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On Thursday the 19th April, we were given a lecture on the ‘aesthetics of technology’ by Hugh Pizey. We first looked into the aesthetics of Science Fiction. We looked at a scene from the classic 1950’s “Forbidden Planet,” looking at the iconic 1950’s American Sci-Fi style. Now, probably what we would call retro-geeky.

The great machine

This really made me think. I have never really noticed how much science fiction really does influence the world of product design. I suppose it makes perfect sense, we watch films set in the future – showing some really awesome gadget that instantly makes you say “I want one of those!!” Then some clever designer actually thinks of a way to produce these awesome gadgets.

A brilliant example of this is star trek in the 1960’s. The crew of the starship enterprise used these strange devices that flipped open to communicate with one another…. flip phone?

Is that texting I see?

This is quite an exciting idea. I wonder what cool gadgets we see in movies now, will wind up coming to reality and becoming part of our daily lives.

lightsaber????? fingers crossed…

 

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We received a lecture by Iain Jonston about the industrial heritage of Glasgow and how it fell.

This was the only history lesson I have ever found interesting! Iain first showed us the boom of Glasgow industry during the 1800s and early 1900s. These can be seen in some of these images:

Shipbuilding on the Clyde

Steam locomotive production

Conversely, Iain also showed us what happened when the industrial boom left us. Glasgow is now a husk of its former self in terms of industry and manufacturing. Where once, we led the way as the 2nd city of the Empire, we are now just a ruin of what once was.

What is left of clydebank shipyards.

But is it all downhill now? Will we no longer prove to be an important city, now that we no longer have industry or manufacturing (or so little that makes no difference)? Or…
Can we make Glasgow a thriving centre for other types of industry? how about design?

Personally, I think it is a little sad that we could not keep more of our industrial heritage, but we cannot spend all our time longing for what was once ours. I think Glasgow can still be a globally influential city, through academia, and importantly – digital industry. Bring on the next industrial revolution! I think we are ready.

 

We visited another part of the Art school campus (that I’m sure most of us didn’t realise existed) to have a ‘wee nosey’ around the Digital Design Studio situated in Pacific Quay, Glasgow.

The studio is dedicated to, as you might imagine from the name, all manner of digital design – ranging from small animations to full 3D digital projection technology.

3D projection of Glasgow, gathered from real data

One very interesting topic that was discussed was the use of 3D scanned data to create CAD models. One use of this is to make accurate copies of cityscapes such as the image above, taken from above glasgow.

I know that a few of our class are very interested in working in this kind of field in the future. DDS makes me wonder just how many of us Product Design Engineers will end up working entirely in some kind of digital reality. What do you reckon?


On Thursday the 1st of March 2012, the 4th year Product Design Engineering students traveled down to Sunderland (enduring a rather terrible bus driver) to visit Nissan’s production plant.

The cool kids were led around by a guy named barry (who decided to stick me at the back, so I could not rush around in the excitement that I would have otherwise) who showed us the production lines for the Quashquai, Juke and Note.

Firstly, we were shown the punched-metal components of the car that we quickly saw turn into the shell of the vehicle.
A veritable army of yellow robotic arms clamped, welded, moved, sprayed and cleaned the shells as they made steady progress along the production line.
It was hard not to be overcome with a sense of awe looking over the writhing mass of robotic limbs. I found it difficult to walk by an arm without thinking; ‘I bet that thing could turn, pick me up, cram me into a car frame, clamp me in, and try to weld me – and I would be totally powerless to stop it.’

Next, we were shown the paint shop (which, by the way, consumes more than 50% of the plants power alone) where we saw the finished metallic shells undergo several painting processes.

Vehicle undergoing charged coating

We were also shown a process in which dust is removed using ostrich feathers! (I KNOW!! CRAZY!)

We were then taken to the final assembly line, where the cars are fitted with everything from doors, interiors, windows, engine, drivetrain, fascia, wheels, and everything else. Here we saw entire dashboard assemblies being installed in approximately 2 seconds.

Early final assembly

We then watched as the vehicles were finished and tested. The production scale was simply massive. A new car is produced ever 3 minutes!

To sum up, the trip was great! I loved it because I love cars, I hope to design them at some stage.
Hopefully this trip will prove useful to me in later years!

Iain Grout was kind enough to deliver yet another lecture to us concerning sustainability and our general lack of hope for the future. As I do not want to repeat myself (or for that matter, my colleagues) too much, I want to pick up on just one point that was casually tossed into the conversation. The following quote was mentioned (I’m paraphrasing, but I’m sure you will forgive me):

“The planet would be perfectly happy without us!”

I personally think this is a very flawed and weak argument. Not even from a stance of self preservation. This argument is simply nonsense.

The planet is nothing more than a very large collection of atoms.

Obviously the planet would be happy without us. Equally obviously, the planet would be content to have no life whatsoever. I think the planet would be happy to be a few million degrees warmer. The planet doesn’t mind… its a heap of rocks.

As a christian, I have my own beliefs as to why we are here. In my opinion, we exist on this planet to glorify and honour God.
However, even from a Scientific viewpoint – human beings are often referred to as the universe creating a way to measure itself. This is a phrase thrown around quite often by scientists like Prof. Brian Cox, for example.

So, I think it is fair to say, no matter what you believe – the argument of “the planet would be better without us” is silly.

We are here. I think we have a purpose. Don’t you?

"The building blocks of all creation"

There are only 2 known options when it comes to Nuclear Fusion Reactor. The first is a Laser Ignition Fusion Reactor and the second is a Plasma Fusion Reactor.

Laser Ignition

This machine has already been constructed in California. It involves 192 of the most powerful lasers in the world being fired into a single point. At this point of focus, temperatures reach tens of millions of degrees celcius. A small container of fuel is then entered into this space (Deuterium – an isotope of Hydrogen). This fuel is then instantaneously turned to plasma, and the deuterium particles begin to fuse together to produce Helium.

The current problems with this machine are the following:

– It is very difficult to contain the fusion, so the fuel is a very, very small volume (measures in microns cubed)
– levels of precision necessary are ridiculously high
– It is difficult to sustain fusion
– It currently draws more power than it produces

Plasma

These machines have also already been constructed. There is one in England (already mentioned in this blog – Tokamac) and one in South Korea (known as KSTAR). These machines use super powerful magnets to hold super heated plasma in a loop or donut shape. This plasma is held for months at a time, fusing continuously. They have already reached energy stable – max energy in = max energy out.

The current problems with this machine are the following:

– large numbers of rare semi-conducting magnets are needed
– Parts of the KSTAR machine need to be kept at -269.9 degrees C.
– Not yet possible to run continuously (i.e. years at a time)

 

So fusion reactors are not entirely things of science fiction. They are there, in the background. Maybe Nuclear Fusion is not as far away as some people may think? Here is some food for thought:

During WW2, it took the words greatest minds 6 years to unlock the secrets of nuclear fission in a massive secret project known as the Manhattan project. This project was going to save the world from the threats of fascism and communism.

If we gathered all the worlds greatest minds now, in 2012, how long would it take to save the world?

We were given a lecture by Seaton Baxter from Dundee University looking into ecological design.

Baxter pointed out the current trends that humanity are showing and that – if we continue as we are now – surely catastrophe will result. In Baxter’s opinion, it would surely make sense to seek recession and shy from growth. He points out this does not need to be taken in a negative light, and that we could view it as “falling into paradise, not climbing into hell.”

Baxter’s views are well founded, I think. There are simply too many human beings on the planet, not enough food to support our ravenous hunger, not enough raw material to make our stuff, not enough fuel to burn and we are simply not clever enough to dig ourselves out of this hole.

There definately needs to be a social change involved in the solution (if there even is a solution). This social change is not just large scale (political) but also small scale (personal).

However, there seems to be a large part of the problem that baxter seems to have overlooked. The decline that Baxter is hoping for would inevitably result in millions of humans suffering and dying.

We in the west would be in a better position to ride out a large scale fall, but people in developing nations would seriously struggle. What about the families that need many family members to work, to bring in money and food so that that family can survive? This is the problem with just saying “oh well, just adopt China’s one child policy.”

It may work for us, with our relative comfort in the west. But, for much poorer families and communities – this is simply suicide.

I don’t really know what my point is here. I suppose this highlights how complex the problem is. There is really no easy way out of the hole that humanity has dug itself. Even with some world-saving energy source (such as nuclear fusion), there are still massive problems getting away from fossil fuels, growing enough food, sustaining the environment, etc.

Short of kulling 3/4 of the population, how can we possibly get out of this?

We were given a lecture by Nicolas Oddy – a Lecturer at GSA, who was exploring the need for designers in society.

One major point that he raised was that, in his view, design has always tried to overstep its purpose. The idea that good design is morally good, and bad design is morally bad seems –  in Oddy’s view – to be simply nonsense.

 

"Good design = morally good, bad design = morally bad"


Is this true?

Personally, I am not sure of the answer to this question. I think the answer lies somewhere inbetween yes and no. I think good design can influence society in a positive way, just as poor design can have serious negative connotations.

Looking at something as trivial as types of patterned carpet somewhat degrades the argument. What about the design of hospitals? The design of machines of war?

What do you think?

What we leave behind for our descendants

Nuclear waste is one of the most dangerous, most feared and most worried-over materials known to man. Highly radioactive materials that have been spent as nuclear fuel inside some nuclear reactor, now to live the rest of their (not-so-short) radioactive lives buried miles underground.

To put it simply… Radioactive waste is.. well.. it’s annoying.

The typical reactor fuels found in large scale nuclear fission reactors are: UOX (Uranium Oxide) & MOX (plutonium and mixed oxides with depleted uranium). When these fuels are “used up” (which means they have become less efficient at splitting atoms) they are dangerously radioactive for approximately 10,000 – 100,000 years.
Even with a radioactive half-life (the time in which it takes the materials radiation levels to half) of 50-70 years, UOX & MOX still are dangerous 1000 years after decommission.

This is rather irritating. We have to find big caverns deep underground (sufficient to isolate the gamma & X-Ray radiation) to effectively hide our shameful waste.

This is the real problem with Nuclear Fission Energy. It is a nightmare to get rid of the waste.

However, with Nuclear Fusion Energy – what kind of waste products could we expect? How many thousand square kilometers would have to be used as nuclear waste deposits? How many glowing, green barrels would we leave for our children and their children?

Well.. the answer, to all three, is none. The only by-product of nuclear fusion is helium and heat.
Hence why fusion is so exciting!

 

"Some people wait for Technological Cavalry to arrive..."

I have to admit folks, I am certainly part of the hopeful crowd waiting for technology to arrive to save the day. And, if you have read my blogs, no doubt you can guess what I am waiting for to save the day…

The idea of changing my entire life to be drastically more sustainable is very difficult for me to deal with. Which, I suppose highlights some more negative aspects of (at the very least) my own nature, such as selfishness, greed and sloth. Ben mentioned something which really confused me. He made a comment on windmills, that he would rather drastically change the way he lives than install a windmill every 3.5 km. Personally, I would much rather install the windmills, and get on with my life… Is that bad?

I think that long-term, Ben is totally right about changing our social attitudes being more important than changing our technology. Unless we drastically change our social/political stance, even with solutions like nuclear fusion, we will still encounter problems like global warming.

On a more optimistic point, I really enjoyed Ben’s numerical approach to some problems. It is exciting to see how simple some of these calculations are to do, and to see the useful numbers you can calculate easily and quickly.