Modern 'green' living is wedded to technology, with home energy management via smart metering just the start. From automatic garden watering systems to hydroponics, 'smart tags' for recycling to moisture sensing for straw bale buildings, the 'green lifestyle' market is hungry for a technological fix.
I grew up in a village well-known for a strong Rudolph Steiner community. Apart from the organic, biodynamic agriculture, other central tenets (to my, I hasten to add, then uninformed mind) were obligatory sandal wearing, an abhorrence of plastics as well as anything high-tech, with utmost disapproval reserved for the TV.
Some time spent back there last year reminded me how much so-called 'green lifestyles' have changed. The latest generation of adherents seem not to bat an eyelid at international air travel (as long as the carbon is offset), 4 x 4 vehicles (for taking kids to school on tarmac roads) and mobile phones.
Indeed, modern 'green' living is wedded to technology, with home energy management via smart metering just the start. Being conscious of making environmentally-aware choices myself, one of my 'sometime in the future' projects cum ongoing personal research interests is straw bale buildings (am thinking of an alternative to a dull rented office). Even here, I have discovered that one indispensable piece of kit is a moisture-monitoring network – not that straw bales are necessarily more susceptible to moisture ingress than other building materials.
Being of the mildly green-fingered kind, I am often on the lookout for time and water-saving solutions and one keen gardener that I read about recently has installed a solar-powered moisture feedback loop with rf link that enables his hanging baskets to 'tweet' for water (via Twitter, for the few uninitiated out there). A case of using a hammer to crack a nut, maybe, but for fruit and vegetable growers he may be onto something.
I had also tentatively begun to look into hydroponic gardening – a market arguably first driven by demand from clandestine marijuana growers – only to discover how vast and well-catered for it is. Of-course, whilst industrial food producers have always sought to monitor and control as many elements of a plant's growth environment in order to maximise crop yield, amateur gardeners (and marijuana growers!) have benefited from these economies of scale. A proliferation of hand-held monitoring equipment and low-cost sensors has resulted in humidity sensors (for the greenhouse), moisture meters, pH meters, CO2 and oxygen meters at costs that are accessible to amateur gardening budgets. And with small growing space or climate change effects being an issue for many would-be successful gardeners, hydroponics (an altogether more technological fix) seems to have begun a move towards mass appeal.
Equally interesting was a device I came across to check up on the efficiency and efficacy of recycling services. Researchers at MIT's SENSEable City Lab have developed smart tags that can be attached to an item of recycling, and will send their location back in real time. Encased in resin to ensure their durability, the tags will track different types of waste on the journey through the disposal systems of two City testbeds, New York and Seattle. Professor Carlo Ratti, head of the MIT SENSEable City lab said that the project 'aims to reveal the disposal process of our everyday objects, as well as to highlight potential inefficiencies in today's recycling and sanitation systems.'
At DAC 2009 yesterday, Aart de Geus, chairman and ceo of Synopsys, was clearly on a 'green' wavelength when he posed the following question to delegates: “What if your toaster could 'talk' to your refrigerator to tell it to shut the compressor when the toaster is in use? On the small scale, that is one energy-efficient problem that could be solved in the home. Think of all the other possible opportunities where EDA tools could help design more efficient power applications.”
Technology for technology's sake – sometimes – but the marriage between technology and 'green living' isn't going to end soon.
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