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Ford looks to ‘biomimicry’

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Ford has announced that it is teaming up with Procter & Gamble, to use biomimicry for a range of business solutions.

For years, Ford researchers have considered ways to make auto manufacturing more sustainable. A key challenge is glue used to adhere foams to plastics and metals can make disassembling parts for recycling nearly impossible.

Enter the gecko.

The lizard’s toe pads allow it to stick to most surfaces without liquids or surface tension. The reptile can then easily release itself, leaving no residue. Consider, too, that a typical mature gecko weighing 2.5 ounces is capable of supporting 293 pounds.

The gecko could inspire a host of adhesive innovations for global applications at Ford, said Debbie Mielewski, Ford senior technical leader for plastics and sustainability research.

“Solving this problem could provide cost savings and certainly an environmental savings,” said Mielewski. “It means we could increase the recycling of more foam and plastics, and further reduce our environmental footprint.”

Buoyed by the biomimetic method, Ford recently hosted a forum at its Dearborn campus with participation from Procter & Gamble and The Biomimicry Institute, a nonprofit committed to promoting the innovative approach of looking to nature for sustainable solutions to modern-day challenges. Nearly 200 researchers and designers took part in the day-long session to learn about biomimicry and how to apply it to their work.

“We are excited for the opportunity to participate, together with Ford – with whom we have a history of collaboration – in The Biomimicry Institute workshop,” said Lee Ellen Drechsler, director for corporate connect and development, The Procter and Gamble Company. “We have an interest within Procter & Gamble for using biomimicry as a way to broaden our approach to solving tough research challenges.”

The biomimetic approach is not new. The Bullet Train in Shinkansen, Japan was inspired by the kingfisher. Velcro took its cues from a burr. And improved medical needles were developed based on the mosquito. Interest in the approach has increased in the last decade as awareness of climate change and environmental challenges is heightened, said Gretchen Hooker, project manager for design challenges at The Biomimicry Institute.

Founded in 2006, the group works to empower people to create sustainable products and services using biomimicry. In addition to mobilizing educators and regional practitioners through the Biomimicry Global Network, the organization provides a platform to learn and practice biomimicry through multiple design challenges. These include open innovation, academic-corporate partnerships and corporate-employee challenges where employees get hands-on training while developing new solutions to issues corporations face. AskNature.org, the organization’s online database of biological solutions, offers inspiration to those looking to find answers in biomimicry.

“Ford and P&G are the first companies to take part in these new corporate-employee challenges,” said Hooker.

Beyond recycling, the Ford design teams have worked for nearly a decade to find nature-inspired technologies, with recent successes in yarn production for seating materials and headliners.

Ford is the only automaker to use Unifi’s high-performance REPREVE fiber, made from 100 percent recycled materials including plastic bottles, in its vehicles. Ford employs REPREVE in five of its vehicles – the new F-150, Explorer, Edge, Focus Electric and Fusion – making it a globally used material. The use of REPREVE represents Ford’s commitment to reduce, reuse and recycle, part of the automaker’s global sustainability strategy to lessen its environmental footprint.

Ford designers are now looking to expand upon that commitment, turning to nature to further improve the sustainable materials in vehicle fabrics. The gecko may also inspire fabric technologies that could transform the cabin of Ford vehicles, researchers said.

“As we look to further our commitment to reducing our environmental footprint, taking a holistic, biomimetic approach makes sense because nature has efficiencies in design and uses minimal resources,” said Carol Kordich, global sustainable fabric strategies and development, Ford. “Nature is the ultimate guide.”

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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