Insights 10.16

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Insights 10.16

Design:

Mapping Markets:  

Building Things: 

  • Behind the scenes at NASA: the process for painting the Mars rover

  • Christopher Mims in The Wall Street Journal describes a nearly seamless system of production, warehousing, and distribution enabled by Industry 4.0 technologies like cheap sensors, sophisticated data analytics, and robots, that will make the movement of goods as easy as the movement of data. One example given in the article is of a container of strawberries plucked by a robot arm, then handed off to a drone for delivery to the end customer. In the 21st century we have witnessed an undeniable upheaval in the handling of logistics and distribution, but the actual production of goods still contains its own universe of friction-filled complexity. Compare the strawberry example to an iPhone: in the case of the strawberry, the assembly (and to some extent, the sourcing, refining, and movement of raw materials) is taken care of, more or less, by nature. In the case of the iPhone, blocks of aluminum (ore harvested, refined, packaged and shipped) must be milled with specific cutting tools (manufactured, packaged, shipped), combined with electronics and battery technologies, all assembled by a mix of human and machine labor. Those inputs must all converge at the right place, at the right time, at the right price. The supply chain for 'manufacturing' fruit (and inputs) are quite localized, whereas the supply chains for complex goods are long, convoluted, and always at risk of disruption from issues of labor, natural disaster, trade policies, and a thousand other variables. The production side of the equation for perfectly balancing demand and fulfillment is loaded with far more stubborn challenges than the vision of a tidy bin of strawberries couriered by drone presents. Atoms, ultimately, are not bits: the proverbial gears in the machinery of physical systems face an ever-present threat of the dirt, dust, and muck of our dirty world seizing them up. 

Automatons:  

Just A Game:  

 

More next week. 

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Insights 10.10

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Insights 10.10

Design:

  • Wide swaths of neutral, desaturated colors are commonly used to signal that products are in some way wholesome, natural, ethical, or organic, particularly in the world of fashion

Labor Pains: 

  • From time to time, there's a news story about a note being found in a mass-produced product, allegedly written by an unknown worker toiling under inhumane conditions. Sometimes those stories can be verified, other times they are constructed projects by activists. Rossalyn A. Warren, writing for Vox, tries to run down the truth of one such story, and in the telling maps out a world of production, abuse, and paranoia about the unknown spaces that so many of our goods appear from. 

Energy: 

Waste:  

  • A fungus that breaks down polyurethane plastics has been discovered in Pakistan. While stories like this often have an optimistic tone, the reality is that even the most robust plastic destroying microorganisms are only able to address a portion of the problem we have created. Beyond the issue of waste, there is the highly concentrated energy, in the form of oil, that is summarily consumed in the production and transportation of plastic goods. The biological world comes up with novel solutions to break down those materials, though it is unable to re-concentrate the energy. Put another way, the bugs and fungi may help to clean up our messes, but when it comes to avoiding deeper destruction, it is up to us to do the work. 

Archiving: 

More next week. 

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Insights 10.01

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Insights 10.01

Design:


Machines for Moving: 

 

Energy:  

Behavior: 

 

More next week. 

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