Tech Now for Sunday, April 10, 2011
Can an old idea help us deal with modern problems? Technology makes aquaponics an option to feed us and help protect the environment.
At a restaurant in Milwaukee, the special is Tilapia fish caught in a century-old warehouse just down the street. The fish are the product of an even older technology called aquaponics - now solving a modern problem.
Josh Fraundorf runs Sweet Water Organics, growing fish and plants together.
"With our systems that we're trying to get to scale, we can provide safe food year-round," he said.
Aquaponics starts with the fish: their nutrient-rich waste feeds the plants and the plants filter the water for the fish. It's a closed loop system that shortens growing time for fish and vegetables by about 25 per cent.
There are no chemicals here and aquaponics requires 80 per cent less water than traditional farming.
The people here at Sweet Water have figured out how to grow a lot of food with little cost to the environment. It's an idea that could have an impact on another problem - how to get fresh, affordable food to places that don't have it.
More than 23 million Americans don't have easy access to grocery stores with fresh food, but that's a problem aquaponics won't solve tomorrow.
"Aquaponics is about 20 years out from being an important part of the food system," said Professor Alfonso Morales from the University of Wisconsin. "Both because of the business models that have to emerge, and because the young people have to be trained and acclimated into those business models."
This means Sweet Water is training the next generation of farmers. Sweet water executive director Emmanuel Pratt says he wants the young people to learn one thing.
"That they can do something about the situation that we're at, this crisis that we are under."
BITS AND BYTES
Another development related to car safety, this week a new wrinkle in seat belt technology was named best new auto technology.
It's an inflatable seat belt that looks like a normal belt with a larger section across your chest. It inflates in a millisecond just like any airbag in a crash.
Ford developed it and it's available on the Explorer 2011 model, but only in the back seat. It spreads the forces of a crash over a larger area of your body.
More models will offer the belt in coming years.
The 18th edition of the Branaham 300 Report was released this week. The Ottawa based Branaham Group ranks Canada's top tech firms.
The report looks at hardware and software sectors, the up and comers, movers and shakers - a snapshot across the board. The report states that tech revenues are still in recovery mode, still below the peak set in 2008 but up nearly 4 per cent from last year.
Branham CEO Wayne Gudbranson said Ottawa is in redevelopment mode, but we need some bigger anchor companies to catch fire, lagging behind centres like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
Online shopping aid Gazaro is the only up-and-comer from Ottawa. Four firms are rated as movers and shakers with Maplesoft the hot company, their sales now at $70 million.
Ottawa's tech sector celebrated its top award winners this week as ranked by the OCRI economic agency.
Several of the winners have been featured on Tech Now - Kinaxis won as company of the year.
Best Partnership went to Wesley Clover for its efforts to build new firms, with Most Promising Startup to Youi Labs. The company's CEO Jason Flick won last year as top executive.
BTI Systems, which works in data networking systems, won for Best Product of the year.
This week a new video game hits the market - a combination of dancing, exercise and singing all based on the music of Michael Jackson.
What really makes it unique is that using Kinect technology, the video image of you dancing in front of the game is captured and put right into the game image.
Billionaire adventurer Richard Branson is at it again. This week he showed off the machine that will take him to the next big challenge - the deepest part of the ocean 11 kilometres down
Branson isn't content to just pose with his new tech toy, a super submarine that he will take to the bottom with fellow explorer Chris Welch.
"With space long ago visited by mankind and commercial space flight now tantalizingly close, it's time to look at the next frontier, our own planet's oceans," said Bronson.
The first descent is planned for later this year. The sub will go to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean near Japan. At 36,000 feet--it's deeper than Mount Everest is high.
This was a trip planned for Branson's close friend and fellow adventurer Steve Fossett, who died in 2007. Branson then explored the 28,000 foot Puerto Rico Trench, but over the next two years the sub will explore the deepest part of all five oceans, breaking Guinness book records along the way.
"We will discover whole new words and new species," said Branson. "And for those who like to dream perhaps the wrecks of Spanish galleons filled with gold and unplundered for centuries."
Virgin Oceanic will have a scientific mission as well, so various research groups will benefit from what they find. The dives will be recorded and uploaded to Google Earth, so those of us who are happy on "terra firma" can follow along.
All this will cost Branson $17 million for the carbon fiber and titanium sub and a special catamaran that will launch it.
Like Branson's ongoing plans for tourism in space, he plans a larger submarine for the brave, who'd like to go beyond Jules Verne and his 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.