carts, bicycles, wheelchairs, and Segways, which have all caused injuries in the past because of their quiet operation.
We certainly need quiet to relax, but to little noise can obviously be a bad thing!