23 results for “Urban Organisms”

Driverless and electric, or car-free? How cities are cutting out cars, and why

Vanessa Bates Ramirez
September 26th 2019

It’s common consensus in the tech industry that the days of cars as we know them—powered by gas, driven by humans, and individually owned by all who want and can afford one—are numbered. Imminent is the age of autonomous, electric, and shared transportation, and we’re continuously taking small steps towards making it a reality. Self-driving software is getting better at avoiding accidents. Battery storage capacity is climbing. Solar energy is getting cheaper. This all points to a bright automotive future.…

Managing the data deluge: Twitter as a tool for ecological research

Marianne Messina
December 27th 2018

As early as 2009-10, researchers were looking at Twitter data mining as a way to predict the incidence of flu. At the time, the H1N1 virus, or “swine flu,” had made the jump from swine to humans and arrived in the United States. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) took notice and began sponsoring research.

Eight years later, data scientists Alessandro Vespignani and his team have developed statistical models for crunching Twitter data in flu forecasting that can predict, six …

Insects are helping us develop the future of hearing aids

Rob Malkin
September 12th 2016

The human ear is a miracle of mechanical evolution. It allows us to hear an astonishing range of sounds and to communicate and navigate in the world. It’s also easy to damage and difficult to repair. Hearing aids are still large, uncomfortable and as yet unable to deliver the rich and wonderful sounds we take for granted. Yet there may be a new way for us to replace damaged hearing from an unlikely source – the insect world.

Spend a …

Street Lights Permanently Change the Ecology of Local Bugs

Allison Guy
August 19th 2014
Streetlights affect local ecologies for a longer duration, and at a higher level in the food web, than previously thought.

Squirrels Are in Cities to Keep Us Sane

Allison Guy
December 15th 2013
The surprising reasons why squirrels are so abundant in city parks in the US.

New York’s Dogs Hunt for Dangerous Game: City Rats

Allison Guy
December 5th 2013
A society of dog owners who have no problem giving free reign to their pets' killer instincts.

The Pulsating Heart of Tokyo

Alessia Andreotti
September 25th 2013

An astounding tangle of multi-colored water flowing throughout 18 arteries represents what happens every day in the pulsating heart of Tokyo. This is how Takatsugu Kuriyama, from the Tokyo Institute of Technology, creates a 3D map of the subway system of the Japanese capital, visualizing the city as a creature.…

Gardening on the Roof of a Bus

Alessia Andreotti
September 14th 2013
A cheeky experiment to reduce CO2 results in a highly mobile garden.

Anthropo-scene #4: Longing for Nature

Christian
September 13th 2013
What one ugly overpass in Berlin reveals about our attitudes towards nature.

Swans Float through Flooded Streets

Allison Guy
July 4th 2013
A raft of swans blithely adopts an artificial habitat.
WP_Query Object ( [query] => Array ( [tag] => urban-organisms [post_type] => post [post_status] => publish [orderby] => date [order] => DESC [category__not_in] => Array ( [0] => 1 )[numberposts] => 10 [suppress_filters] => )[query_vars] => Array ( [tag] => urban-organisms [post_type] => post [post_status] => publish [orderby] => date [order] => DESC [category__not_in] => Array ( [0] => 1 )[numberposts] => 10 [suppress_filters] => [error] => [m] => [p] => 0 [post_parent] => [subpost] => [subpost_id] => [attachment] => [attachment_id] => 0 [name] => [pagename] => [page_id] => 0 [second] => [minute] => [hour] => [day] => 0 [monthnum] => 0 [year] => 0 [w] => 0 [category_name] => [cat] => [tag_id] => 336 [author] => [author_name] => [feed] => [tb] => [paged] => 0 [meta_key] => [meta_value] => [preview] => [s] => [sentence] => [title] => [fields] => [menu_order] => [embed] => [category__in] => Array ( )[category__and] => Array ( )[post__in] => Array ( )[post__not_in] => Array ( )[post_name__in] => Array ( )[tag__in] => Array ( )[tag__not_in] => Array ( )[tag__and] => Array ( )[tag_slug__in] => Array ( [0] => urban-organisms )[tag_slug__and] => Array ( )[post_parent__in] => Array ( )[post_parent__not_in] => Array ( )[author__in] => Array ( )[author__not_in] => Array ( )[ignore_sticky_posts] => [cache_results] => 1 [update_post_term_cache] => 1 [lazy_load_term_meta] => 1 [update_post_meta_cache] => 1 [posts_per_page] => 10 [nopaging] => [comments_per_page] => 50 [no_found_rows] => )[tax_query] => WP_Tax_Query Object ( [queries] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [taxonomy] => category [terms] => Array ( [0] => 1 )[field] => term_id [operator] => NOT IN [include_children] => )[1] => Array ( [taxonomy] => post_tag [terms] => Array ( [0] => urban-organisms )[field] => slug [operator] => IN [include_children] => 1 ))[relation] => AND [table_aliases:protected] => Array ( [0] => wp_term_relationships )[queried_terms] => Array ( [post_tag] => Array ( [terms] => Array ( [0] => urban-organisms )[field] => slug ))[primary_table] => wp_posts [primary_id_column] => ID )[meta_query] => WP_Meta_Query Object ( [queries] => Array ( )[relation] => [meta_table] => [meta_id_column] => [primary_table] => [primary_id_column] => [table_aliases:protected] => Array ( )[clauses:protected] => Array ( )[has_or_relation:protected] => )[date_query] => [queried_object] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 336 [name] => Urban Organisms [slug] => urban-organisms [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 340 [taxonomy] => post_tag [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 23 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 0 )[queried_object_id] => 336 [request] => SELECT SQL_CALC_FOUND_ROWS wp_posts.ID FROM wp_posts LEFT JOIN wp_term_relationships ON (wp_posts.ID = wp_term_relationships.object_id) WHERE 1=1 AND ( wp_posts.ID NOT IN ( SELECT object_id FROM wp_term_relationships WHERE term_taxonomy_id IN (1) ) AND wp_term_relationships.term_taxonomy_id IN (340) ) AND wp_posts.post_type = 'post' AND ((wp_posts.post_status = 'publish')) GROUP BY wp_posts.ID ORDER BY wp_posts.post_date DESC LIMIT 0, 10 [posts] => Array ( [0] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120739 [post_author] => 1790 [post_date] => 2019-09-26 16:39:31 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-09-26 15:39:31 [post_content] =>

It’s common consensus in the tech industry that the days of cars as we know them—powered by gas, driven by humans, and individually owned by all who want and can afford one—are numbered. Imminent is the age of autonomous, electric, and shared transportation, and we’re continuously taking small steps towards making it a reality. Self-driving software is getting better at avoiding accidents. Battery storage capacity is climbing. Solar energy is getting cheaper. This all points to a bright automotive future.

But not everyone is on board—in fact, some cities are taking the opposite approach, phasing out gas-powered cars altogether, limiting use of hybrid and electric cars, and making urban centers car-free. Will they be left in the dust as the rest of us are autonomously driven into the (energy-producing) sunset? Or do the anti-car folks have it right—is the brighter future one that forgoes cars in favor of even more sustainable and healthy modes of transportation?

Too much of a good thing

What might Henry Ford think if he saw what’s become of his invention? Highways clogged with traffic, accidents a leading cause of death, commuters sealed alone and sedentary in their vehicles for hours.

Ford may have never expected cars to become cheap and accessible enough for us to use them to the extent we do today. And as the global middle class grows, cars are likely to proliferate even more; as people make more money, they want cars not just for transportation and convenience, but as status symbols.

The countries where the middle class has the most potential to grow—that is, countries where poverty rates are still relatively high—are also seeing people flock to cities in search of work and security. The UN predicts that 90 percent of the global shift to urban areas will take place in Asia and Africa, with Delhi, Dhaka, Bombay, and Kinshasa among the top 10 most populated future mega-cities.

It would be messy enough to add millions more cars to cities that have an existing infrastructure for them—and far messier to add them to cities like these that don’t. Plus, even if the cars are electric, the electricity has to come from somewhere, and even the world’s wealthiest countries aren’t likely to get to 100 percent renewables until 2050 at the soonest. And you can only have so much congestion before a city’s quality of life and economy are impacted.

Mexico City was the first in the world to take serious action against traffic congestion, implementing daily “no drive restrictions” based on license plate numbers. London, Singapore, and Stockholm all use congestion pricing, where drivers have to pay to enter city centers or crowded streets.

These are minor measures compared to the steps other cities are taking to discourage people from driving.

Auf Wiedersehen, don’t drive

Ready? Here are some rapid-fire stats on cities taking steps to limit cars.

Madrid made its city center a designated low-emission zone, restricting access by older diesel and gas cars and planning to ban these vehicles from the zone completely by 2020. Hybrid cars can get an “eco label” and circulate freely.

The whole of Denmark is planning to ban the sale of new gas and diesel cars starting in 2030, and the sale of hybrid cars starting in 2035. Copenhagen already has one of the lowest rates of car ownership and highest rates of bike commuting in Europe.

In Paris, no cars are allowed in the city center between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m on the first Sunday of every month. Cars made before 1997 aren’t allowed in the city on weekdays, and the city is doubling its number of bike lanes.

Athens will ban diesel cars by 2025 and already restricts the days of the week they can drive in the city center, based on license plate numbers.

Oslo has set a target to become carbon neutral by 2030, and doing away with non-electric cars will be key to its success. The city has restricted access for private vehicles, turned road space into pedestrian space, and eliminated almost all of the parking spots in the city center.

While Hamburg will still allow cars in its city center, it’s laying down plans that will make it far easier for people not to have to drive, including a “green network” that will connect parks and cover 40 percent of the city’s space.

Brussels will ban all diesel vehicles by 2030 and is heavily promoting public and shared transportation. It’s even making its trains, buses, and shared bikes free to use on days with excessively high air pollution.

The Netherlands will only allow emissions-free vehicles by 2030, and is pumping €345 million into its already robust bicycle infrastructure.

Helsinki is redesigning its suburbs, which people primarily reach by driving, into walkable communities linked to the city by public transit, in hopes that Finns won’t need to own cars at all within 10 years.

Why all the goodbyes?

Cutting out cars has the obvious benefit of reducing pollution—again, even if the cars are electric, we’re not yet to the point of 100 percent clean energy. And in fact, higher temperatures and less rain in many parts of the world mean pollution from cars is even more potent, and gets washed away less frequently.

Going auto-free is good for people, too; it encourages more exercise (by walking and biking more), less isolation (by taking public or shared transportation), more time saved (no sitting still in clogged traffic) with less stress (I repeat—no sitting still in clogged traffic), and improved safety (car accidents definitely kill more people than bike or train accidents do). Greening city centers will also make those cities more pleasant to live in and visit.

It’s worth noting that the cities reducing car usage are almost all in Europe, where such measures are far more feasible than, say, the US, where outside of major urban areas, it’s hard to go anywhere without a car. American cities expanded into now-sprawling suburbs largely thanks to the invention of the car, and have a degree of dependence on driving that will be hard to scale back from.

European cities, in contrast, were further developed by the time cars proliferated; they’d already largely been built around public transportation, and continued to expand train systems even as cars became more popular. Plus, European countries’ comparatively small size makes it much more practical to rely on public transit than in the US; many US states are larger than European countries.

The cities in developing countries that are set for population booms in the next two to three decades would be wise to follow Europe’s example rather than that of the US.

A habit we’ll never fully kick

Cars will, of course, continue to be widely used, including right at the edges of the cities that are banning them. The measures to discourage car usage and ownership are a start, but major shifts in urban planning and in peoples’ behavior aren’t as straightforward, and will take much longer to change.

If big tech’s vision plays out, though, people will be able to use cars and reduce the danger, time, and stress associated with them; autonomous cars will pick us up, deftly navigate city streets, drop us at our destinations, then go pick up their next passenger.

It does seem, then, that the days of cars as we know them are numbered, whether they’re replaced by high-tech versions of their former selves or switched out for bikes and trains.

But fear not—the transition will happen slowly. There’s plenty of time left to sing at the top of your lungs (in between honking at bad drivers and checking a maps app to see how traffic looks) while sealed inside your good old reliable, private, gas-powered, human-driven chariot.

This article originally appeared on Singularity Hub, a publication of Singularity University. Image Credit: Joshua Bolton / Unsplash

[post_title] => Driverless and electric, or car-free? How cities are cutting out cars, and why [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => driverless-and-electric-or-car-free-in-cities [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-09-28 13:29:00 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-09-28 12:29:00 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=120739 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 )[1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 101733 [post_author] => 1937 [post_date] => 2018-12-27 10:04:57 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-12-27 09:04:57 [post_content] =>

As early as 2009-10, researchers were looking at Twitter data mining as a way to predict the incidence of flu. At the time, the H1N1 virus, or “swine flu,” had made the jump from swine to humans and arrived in the United States. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) took notice and began sponsoring research.

Eight years later, data scientists Alessandro Vespignani and his team have developed statistical models for crunching Twitter data in flu forecasting that can predict, six weeks out, when and where a flu outbreak might peak, with 70 to 90 percent accuracy. The Vespignani model integrates flu tweets with CDC data and other inputs of the initial flu conditions, where Twitter acts as “a proxy for monitoring infectious disease incidence.” Vespignani also noted that his model could work with many digital (e.g. social media) sources, which often come with time or location stamps.

Because tweets are unstructured and copious, the chance to make use of Twitter data has inspired advanced work from many sciences – statistical and computational science, behavioral and linguistic science. How do people process language or influence each other? How can we apply machine learning to sort for target data amid random human associations?

Even as the field of ecology becomes buried in data from camera traps, tracking studies, and citizen science records, it has been relatively late in launching its Twitter expedition. But in the September 2018 Methods in Ecology and Evolution, a University of Gloucestershire study by Adam Hart and colleagues looked at the reliability of Twitter data for ecological studies. Hart devised a methodology to collect, scrape, and structure the data sets of tweets about three ecological phenomena.

In some sense, they were gambling that these three cyclic ecological phenomena – the annual emergence of flying ants, the sighting of spiders in the home, the synchronized-drone-like murmurations of starlings overhead – might impress Tweeters enough to make a significant appearance on Twitter. And on searching the Twitter API for keywords or hashtags, such as #flyingants, #spider, and #murmurations, the researchers’ gamble paid off.

“Make sure you choose something that people are likely to tweet about,” Hart said. “We still have much to learn about what motivates people to tweet about ecological phenomena and the sorts of information they are motivated to include.”

Hart and his colleagues then compared the Twitter results to published data from three citizen science (CS) studies of the same phenomena over the same time periods. The most robust Twitter samples came from tweets about spider sightings. Twitter-mining yielded fewer data points than the planned (CS) experiments ­– almost by a factor of ten in some cases – with starling murmurations yielding the fewest. But Hart’s team picked up the slack with data science.

“The statistical approaches we used allow for sample size in calculating significance,” Hart said. “So [a relatively low number of data points] is important, but it is allowed for in the analyses.”

Using a statistical comparison method, the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test, to study Twitter’s reliability against the CS data sets, Hart’s team was able to show a striking correlation.

After a discussion of Twitter’s reliability with respect to determining when and where sightings actually occur, the scientists conclude that Twitter mining can be a useful tool for ecologists, particularly in phenology, the study of “nature’s calendar.”

Retrospective data mining of social media and other digital sources has generated a lot of excitement in ecology because it can shave considerable time off certain types of big data-focused research projects.

Gabriella Leighton and colleagues developed a methodology for mining Google Images in tracking where, geographically, members of the same species started to exhibit different color variations. Like Hart et al (2018), Leighton and her co-authors compared Twitter results to known findings (Rounds, 1987) and found substantial correlation. The published paper couldn’t help mentioning time saved:

“Notably, the Google Images method took a few weeks,” Leighton et al reported, “while the more traditional data collection methods undertaken by Rounds (1987) took 3 years.”

A “quick and dirty” research option

From the point of view of Wesley Hochachka, a research associate with Cornell University’s eBird citizen science project, Twitter offers a “quick and dirty” research option.

“You’re not actually getting a sample of reality,” Hochachka told Mongabay, “you’re getting reality filtered through the curiosity of an individual person and their motivation to tell somebody else about it.”

Such individuality brings “noise,” or uncertainty, into the data sets. On a continuum of reliability between “quick and dirty” Twitter mining and long, hard traditional science, Hochachka would put citizen science somewhere in the middle. The eBird app collects data from bird watchers with a wide range of skill levels, at a rate of 7 or 8 million ornithology records a month. So data scientists have a lot to work with as they refine analytical methods to reduce uncertainty.

At the same time, the online eBird form that volunteers use to enter their bird sightings is the product of scientific design and testing. As compared with retrospective Twitter mining, the data form allows for some control – the crux of traditional science ­– over the data sets coming in.

According to Hochachka, the presence-only bias poses the biggest challenge to Twitter mining.

“You know when an event happened – you know when there’s been a murmuration,” Hochachka said, “but you don’t know when somebody didn’t see that starling murmuration. That’s why these data are never going to be as good as a predesigned study.”

In developing their data entry form, the eBird team sought to “minimize the proportion of data submitted in a presence-only form.” Hochachka points to a required field on the form that asks: “’Are you recording every species that you were able to see and identify?’ And if they say ‘yes’ – which, about 85 percent of the time, people say – then we know that if a certain species isn’t on that list, it was not detected by the observer.”

Without this field, the colorful eBird maps describing bird migration patterns would be much less reliable, Hochachka says. The statistical modeling that underlies the maps is predicated on a binary, yes-no analysis, where the absence of yes does not mean no.

“You actually need those nos,” Hochachka said. “If you don’t feed [the nos] into these sorts of analyses, the program itself creates them” (introducing uncertainty).

The bird-watching form tries to minimize other human inconsistencies – amount of time spent bird-watching, distance traveled while watching, the time of year, even the time of day.

“There’s something called a dawn chorus,” Hochachka said. “If you were to go into the same forest at dawn and at noon, it could be deafeningly loud at dawn and utterly silent at noon. But the birds haven’t gone anywhere; they’re just not as detectable.”

A source of big data

As the challenges of big, noisy data attract researchers with specialties in advanced math and computational science, some field scientists worry that hands-on discovery is getting lost in the noise.

Interestingly, Twitter is becoming an apt platform for informal “field work” in ecology. Valuable discoveries arrive on a hashtag or handle, particularly when the tweet contains images. In Hart et al’s Twitter-mined spider study, tweeted images allowed for determining the spiders’ sex and verifying a count of males to females.

Professor Helen Roy from the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology uses Twitter  (@UKLadybirds) hand in glove with her online survey of UK ladybirds (“ladybugs” in the US).

“We have been able to improve understanding of insect invasions through our studies on the harlequin ladybird – a global invasive alien species,” Roy told Mongabay. Twitter allows Roy to conduct both data intake and educational outreach.

“Just a few days ago, someone sent a picture [via Twitter] of the harlequin ladybird eating some moth eggs,” Roy said. “This is an important example of the way in which the harlequin ladybird may be adversely affecting other species.” Like retrospective Twitter mining, this research provides a useful starting point, though it lacks the representative nature of a statistical sample.

In the end, the findings by Hart et al (2018) offer researchers a different kind of research tool. With its high degree of noise and bias, it will serve less as a substitute for well-designed study and more as a time saver in preliminary research. Hochachka sees it as a potential “snapshot” tool: “if there was no other existing source of information,” Hochachka says, “or if you could gather information, but it would take a long time to collate it, and you wanted a snapshot right now.”

With their broad reach and increasing availability through machine learning analyses, Twitter and other social media may increasingly provide the big data that can help researchers support one avenue of research over another or suggest trends for further investigation.

This story is republished from Mongabay by Marianne Messina under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Citations

Hart, A. G., Carpenter, W. S., Hlustik‐Smith, E., Reed, M., & Goodenough, A. E. (2018). Testing the potential of Twitter mining methods for data acquisition: Evaluating novel opportunities for ecological research in multiple taxa. Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

Leighton, G. R., Hugo, P. S., Roulin, A., & Amar, A. (2016). Just Google it: assessing the use of Google Images to describe geographical variation in visible traits of organisms. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 7(9), 1060-1070.  https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/2041-210X.12562

Rounds, R. C. (1987). Distribution and analysis of colourmorphs of the black bear (Ursus americanus). Journal of Biogeography, 521-538.

[post_title] => Managing the data deluge: Twitter as a tool for ecological research [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => twitter-ecological-research [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-08 16:29:23 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-08 15:29:23 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=101733 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 )[2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 109289 [post_author] => 1982 [post_date] => 2016-09-12 17:38:43 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-09-12 16:38:43 [post_content] =>

The human ear is a miracle of mechanical evolution. It allows us to hear an astonishing range of sounds and to communicate and navigate in the world. It’s also easy to damage and difficult to repair. Hearing aids are still large, uncomfortable and as yet unable to deliver the rich and wonderful sounds we take for granted. Yet there may be a new way for us to replace damaged hearing from an unlikely source – the insect world.

Spend a summer in the countryside in a warm climate and you’ll likely hear crickets chirping, males of the species “singing” in an attempt to attract a female. What’s surprising is how small the creatures are given the very high sound levels they produce. Could studying crickets allow us to learn something about how to design a small speaker that is also loud, just as you need for a hearing aid?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=e2KVj2vVxUs

Currently my colleagues and I are researching exactly this. Crickets create sound by rubbing their wings together. The secret to their loud calls is that their wings are corrugated in specific patterns which makes them very stiff, which in turn makes them very loud when they are rubbed together. Using laser vibration systems and advanced computer modelling simulations (more often used to study aerodynamics), we can replicate this idea by tailoring the stiffness of a speaker surface. This creates a simple and efficient way to make tiny speakers very loud indeed.

Insect inspiration doesn’t stop with small speakers, however. Hearing aids have traditionally been designed to operate in distinct stages. Sound signals are picked up by a microphone and then electrically amplified. Unwanted sounds are filtered out using digital processors and finally a speaker delivers high intensity sound into the ear canal. In each of these processes we may be able to learn from insects.

Tsunami-like waves in a locust’s ear. Via Rob Malkin, author provided

Among the best studied insects in bio-acoustics is the locust, which has two large “tympanal” membranes used for hearing on either side of its chest. These membranes vibrate with sound and transfer the resulting signals to the nervous system, much a like a human ear drum. Recently we observed this membrane doing more than just vibrating up and down. Upon careful dissection, we found that it had a regular variation in thickness. While this may not sound particularly interesting at first, when we played sound to it we were amazed.

It produced a tsunami-like vibration with the peak of the wave directly at the location of the nerve cells. In effect, this simple variation in thickness allowed for huge amplifications of the sound energy. The process of amplification in mammals is achieved with fragile middle ear bones, something locusts are achieving by simply varying the thickness of their ear drum. So we may be able to similarly design microphones with inbuilt passive amplification based on this idea.

Mosquito microphone. Via Shutterstock

Interestingly, some insects are even making us question what exactly a microphone can be. Mosquitoes and fruit flies, as examples, have tiny antennae on their heads which are microscopic in size yet are very sensitive to sound. While research into these features is tentative, it could direct us in unexplored directions of microphone design.

The process of filtering incoming sounds with a hearing aid requires quite sophisticated electronics, which directly impact the device’s size and battery life. Here again the locust may help. Along with amplifying the sound waves, the tympanal membranes also filter out a range of frequencies. This is most likely due to the material the membrane is made from.

My colleague, Professor Daniel Robert, recently found a South American species of katydid or bush cricket that may well perform the same task. The katydid has a tiny structure less than a millimetre in size in each of its forelegs that is capable of separating different frequencies into location specific vibrations, very similar in function to the human cochlea. If we could somehow encompass this mechanical frequency separation into the microphone itself, we may be able to harness its automatic filtering properties.

Biology, medicine and engineering have traditionally been quite separate disciplines. But by combining them, as we have in these projects, we can develop new engineering solutions based on discoveries that may have been made many years ago. So while bio-inspired hearing aids may not be about to arrive on the shelves, this innovative new field of study could find more and more ways to address the needs of people with hearing loss. And there’s plenty more inspiration that could come from our miniature mechanical specialists, the insects.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

[post_title] => Insects are helping us develop the future of hearing aids [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => insects-helping-develop-future-hearing-aids [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-03-12 17:55:21 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-03-12 16:55:21 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=109289 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 )[3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 22842 [post_author] => 286 [post_date] => 2014-08-19 10:00:04 [post_date_gmt] => 2014-08-19 08:00:04 [post_content] => The first "modern" streetlight was lit in London's Pall Mall in 1807. That night may also have marked the first time a moth found itself trapped in an irresistible spiral around public lighting. Ever since then, streetlights have become a fixture of life in cities and suburbs, and a deathtrap for flying insects. Researchers at the University of Exeter have recently discovered that the abundance of insect life around these lights is not just a passing assemblage, but a permanent fixture. The diversity of invertebrate ground predators and scavengers, like beetles and harvestmen, remained elevated around streetlights even during the day. These insects had figured out the benefits of living in an island of artificially high prey concentrations.These findings indicate that streetlights affect local ecologies for a longer duration, and at a higher level in the food web, than previously thought. Given the decline of pollinators and other invertebrates in the UK and around the world, it may be important to re-examine the impact of seemingly harmless nighttime lighting.Image via Swburdine. Thanks to Twitter user Namhenderson for the story. [post_title] => Street Lights Permanently Change the Ecology of Local Bugs [post_excerpt] => Streetlights affect local ecologies for a longer duration, and at a higher level in the food web, than previously thought. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => street-lights-permanently-change-the-ecology-of-local-bugs [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-03-16 12:21:40 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-03-16 11:21:40 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=22842 [menu_order] => 932 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 )[4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 37558 [post_author] => 286 [post_date] => 2013-12-15 11:08:46 [post_date_gmt] => 2013-12-15 10:08:46 [post_content] => If you stroll through a park in an American city, you might assume that all the squirrels you see got there on their own. After all, where there's trees, there's usually nuts, and where's there's nuts, there's squirrels. But it turns out that those nut-bearing trees were specifically planted to support squirrels, and that all those squirrels were brought there on purpose. It turns out the existence of urban squirrels is linked to a history of changing attitudes towards nature, the wilderness, and animals:The squirrel fad really took off in the 1870s, thanks to Frederick Law Olmstead's expansive parks... the movement to fill the parks with squirrels "was related to the idea that you want to have things of beauty in the city, but it was also part of a much broader ideology that says that nature in the city is essential to maintaining people's health and sanity, and to providing leisure opportunities for workers who cannot travel outside the city." These squirrels were possibly the only wildlife the workers would ever see.Read more about city squirrels at Gizmodo. Photo of a fry-loving squirrel via Serious Eats. [post_title] => Squirrels Are in Cities to Keep Us Sane [post_excerpt] => The surprising reasons why squirrels are so abundant in city parks in the US. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => squirrels-are-in-cities-to-keep-us-sane [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2013-12-12 16:09:52 [post_modified_gmt] => 2013-12-12 15:09:52 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=37558 [menu_order] => 1164 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 )[5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 37417 [post_author] => 286 [post_date] => 2013-12-05 11:01:44 [post_date_gmt] => 2013-12-05 10:01:44 [post_content] => Before the advent of broadcast sports or animal rights legislation, a night at the pub used to mean one thing: watching small terriers snap the spines of dozens, if not hundreds, of rats. Sporting men placed bets on how many rats a dog could kill in a set period of time. Nowadays, dog breeds bred to hunt rats, rabbits, badgers don't get much of a chance to exercise their killer instincts. The Ryders Alley Trencher-fed Society (RATS) in New York, however, have figured out how to harness their dog's inborn talents in order to make a (small) dent in the city's rodent problem.The group, which has been around for 15 years, travels to prime hunting ground – garbage-filled alleys – with their dogs in tow. The dogs learn after only a few hunting trips how to kill on their own. In contrast to the typical stereotype of the overly-precious urban pet owner, the group members seem eminently practical: "Mr. Reynolds said there had been a few lacerations to the dogs from rat bites and other mishaps, but nothing serious. Still, he said, he carries “a traveling field hospital” in his truck, just in case, and a staple gun in his pocket, to mend wounds."For anyone who thinks rat-hunting is gross, most of the games that we play with our dogs, from fetch to tug-of-war, emulate chasing down and disemboweling prey. RATS merely makes the connection between play and hunting explicit. As for the unfortunate rats, a swift death at the jaws of a pedigree dog may be preferable to a lingering one from poison or traps.Read more over at the New York Times. [post_title] => New York's Dogs Hunt for Dangerous Game: City Rats [post_excerpt] => A society of dog owners who have no problem giving free reign to their pets' killer instincts. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => new-yorks-dogs-hunt-for-dangerous-game-city-rats [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2013-12-03 11:23:49 [post_modified_gmt] => 2013-12-03 10:23:49 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=37417 [menu_order] => 1175 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 )[6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 36226 [post_author] => 809 [post_date] => 2013-09-25 11:00:22 [post_date_gmt] => 2013-09-25 09:00:22 [post_content] => An astounding tangle of multi-colored water flowing throughout 18 arteries represents what happens every day in the pulsating heart of Tokyo. This is how Takatsugu Kuriyama, from the Tokyo Institute of Technology, creates a 3D map of the subway system of the Japanese capital, visualizing the city as a creature.As he explains:“A city is a creature. The blood courses through and activates the body. A subway network is exactly the arteria that enables us to crisscross a city. Despite its significance on our daily life, we actually don't face the fact. With Tokyo Arteria we face the vivid, beautiful, and even mysterious ‘socially organized artifact’ that is nothing but our daily lives. Attendees can rediscover the revealed underground and share each other's impressions naturally”.[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBvHvbDiyeQ[/youtube] [post_title] => The Pulsating Heart of Tokyo [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-pulsating-heart-of-tokyo [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2013-09-24 11:24:33 [post_modified_gmt] => 2013-09-24 09:24:33 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=36226 [menu_order] => 1263 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 )[7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 36046 [post_author] => 809 [post_date] => 2013-09-14 11:00:56 [post_date_gmt] => 2013-09-14 09:00:56 [post_content] => In the streets of Girona, a sunny town near Barcelona, you can find an eco-friendly bus with a garden on the roof. It’s not an artistic work, but an experiment to expand the urban green area, in order to reduce CO2. Called Autocultural, it’s a classic bus with a thin layer of hydroponic components on the top, allowing the plants to grow without overloading to the vehicle's structure with the weight of the soil. Public transporters drivers can now add green thumb to their CV.Source: The Sunday Times [post_title] => Gardening on the Roof of a Bus [post_excerpt] => A cheeky experiment to reduce CO2 results in a highly mobile garden. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => gardening-on-the-roof-of-a-bus [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-04-22 15:39:56 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-04-22 13:39:56 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=36046 [menu_order] => 1274 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 )[8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 36135 [post_author] => 790 [post_date] => 2013-09-13 11:00:32 [post_date_gmt] => 2013-09-13 09:00:32 [post_content] => Nature, anybody? Heidelberger Platz is one of the more brutal urban spaces in Berlin. It is torn apart by the city highway and train lines. The few buildings that surround it look pretty ugly. There's no feeling of a social fabric here, just a constant flow of people moving through. The whole experience of being here is pretty filthy. Except for the animals. Here they are, a dolphin and a turtle swimming in bright blue water, a happy chick and a healthy-looking ice bear, plastered on the walls of a drive-thru car wash under the highway bridge. The owners of the car wash could show race cars here or pictures of sexy women, but no: people get to see a pictorial zoo. An optimistic reading of this bizarre sight is that it exploits an in-built human longing for being in and with nature. If we feel happy hanging out with dolphins even in our car washes, humans will surely look after the well-being of Earth in the Anthropocene? The pessimistic reading goes like this: we're fed Orwellian images of an abstract natural purity so we get distracted from how ugly human-made spaces can be. Either way, Nature is here to stay. [post_title] => Anthropo-scene #4: Longing for Nature [post_excerpt] => What one ugly overpass in Berlin reveals about our attitudes towards nature. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => anthropo-scene-4-longing-for-nature [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2013-09-10 10:57:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2013-09-10 08:57:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=36135 [menu_order] => 1275 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 )[9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 35030 [post_author] => 286 [post_date] => 2013-07-04 15:08:38 [post_date_gmt] => 2013-07-04 13:08:38 [post_content] => In this peculiar image, swans float down a flooded street in Worcester, UK. A jarring sight to human observers, the swan's blithe adoption of a new habitat illustrates the fact that most creatures don't care about the differences between nature and culture. Via The Times. [post_title] => Swans Float through Flooded Streets [post_excerpt] => A raft of swans blithely adopts an artificial habitat. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => swans-float-through-flooded-streets [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2013-07-03 16:16:19 [post_modified_gmt] => 2013-07-03 14:16:19 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=35030 [menu_order] => 1355 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 ))[post_count] => 10 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120739 [post_author] => 1790 [post_date] => 2019-09-26 16:39:31 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-09-26 15:39:31 [post_content] =>

It’s common consensus in the tech industry that the days of cars as we know them—powered by gas, driven by humans, and individually owned by all who want and can afford one—are numbered. Imminent is the age of autonomous, electric, and shared transportation, and we’re continuously taking small steps towards making it a reality. Self-driving software is getting better at avoiding accidents. Battery storage capacity is climbing. Solar energy is getting cheaper. This all points to a bright automotive future.

But not everyone is on board—in fact, some cities are taking the opposite approach, phasing out gas-powered cars altogether, limiting use of hybrid and electric cars, and making urban centers car-free. Will they be left in the dust as the rest of us are autonomously driven into the (energy-producing) sunset? Or do the anti-car folks have it right—is the brighter future one that forgoes cars in favor of even more sustainable and healthy modes of transportation?

Too much of a good thing

What might Henry Ford think if he saw what’s become of his invention? Highways clogged with traffic, accidents a leading cause of death, commuters sealed alone and sedentary in their vehicles for hours.

Ford may have never expected cars to become cheap and accessible enough for us to use them to the extent we do today. And as the global middle class grows, cars are likely to proliferate even more; as people make more money, they want cars not just for transportation and convenience, but as status symbols.

The countries where the middle class has the most potential to grow—that is, countries where poverty rates are still relatively high—are also seeing people flock to cities in search of work and security. The UN predicts that 90 percent of the global shift to urban areas will take place in Asia and Africa, with Delhi, Dhaka, Bombay, and Kinshasa among the top 10 most populated future mega-cities.

It would be messy enough to add millions more cars to cities that have an existing infrastructure for them—and far messier to add them to cities like these that don’t. Plus, even if the cars are electric, the electricity has to come from somewhere, and even the world’s wealthiest countries aren’t likely to get to 100 percent renewables until 2050 at the soonest. And you can only have so much congestion before a city’s quality of life and economy are impacted.

Mexico City was the first in the world to take serious action against traffic congestion, implementing daily “no drive restrictions” based on license plate numbers. London, Singapore, and Stockholm all use congestion pricing, where drivers have to pay to enter city centers or crowded streets.

These are minor measures compared to the steps other cities are taking to discourage people from driving.

Auf Wiedersehen, don’t drive

Ready? Here are some rapid-fire stats on cities taking steps to limit cars.

Madrid made its city center a designated low-emission zone, restricting access by older diesel and gas cars and planning to ban these vehicles from the zone completely by 2020. Hybrid cars can get an “eco label” and circulate freely.

The whole of Denmark is planning to ban the sale of new gas and diesel cars starting in 2030, and the sale of hybrid cars starting in 2035. Copenhagen already has one of the lowest rates of car ownership and highest rates of bike commuting in Europe.

In Paris, no cars are allowed in the city center between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m on the first Sunday of every month. Cars made before 1997 aren’t allowed in the city on weekdays, and the city is doubling its number of bike lanes.

Athens will ban diesel cars by 2025 and already restricts the days of the week they can drive in the city center, based on license plate numbers.

Oslo has set a target to become carbon neutral by 2030, and doing away with non-electric cars will be key to its success. The city has restricted access for private vehicles, turned road space into pedestrian space, and eliminated almost all of the parking spots in the city center.

While Hamburg will still allow cars in its city center, it’s laying down plans that will make it far easier for people not to have to drive, including a “green network” that will connect parks and cover 40 percent of the city’s space.

Brussels will ban all diesel vehicles by 2030 and is heavily promoting public and shared transportation. It’s even making its trains, buses, and shared bikes free to use on days with excessively high air pollution.

The Netherlands will only allow emissions-free vehicles by 2030, and is pumping €345 million into its already robust bicycle infrastructure.

Helsinki is redesigning its suburbs, which people primarily reach by driving, into walkable communities linked to the city by public transit, in hopes that Finns won’t need to own cars at all within 10 years.

Why all the goodbyes?

Cutting out cars has the obvious benefit of reducing pollution—again, even if the cars are electric, we’re not yet to the point of 100 percent clean energy. And in fact, higher temperatures and less rain in many parts of the world mean pollution from cars is even more potent, and gets washed away less frequently.

Going auto-free is good for people, too; it encourages more exercise (by walking and biking more), less isolation (by taking public or shared transportation), more time saved (no sitting still in clogged traffic) with less stress (I repeat—no sitting still in clogged traffic), and improved safety (car accidents definitely kill more people than bike or train accidents do). Greening city centers will also make those cities more pleasant to live in and visit.

It’s worth noting that the cities reducing car usage are almost all in Europe, where such measures are far more feasible than, say, the US, where outside of major urban areas, it’s hard to go anywhere without a car. American cities expanded into now-sprawling suburbs largely thanks to the invention of the car, and have a degree of dependence on driving that will be hard to scale back from.

European cities, in contrast, were further developed by the time cars proliferated; they’d already largely been built around public transportation, and continued to expand train systems even as cars became more popular. Plus, European countries’ comparatively small size makes it much more practical to rely on public transit than in the US; many US states are larger than European countries.

The cities in developing countries that are set for population booms in the next two to three decades would be wise to follow Europe’s example rather than that of the US.

A habit we’ll never fully kick

Cars will, of course, continue to be widely used, including right at the edges of the cities that are banning them. The measures to discourage car usage and ownership are a start, but major shifts in urban planning and in peoples’ behavior aren’t as straightforward, and will take much longer to change.

If big tech’s vision plays out, though, people will be able to use cars and reduce the danger, time, and stress associated with them; autonomous cars will pick us up, deftly navigate city streets, drop us at our destinations, then go pick up their next passenger.

It does seem, then, that the days of cars as we know them are numbered, whether they’re replaced by high-tech versions of their former selves or switched out for bikes and trains.

But fear not—the transition will happen slowly. There’s plenty of time left to sing at the top of your lungs (in between honking at bad drivers and checking a maps app to see how traffic looks) while sealed inside your good old reliable, private, gas-powered, human-driven chariot.

This article originally appeared on Singularity Hub, a publication of Singularity University. Image Credit: Joshua Bolton / Unsplash

[post_title] => Driverless and electric, or car-free? How cities are cutting out cars, and why [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => driverless-and-electric-or-car-free-in-cities [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-09-28 13:29:00 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-09-28 12:29:00 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=120739 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 )[comment_count] => 0 [current_comment] => -1 [found_posts] => 23 [max_num_pages] => 3 [max_num_comment_pages] => 0 [is_single] => [is_preview] => [is_page] => [is_archive] => 1 [is_date] => [is_year] => [is_month] => [is_day] => [is_time] => [is_author] => [is_category] => [is_tag] => 1 [is_tax] => [is_search] => [is_feed] => [is_comment_feed] => [is_trackback] => [is_home] => [is_privacy_policy] => [is_404] => [is_embed] => [is_paged] => [is_admin] => [is_attachment] => [is_singular] => [is_robots] => [is_posts_page] => [is_post_type_archive] => [query_vars_hash:WP_Query:private] => 27d337f9eeef1df27fc1c11cb1a70b21 [query_vars_changed:WP_Query:private] => [thumbnails_cached] => [stopwords:WP_Query:private] => [compat_fields:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => query_vars_hash [1] => query_vars_changed )[compat_methods:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => init_query_flags [1] => parse_tax_query ))
load more