Signals: Energy for Mars... Deforestation and Species Loss... Customers Too Engaged? and more

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Volume 1,
Number 10
March 15, 2015

Harvesting Energy on Mars

A major technological hurdle to colonizing Mars is providing a sustainable source of energy for travelers and inhabitants. Researchers at Northumbria University are developing an engine that can harvest energy from carbon dioxide, which is apparently abundant on Mars in the form of dry ice. The breakthrough also means that a ticket to Mars need not be one way, according to scientists.

The technique, described in the journal Nature Communications, exploits a phenomenon known as the Leidenfrost effect, which produces energy when a liquid comes in contact with a surface much hotter than the liquid’s boiling point. With solid carbon dioxide (dry ice), the Leidenfrost effect creates a vapor, which the Northumbria team believes can be captured to power an engine with significantly less friction.

“One thing is certain, our future on other planets depends on our ability to adapt our knowledge to the constraints imposed by strange worlds, and to devise creative ways to exploit natural resources that do not naturally occur here on Earth,” said co-author Rodrigo Ledesma-Aguilar in a press statement.

Source: Northumbria University

Reference: Gary G. Wells, Rodrigo Ledesma-Aguilar, Glen McHale, and Khellil Sefiane, “A sublimation heat engine,” Nature Communications 6, Article number: 6390, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms7390

Signals: energy harvesting, Mars

Deforestation and Species Loss in the Amazon

A third of the Amazon is approaching a tipping point in deforestation that will accelerate species loss. By 2030, these endangered areas could lose 31 percent to 44 percent of species, predicts a team of Cambridge University researchers.

Historically, just one or two species is lost for every 10 percent loss of forest coverage; however, when an area dips below a threshold of 43 percent of forest coverage, species loss accelerates to two to eight species per 10 percent forest loss.

Pressure on land use comes largely from agriculture, as farmers work to meet the demands of growing (and increasingly affluent) human populations. In Brazil, individual landowners are required to retain 80 percent forest cover, but this is rarely achieved, according to the researchers. A more successful approach might be to consider entire landscapes rather than individual farms, and to promote practices that stop deforestation above the threshold.

The research supports a new approach to environmental legislation in Brazil and the tropics, said study leader Jose Manuel Ochoa-Quintero in a press statement. “We need to move from thinking in terms of compliance at a farm scale to compliance at a landscape scale if we are to save as many species as we can from extinction,” he concluded.

Source: University of Cambridge. Image: Jose Manuel Ochoa-Quintero

Reference: Jose Manuel Ochoa-Quintero, Toby A. Gardner, Isabel Rosa, Silvio Frosini de Barros Ferraz, and William J. Sutherland, “Thresholds of species loss in Amazonian deforestation frontier landscapes,” Conservation Biology, 2015 (Vol. 29, issue 1). DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12446

Signals: agriculture, Amazon, biodiversity, deforestation, species loss

Can Customers Be Too Engaged?

Increasing audience engagement has long been a mantra in brand promotion, but a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that some audience members may be too engaged for a brand’s good.

Using the popular American reality TV series America’s Next Top Model as a case study, researchers Marie-Agnès Parmentier (HEC Montréal) and Eileen Fischer (York University) examined how social media enabled and encouraged fans to interact with the show and with other fans. Though the show encouraged this engagement, its consequences were often out of the producers’ control.

Thanks to their engagement, many fans felt encouraged to persistently and passionately offer their advice regarding things they didn’t like about the show (change of format, new judges, etc.). The unintended consequence was to contribute to a negative image of the show among other fans. The researchers conclude that the most enthusiastic fans may have thus inadvertently contributed to the show’s declining popularity.

The lesson for brands: Beware of what you wish for. “Ironically, fans may contribute to the destabilization of a brand even as they are trying to help prevent this,” write Parmentier and Fischer. “While fans can be conducive to brand value creation or co-creation, they can equally contribute to value co-destruction.”

Reference: Marie-Agnès Parmentier and Eileen Fischer, “Things Fall Apart: The Dynamics of Brand Audience Dissipation,” Journal of Consumer Research, February 2015 (Vol. 41, No. 5). DOI: 10.1086/678907

Signals: audience engagement, brands, marketing, social media

Jumping Technology Categories: Report from Timothy C. Mack

In Silicon Valley, the blessing (or curse) of vast disposable resources appears to be leading a number of companies out of the arena of computer software and hardware development into such terra incognita as Google’s self-driving, electric-powered car.

Google already has five years of R&D invested in this self-driving car project. However, how well would Google find its way in an entirely new marketplace with technology of a distinctly new level? As Mashable writer Lance Ulanoff notes, there are as many as 6,000 parts in an automobile, and there is a much higher standard for drivability and driver safety than is required for software and hardware.

The price points involved in such a quantum shift are quite intimidating, considering both the overhead investment per unit and the volume of units that would need to be sold to make the numbers work.

As I have observed elsewhere, the liability issues for self-driving cars are likely to take years and maybe even decades to sort out. Unintended consequences arise from even small shifts in direction. The outcomes of such an adventure are difficult to estimate, but they are likely to be substantial and messy. Read more

Timothy C. Mack is the managing principal of AAI Foresight Inc. This report was excerpted from the Foresight Signals Blog. Image: Google Blog

News for the Foresight Community

• Book: The Great Transition. Earth Policy Institute President Lester Brown’s latest book, The Great Transition: Shifting From Fossil Fuels to Solar and Wind Energy (W.W. Norton, 2015), is now available for pre-order. Co-authored with EPI researchers Janet Larsen, J. Matthew Roney, and Emily E. Adams, The Great Transition documents the global movement toward the energy choices that are leading to a new economy. As the costs of solar and wind power fall, their spread will accelerate. Read Chapter 1, Changing Direction. Order the book.

• Conference: Tackling Wicked Problems. The World Conference of Futures Research 2015, to be held June 11-12, 2015, in Turku, Finland, will explore how the study of the future can be used to address today’s most perplexing problems. Among the featured speakers at “Futures Studies Tackling Wicked Problems” will be Thomas Lombardo of the Center for Future Consciousness; Kerstin Cuhls, scientific manager at Fraunhofer ISI; and Sirkka Heinonen of the Finland Futures Research Centre at the University of Turku. Details.

• Call for Papers: Innovation and Degrowth. A special issue of Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation will explore the concept of sustainable degrowth as an alternative approach to human progress that decouples innovation and economic growth. Guest editors for the issue are Steffen Roth, ESC Rennes School of Business, France; Miguel Pérez-Valls, University of Almeria, Spain; and Jari Kaivo-oja, University of Turku, Finland. Submission details.