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Build for a better tomorrow

Monday, 31 March 2008 — by

How we’ve harnessed technology has brought our world to a cross roads; we must now think more carefully than ever about how we build the things we use to make our world what it is. Our awareness of resources and our efficiency in their use is paramount. Now, we must build for a better tomorrow, today…

Tomorrow’s technology — let nothing go to waste

The world that we have made for ourselves is under unique pressures. Some are self-inflicted, while others are transient, with all the inevitability of the seasons.

Dwindling natural resources, climatological and environment disruption from fossil fuel emissions, land misuse and pollution are driving our creativity towards efficiency and a sympathetic approach to our environment through technology and design.

This isn’t just about the internal combustion engine. This change is about how we live, where we live, what we eat, how grow and harvest what we eat, when, why and what we then do with the waste afterwards.

Ingenuity is no longer about the one big idea. Now, we have to consider the greater impact of our genius and think up lots of smaller but no less important ideas that build towards the bigger better picture.

Consider those occasions when you’re buying a new computer. You’re sifting through all of those various permutations, devising your dream set-up. Then you see the cost and quickly off-load those “must have” additions, to replace them with the ones you can actually afford.

This is the BtO, or Built to Order product page. For the computer manufacturer, it means less inventory, less wasted parts and an increase in savings.

But is this perceived efficiency enough? No, it isn’t. But it’s a start, even if the reasons are those of smart business and not greater environmental awareness.

A better Built to Order

How much stuff do we buy which includes features that we’ll never, ever use? I know that the Apple MacBook Pro I’m using includes several ports that I’ll never use.

For me, that’s waste. It’s also a waste for Apple. But because their manufacturing facilities aren’t sophisticated enough to deal with producing items to such specific requirements, it’s much more cost-effective for Apple to include those parts, even though their own internal figures will probably tell them that a good percentage of their customers will never make use of those features.

I’m not singling Apple out, because the other computer manufacturers are in much the same position, if not worse, in some cases.

Apple have only used a couple of types of hardware expansion; such as SCSI and PCI, while most other manufacturers have typically used several. Plus, there’s all those other ports for peripherals and such.

Flexibility is good, but right now, it’s also a waste, too.

In a world of dwindling resources, might a more sophisticated form of BtO be a smarter way to build stuff, even if it’s going to cost more and take longer to produce?

I think there’s been a gradual increase in environmental awareness this past 10 years, even more so the last 3.

People are starting to see that we all have a part to play and maybe “Stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap!” days are over for some classes of products.

Standardized parts & components

Think of all those orphaned “wall wart” chargers for mobile phones and other devices. Why don’t the phone and gadget manufacturers get their heads together and standardize on just the one type of charger?

This holds true for a lot of things. There’s just no excuse for the continual re-invention of something when a standardized method means cost savings for everyone, alleviating the pressures on the environment into the bargain, also.

If I knew I was only getting what I wanted and nothing more, I’d wait longer and pay a little more for those products.

We’ve become accustom to the pace of life and the immediacy of things, which may appear good for the consumer, but it’s bad for almost everyone and everything else.

I have faith in mankind and the truly innovative thinking is still to come. In the same way we look forward and see great things, in the future, we’ll look back and see how important the need was for great change…

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Dan B (gecko68) → Wednesday, 2 April 2008 @ 12:52 BDT

Wayne, your statements on standardization, especially on “wall adapters”, hit home. Here at my office, we have tons of them, and since no one ever marked them, we have no idea what half of them go to.

The problem I see is that the power regulator circuitry has moved from the device, to the wall plug. This leads to your issue about tons of bulky black boxes sticking out of our walls. Not to mention the fact that with todays battery backup units, the spacing between outlets is too small for them. You end up losing space.

Are the production costs so much lower than standardizing? I mean, do they make so much money on a new power adapter, if mine dies, that they need to create their own? (Of course its all made in China for 0.12 cents)

Also, I’ve seen some devices that now come with flat (or flush) plugs. This means they don’t stick out of the wall 1 inch with another 1/4 inch for the cable to bend. They are right angle plugs. Why is THIS not a standard?

In the past you wrote about transmitted power (Witricity) but I fear if the same greed-mongers get a hold of it, each item in your house will require a separate frequency transmitter.

And don’t get me started on ink and toner cartridges :)

Wayne Smallman → Wednesday, 2 April 2008 @ 14:08 BDT

Hi Dan! The auto and broader electronics industries are probably good examples of where an aggressive push for standardization would reap enormous benefits.

Some of the key innovators — such as Apple, Sony, Audi et cetera — would probably balk at the idea, given their vast patent investments, but it’s something that needs to be addressed, long-term.

As for WiTrcity, there’s a chance someone will try to throw in an intermediary widget, but balance that against the hundreds of millions of tons of recoverable copper wire for re-use and maybe it’s not a totally annoying issue…

doug m → Wednesday, 2 April 2008 @ 17:51 BDT

When people think of the big investments that need to be made in order to move to the next step, such as laying fiber optic lines for internet connections or phone lines, people often forget that there are bits and pieces of the old technology that could either be recycled such as the copper wiring for cable companies. Imagine the amount of cash that could be received for miles and miles of copper wiring. that would cut some of the cost off the top and then the investment wouldn’t look as big.

Wayne Smallman → Wednesday, 2 April 2008 @ 20:05 BDT

Doug, that’s precisely it.

Right now, there’s a new economy building up around companies sifting through landfill sites for stuff that wasn’t stripped down before being put into the ground.

There’s literally millions of tons of precious metals, glass, cabling and other materials that can all be automatically sorted and recycled…

doug m → Wednesday, 2 April 2008 @ 20:51 BDT

Now if we can only make the big companies see the big picture.

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