Treepedia Lets Cities See Where Trees are Needed

MIT tree

Treepedia is a new tool from MIT that uses Google street view to evaluate what the coverage of trees are in specific areas. It lets you know what your neighbourhood is like and doesn’t just bias cities with big inaccessible parks. This means that cities (and people!) can use this tool to find where trees are most badly needed from the perspective of a pedestrian. Trees are more than just pollution-fighters, they make cities prettier and friendlier.

“Street greenery is a really important part of the urban environment,” says Xiaojiang Li, a postdoctoral fellow at MIT who helped develop Treepedia’s Green View Index, a measure of the tree coverage in a city overall and in any area within the city that a user wants to examine.

Trees provide shade for pedestrians in the summer and help to lower urban temperatures, Mr. Li says. They also help prevent water runoff during heavy rain and clean the air.

The MIT team used the Google photos instead of satellite imagery to “really measure how much greenery people might see” as they move around a city’s streets, Mr. Li says. Treepedia’s Green View Index doesn’t take city parks into account for that same reason.

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Thanks to Delaney!

Get Water from Air by Using a Windtrap

desert and stars
In Frank Herbert’s book Dune the inhabitants of a desert planet collect water using giant “windtraps,” now we can do the same on earth. Researchers at MIT have built a prototype, which can be easily scaled up, that can capture a lot of water from even the driest of places. Basically, air is filled with moisture and when it flows through the wind collector it comes in contact with a slightly charged surface that sucks the water right from the air. The amount of power needed is negligible, which means that the device can run using only solar panels.

The researchers built a small prototype water collector that contains a thin layer of MOF powder. The powder absorbs water vapor until it is saturated.

“Once you achieve that maximum amount,” Wang says, “you apply some type of heat to the system to release that water.”

And when the water is released, it collects in the bottom of the prototype.

There are other compounds that can suck water from the air, zeolites for example, but Wang says it takes a significant amount of energy to get these materials to release the water. Not so with a MOF device. “The amount of energy required is very low,” she says.

In the prototype, the heat needed to drive the water out of the MOF comes from ambient sunlight — no external power supply is needed.

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Thanks to the Flea!

Get Rewarded for Supporting Civil Disobedience

If your idea to change the world is creative enough then you could get $250,000 from LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman. Technically, it’ll be from MIT Media Lab with money from Hoffman. The Lab and Hoffman teamed up to ensure that creative civil resistance in the USA doesn’t die under the Trump presidency. With the increased pressure on American institutions to buckle under corporate influence right from the top (think Rex Tillerson) the need for people standing up is needed now more than ever before. This prize for civil disobedience is designed to get people engaged and thinking in new ways to stand up for human and legal rights.

“We wanted to see if we could identify very creative and principled disobedience,” says Ito. “I talked to a lot of students, and some of them had started saying, this nonviolence stuff doesn’t work anymore, or those days of Gandhi are over. And some people threatened to engage in disobedience that I felt was sort of reckless.”

The aim of the award is to help someone make further progress. “My hope is that we support a person in the middle of their career and help provide coaching, support, and visibility to help him or her be more effective,” says Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab. “We hope we’re not just rewarding what they’ve already achieved.”

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MIT Encourages Solar Energy to Power the Future

Solar roof
Solar roof

Now that climate change has reached the point that it is happening regardless if we stop all human produced carbon output we desperately need to change how we generate electricity. MIT has concluded that a mass adaptation of solar energy is the best route to go. They argue that by installing solar panels far nearly everywhere we can generate more than we need to power the planet.

Solar electricity generation is one of “very few low-carbon energy technologies” with the potential to grow to very large scale, the study said. “As a consequence, massive expansion of global solar-generating capacity to multi-terawatt scale is a very likely and essential component of a workable strategy to mitigate climate change risk.”

The research strongly recommends that a large fraction of federal resources available for solar R&D focus on environmentally benign, emerging thin-film technologies that are based on Earth-abundant materials.

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MIT and Harvard to Launch Full Free Courses Online

This is a really cool way to bring post-secondary education to more people via the internet. Harvard and MIT are launching a new initiative built upon MIT’s expertise in online course delivery to launch a new project called edX that’ll give unbridled access to the knowledge in the two acclaimed institutions.

“Through this partnership we will not only make knowledge more available but we will learn more about learning,” Harvard President Drew Faust said this morning at a news conference at the Hyatt Regency Cambridge. “Anyone with an Internet connection anywhere in the world can have access.”

Faust predicted the venture would “change our relationship to knowledge and to teaching for the benefit of our students and students and would-be students everywhere.”

Standing beside Faust, MIT President Susan Hockfield said: “You can choose to view this era as one of threatening change and unsettling volatility, or you can see it as a moment charged with the most exciting possibilities presented to educators in our lifetimes. Online education is not an enemy of residential education but rather a profoundly liberating and inspiring ally.”

Read more here.

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