Gimmicky technological conceptualism returns with a vengeance


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/03/20/gimmicky-technological-concept.html


#2

Water Seer.

Solar Freaking Roadways

Plastic Roadways

Self Filling Water bottles

All of them with slick presentation, but some quick back of a napkin math or even just some thought into it, will show that either 1) what they want to do isn’t physically possible or 2) the technology needed to go from concept to a thing is way more than what the design student who came up with the idea thought it would take.

I am putting the Hyperloop in the realm of bad ideas too.


#3

It’s not clear to me what part of this start-up is far-fetched. I don’t see any mention at the manufacturer’s page that the drone itself is edible. From http://windhorse.aero/: “POUNCER™’s pre-formed shell can be reused to provide shelter, the frame can be burnt safely to cook food, and the payload, which is food and water, provides life saving nutrition.” [emphasis added]

Drones have begun delivering blood in Rwanda: https://www.engadget.com/2016/10/14/drone-blood-deliveries-rwanda/


#4

Add to that the “playpump” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roundabout_PlayPump) which didn’t even work in theory, broke down easily (and couldn’t be repaired), and no one in the targeted communities actually wanted. Despite that, because the idea was so appealing, multiple presidents supported it, they raised tens of millions of dollars and installed them across Africa, where they now sit, rusting, getting in the way of people who want water. Projects like that, unlike Hyperloop, are particularly dangerous, as they not only take money away from needed infrastructure projects, the people who backed them feel like the problem has been solved, so it fails to get further money as well, even though they actually made the situation worse.
It reminds me of these various projects to put floating plastic-debris-catchers at the Pacific Gyre to clean up the “plastic islands,” some of which have been getting some funding. The problem is, it’s a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. There’s a monstrous plastic pollution problem, but despite popular belief, it’s not floating on the surface nor in large chunks at the gyres. (If you do an image search for Pacific Gyre, you’ll find plenty of pictures that show mounds of plastic floating on the surface of water - but none of those pictures are from the location in question; news articles about the gyres use those misleading pictures to perpetuate the misunderstanding.) So money is being spent that is not only useless but actively misleads people about the real problem.


#5

add to list:

  • Houses built from CNC plywood

#6

I completely agree. Musk having a boondoggle or two won’t hurt anything. Heck the people involved my come out better for it.

But that is why things like the Water Seer get to me. Their ad plays HEAVILY on ones emotions. I mean, it takes a pretty cold heart to not want to help people get basic water. But it is at best someone with what they think is a good idea and not knowledgeable enough to know it won’t work, or at worst a scam.

And like you said, it takes funds and resources away from something else that could be helping people.

Now - that isn’t to say we shouldn’t keep dreaming. Just, you know, make sure you don’t follow every dream. Half of mine end up with me naked, my teeth falling out, or being late for/haven’t studied for a class I haven’t been in for 20 years.


#7

Aside from any marketing fluff or design navel-gazing, what gives this food-drone a gimmicky feel is that air transport is the expensive option, for pretty much any tech and infrastructure level.

It’s the fast option, so if you have something like a medical system that relies on just-in-time blood for want of an established distribution network, preservation techniques, etc. the speed can easily be worth the price; but food and water are heavy, bulky, relatively easy to preserve(even if you don’t have refrigeration or fancy tech, there are few non-dead human cultures that can’t preserve food in some way); and demand for such staples is relatively predictable(and, while less predictable, crop failure and other disruptions tend at least to become apparent well before resources actually run out).

Taking a problem that often unfolds in relatively slow motion, against a backdrop of indifference or outright hostility/conflict and technology-ing a ‘solution’ tailored for high value perishables needed unpredictably and on short notice is, at best, misunderstanding client requirements; and at worst an attempt to look away from the fact that a good famine unfolds slowly enough that disinterest is more of an obstacle than transport speed.


#8

Anytime I see articles ooo-ing and aah-ing over pretty 3D renders (or even videos if the originator has the budget) of flexible, transparent cell phones or other personal computing devices running amazingly effortless software interfaces I want to hand out dope slaps.

Who told marketers flimsy, see-through screens are a good idea?


#9

Maybe someone will create the inhumanitarian relief drone: autonomously flown into affected areas with a cargo of disposable guns and ammo. Then they can take the food and shelter from the people who got those hippy drones.


#10

My favorite reaction to the edible drone silliness:


#11

What? The play pump was a great idea…It utilized some of the greatest theories of capitalism, child labor, team work, and finding a way to charge for free water.


#12

This is fantastic info, thanks! Though I’d still say this is mostly an issue of cost-effectiveness. If a cargo-plane airdropping crates of supplies isn’t cost-effective, it does seem unlikely that a drone somehow would be, given the very small carrying capacity. Could there be military or search-and-rescue applications where sending 2 person-days of food and water to a very precise location with very little notice and no need to recover the aircraft be worth the cost?

Again, seems very risky for a start-up making a fresh design, rather than adapting an existing product, but “risky” and “ridiculous” are not the same thing. It seems like the main reason this specific project was targeted for ridicule was the idea that it was an edible drone, which doesn’t seem to actually be the case.


#13

For that matter, could there be legitimate and/or nefarious reasons for describing a drone that could have highly specialized military applications as a civilian aircraft that could be used to alleviate hunger?


#14

Is it really so wrong for me to want a delicious flying cheeseburger? (Like, right now, dammit! Fly into my belly!) Hold the ptomaine and tactical neurotoxins, please.


#15

Yeah. It’s weird that someone comes up with an appealing design and no one reality checks it - or they do, but that doesn’t stop them, because the design is so seductive. But more reality checking is needed.

Well, no wonder it took off the way it did - it hit all the sweet spots.


#16

I remember that one from several years ago from an NPR article that – if nothing else – held it as being something positive. My reaction and posted comment back then touched on the device’s conceptual link to the child-labor treadmills of the Industrial revolution, and the convenient ‘ease’ with which this ‘solution’ was deemed acceptable by the designer and those enabling its production (with that making me wonder if the ‘ease’ was greased by an attitude of ‘good enough for Africa’).


#17

Couldn’t/wouldn’t birds peck away at it while it was in flight? What if it gets caught in the rain?


#18

Normally roundabouts are free moving, the fact that it’s doing work means that it doesn’t function as a child’s plaything because it doesn’t turn properly. So kids didn’t want to use it (though if they had, it apparently would have taken more hours of continuous play than were feasible to pump enough water for use). They ended up paying kids to “play” on it, but mostly it was adults - women - who were forced to use it, except it took more effort than a standard pump, broke more readily and couldn’t be fixed. Someone should have caught it before they spent any real money on it, but I do rather suspect that the “good enough for Africa” sentiment had, to some degree, an influence on preventing that from happening, as you say. Though the money being spent on plastic catchers makes me think that there’s an inherent appeal in superficially well designed but facile solutions to abstract, distant problems. People don’t want to think about it.


#19

In my own experience, management (especially in a technical organization) tends to push for such solutions, with the push energized by budget, schedule, politics, the desire for quick results, (sometimes intentional) poor understanding of the problem, little desire to empower techs/engineers/scientists in the decision-making process, and the belief that they – the manager – know more than their experts. I’ve seen all this way too many times.


#20

I gratefully don’t know what half of those are; more free meme space. Does the 2015-17 spherical tyre not rank?
Is it commercial art that squeezed out putting 30 engineering bits in there [tips a liquid issue of Popular Mechanics 1912; out come monads like Power Reception Radio Spheres, treads, bespoke retentive guttering, still parts for everything, pets that train plants…] to claim ‘our engineers know the practical ones’ into the Fine Art Only sector?