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Tuesday, June 18, 2013
|Source: Dubai Gold & Jewellery Group|
Futuristic homes are a thing of the past
Have you ever watched those old advertising videos from the '50s and '60s demonstrating futuristic home technologies? They're quite funny, but you have to wonder: How come those innovations didn't pan out?
The US government has been involved in several underwater habitats. First the US Navy built Sealab I, an experimental underwater habitat, in 1964 and sunk it 58 metres below sea level. Sealab II and III followed. Tektite, built by General Electric and funded by Nasa, the US Navy and the US Department of the Interior, was another research facility in the late 1960s. There are still underwater research facilities, and a few underwater hotels, but no cities. Why not? One big issue is decompression sickness, or "the bends," a potentially fatal condition related to the fact that water exerts twice as much pressure on our bodies as air. Maintaining the right atmosphere, as well as the logistics of providing supplies, is complicated and expensive. That's probably why a night in the Jules' Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, Florida (a remodeled underwater research habitat built in the early 1970s) costs upwards of $500 and it's only about 30 feet below.
Home Nuclear Power Plant
If you visited Disneyland's Tomorrow Land between 1957 and 1967, you might've seen Monsanto's House of the Future. Among many other amazing features contained within the model home, one that seems to be impossible to imagine today is something that visitors didn't even get to glimpse. While walking through the house and marvelling at its wonders, a voiceover provided explanations. Near the end, the recording stated that "To keep inconvenience and power costs down, the entire house's electricity and its centralised heating are provided by a small nuclear power plant in the house's support pylon, completely shielded with plastic for complete safety." This was the Atomic Age, when we thought that nuclear power would eventually be used to power airplanes and cars, as well as make using fossil fuels a thing of the past. Obviously it didn't turn out that way, and we need much more than plastic to shield us from nuclear radiation. Homes that are completely self-sufficient or "off the grid" exist, but it's certainly not the norm ... yet.
A biodome, or biosphere, is a man-made, closed ecological system. This means that every waste produced by an organism have to be used by another organism within the biosphere. They've been used to conduct experiments with the idea that a closed system would be a necessary way of life for long-term space living. On the space station, for example, everything the astronauts and cosmonauts need has to be transported with them or delivered later. Initially we'd have to transport supplies to get a space colony going too, but that would be expensive to continue indefinitely. So a viable space colony would have to eventually be self-sufficient. The first biosphere was built in Russia in the mid-1960s. It used chlorella algae to recycle the air breathed by its occupants. They also grew crops for food. BIOS-3 was used until 1984 and its longest occupied term was 180 days. It was never a fully closed system, however. Biosphere-2 (Earth is the original biosphere) was built in the United States in the late 1980s and had two main missions as well as some smaller experiments. On its second mission, the biosphere contained not only crops for food, but other plants, as well as animals. It ended abruptly in September 1994, after 10 months. The mission was ultimately a failure. Animals died (although many insects flourished), oxygen levels dropped, people got hungry, but most significant of all, they fought and formed factions. The psychological component of being sealed in with your colleagues can't be denied. Ultimately Biosphere-2 is thought of by some as a "successful failure." It didn't achieve its mission, but we did learn a lot in the process. It doesn't look like any of us will be living in self-sufficient biospheres of our own anytime soon, though.
The United States took the lead in the Space Race with the Soviet Union when it became the first to put a man on the moon in 1969. Science fiction authors and others had long been writing about living on the moon, but now that we'd been there, it seemed like a real possibility. Although Nasa sent men back to the moon four more times, interest in exploring it died down. More than four decades after first setting foot on its surface, we're no closer to a colony. That doesn't mean there hasn't been talk of it, though. Probes sent to the moon by Nasa have returned varying reports about the potential of water (in the form of ice) on its surface. A source of water would be useful to a colony. In 2004, after U.S. President George W. Bush announced that we should have manned spaceflights to the moon again, Nasa planned to have an outpost by 2020. But the programme was scrapped. Other countries and space organisations have their own plans. China, India, Japan, Russia and the European Space Agency have all had recent plans to go to the moon, and some of them include either temporary outposts or permanent bases. There are still a lot of logistics to be worked out before colonising the moon - figuring out long-term sources of food, water, power and atmosphere are just a start. What about how to handle the low gravity or the political ramifications of colonisation (who would own it)?
Another reference to the House of the Future, but it's far from the only one in this category. The house proudly proclaimed that it was built almost entirely from plastics and other man-made materials. This included the house itself as well as the flooring and furniture. Plastic became cheaper and easier to make in the 1950s, and it seemed like the perfect material. Most kinds could be made in a wide variety of shapes, textures and colours. It was also impermeable and unbreakable, easy to clean, and could last forever. No worrying about termites, mold, or rot. We know a lot more about the environmental and health effects of certain kinds of plastics nowadays, so we're more careful about the types of plastics that we use and how we use them. When it comes to our home, we still want it to be primarily made of traditional, comfortable materials - wood and fabric.
You can buy a robot to vacuum, mop your floor or mow your lawn, and there are prototypes that fold laundry or iron clothes, but that's it. No cooking, no window-washing, no bathroom cleaning. Why not? There are plenty of workhorse robots; car assembly lines are full of robots, and they're used to diffuse bombs and perform microsurgery. Robots in the home, though, are still mostly limited to entertainment purposes. An article by Bill Gates in Scientific American a few years ago mentions that one of the problems is a lack of standardisation, both hardware and software. It's also really proving difficult to teach robots to do human-like things, such as telling the difference between a door and a window or understanding and responding accurately to speech. Improvements in wireless technology and voice recognition, as well as decreasing costs of hardware, may mean that your robot maid will eventually take over the drudgery. In the meantime, you can check your e-mail on your refrigerator's WiFi-enabled LCD panel while you're cleaning the kitchen to help pass the time.
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