science tech building infrastructure cities video future road_sign fiber_optic concrete

Concrete Comes Alive

by Michael Keller

This is the first view of Digistone, a project to make informational video screens out of concrete embedded with fiber optics. The European Commission-funded program’s goal is to embed these screens in city and road surfaces to create intelligent signs for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

The prototype blocks above were on display at the 2014 Euroscience Open Forum being held now in Copenhagen, just days after their creators got them working for the first time. The polymer fiber optics are spaced three millimeters apart and create a clear image five feet away. The team making it, comprised of a consortium of companies and institutions, aim to soon decrease the space between fiber optic fibers to 1.5 mm, which will make the image sharper. Read more below.

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Meet the 3-D printer robots that might build infrastructure out of Martian soil one day. The method they would use is called contour crafting, which would take the Martian regolith and extrude it in layers to produce habitats and other structures like roads. 

The concept comes from USC’s Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies, which is developing the idea for NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concept project. USC’s goal is to make contour crafting robots that can also embed electrical, plumbing and air-conditioning pipes and equipment. Click here to learn more about how the team hopes to use computer-controlled troweling to get other worlds ready for human habitation.

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Could Lasers Divert Lightning From Buildings?

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by Michael Keller

The standard advice authorities offer when lightning starts crackling across the sky is for people to take shelter inside buildings. Substantial structures offer protection through lightning rods affixed to the roof, electrical wiring and plumbing that can direct the electricity away from occupants and into the ground.

But what is there to protect the buildings themselves from more than 5 billion Joules of energy in a typical lightning strike, which is enough juice to toast 100,000 bread slices? The problem is no small one—the Empire State Building (above) in New York City gets hit by lightning an average of 25 times a year. And Underwriters Laboratories reports that lightning accounts for more than $1 billion in building damage in the U.S. every year. 

Many buildings install lightning protection systems to direct lightning’s energy into the ground, which the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety says are highly effective at preventing fires and destructive electrical surges after a strike.

Now researchers say there might be a next-generation protective system that prevents lightning from hitting a building at all. Their secret weapon? High-intensity lasers.

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building construction vintage engineering panama_canal motors locks ge

Building A Shortcut

by Txchnologist staff

The Panama Canal opened for business in 1914 after a decade of construction, cutting across the Isthmus of Panama to provide ships a shortcut between the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean. Before it was built, vessels would need to round South America’s Cape Horn. 

But to create the maritime shortcut, the canal’s creators had to dig out a 48-mile-long waterway through the narrowest piece of land between North and South America. They also needed to construct a series of water lifts, called locks, that could raise ships from sea level up to more than 85 feet above sea level to let them pass over the landmass. Operating the locks and other parts of the system required 1,022 electric motors, which together generated almost 29,000 horsepower. 

GE cameras were on the scene to record the gargantuan engineering project. The company helped create the largest electrical installation in the world at the time and designed the intricate selsyn controls for each of the locks.

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