Category Archives: Entertainment Planning
Light and Wall, or Light Design and Building Space
Building Design,Light Building,Light Building Design,Light Design
Light and Wall, or Light Design and Building Space
Light and Wall, or Light Design and Building Space
Building Design,Light Building,Light Building Design,Light Design
Light and Wall, or Light Design and Building Space
Light and Wall, or Light Design and Building Space
Building Design,Light Building,Light Building Design,Light Design
In building design, we always ignore a lot of things, such as interior design, environmental design, all the details as to the light, it seems that the most unimportant thing, building designLight Building Design
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The Italian marketplaces first West Coast location includes a clean room for mozzarella and gelato preparation.
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HDR InsightsZhanting Gao, Advanced Simulation Specialist, HDR
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Katerras sole ctory, in Phoenix, produces wall panels, roof and floor trusses, cabinets, and countertops. The company, which recently raised million in new venture capital financing, expects to have five more plants operating by years end. Image Katerra
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More than AEC professionals attended the Women in DesignConstruction conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., last November. Photo BDC
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Katerras sole ctory, in Phoenix, produces wall panels, roof and floor trusses, cabinets, and countertops. The company, which recently raised million in new venture capital financing, expects to have five more plants operating by years end. Image Katerra
Architect educational support from ZIP System® sheathing and tape
Decades in the , the chalet is located within miles of Denalis summit.
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Private nonresidential construction fell . for the month, while public sector nonresidential spending increased ….
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The equipments supplier is eyeing the U.S. for aggressive growth.
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Figure The waterbased mastic stayed wet tacky to the touch for weeks because the covered ductwork did not allow the mastic to dry, resulting in mold growth.
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Spinning energy Members of ECO Gym in Rochester, N.Y., ride bikes that return power to the building. Image SportsArt
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Small construction companies are less willing to spend on technology than companies in several other business sectors, including retailing, manucturing, and real estate. Image Pixabay
The Effects of Building Movement on Interior Finishes and Solutions
Staging should be used to support the clients goals. This rendering for a spec office client was designed to target young, trendy tenants. Rendering TILTPIXEL
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Audbuilding designitorium DesignWhen it comes to auditorium design, there are an infinite number of ways to develop the shape of an auditorium. Its important to keep these ideas about seat distribution and room shaping in mind to help guide design decisions as the nuts and bolts requirements like row depth, aisle widths, sightlines, and acoustic shapes and materials become clear.
Reflections down from a ceiling can often provide early reflections, and therefore should be made acoustically hard reflective
The Essential Question What is the primary of performance that audiences will see here?
If you are mounting fixed seating onto platforms, you should coordinate this between the seating provider and the platform provider to ensure that fixed seating attachments are incorporated into the platform design. Porle chairs are easier to manage, but you may want to consider chair stops into the seating riser system.
For the purposes of this discussion, lets use a proscenium theatre arrangement as an example.
When considering auditorium design, good lighting design is always in step with a venues interior design. They are symbiotic. New build venues have the luxury of developing these designs in synchrony. However, that doesnt mean that retrofits and refurbishments are at a disadvantage; necessity breeds creativity. There is usually a good suce or detail that is worth highlighting. Fundamental concepts in architectural accent lighting like shadow gaps, bounce lighting and grazing are great tools to consider. These can almost always be enhanced by using changing fixtures. Opportunities for these lighting tools can be limited in refurbishment projects due to wiring considerations, but new technology such as LED line voltage dimming is helping solve these problems. A good lighting consultant or contractor will always understand the architectural goal of a venue and work to complement it using the latest tools available.
Be sure to read our full articleon seating layouts and seat spacing. We took a whole article to better lay out each of these principals and give better visuals.
Horizontal sightlines are a product of the extreme seats to the left and right of the auditorium. As a rule of thumb, these seats should maintain a threequarters view of the stage at the back wall of the stage house. Any seats beyond this / range of view will have a considerably diminished experience. Box seating at the sides of the auditorium, a popular way to create a VIP experience but the most sightline challenged, can be carefully studied and designed to accommodate this view as well.
Comparing a projects budget and material resources with the project characteristics is also a great method of achieving the goal. Characteristics in this instance being such components as ceiling construction, timeframe, wiring infrastructure, maintenance schedules, personnel and budget. If a venue is to be successful, the design and build team must be realistic with regard to budgets, timescales, and materials. A low budget does not necessarily mean a poor design as a clever design can maximize resources, but as with most things, it is the detail work that makes the difference.
The acoustics of the space should be considered. Platforms can be designed with acoustical damping materials to minimize footll noise.
Once the performance and general room function have been identified, the process of conceptually developing the room can begin.
Stages and risers are engineering and designed to building codes. Chapter of International Building Code sets forth the structural design criteria. Some of the topics covered for stages and risers are floor live load, deflection, serviceability, and strength. Stage floors are subject to a minimum uniformly distributed live load of pounds per square foot. Risers need to be engineered using a minimum of pounds per square foot of uniformly distributed live load.
Intimacy, the shared experience, and audience enjoyment are significantly impacted by the relationship of seats not only to the stage, but also to each other. Seat Distribution and Room Shape are concerned with the position and arrangement of seats within the audience chamber.
Expert contributorthe Team atStages Consultants
Integrating minimum illumination standards and an emergency lighting scheme is necessary and should be an integrated component of the design. Its possible to have a single fixture provide all these requirements if good coordination exists between the architectural lighting designer and the rest of the team. Standards vary between locales so getting a consultant or contractor who understands these requirements is crucial. It is worth noting though that sometimes a totally separate system is more preferable. This can often be the case with refurbishments and retrofits as the emergency lighting may be adequate and not intrusive to the design.
The selection of lighting fixtures should be chosen with a realistic maintenance schedule in mind. Access to the fixtures can be difficult if they are placed in hard to reach areas. As safety standards increase, some venues are finding that older lighting schemes are no longer safe to maintain. Reasonable placement and access should be integrated into the design process along with the selection of longlife sources.
Storage of the space should be considered. A full service staging equipment company can help determine the proper storage options for your space, such as carts to cilitate easy porility, doorway widths in your space and amount of space needed for porle platforms when they are not in use.
As the room begins to take shape, its important to periodically check back in with the original intent. With the many ctors that can influence the design of a performance venue such as budget, project timeline, and environmental ctors to name a few, its important to make sure that the room still does what it needs to do. Throughout each phase of the design process, the integrity of the seating layouts and sightlines must be rechecked and confirmed. By safeguarding the most fundamental aspect of the live performance the audience experience good design can ensure that a performance will continue to live r beyond the walls of the auditorium.
The finishes of the platforms and guardrail must meet the aesthetics of the space. Think through the details of the design of guardrails, the platform suces and closure panel materials.
For musical theatre, staged concerts, and opera, a combination of theatre and live music performance criteria are considered with the balance between immediacy and acoustic envelopment varying based on the art form.
Whether youre an architect or contractor tackling an auditorium design project for the first time, or whether youre a building manager who wants a base understanding of the various components that make up an auditorium, our hope is that this article can give you a good introduction to auditorium design.
Equipment set up instructions and training for staff on how the risers are assembled should be incorporated into your plan.
Finally, youll want to make sure you perform a sightline analysis to ensure that the audience members can see everything they want to and are supposed to see.
That being said, our expertise is infixed seating designfor auditoriums, lecture halls, etc., so we pulled in multiple experts who were gracious enough to contribute their expertise, and share their knowledge with you. If you need any more information on a specific area of expertise, weve provided contact information for them at the beginning and end of each section.
The audience seats and the audience themselves are usually the biggest acoustic absorption in the room. The use of the right amount of acoustic absorption in the seats can serve as a great way to achieve the acoustic goals of the space.
Auditorium Seating Fixed Seating Manucturer Theatre Solutions Inc.
Park Ave, Quakertown, PA
The main driver behind acoustic design in auditoriums comes down to the phenomenon above Strive to keep and enhance early reflections to arrive at the listener no more than milliseconds after the direct sound; and dampen and reduce late reflections that would arrive at the listener more than ms after the direct sound. At a given listener location, if there is more early acoustic energy than late, speech will be intelligible. To that end, suces should be provided and shaped to provide such early reflections, and reflection paths that provide late acoustic energy should be made acoustically absorptive.
There are, however, many other aspects of the auditorium acoustics that would require analysis, and any space where the acoustics are critical should be analysed in more detail for things like the overall Reverberation time RT, the Distinctness D, the Acoustic Strength G of the space, and the noise from building services or exterior activities. Getting an acoustic consultant to evaluate these aspects and provide suile solutions that fit within the architectural expression is key to arriving at a cohesive design outcome. The best spaces are the ones where the acoustic elements fit seamlessly into the design and the space doesnt scream out Acoustician was here.
Getting a quality, even illumination in the main areas of a venue is a priority, but so too is accent lighting. Depending on the goal and resources available, this component of a lighting scheme can vary greatly. And even on a shoestring budget, a few nice touches can go a long way to make an auditorium more inviting. For example, flood uplighters in a venue with an architecturally interesting ceiling will make the venue infinitely more inviting, and dimmable units can be used during performances.
A huge part of the audiences experience in your auditorium design will be the acoustics. The ideal acoustic environment in an auditorium is one where the visual and auditory experiences are both captivating, intimate, and efficient. The auditory experience is uniquely shaped by the acoustics of each room. This brief overview of natural acoustics is aimed at giving designers some basic fundamentals on how the room acoustics of a space are effected by design choices that an architect would make. We will start off with a brief description of how our ear works in the con of listening.
The quality of light chosen should be with due regard to the human and broadcast requirements of a space. For example, low speed flickering of a light source common with low quality LED and discharge sources can greatly impact the quality of the light not only for people in the space, but equally as important, for camera. Even modern HD cameras are much more sensitive to flicker and phasing than the human eye. The results of poor power supplies can render an auditorium completely unfit for broadcast and video camera use.
Flexibility is the key when designing the control system. Normally, a venue will have a programmable lighting control console to operate the performance lighting, and then a separate architectural control system. Typically, it is best for the performance lighting system to control the auditorium lighting as it needs to be controlled in a comparable way to ensure the smooth transition from preshow to performance. This system needs to be both powerful to operate performance lighting in an effective way and flexible to enable a lights on state for a janitor or director to operate.
When the performance or presentation starts, dimming of the houselights can focus the audience and help make the experience feel special. In recent years, research and development into LED dimming has provided the industry with top quality dimming that was not available years ago. Theatrical quality dimming is a phrase that gets written a lot in the lighting industry, but unfortunately, there is no robust index or comparable measure to gauge this in a specification. A demonstration of a few fixtures in consideration will always be beneficial to a project. Seeing is believing.
Downlight for general illumination is not only necessary for public safety, wayfinding and reading, it serves a crucial role in creating excitement and eliciting emotion. Top quality dimming control is fundamental to achieve this effect through even des. High resolution dimming using DMX control and good quality electronics in lighting fixtures can achieve this as they almost eliminate the steps that can be seen in lower quality power supplies and alternative signal protocols.
Complications can arise when the venue lighting is expected to be controlled from both systems. The integration of the two systems can be complex, both in terms of programing and physical wiring. However, a competent lighting consultant or contractor should be able to help with simplifying the design and instructing the build process.
When studying the sightlines for parterre and balcony levels, the geometric requirements dictated by sightlines must be understood alongside the steepness of the risers. Balcony risers that are too steep, or rows that are not sufficiently enveloped by adjacent rows can feel dangerous, exposed, and unsettling to patrons. The addition of railings within rows can solve the security and safety issue, but it can also psychologically distance patrons from the performance.
form ever follows function. Louis Sullivan
Conversely, live acoustical music performances are most successful in a room that has volume and some reverberance, allowing music to reflect, bounce, and fill the room. Audiences enjoy being close to this of performance as well, but it is less important to be close to the stage than it is to have a highquality aural experience from anywhere in the room.
Delivery access, wide internal passage ways/ doorways and storage space are the most critical auditorium features that contribute to running a smooth installation and daily operation. Having outside delivery access for trucks speeds up the loading and unloading process, features like a truck dock and adequate parking lot space for large delivery trucks are helpful. Wide internal passageways and doorways allow equipment to be moved quickly and efficiently in a space, especially with rolling carts. Lastly, having adequate storage space is helpful to organize and readily access unused equipment, contributing to increased speed when swapping between stage or seating configurations.
Flexibility and control of the light beam should be a consideration so that the fixture layout can be tailored to the details of the architectural design. Fixtures which have onsite adjusle beam s and attachments help with glare and are a great solution when tailoring a design.
We would definitely advise you to take a look at various safety and building codes such as
There are three basic components that must be considered for the room to function properly sightlines, acoustic requirements for room shaping and isolation, and accessibility and egress. Sightlines ensure that every seat has an unobstructed line of sight to the performance, studying the distance and viewing angles from the most extreme seats both near and r. Again, the performance informs the criteria for sightlines. While it is critical to be able to see a dancers feet at the very edge of the stage, the sightline criteria of an orchestra hall can be less rigid. The geometry of the room should be designed to naturally enhance the acoustics of the room, while also taking variable and enhanced acoustic materials like reflectors and applied wall materials into consideration. Lastly, code requirements for egress and accessibility will determine the required aisle and path widths throughout the assembly space, which will be based primarily on the capacity of the auditorium.
The lighting scheme of a space needs to incorporate fixtures which will provide suile rendering most commonly measured in CRI rendering index. In areas which are meant to be used for reading of playbills for example an index number of or greater should be considered.
The old adage, you get what you pay for is true for auditorium lighting, but equally important is the preparation and design work that goes into a great lighting design. Choosing the right fixtures and enlisting the help of professionals will always pay for itself many times over, and with the right planning and equipment, an auditorium lighting scheme can last for decades.
When listening in an auditorium, our brains try to make sense of the cacophony of sound waves arriving at the ears. Here, it is useful to think of the concept of theflicker fusion threshold. This concept is very miliar to anyone who has seen a movie or an animation If still s are shown to the eye at a very slow rate, the brain can distinguish each as a still . But as the rate of s being shown increases to the rate of flicker fusion threshold, the brain is then able to fuse the s together, and perceive movement, much like Eadweard Muybridges earlyThe Horse in Motionclip in demonstrated.
When it comes to seating widths, the most common chair widths are inches, inches, and inches. That being said, available seat widths can range anywhere from inches to inches. Youll also want to consider the row spacing. An average minimum dimension might be , but if you space the rows at for example the audiences comfort level will increase dramatically.
The human ear has developed over the evolution of humans into an organ capable of receiving the short term fluctuations of air pressure around us and extracting vast amounts of information from them. These short term air pressure fluctuations are commonly called sound waves. Through the use of two ears at a known horizontal distance apart, our brains figure out remarkably detailed information about sounds that we hear such as speech and musical content, source location, sound characteristics, relative loudness etc. When in an auditorium, sound arrives at the listener both directly from the sound source, and through reflections from the ceiling, walls, and the floor, and their combinations.
Similarly, when the ear is presented with reflections of a sound that arrivemuch later thanthe direct sound, the brain interprets those as echoes, and is able to separate them from the original sound. This is often observed during old recordings of outdoor speeches where there is a strong but very late reflection/echo, or sometimes during telephone conversations where there is an echo. If the arrival of the reflected sound gets closer to the direct sound, it can sometimes be even worse the reflected sound arriving from one consonant in the speech seems to interfere directly with the following consonant in a word, the whole speech sound blurry and unintelligible. Once the reflections arrive soon enough after the direct sound to pass the threshold of milliseconds, the brain is then able to fuse the reflected energy with the direct sound and use it to enhance the intelligibility of the speech being heard.
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In terms, Horizontal Seat Distribution studies the location of seats as related to the stage in plan view. Seated rows are often curved or angled toward the stage so that patrons are both cing forward in their seat and looking directly at the stage. That is, they should not have to shift sideways or turn their heads to watch the performance. This directview orientation allows for the audience to be in conversation with the performance, it easier to achieve suspension of disbelief and invest themselves in the performance.
If youre looking for extensive information on seating layouts, example layouts you can download, and tons more, wehighlyread this article on auditorium seating layoutsrecommend you . Its been very popular and gives a ton of detail, ing deep into fixed seating basics. Here, were going to give you just a summary of that information, so read on.
Aisle lighting and power sources are important to consider into the design of the seating riser system. Seating risers that are flexible and can be used in multiple configurations can make your space more usable, but also require extra planning up front, so staging platforms and equipment can be reused for various set ups and efficiently deployed.
This article on auditorium design is meant to be a wide overview of the various components that go into designing an auditorium. It discusses some general design guidelines and a few details to help you have a better understanding. Well cover auditorium lighting, stage design, fixed seating, and auditorium acoustics.
Theatre and Dance performances, for example, are usually most successful in a room that provides a sense of intimacy and immediacy. With these performance s, the audience is close and tight to the stage so they can experience the immediacy of the performance. The overall physical volume and acoustics of a drama room are controlled so that the room supports the performance with little or no direct amplification. A dance theatre can use amplified or live acoustic music, and may require more variable control of the acoustical environment.
An auditorium often supports more than one of performance or might need to serve an entirely new set of criteria as our definitions of performance evolve. Indeed, as we look to contemporary practice, new definitions of performance like immersive and experiential theatre are being developed with greater frequency and for larger audiences. With this in mind a multiuse venue that possesses the flexibility to support a variety of performance s can be ideal. Solutions for a multiuse venue might include flexible seating arrangements and stage configurations, variable acoustics, or room isions that alter the volume of the room for different performance s.
Theres two basic s of seating arrangements you can consider for your auditorium multipleaisleorcontinental. Generally speaking, a continental agreement will allow more seating in your space.Click hereto view more details and to see s. For early stage planning, you can use an average of . sq ft. per person.
The beauty of porle staging is that it can be manipulated and is a versatile enough product that it can work well in any auditorium design. The critical part is creating enough storage space for the equipment. Often cility managers love the product but are frustrated when they realize they do not have a space for it when the system is not in the play position.
Shoeboxshaped rooms provide for strong early lateral reflections even more important for music, but quite helpful for speech as well
The back walls of an auditorium have a risk of providing late reflections both to the audience and to the stage Providing acoustic absorption at such locations is usually helpful. This could be in the form of bric panels, slatted wood finish, acoustic plaster or even acoustic drywall.
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The success of any performance rests largely on the relationship of the audience to the performance. We humans love to experience storytelling whether an intimate theatre piece, a booming cacophony of symphonic music, or a great battle of sports teams on the field, we are hardwired for engaging with performance. When designing any venue, the intended s of performance provide clues about the shape and of the room, the desired feeling of intimacy and collective engagement, and the overall distribution of seats within the room as related to the performers on stage.
Every performance has specific geometries that support not only the staged performance, but also the audiences experience. The first step to designing an auditorium is to become clear about what kinds of performances will happen, and what the audiences experience of those performances should be.
The and location of sections or groups of seats will have a subtler but equally impactful influence on the audience experience. Generally, the greater the physical distance from the stage, the greater potential for psychological distance from a performance. However, the shape of aisles among seated sections and the delineation of lower closer to stage and upper further from stage areas with crossaisles and egress paths can help a room feel inclusive, intimate, and connected not only to the performance, but also to other audience members within a section of seats. With this goal in mind an actual physical and perceived psychological distance from the stage can be mitigated by enhancing the perceived collective experience of a particular section of seating.
An auditorium lighting design needs to provide two fundamental components. The first part is the illumination needs of the public who work in and enjoy the space. The more difficult part is to convey the intended feeling and emotion that fits the program and the attitude of the space. A successful design elicits an emotional human connection to the space, and lighting plays a crucial role in accomplishing this goal.
The following is useful to consider for your auditorium design
A project coordinator must always consider the spatial constraints of the auditorium and how the enduser will be using the product on a daytoday basis. Platforms are robust products since they are designed with safety in mind first and foremost, but are often used in tight or confined spaces. This can make setup and tear down physically demanding. The project coordinator can help these procedures and the enduser, by changing the system based on his or her understanding of the entire environment the system is setup in.
Vertical Sightlines require the examination of line of sight in section view from every seated row of the auditorium to common targets at the stage edge and the proscenium opening. Generally, a room should be designed for no less than an everyotherrow sightline; that is, the eyes of the patrons in one row should have an unobstructed view to the stage over the head of the patrons seated two rows in front of them. The obstruction of the row directly in front is resolved through the seating layout using variable chair widths to create a staggered seating pattern. In this way, the slope of an orchestra level floor or the of risers in parterres, boxes, and balconies can be determined. Its important to note that this results in a parabolic sloping floor at an orchestra level, not a single line slope as with accessible ramps. Similarly, this process yields a variable run of risers at parterres and balconies. Though the variation in floor elevations may seem insignificant, these slight dimensional shifts can make a significant cumulative difference of inches and feet by the last row of the auditorium.
Its important to note that the sightline and roomshaping process is about balancing the complex symbiotic relationships among the many variables that influence the room. It is both a quantitative and a qualitative study to meet all the requirements of code and ensure the best live experience for the audience.
Expert contributorJason Osterman ofAltman Lighting
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Its hard togrokhow much the satellite industry influences your life until you take an inventory of the industries and services it enables. This hit me recently as I walked along the rooftops of Jerusalems Old City and noticed that virtually every roofin virtually every quarterhad a satellite dish for telephone, Internet, or television service. Yes, television signals make it possible for people in Israel to watch live feeds of sporting events and awards ceremonies. But they also let restaurants in Buenos Aires accept payments on debit cards belonging to tourists from Madrid, and allow international relief agencies to coordinate the response to Ebola, or let Sirius radio subscribers playE Street Radioas they tool around rural Vermont.
So r, this series has been heavy on ingenious systems that involve the aggregation, organization, and movement of digital information. Some readers suggested a few more in that vein the Internet itself, Google, Googles search algorithms which was on my original long list of potential wonders. Greg Packnett suggested Wikipedia A bunch of people got together in their spare time and decided to write down a quick summary of all the worlds knowledge, and its available through porle electronic devices. Still others recommended the devicessmartphonesthemselves.
Any compilation that claims to be an authoritative ranking is bound to set off anyone who wasnt included. So r, though,Slatesefforts to name a new pantheon of seven brilliant, wonderful, largely hidden essential wonders of the modern world hasnt inspired Vesuvian levels of outrage.
The number of objects in Earth orbit has increased steadily, by per year on average. The objects here are an artists impression based on actual density data but are shown at an exaggerated to make them visible at this scale.
Check back every week for a new modern wonder.
Check back every week for a new modern wonder.
Waze has grown rapidly since its founding in by Amir Shinar and Ehud Shabtai, Israeli computer experts who were dissatisfied with the global positioning systems in their cars. When Los Angeles shut down the I in the July Carmageddon, Waze users provided traffic information more effectively than traffic helicopters could. In ll , when Tim Cook publicly apologized for thedebacle of Apple Maps, he recommended Waze as an alternative. The service now claims more than million users in languages, in countries. Last year, Google acquired Waze for a pricereportedat about billion. While big tech companies often buy startups only to absorb their innovations and shutter them, Google has made Waze part of the mily. The app has incorporated Google Street View and hired more people, while Google Maps has added Waze data on traffic and street closures.
Of course, these efforts consisted mostly of delivering signals from a stationary point a television truck, an HBO transmission center through satellites to other stationary points back on Earth. The big commercial leap for satellites has come in the last years, now that those recipients are increasingly mobile. Iridium helped lead the way with mobile phones. After it went bankruptas many pioneering telecommunication firms have done, dating back to the telegraphIridium was taken for pennies on the dollar and continued to operate. The technological model, it turned out, worked better than the initial financial model. Iridium developed a smart networksatellites that could receive signals from mobile phones anywhere on Earth, share data with one another, and then reach out to another moving target anywhere on Earth. AsAir and Spacemagazinenotes, That capability makes the system the only one in the world that can connect absolutely anywhere to absolutely anywhere else.
In many ways, Telstar and its successors provided the template for our mobile and digital worldvastly expanding the range of communications and what could be communicated and delivered, from where, and to where. Over the coming decades, more satellites went up, generally backed by consortia of government agencies and telecommunications companies. And they grew more sophisticated. Satellites launched into geosynchronous orbitmore than , miles above the Earthcould cover a great deal of territory as they tracked the planets rotation. A system of three satellites in geosynchronous orbit can cover the world, whereas several dozen satellites in low Earth orbit would be required to do the same.
As with many new technologies, using Weather Underground feels cool and awesome, but also slightly Orwellian. It works best only if youre willing to share lots of information gathered at your own expense and if youre willing to let a celess entity know precisely where you are at all times.
The marriage of greater data, more sophisticated numbercrunching, and personal observation has certainly made the weather map more rich and detailed. But does it make longterm forecasting more accurate? Anyone whos ever looked at a fiveday forecastand freaked out at the prospect of a rainedout vacation only to find sunny skies upon arrival, or vice versaknows that there is a great deal of lse precision to these forecasts. And this is one of the areas in which technology doesnt overcome nature. Menard argues that things have gotten better. The skill scoresa measure of forecast accuracyon a fiveday forecast years ago are about what professionals can get on a sixday forecast today. Your sevenday forecast is pretty accurate, and you could not have said that years ago. But beyond that, the weather is changeable, and truly longterm forecasts are essentially worthless. Theres a natural amount of chaos in the atmosphere, Menard says.
The system emerged as a matter of necessity. New York City developed this water system because it was unlucky, says Kenneth T. Jackson, the Columbia University historian and authority on New York City. It couldnt could take water out of the rivers, because the Hudson is salty all the way up to Poughkeepsie. In the thand early thcenturies, the citys growing number of residents relied on wells, water brought in on ships, and springfed ponds like the Collect near what is now Foley Square, which quickly turned into dumping grounds for sewage and garbage. The fetid waters helped spawn the cholera epidemic of , which killed more than , residents. And the absence of significant water sources in city streets thick with wooden buildings led to a series of disastrous fires. After the Great Fire of , which consumed about structures, municipal leaders were moved to act.
The common thread running through them is a kind of elegant, effortless mobility. And it struck me that no system offers the ability to deliver its chosen product or service from any point on Earth toany point on Earth as incredibly as satellites do. For all of our wireless capabilities, to a very large degree we still rely on wires to communicate, as I notedearlier in this series. Only satellites can truly move signals and the products and services they contain from anywhere to anywhereto emerging markets, to the deserts and mountains, toships at sea, or to cars stuck in traffic on Iwith a great deal of precision. If this orbiting latticework, which potentially connects every corner of the globe, cant be called a modern wonder, what could be?
The miles of t pipes upstate are augmented by , miles of narrower underground conduits that run underneath the five boroughs, from the crags of Riverdale to the distant, wavetossed shores of the Rockaways. From the Hillview Reservoir in Yonkers, right on the Bronx border, pipes plunge a few hundred feet into one of the three massive water tunnels that carry water to the south about feet below ground level. Every blocks or so, vertical tunnels sprout up to feed into trunk water mains, with a diameter of about a foot. Ultimately, they connect to buildings, whose pipes are private property.
In many ways, flying has become an unpleasant, increasingly expensive, and frequently contentious effort. Americas airports feel like glorified bus stations in comparison to the sleek terminals of Asia and the Middle East. The consumer intece of air travelbag charges, humiliating security procedures, stale sandwiches, evaporating leg roomcan seem as frenzied and dreadful as a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
Weather Undergrounds crowdsourcing goes beyond the network of passive weather broadcasters. AsWaze does with motorists, Weather Undergrounds mobile apps allow people to report conditionswhat you see, estimated cloud cover, hazards like slippery or unplowed roads. The reports last for minutes, and other users are invited to affirm or reject condition reports. In November, Menard tells me, more than million people submitted such updates.
Left Illustration courtesy Library of Congress. Right Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.
In New York, infrastructure tends to cost more because people are paying for the convenience, the reliability, and the extra degree of difficulty inherent to building here. But New Yorks water prices are actually pretty reasonable. Thiscomparison from , when the uniform rate was per cubic feet, places New York thlowest out of large U.S. cities. The DEP saysthe typical singlemily homeownerpays about , per year for water and sewer billswhich comes out to about a penny per gallon.
Wazes back end, obviously, includes the network of Google servers, wireless stations, satellites, and software code that powers it. But thats just the beginning. Massive, open public editing of a site can be a road to misinformation and mischiefjust read any Internet comments section or contentious Wikipedia . Waze overlays its data with a constant stream of usersubmitted comments, then runs them through systems it has built to channel and reward human behavior. Then it figures out how to make this system do useful work in the world. All of this happens behind the scenes.
Check back next week for our final modern wonder.
Daniel Gross is a longtimeSlatecontributor. His most recent book isBetter, Stronger, Faster. Follow him onTwitter.
Maps of San Francisco Transportation Plan viaEric Fischer/Flickr and via Waze
Part of the appeal of Waze is that users can report incidentstraffic, congestion, a mattress in the roadthat instantly generate icons on its maps. On a typical day in Rio, users actively report about , incidents. But in the back end, not all incident reports are treated equally. Waze has built a system that evaluates users capacity, experience, and accuracy, weighing the information they provide accordingly. Like many social apps, Waze allows users the opportunity to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to posts. Reports by users who frequently file incidents that are routinely confirmed by others will be weighted higher, while Waze gives less trust to people who consistently file lse alarms.
There are also smaller, localized fixes. In airports like the Yampa Valley Regional Airport, which services ski areas like Steamboat Springs, Colorado, delays and cancellations play havoc with schedules during the peak season, in large measure because radar isnt very good at tracking planes as they negotiate mountainous areas. As part of a smallscale experiment, the FAAdeployeda bunch of sensors in the area to form a network, called wide area multilateration, that can keep much better s on planes. The upshot Yampa Valley can handle to arrivals safely each hour in conditions that would have previously required planes to be erted to other airports.
The seven wonders of classical antiquity were architectural marvels, triumphs of human ego and raw power. The great achievements of today, however, are made possible by systems, infrastructure, and technologies that are invisible. Check back every week for a new wonder of the modern world.
Thats in part because the stateowned and private telecom companies that have built and run the global network continue to add to it, especially in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. SEAMEWE was followed bySEAMEWE , which provided redundancy along similar paths, from Singapore to France. But its also because innovation on the back end has increased the carrying capacity of tubes that were laid down long ago. When SEAMEWE was completed, it could carry up to gigabits per second of data traffic. Today, SingTel, which runs the cable, says it has a capacity of terabit per seconda fold increase. Thats in large measure due to the introduction ofwavelength ision multiplexing. Essentially, a bunch of signals can now travel on the same pair of fiber cables because new, more powerful transceivers on the ends of cable lines can send and receive the signal on different frequencies of light. As SingTel notes, The cable has been twice upgraded and it now consists of two fiber pairs, each carrying eight wavelengths.
There was one outofthebox suggestion, however, that struck a chord. The most impressive systems are those that convey physical goods. Its one thing to move a bunch of digital files from one place to another without screwing things up. Its quite another to move metal tubes filled with hundreds of people at extremely rapid speeds without doing so, which is one reason this series highlighted aviation control. A forthcoming installment will likewise focus on a miraculous conveyor of a lifegiving substance that no human being can live without water. But now Im thinking we should swap that one out for another miraculous conveyor of a lifegiving substance that few human beings can live without pizza delivered hot and fresh to your home in minutes.
That was an impressive achievement. But satellites would truly become indispensable only when they developed the ability to receive data from Earth and then to beam it back with great efficiencyto become, as the Satellite Industry Association calls them, cell towers in the sky. That came in , with the launch of Telstar , which the Canadianbased satellite company Telesatdescribesas the worlds first active communications satellite. Ranging around in low orbitbetween and miles above the Earth for seven months, its technology of receiving radio signals from the ground, and then amplifying and retransmitting them over a large portion of the earths suce, set the standard for all communications satellites that followed.
Laid in , TAT, the first transatlantic telephone cable, used the same of copper wire employed in terrestrial phone lines. But the midcentury threads were exceedingly narrow pipe. TATcould accommodate just kbps kilobits per second circuitsjust four dozen phone conversations at once. Its not surprising, then, that in the s international phone calls cost about per minute. The development of fiberoptic cable by Corning in the s and s chronicled in a chapter in abook I wroteusing glass as a transport medium rather than a metalbrought a quantum leap in the speed and capacity for communication wires. Fiberoptic cableinsanely thin glass threads, reallycan handle so many more conversations and bits than wireless spectra can. The first fiberoptic cable laid across the Atlantic, the TAT, was completed in and could carry , simultaneous voice conversations.
Todays GPS apps and devices reach to the heavens to help us navigate our little corners of the Earth. We can know that traffic is seriously backed up on the southbound lanes of I in Bridgeport, Connecticut, because a car is broken down on the side of the road, that a tow truck has just arrived, and that it makes sense to jump onto Route and then reenter I a few miles later in Fairfield.These mostly free services are some of the most valuablebut difficult to valuecomponents of the socalled consumer surplus that our modern information economy provides.
In a country where a bank branch could be a days walk away, where sending a remittance might mean giving cash to a bus driver and hoping he delivers it, MPesa was something like a godsend. When the mobile payment system launched in March , Joseph says the company expected to enroll a few hundred thousand people in its first year. After months, million people had signed up. The company expanded the service to Tanzania, Mozambique, and India, and it continued to attract users in Kenya. Now MPesa says it has about million customers who move about . billion through the system each montha remarkable level of penetration.
When mySlatecolleagues turn on the tap to fill up water bottles in their fourthfloor office in Lower Manhattan, they probably arent thinking about the liquids origin. They should. That water likely traveled more than miles through one of the worlds most impressive conveying systems, one whose legacy goes back to the presidential administration of Martin Van Buren. With comparatively little power, those drops of moisture have been pushed from reservoirs sitting atop submerged villages in upstate New York; through some of the longest underground aqueducts in the United States, some wide enough to accommodate a school bus; through a brandnew filtration system; and then underground and into Manhattan via a sprawling grid of pipes. To a surprising degree, the whole process relies on natural forcesgravity, rain, the melting of snowand oldschool engineering, overlaid with some stcentury improvements.
In contrast to banking, mobile telephony has diffused rapidly from a plaything of the elites to a mainstay of the masses. According to theInternational Telecommunication Union, this year there were to be nearly billion wireless phones in the world, corresponding to a penetration rate of percent. In Africa, some percent of people have mobile phones.
Like all Weather Underground updates, this data is funneled into its proprietary models and forecast engines. To a degree, Weather Underground is the hipper, nerdier, younger sibling of the more basic, hypeprone Weather Channel. The users of Weather Underground are people that are extremely interested, they want to go deeper, says Menard. Like many of todays hottest technology companies, it is focused on building a communityWeather Underground is a place where obsessives link up with other obsessives, where they gain prestige by sharing information, and where users swap photos as well as data. We have a large community that is interested in the science of weather, in particular global warming and following from a scientific point of view why a certain storm was so bad, Menard says.
Heres how it works. A mobile phone subscriber registers with a local agentoften the same person who sells airtime or SIM cardsby showing her national identification card. She gives money to the agent, who transforms the cash into electronic money via a series of SMS s. The agent puts the cash in her account, which is in turn held in a centralized bank account. Once the cash is loaded, the customer can use her phone like a debit card paying people via SMS, or like a card reader receiving payments via SMS, or like an ATM card turning electronic money into cash at outposts run by agentsbut without the high fees typically inherent in those transactions. Theres no charge for uploading money, but there is one of about percent for getting cash.
Throughout the air traffic control system, new protocolsbased in part on new technology and on research and analysiseffectively expand flight capacity by enabling planes to flow in and out of airports and airspaces more quickly and with fewer hitches. At Boston Logan and other airports, GPSbased systems that allow for more precise tracing of planes mean they can now land when visibility is as low as , feetcompared with the prior standard of , feet.
Users can access the system to find out hyperlocal weather information. But Weather Underground uses this data to feed its proprietary modeling systems. What youre getting is a forecast for that exact latitude and longitude, says Menard. As this descriptionshows, compared with those of the NWS, Weather Undergrounds forecasts update more frequently, include more parameters, and extend further into the future.
Taken iniduallya minute saved here, a few hundred of feet of visibility added there, several gallons of fuel conserved somewhere elsethese improvements may not seem to add up to much. But just as a small delay in a complex system can lead to further delays, small innovations can have powerful knockon effects. These incremental fixes, all rolled out with little notice, highlight how our more reliable and efficient aviation system has become a modern marvel. And impressively, the FAA is slowly pushing through its immense upgrades while operating at fulltilt in a highly safe and surprisingly effective manner. Thats like replacing the George Washington Bridge in its entirety without lane closures or new traffic problems.
Government is supposed to step in during a market ilure. But Waze shows how the market can correct for government ilure. The app is extremely popular in Costa Rica. Why? In a nation where authorities havent bothered to name many roads and streets and maps are unreliable, Waze volunteers have effectively functioned as a sort of public agency. In places where the grid has yet to be captured, Waze isnt an adjunct to mapsitisthe map. Waze has become such a part of the culture that businesses will even list their addresses in advertisements as locations that can be searched for on Waze, theWashington Postreportedrecently.
In the U.S., air travel is a form of mass transit, so these efficiency improvements matter a great deal. In , there were . million commercial flights, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. And serious glitches, on the ground and in the skies, have become more rare. Between and , the likelihood of a piece of luggage being mislaid fell by more than halffrom a rate of . per , passengers to . per ,, as theWall Street Journalreported.That, in turn, is less than half the global rate of . per ,.
In an age in which constricted financial resources and geographic footprints prevent us from expanding the physical footprint of airports, the highly resilient and evolving air traffic control system is doing the heavy lifting behind the scenes. We should look up in awe.
In the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in the autumn of , the Federal Emergency Management Agency had no idea which gas stations were open or closed in the greater New York area. With widespread flooding and electricity outages, and with downed trees blocking roads, there was no wayshort of the slow task of dialing up each stationto swiftly determine which ones had gas or even power. So FEMA contacted Waze, a free navigation app that allows users to anonymously post data about traffic incidents and edit maps. Waze sent a push notice to drivers, asking them to share the status of stations in their neighborhoods. The app then updated its maps to show pins on stations that were up and running. After quickly cataloging the information, Waze zapped it to FEMA in an Excel file, which helped the agency effectively dispatch tanker trucks to replenish supplies.
Photo by Etienne De Malglaive/GammaRapho via Getty Images
MPesa and its imitators have thrived in part by freeing exchange from the expensive, inaccessible physical networks and infrastructure that have heretofore confined money. Other services include Telenors Easypaisa in Pakistan, Smart Money in the Philippines, and True Move in Thailand. Theres been no innovation in notes and cash for , years, says Tim Harrabin, senior adviser to Analysys Mason and an expert on mobile payments. The mobile payment system is about replacing notes and coins and enabling people to move money. Instead of replicating the developed worlds financial system, MPesa leapfrogs it. And it does so by marrying Kenyas abundant human capital to systems that have proven to thrive in the harsh environment of subSaharan networks.
We may live in a mobile and wireless world, but wires still drive the global communications revolution. Your phone call, , email, or emojiladen tweet may travel wirelessly from your iPhone to the nearest cellular tower, but from there on out it is largely confined to cables, wires, and cordpress lanes coursing above ground, underground, and under the seaespecially if your message is going abroad. More than percent of signals of any sort that go between continents flow over undersea fiberoptic cables, says Tim Stronge, research analyst at TeleGeography, a research and consulting firm. Were submarine cables not as pervasive, cheap, and functional as they are, most of us would still be living on data islands. To the extent that the world is now flat, it is largely due to the expansive network of undersea cables. They enable a dotcom entrepreneur in Perth, Australia, to collaborate with a programmer in Bangalore, India, serve a customer in Germany, and communicate with a supplier in China.
Correction, Nov. , This article originally stated that people died in the Colgan Air crash. Fortyfive passengers, four crew, and one person on the ground died in that crash. Return.
Some other suggestions, meanwhile, were easy to object to streaming , movable its been around for nearly a thousand years, and, um, the batteryoperated dildo.
Cash is king, the saying goes. But its actually something of a curse in many parts of the world. A horribly inefficient and often dangerous means of storing value and exchange, coins and bills can easily be stolen, or lost, or destroyed in a fire. Cash is the most formidable enemy of the poor, Tonny K. Omwansa and Nicholas P. Sullivan write in their ebookMoney, Real Quick, which chronicles the heartening rise of MPesa, a new system thats bringing secure payments and money storage to millions of new consumers.
Currency systems are circles of trust. So as these mobile payment systems trickle down and rise up, theyre likely to gain more momentum, abetted not just by those without access to traditional banks but by the those who are looking for excuses to avoid them following the financial crisis. Just as the exchange of digital information has boosted productivity and growth sharply, so, too, can the exchange of digital money. Imagine if India were able to deliver socialwelre benefits through digital cash and not through agents who might pilfer the aid. Imagine how much more effective tax collection would be in Italy and Greece if traceable mobile payments replaced cash. Imagine how crime might ll around the world if people in dangerous neighborhoods stopped stuffing money under their mattresses. Imagine how migrant workers would increase their effective wages simply by sending money home via rather than through expensive money transfer services.
What makes it work? MPesas genius is in the simplicity of the design the business model, and the ability to avoid the heavy and expensive infrastructure associated with other payments systems. Customers have two PINsone for their phones, one for MPesa. Each transaction is conducted via an encrypted SMS that runs through MPesas mobile money platform. Users receive confirmations by and can get their balance and transaction histories.
To the historyminded, the map of submarine cables is remarkably evocative. A host of them connects the Northeastern U.S. with England and France, mimicking the early patterns of North America settlement. Some follow the journeys of Vasco Da Gama and Magellan, bumping down from Portugal along the coast toward South Africa. There are tiny components like theAmerigo Vespucci, an kilometer spur that connects Curacao, a former Dutch colony, to Bonaire, which is still part of the Netherlands. There are unlikely hubs, like Bude, at the tip of Cornwall in England, where seven cables arrive from across the seas. Like triremes, schooners, and clippers before them, these cables hug land and then seek direct, obstaclefree paths across the waters. But instead of delivering physical goods, they deliver digital goods and services.
Like all good networks, the mesh of submarine cables is being expanded to offer more capacity and more redundancy. TheSEAMEWE , now under construction, parallels a good chunk of SEAMEWE between Malaysia and France. And while its difficult to improve much on the speed of light, the network is getting marginally ster. It takes about milliseconds to bounce a signal from New York to London. But for some users of bandwidth, particularly banks that are doing trading or arbitrage, shaving off one millisecond can make huge profits, Stronge says. Thats why Hibernia Networks is now working onProject Express, a cable that will carve a shorter path across the Atlanticfrom Halix in Nova Scotia to the west coast of England.
Waze likely wont be around forever, but its many features, some subtle and some outright mindbending, suggest that the maps we rely on every day are only going to get more sophisticated, datarich, and, yes, wondrous. Its easy to imagine the maps of the future being studded and layered with information on WiFi hot spots, crime data, public transit schedules, and weather. Harry Potters Marauders Map, which allowed him to see who was scurrying around Hogwarts late at night, will have nothing on the amazing, thoroughly unmagical cartographic apps in our pockets.
Why would a series on life in the current century end with a technology that helped define the second half of the previous one? When I started this series, my aim was to redirect the sense of awe that once accompanied gazing up at the Great Pyramid or the Brooklyn Bridge toward the hidden systems that make our world work. I set out to find networks that are as remarkable for their ingenuity as for their reliabilitythings that simply work, day after day, despite physical challenges and occasional glitches. Thus r, Ive looked at systems that convey massive physical objects like airplanes and lifegiving natural elements like water and vital information likeInternet trafficandweatherand road data.
Photo illustration bySlate. Photo by Noor Khamis/Reuters.
Now Iridium is part of what has become a very large industry of satellite manucturers, launchers, and operators. The sector had revenues of . billion in , according to a report published by theSatellite Industry of America. More than , satellites are in the sky, owned and operated by major networks like Intelsat, Entelsat, and XTAR. About half are in low Earth orbit, and about percent are in geosynchronous orbit, with a much smaller number of satellites in elliptical orbit or medium Earth orbit.
Socalled wonders of the world tend to crumble or recede into obscurity. And some of the most prominent components of the Croton system are now relics. TheHigh Bridgeis being converted into a pedestrian walkway, while the big reservoir at ndStreet was dismantled in the s. But the Croton system had two design components that were mimicked as the system expanded, ensuring its continued grandeur. Bringing water from distant mountains meant it would be clean and wouldnt have to be treated heavilyso long as the transport system kept pollutants out. Second, and just as important, water traveled from higher elevations to sea level. And that meant gravity would do the heavy lifting of moving the water, while the pressure that built up in the system would force it up to the suce and through hoses. This got New York away from the bucket brigade, and provided the basis of modern firefighting, says Adam Bosch, a spokesman for the New York CityDepartment of Environmental Protection, which runs the system.
The first great submarine communication cable, of course, was the telegraph line connecting England and the United States. InA Thread Across the Ocean The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable,John Steele Gordon describes how Cyrus Field rounded up cash and got the U.S. and U.K. governments to fund his scheme. TheNiagara,the largest ship in the U.S. Navy, laid out the cable. The first message sent from Queen Victoria to President James Buchanan, in August , inspired fireworks in New York City that set City Hall on fire. In a remark Tom Friedman might have appreciated, Cyrus Fields brother, Henry, wrote that it joins the sundered hemispheres. It unites distant nations, them feel that they are members of one great mily. Three weeks later, the cable went dead. Tifny Co. bought parts of the unused cable and cut them into inch pieces to sell. One was auctioned oneBaylast year. Field finally succeeded in laying a lasting cable in . The cost for capacity a word. By , there were competing threads across the ocean.
Pretty much every item launched into space in the first half of the thcentury fell back to Earth after it ran out of fuel or momentum. None managed to travel r enough to gain the magic balance between momentum and gravity that would keep it in orbit. Then, on Oct. , , the Soviet Union launched Sputnik and helped ignite the space race. A few months later, the U.S.managed to launch its first satellite, the pound Explorer thanks in part to the expertise of German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun.
To that end, we combed thecommentsand put out a request toSlatesFacebook followers, which received plenty ofresponses. The suggestions were typically intelligent, as Ive come to expect from ourreaders.
Its a Sunday in late ll. Im about to head out for a twohour bicycle ride, which will take me from the coast of Long Island Sound to the hills of Fairfield County, Connecticut miles through six different towns and several different climates. Having a detailed understanding of weather conditions and how they might change is vital. Riding up certain hills into headwinds would be demoralizing. The inland tends to be colder, which might dictate how many layers I wear. And my pathological desire to avoid rain might mean cutting the ride short. So before I head out, I open upWunderStation, the app produced byWeather Underground, the first online weather service. I tap into a network of stations scattered around the region. A few blocks away, its dead calm and in the mids. Up north, its already several degrees colder, and winds of miles per hour are kicking up from the west. Theres a percent chance of rain at p.m. I strap myself in and head outand the weather I find essentially matches what I just saw on my iPad.
These contemporaryAppian Waysare the vital back end of the Internetand one of the wonders of the modern world. Lying under the murky depths of the Southern Atlantic, the placid, teal waters of the Caribbean, and the frigid, stormy Bering Sea, underwater cables withstand theravages of sharksand resist immense pressure and the corroding influence of salt. Amid the sprawling network laid out in thisgorgeous mapproduced by TeleGeography, one stands out for its length. Starting in Australia and terminating in Germany,SEAMEWE for SouthEast Asia Middle East Western Europe is a modernday Orient Express. A marvel of modern synergy, it was built and is still owned by a consortium of telecommunications firms. Running , kilometersabout , milesand touching landing points in countries on four continents, SEAMEWE is the closest thing we have to a transoceanic information superhighway.
While Waze could function perfectly well without much human intervention from its headquarters, its competitive advantage and utility arise in part from the relationships its staff cultivates and their ability to inject human intelligence into the systemwhether its reaching out to Los Angeles authorities during Carmageddon or working with FEMA to generate lists of open gas stations. In early October, when a Waze staffer learned that President Obama was visiting San Francisco, the app sent a push notice to advise users in the area to get out on the roads a little earlier. And the company just set up a partnershipConnected Citizenin which it will provide traffic data to cities like Tel Aviv; Barcelona, Spain; and San Jose, Costa Rica in exchange for more immediate access to information on issues like road closures or construction. All of which proves that even in a highly wired and automated world, personal and institutional relationships can be a vital part of infrastructure.
I had the same reaction to suggestions related to energy. Alternating current transformers that allow electricity to be distributed safely, suggested Russell Blank. None of the three wonders of the modern world would be possible without AC power. Another Green energy generation solar arrays, wind rms, tidal generators. The way in which electrons are produced, harnessed, stored, managed, and moved around the countryabove ground, under groundis indeed wonderful and evolving quickly. Perhaps an additional installment of this series is in order.
In the U.S., innovative services likeGoogle WalletSquare, and retailers payment appsall of which basically sync prepaid cards or debit cards to mobile deviceshavent made much headway.After years of effort, just . billion in purchases came from mobile wallets last year, according to Javelin Strategy, asFortunenotedearlier this year. Research firm eMarketerreportedthat proximity payment transaction valuescommerce done by readinga smartphone, for exampletotaled an estimated . billion in .Venmo, an app that allows people to send cash to one another instantly, is gaining some traction.
In another era, the sunglassesandswords guy might have been adding blocks to the Great Pyramid. These days, hes contributing to our modern maps achievement of near omniscience in a chaotic, everchanging system.
But as I learned as a young graduate student in history and repeatedly in the years since, dealing with ideas and narratives is as much an act of omission as it is an act of commission. So, before rolling out the final four wonders of this series I already know what they are, I thought it would be smart to pause and make sure Im not overlooking one that cries out for inclusion.
Meanwhile, changes in technology and the addition of smaller jets to Americas aviation fleet have led controllers to reexamine the effects of wake turbulencethe vortexes that planes leave in their wake when they take off. In certain instances, as when smaller jets are in a queue behind aircraft of the same , the FAA has concluded that its safe to let planes begin taking off right after the ones in front of them have left the ground, instead of waiting the traditional three minutes. When it was first tested in Memphis, wake recategorization effectively boosted capacity of runways by up to percent. After controllers in Atlanta started using recategorization in June, it evoked a sense of wonder in the industry. That is saving a minute or a minute and a half right there,saidMark Hopkins, Deltas director of air traffic management. This is eyeopening.
The sun sets behind oak trees after a storm in Los Angeles on Dec. , . The storm pounded Southern California with heavy rain and high winds, triggering flash floods and mudslides that prompted the evacuation of hundreds of homes, damaged dozens of others, and disrupted passenger rail service along the coast.
A true mobile payment system like MPesa offers several advantages over debit card systems. Mobile phone operators in emerging markets already have a network of lowcost distribution points where people can gain access to cashthe agents who sell airtime and SIM cards. MPesa has recruited , agents in Kenya. So even in rural areas, people are never too r from access to the service. The screen of a phone is much more informationrich than, say, a debit card. Unlike debit cards, MPesa lets people send money directly to other people. And it can be used by people who dont need equipment or infrastructure other than their mobile phones.
Plenty of commenters focused on what this series has left out. First health care. One reader suggested we look into reliable birth control. Elizabeth Tobias pointed out that vaccines deserve consideration as modern wonders. Listed as top medical achievement of the thcentury. This still qualifies as modern, even if you go back to Koch and Pasteur, etc. While both birth control and vaccines fulfill some of the requirements for this seriesfeats of engineering, largely out of view, and taken for grantedthey dont quite qualify as stcentury technological achievements. But what great leap in either of these areas have we seen in the past couple of decades that has transformed it into a brilliant system?
None of this is to say the system is perfect. New York does suffer the same neglect and complacence as other cities, says Fishman. Two of the three giant tunnels that bring the water are and years old, respectively, and its not uncommon for mains to burst. But DEP continues to manage the of infrastructure projects that would have made Robert Moses, New Yorks midthcentury emperor of infrastructure, proud. The agency has spent billion over the past decade to upgrade pipes, and it plans to spend another billion over the next decadelargely on things that the public will never see. Work on the massive Water Tunnel No. continues as it extends to Lower Manhattan and to Queens. In , a largedisinfecting plantcame on line in Valhalla, in Westchester County. There, water is exposed to , ultraviolet light bulbs, which sterilize microorganisms that can cause gastrointestinal illness. With a capacity of . billion gallons per day, it is five times bigger than Americas next largest such plant in Los Angeles.
Like the ancient wonders, this list is somewhat arbitrary. But there is a method to it. Sure, the world is filled with new, manmade wonders of an astounding scale, like the TV headquarters in Beijing and the Three Gorges Dam. But monumental buildings and dams have been done before, even millennia ago. Today, the point of buildings and infrastructure shouldnt be to impress but to connect. In the stcentury, our ability to thrive rests in large measure on the quality and power of the networks that transport data, information, and lifegiving substances like water. Part of this seriess goal is to highlight systems that are overlooked or maligned yet remain both extraordinarily functional and vital to the daily lives of hundreds of millions of people.
Too frequently, digital technology has been a force for the expansion of global income inequality. By enabling cheap phones to send small bits of cash at very cheap rates, mobile payment systems wont take anything away from the haves. But they may give something quite valuable to the havenots.
The pipes that carry this lifegiving force are largely invisible to New Yorks thirsty masses. Heres agreat map. The system includes reservoirs nestled in the rolling hills and mountains, draining a sprawling . millionacre watershed; three controlled lakes; miles of underground thruways, including one that burrows , feet underneath the Hudson River; and thousands of miles of thin pipe under New Yorks streets. Together, they deliver fresh, pole water to . million people in New York City and another million people upstate.
Increasingly, though, thats changing. As part of NextGen, a satellitebased system called Automatic Dependent SurveillanceBroadcast, or ADSB, will use GPS to locate planes and connect them to air traffic control. By Jan. , , all aircraft flying in controlled airspace will be required to have ADSB equipment. ADSB is nowenabling planesto fly around weather over open water in the Gulf of Mexicosaving time and fuel and sometimes completely sparing passengers from turbulence. And instead of exchanging vital information orallywhich ties up radio frequencies and can result in miscommunicationspilots and controllers will rely on powerful data transmission and processing systems. In , introductory programs began in Memphis, Tennessee, and Newark, New Jersey, in which routine communicationsclearance to take off, a change in route to avoid a thunderstormwere effectively delivered to LCD screens via updates.
Fine, so thats a pretty unlikely scenario. But as a feat of technological derringdo, it requires a system that weve all come to rely on to different degreesto receive HBO signals, to view footage on the news, to listen to the radio. These signals can travel from one point on the globe to another in part by soaring up into the heavens to satellites that collect, amplify, and redirect the data to receivers embedded in myriad devices back on Earth.
That may sound like a lot. But it doesnt result in anything like blanket coverage. And Weather Underground realized it could improve this system by turning weather into a crowdsourced bigdata afir. Boosting the number of physical observations would provide more detailed local weather like zooming in on Google Earth, and that data would in turn lead to the construction of more effective forecasting models.
Theseven wondersof classical antiquity were architectural marvels, triumphs of human ego and raw power. The great achievements of today, however, are made possible by systems, infrastructure, and technologies that are invisible. This series, which began withthe U.S. aviation control system, explores the wonders of our modern world. Here is the second wonder
As with every wonder in this series, part of what drives the New York City water system is its back end. About , of DEPs employees work upstate in the watershed and infrastructure, and another , toil on the incity system. Constant vigilance is required. Scientists upstate continually monitor water quality in the reservoirs and release water only from the depths with the highest quality. The aptly named Operations Support Tool is a computer model that integrates a range of human and digital information to make sure water levels throughout the system are adequate. Stream gauges placed throughout the watershed transmit data on water levels. Snow pillowssensors that can detect the amount of water embedded in snow as it accumulatesare sprinkled throughout the region. And DEP has developed a hydrologic forecasting service in conjunction with the National Weather Service.
Images via Wikimedia Commons and Library of Congress
Saricom modeled MPesa in part on the ancient system ofHawalah, in which trusted intermediaries function as money transfer agents. It replicates exactly what Hawalah does, but its more formalized, says Joseph, who is now director of mobile money at Vodafone.
The seven wonders of classical antiquity were architectural marvels, triumphs of human ego and raw power. The great achievements of today, however, are made possible by systems, infrastructure, and technologies that are invisible. This series, which continued last week withthe Earths amazing network of undersea cables, explores the wonders of our modern world. Here is the fourth wonder
Personal weather stations are electronic devices that measure items like temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, and rainll. As with so many digital and wireless technology products, theyve gotten much cheaper in recent years. Ten years ago, if you could get one for ,, youd be doing well, and they could go upward of ,, Menard says. In recent years, theyve become cheaper and can be more easily wired to the Internet. There are a number of vendors that, for to , provide a weather station that is pretty good, Menard says. Weather Undergrounds site recommends highend ones like theRainWise PWS, for about ,, as well as the Netatmo.
The city acquired water rights north of the city, dammed the Croton River, and then funneled the waters that would pool behind it some miles to the middle of Manhattan via theCroton Aqueduct.Built of iron pipes and surrounded by brick masonry, the Croton Aqueduct made a majestic entrance into the city viathe High Bridge, the first bridge connecting the Bronx to Manhattan. The water was funneled into a holding reservoir in what would become Central Park, and then to the distributing reservoira castle, reallyat the junction of ndStreet and thAvenue, where the New York Public Library now stands. Completed in at a cost of . million, the system was one of the great engineering achievements of the nineteenth century, trumpets theEncyclopedia of New York City.
Built at a time when the citys population stood at about ,, the Croton system served well until the early s. By then, New Yorks population soared to more than million, thanks to immigration, expansion, and the annexation of the Bronx and Brooklyn. In the early thcentury, the city expanded the system to develop new resources in the Catskills. The Ashokan Reservoir, whose creation required the submerging of seven villages, came into service in . A system of pipes and canals were constructed to ferry water via the Catskill Aqueduct miles to the Kensico and Hillview Reservoirs in Westchesterincluding a circular tunnel with a diameter of feet that goes , feet under the Hudson River near West Point. Water Tunnels No. completed in and No. completed in carried the water from Yonkers into Manhattan. Next came the Delaware system to the citys northwest. Starting in the s, vast pools of water created by damming tributaries of the Delaware River were fed into new infrastructure, including the Delaware Aqueduct, which at miles is the longest continuous underground water tunnel in the world. Here, again, gravity does the work. The highest reservoirs are about , feet above sea level. And the volume of water pushing down through the pipes creates an enormous amount of power. Today, Bosch notes, the pressure is so great that it can take it to the sixth floor of most boroughs without any pumping, said Bosch.
But in recent years, iniduals have been able to tap into the technology that was once the exclusive preserve of the military. Like so many other staples of consumer lifefrom CorningWare to the InternetGPS has its origins in Cold Warera military research. After the shock ofSputnik, the Pentagon began working on ways to use orbiting satellites to help fix the positions of submarines and other naval vessels. A network of several satellites in the s, known as Transit, was augmented by the NAVSTAR system, the construction of which began in the s.
The original U.S. satellites were designed primarily to gather information and to transmit it back to Earth. Explorer detected cosmic rays, for example, before stopping its transmissions in . It would ll back to Earth in .
Check back every week for a new modern wonder.
SEAMEWE began amid the tech bubble. Australia and the rest of Oceania are separated from other huge commercial and population centers by vast expanses of water. Australias line to the other six continents was an analog line, the AIS AustraliaIndonesiaSingapore cable. Construction of SEAMEWE , which started in January and was completed in , proceeded in a way that would have been recognizable to thcentury telegraph cable experts. As Stronge notes, when cable is loaded onto a vessel, They have this giant drum in the ship and hire people to walk the cable around in a concentric circle.
This gaping chasm between the number of people with phones and those with bank accounts provided an opening, but not for a bank. Saricom dominated Kenyas mobile market. As part of an effort to keep subscribers from switching, it decided to offer a new service that would allow people to send and receive money through their phones.
Check back every week for a new wonder of the modern world.
Most GPSbased navigation and traffic apps rely on road cameras and sensors on highly trafficked roads and are updated every five minutes or so. I find its not uncommon for me to check out traffic on MapQuest or Google Maps before leaving the house only to find Connecticuts Merritt Parkway is surprisingly backed up a few minutes later. Waze aims to provide more useful, actionable information by instantly updating data and conprovided by both machines and humansvia a cute, friendly intece. Of course, as is the case with many free apps and publications, the user experience is occasionally disrupted by popup ads.
The air traffic control systemthe groundbased radar installations, the onboard navigation devices, the FAA towers, and the software and networks that connect them and manage the movement of planesactually works remarkably well, even if widespread delays and cancellations sometimes lead us to curse the entire mode of transportation instead of marveling, as we once did, at the triumph of human flight. Traveling the skies may no longer feel like a miracle, but the systems that make it possible and increasingly more efficient deserve our adulation. Slowly, imperceptibly, and often invisibly, the FAA is rolling out what it calls the NextGen project, an alphabet soup of acronyms that describe a set of initiatives, procedures, and protocols that are improving the way we fly. Its not going to be the sort of thing where we flip a switch, FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto says. But we are going to phase out the old system.
When the telegraph enabled instant communication, it became possible to produce crude weather maps, andthe National Weather Servicewas founded in . Later that year, the first systematized, synchronous weather observations ever taken in the U.S. were made by observingsergeants of the Army Signal Service at stations and telegraphed to Washington, according to the NWS. Next, NWS numbercrunchers began to turn that more accurate set of observations into predictions. The NWS began issuing threeday forecasts in . In , no doubt, Americans first began to carp about the inaccuracy of these predictions.
The first users were telephone companies, who used satellite as an alternative to longdistance wires. Then, in the s, HBO used a satellite to beam movies directly to subscribers homes. News and sports companies used satellites to provide live coverage. By the s, satellite communications would be the primary means of distributing TV programs around the world, as Telesat notes.
The seven wonders of classical antiquity were architectural marvels, triumphs of human ego and raw power. The great achievements of today, however, are made possible by systems, infrastructure, and technologies that are invisible. This series, which continued last week withNew York Citys unparalleled water system, explores the wonders of our modern world. Here is the fifth wonder
The seven wonders of classical antiquity were architectural marvels, triumphs of human ego and raw power. The great achievements of today, however, are made possible by systems, infrastructure, and technologies that are invisible. This series, which continued last week withcollaborative weather forecasting, explores the wonders of our modern world. Here is the sixth wonder
The s brought a boom in both the pace of construction and the power and capacity of cables. The AC transAtlantic cable, an ,mile roundtrip line first used in , could handle the equivalent of , simultaneous voice conversations, according to Stronge. Firms like Global Crossing, whose market capitalization peaked at billion in the spring of , laid pipe anywhere and everywhereand then went bust.
The global economy has benefited from the boom in cable construction. Immense excess capacity, combined with technological improvements, has led to lling prices. The stupidity of investors and the willingness of bondholders and stockholders to sacrifice their money so that others could have cheap communications infrastructure are dynamics weve seen in the telegraph and railroad industries. I wrote abook about this, too. Prices for capacity are one onethousandth what they were in the late s, Stronge says. Since , the amount of lit capacityi.e., the amount being usedin the Atlantic Ocean between the U.S. and Europe has risen from gigabits per second to terabits per second, an fold increase. But, notes Stronge, the total capacity of all cablesincluding dark fiber thats not in useacross the Atlantic is terabits per second, which means just percent is being used. On major submarine cable routes, bandwidth demand rose . times between to . But even so, less than onequarter of the potential capacity on these routes is being used. Every year, the price of connections grows cheaper. According to TeleGeography, median monthly lease prices on major submarine cable routes submarine cables fell between and percent in .
Part of Wazes back end is passive. When a Waze user turns on a phone and opens the app, Waze pings the phones GPS chip every second and recalculates traffic every three minutes. The act of driving with the app open turns users into traffic reportersconfirming they are on the road and giving an indication of speed. Scale makes this passive crowdsourcing useful. On an average day in Rio de Janeiro, , active Waze drivers cover . million kilometers. The data isnt just broadcast, however. Waze feeds it into algorithms that enable it to conduct predictive modeling based on past experience. So when somebody maps a prospective route through Rio, Waze can produce suggestions based on reported traffic conditions and on how long it typically takes drivers to negotiate the routes at that time of day. In an update earlier this year, Google Maps integrated the ability to change routes on the fly in reaction to traffic snarls.
Though sturdy, the legacy systema network of groundbased radar stations that feed information to controllers, who then communicate with pilots over radiois like an analog system in an increasingly digital world. Groundbased radar signals degrade over distance and cant penetrate mountains. The stations cant be placed on water. And the radar updates only once every . seconds. All of which requires planes to stay rther apart from one another in the airclogging up vital air channelsand poses significant challenges in navigating over water, around weather, and in mountainous areas.
Already, as I pull out of my driveway, I can know that traffic is dragging at an mile clip on the Post Road in downtown Westport, Connecticut, which means I should use a back roads cutthrough. I can expect that repair teams have arrived for the bridge project on I north, which is keeping traffic running at a pokey miles per hour. And I can prepare to accelerate to above miles per hour right after the underpassthat last tip courtesy of a Waze user whose avatar includes sunglasses and a little sword.
The ships proceeded methodically, paying out cable that is the width of a garden hosean outer diameter of millimeters, to be preciseand encased in a plastic coating. From Perth, SEAMEWE goes north. At Malaysia, a branch reaches out to East Asia, sucing at Mersing, Indonesia; Danang Vietnam; and Shanghai. Across the northern stretches of the Indian Ocean it goes, hitting Sri Lanka, Mumbai, and Karachi, further west to Muscat and Djibouti City, before crooking up through the Red Sea and Suez Canal. From Alexandria, Egypt, it hits Mediterranean ports of call before wheeling around Iberia and France, finally ending in the chilly waters of the North Sea near Norden, Germany.
Weather forecasting, then and now. Left, the meteorological work of the United States Signal Service, interior of the Fact Room, where the weather probabilities were created, in Washington, D.C., . Right, meteorologist Jim Fracasso monitors weather in NOAAs Center for Weather and Climate Prediction on July , , in Riverdale, Maryland.
Animation by Lisa LarsonWalker. Photo by Thinkstock.
But the carefully choreographed ersions on Atlantas runways, which shave just seconds off flights, are, in their own subtle way, as graceful as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and as aweinspiring as the Colossus of Rhodes. Theyre one of the many remarkable aspects of an aircontrol regime that most people never noticea system that is one of the marvels of the modern world.
Ever think twice about our supest data connections? Email accounts. Skype chats. Stock quotes. Thelatest Taylor Swift videoon YouTube. All would have been either impossible or extremely expensive years ago. All are free and available at any timeon a handheld device, on our desktops. Our words, ideas, emotions, and emoticons travel at the speed of light, from pretty much any point on the suce of the Earth to any other.
Even so, its quite remarkable how much we can learn about atmospheric conditions through an appwhich is constantly sucking up data from tens of thousands of observation points and presenting them in a free, easytouse inteceall without turning on the television or radio. In the stcentury, you dont need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
Check back every week for a new modern wonder.
Photos by Sharda/Flickr Creative Commons, Google, and Venmo
This series will explore seven of these new wonders bewildering achievements, incredibly useful tools and services that we take for granted. None of them is monumental in scale, like the seven wonders of classical antiquity chronicled byAntipater of Sidonmore than , years ago. The Great Pyramids of Giza and the Statue of Zeus at Olympia were feats of engineering, triumphs of man over nature and gravity, and above all accomplishments of ego and raw power. And the modern, manmade wonders we marvel atthe Brooklyn Bridge, the Hoover Dam, the Panama Canalare echoes of the ancient ones breathtaking physical manifestations of human ingenuity. Todays wonders, in contrast, arent so in your ce. Instead, theyre powered and made possible by systems, infrastructure, and technologies that are often invisible. The Lighthouse of Alexandria was a triumph of frontend, or consumercing, engineering, to use a Web developers terminology. But todays innovations, insights, and wonders can just as frequently be found in the back end, where we rarely notice them.
And in the cold rock deep underground, engineers are toiling to fix a pretty big flaw in the system. TheNew York Timesreportedlast week on the ongoing efforts to fix a leak in the Delaware Aqueduct, which lets million gallons of water go to waste each day. Essentially, they are building a mile bypass tunnel, with a diameter of about foot, around the troubled section. Theaqueduct bypassis likely to cost billion.
Much of New York Citys oncevaunted infrastructure is crumbling the creaky George Washington Bridge, the leaky subway tunnels, the depressing midcentury mediocrity of LaGuardia Airport. But as old and in need of updating as it is, the water system is an unseen miracle, and one of the wonders of our time. The design and engineering of New York Citys invisible water systemburied hundreds of feet below groundis as brilliant as the engineering of the parts of the city the so impress residents and visitors above ground, says Charles Fishman, author of the seminalBig Thirst The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water.Compared to many big U.S. cities, including Los Angeles and Atlanta, New Yorks water supply and water system are in generally great shape. So ingenious is the system, Fishman adds, that New Yorks water doesnt need to be treated before arriving at ucets, and almost all the citys water is delivered by gravity. These two characteristics, combined with its sprawling , make New Yorks water system the greatest in the world.
In essence, Weather Underground borrowed a from the hyperlocal allnews cable channels that only cover a particular cityas NYs tagline put it, As local as local news gets. So it starts with the data that NWS collects and disseminates. Then it enlists the public by encouraging hobbyists to link their personal weather stations to its system. Instead of relying on the observation point that is at the airport, we let people put a weather station in their backyard and make it easy for them to submit that data to us, Menard says.
In countries where a great deal of economic activity takes place in the shadows, MPesa and its rivals have had the effect of bringing more economic activity on the books. Money simply moves more quickly and efficiently throughout the economy when it travels via SMS. While traditional banking dwarfs this sector, the potential is immense. And thats in large measure because payment innovations are simultaneously benefiting the wealthy, who move cash in big chunks through services like bitcoin or Apple Pay, and the massive numbers of poor people, who move cash in small increments.
Our mobile, wireless world makes possible a much more interactive, accurate, and detailed weather forecasting systemone that packs more data, for free, onto the desktop of a casual user than the most seasoned professional forecaster would have been able to see a decade ago. Many of the marvels Ive highlighted in this series take an existing system and then layer new technologies, smart numbercrunching, and innovative models on top of them to make them more robust, more userfriendly, and more valuable. The same is true with the many apps and websites that specialize in weather, including Dark Sky, Yahoo Weather, and Perfect Weather. Among these, Weather Underground stands out, in part because it was the first online weather service, and in part because it demonstrates that a selfdescribed community backed by science can provide significantly more accurate data. The more precise and datarich this system of apps, satellites, meteorologists, and enthusiasts gets, the more it feels like a modern wonder.
Thats certainly the case with the U.S. aviation control system. With land and infrastructure dollars hard to come by, subtle upgrades to the operating system are effectively increasing the capacity of our airports and skies, it all run more smoothly and safely.
For most of history, forecasting the weather has meant educated guessesthe ancients read the clouds and kept track of events from the previous year. Slowly, technology came into play. The rain gauge, barometer, anemometer, hygrometer and thermometer were all invented in the years between and , as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes in itshistorysection. These were all more or less reliable methods of monitoring current conditions.TheOld Farmers Almanac, Americas oldest periodical founded in , provided data, like sunrise times and tide charts, to people who made their living on the land and sea. But editor Thomas Roberts also made longrange weather forecasts, based on a secret formula kept safely tucked away in a black tin box at the Almanac offices in Dublin, New Hampshire.
Todays submarine cables are the latest flowering of an infrastructure class that was pioneered in the thcentury, given impetus by a construction boom in the late thcentury, and which has been made immensely more powerful and cheaper by stcentury technology developments. Indeed, thanks to the application of new hardware and processes, a cable like SEAMEWE can now carry times more data than it could when it was first laida feat that physical conduits for physical goods, like roads and railways, could never mimic.
But its small change. Along with broadband speed, mobile payments are another technology area in which the U.S. lags badly behind global standards. Only this time, we dont trail the advanced economies of Scandinavia. Rather, the standard for simplicity and efficacy is being set in an impoverished country Kenya. The mobile phone company Saricom introduced MPesa in the fertile and remote Great Rift Valley seven years ago. The allwireless system, which allows people to send and receive cash with the same reliability, ease, and low cost as they can send SMS s, has grown quickly from startup to national standard. Vodafone, the telecommunications giant that owns percent of Saricom, estimates that MPesa has some million customers, most of them in Kenya. In a typical year, transactions worth about percent of Kenyas P are processed by the system. In the U.S., that would be equal to more than trillion. In recent years, a great deal of financial innovationstructured mortgages, taxavoidance strategieshave generally benefited the already comforle. MPesa and its growing number of peers in the developing world stand out, however, for their ability to provide a remarkably valuable service to consumers whose needs have long been ignored. They dont simply liberate money from its physical manifestation; theyve shown the potential to liberate people from some of the shackles of poverty. And thats what makes these mobile payment systems a wonder of the modern world.
Because air traffic controllers are now monitoring departing aircraft with GPSbased systems rather than radar, the planes follow much more precise and predicle pathssome straight ahead, others instead banking several degrees to the left or right. This more accurate tracking lets controllers release more planes for takeoff into the same airspace while maintaining the required separation distance of horizontal miles and , vertical feet. By halving the time to clear the next flight for departure on some runways from two minutes to one, Atlanta controllers can now put as many as more planes per hour into the heavens.
Check back every week for a new wonder of the modern world.
The seven wonders of classical antiquity were architectural marvels, triumphs of human ego and raw power. The great achievements of today, however, are made possible by systems, infrastructure, and technologies that are invisible. This series, which continued last week withlowinfrastructure mobile wallets, explores the wonders of our modern world. Here is the final wonder
DEP once kept track of customer usage by sending employees to read meters once per month. They would estimate usage if they couldnt get access to the property. These days, DEPs , customers have wireless meterreading devices, which update the agency every couple of hours on usage. The information is shared in real time with customers, so they can manage their use and make sure their own internal water systems are functioning properly. The new system has cut into billing disputes and catches leaks or problems that may have otherwise gone undetected for weeks. Some , customers have signed up to receive notifications of leaks, which are often flagged when the system notices unusual or excessive use at a particular address.
New York Citys watersoft, surprisingly pure, and endowed with the properties that make the citys bagels and pizza dough worldbeatersmay be cheap for its users. But keeping it cheap is an expensive, and amazing, proposition. The movement of a less liquid underground may inspire neither poetry nor particularly soaring prose. That doesnt make the accomplishments of this system any less meaningful. High and fine literature is wine, and mine is only water, Mark Twain wrote But everybody likes water.
With its singular combination of technology, human intelligence, and curation, Waze illustrates the aweinspiring potential of the dynamic map better than any of its competitors. And the attributes that make the app so popularthink Wikipedia or Pinterest, but for traffic and mapsare highly visible. But just like Americas increasingly sophisticated air traffic control system,which I explored in the first part of this series, Waze is a backend marvel. Unlike the Great Pyramid of Giza or the other seven wonders of antiquity, its most amazing innovations are invisible.
It might be easier to appreciate todays browser and appbased dynamic maps and the systems and devices that power themWaze and Google Maps, but also Scout, Polaris, TomTom, Garmin, and Magellanas wonders of the modern world if, like me, youre old enough to remember when planning a crosscountry driving trip meant visiting a AAA office to get a TripTik a set of highlighted maps. Even with maps, in some ways drivers were flying blind. Beyond periodic traffic updates on the radio, there was virtually no realtime information available about road closures, accidents, constructionthe phenomena that can turn an easy minute trip into a grinding twohour ordeal. As recently as a decade ago, a driver departing Montclair, New Jersey, would have no idea whether it made more sense to take the Garden State Parkway or the New Jersey Turnpike.
Reducing consumption has also been a vital means of keeping the system healthy. In , New York Citys population of . million people consumed about . billion gallons per day. By contrast, today, average daily consumption for Gothams . million people has llen to about billion gallons per day. That represents an absolute decline of onethird, and a decline of per capita daily consumption of percent. The decline of manucturing and heavy industry in the region accounts for some of this drop. But lowflow shower heads and toilets and widespread conservation efforts have helped. Things that are measured precisely are, it turns out, more likely to be controlled.
For most of its sojourn, SEAMEWE lies on the bottom of the murky depths. In deep watermore than , metersthe cables are laid on the seabed. In shallower waters, where ships might snag them, a plow buries them. SEAMEWE has two fiber pairs, and such cables often have copper running through themwhich supplies the electricity that powers repeaters, small devices positioned every kilometers that boost the signal. At certain points, the cable is uparmoredcoated in metal tape, sheathing, or screensto protect against potential dangers. The extra screen helps shield electromagnetic waves that attract sharks. While ilures are often ascribed to monsters of the deep gnawing through them, Stronge says such instances are rare. There was one mous incident in the s when a cable iled, and they think it was because a shark had bitten through to where the electricity was flowing. When links break or are severed, as has happened on SEAMEWE on about a halfdozen occasions, ships are sent out to repair the damage. Fishing nets and ship anchors account for most of these incidents. The sea cables are connected to beach manholes at the shore, through which they connect to land cables and the broader terrestrial grids.
In the thcentury, communication technologies telephone, radio, television and new observation and location technologies airplanes, sonar, radar, satellites vastly increased our ability to capture and distribute weatherrelated information. NWS began issuing day weather outlooks in . Today, the NWS has some , employees in weather forecast offices. While it uses digital technology, NWS is quite analogit gathers information at several fixed spots, relies on a bunch of scattered data points to produce a picture and a forecast, and disseminates it by pushing it through different media such as broadcasts and warnings. And its products can be maddeningly inaccurate at times.
Others suggested we lift our eyes to the heavens. The International Space Station, wroter Koh Jun Lin. A multinational collaboration between sometimes bitter rivals, the longest continuous human habitat out of this world, a place to conduct research impossible elsewhere, and a source of inspiration. Spoiler Something interstellar might be coming in the next few weeks.
MPesa is much ster, too. Unlike credit and debit card systems, which may take a few days to settle transactions, MPesa moves money instantaneously. Visa and other electronic payments systems we use aremuch more complicated They must be processed by hardwired terminals and involve cardholders, merchants, issuing banks, and processors, not to mention the transaction fees that can often amount to or percent of every transaction. MPesa is also quite safe. Weve been operating seven years, and have had many millions of transactions, says Joseph. To date, we have not had any hacking or anything like that.
The KAT Array radio telescope dish points skyward at the proposed site for the Square Kilometre Array telescope near Carnarvon, South Africa, on May , .
SEAMEWE and its siblings may not be any more effective than the telegraph in joining sundered hemispheres or distant nations feel like one great mily. But they make it possible for us to lead stcentury lives, at ster and ster speeds. And they should inspire the same of awe that a thcentury telegraph cable did. These are the days of miracle and wonder, Paul Simononce sang.This is the longdistance call.
Yes, the Internet and wireless communications have been a huge boon to businesses and iniduals alike. But Id argue that the pervasive system of satellites, silently speeding through dark, empty space, is what truly epitomizes our anytime, anywhere, /, allyoucaneat data mentality. And, perhaps more so than any other network, these satellites are invisible to the human eyethe overwhelming majority of us will pass our days on Earth without ever spotting one. They are omnipresent, yet completely unobtrusive.If you want to thank someone up above for the great bounty we enjoy as voracious consumers and transmitters of data, video, s, news, music, and money, the heavens are exactly where to look.
Weather Underground was founded in still the dawn of the Internetby a group of academics at the University of Michigan. The sole purpose was Lets collect a bunch of weather data and get it out to people through a website, says Jim Menard, senior vice president and general manager of Weather Underground. Its somewhat ironic Weather Underground harkens back tothe antieslishment movement of the s, a radical group aimed at blowing things up and subverting the government. In a sign of how times are changing, this Weather Underground is working on improving the information provided by the government and is very much part of the eslishment. In , it wasacquiredby the Weather Company, which also owns the Weather Channel.
As is the case with the submarine cables I discussed inthe last installment of this series, redundancy is key to the system functioning at a high level. The new is continually built to augment the old. Water Tunnel No. has been running continuously since . Work onWater Tunnel No. , the latest of the systems grand travaux, has been underway for more than years. Like the electrical system, its a buried, interconnected grid. That means when a break occurs, it can be isolated, with the water rerouted around the affected area.
Youre trekking on the steppes of Outer Mongolia. And youve forgotten the birthday of your partner, who happens to be hiking in Patagonia. And you need to check in with a colleague whos on a cruise in Alaska. Then you remember that you need to order some flowers for your mother, who lives in Florida and whose birthday is next week. Its , really. Whip out a phone, move a few feet away from your yurt so you have a clear shot at the skies, and dial. If youre a customer of the satellite phone company Iridium, you can connect with anybody, anywhere on the planet, in just a few seconds.
Weather Undergroundspersonal weather station network, launched in , grew slowly, but has recently caught fire. This year alone, its network has grown from , systems to about ,. Every minutes or so, each PWS reports its latest data. More sophisticated ones upload every few seconds. The thousands of systemsunobtrusively attached to homes, offices, stores, and polesform a highly active network of silent and invisible correspondents. In a mile radius of my home in Connecticut, there are nine stations. And in areas where the climate can change dramatically in a short distance, this of density makes a big difference in painting an accurate pictureI count at least in San Francisco proper.
Impressively, satellites manage the difficult trick of being both in the wholesale and retail businesses, something that sets them apart from other technologies. Acting as a wholesaler, satellites connect networks to one another, enabling the massive, commoditized exchange of data among networks, among companies, and among collaborators. Yet at the same time, satellites can solve the vexing problem of the last linehow to get a product, service, or information from the main trunk line to the millions of points, many of them isolated and distant, for cheap.
A great deal of weather information wasand isalready available to the public. The whole point of the NWS was to gather data from its observation network and plug it into models that could provide forecasts and then alert the public in case of danger. NWS relies on some , Automated Suce Observing System units, located mainlyatairportsthroughout the country, as well as another , stations scattered around the world that part of the Meteorological Assimilation Data Ingest System.
Iridium, which notes it is the only satellite communications company that offers truly global voice and data communications coverage, employs a network of satellites that spin around the Earth a few hundred miles up. The company had an inauspicious startit went bankrupt in soon after going publicand its still relatively small. Revenues last quarter were about million, and it has about , subscribers. Like others in the highend communications business, it has a symbiotic relationship with the defense eslishment. But no company better represents the potential and awesome power of the subject Ive chosen for the final installment of this series on our invisible modern wonders communications satellites.
Banks, which have been around for many centuries, represent one of the most obvious examples of the ilure of trickledown economics. They were founded to serve the rich. And today, about . billion adultshalf of those on the planetareestimated to be unbanked. In Kenya in , fewer than percent of the people had bank accounts. In years, banks provided their customers with licensed commercial banks, , bank branches, and , ATMs, write Omwansa and Sullivan. This, in a country with a population of million. Only about , people had credit or debit cards. If you look at the emerging market, theres a huge lack of infrastructure. There are no banks, there are no bank branches. There are no real financial services in the rural areas, Michael Joseph, the South Africaborn former CEO of Saricom who helped create MPesa, tells me. But the needs for the things that banks providesafe place to store money, someone to process transactionswere certainly there.
Courtesy of TeleGeography. See alarger versionor visit theinteractive versionof the Submarine Cable Map.
For the worlds wealthy, cash has long been free from its metal and incarnations. The global network of banks and payment processors is wired to zap cash electronically around the world. But Visa, MasterCard, and global banks like HSBC and JPMorgan Chase are expensive wired systems that are actually quite sluggish. While you can conduct your transactions wirelessly, money still moves through a complex network of brickandmortar banks and hardwired terminals. And that cant possibly accommodate the needs of most of humanity.
Mapping the world and charting its traffic problems are extraordinarily laborintensive undertakings. Thats where Wazes human back end comes into play. The company has about employees, ided between Tel Aviv, Israel; New York; and Mountain View, California. But the mapa breathing organism that constantly evolves to ensure the accuracy of street names, housing numbers, and construction sitesis maintained by a community of , volunteer map editors. Editorsanybody can sign upstart by notations about their immediate area. We dont manage them, we dont pay them, we dont tell them what to do, says Julie Mossler, a Waze spokeswoman. But the company doesnt have an entirely handsoff attitude. People who have made million edits or more are considered champs, and they have a direct line to the company. And Waze now provides support to a group of editors based in Italy who are starting a project to map Africa more accurately.
Theseven wondersof classical antiquity were architectural marvels, triumphs of human ego and raw power. The great achievements of today, however, are made possible by systems, infrastructure, and technologies that are invisible. This series, which continued last week withGPSpowered dynamic maps, explores the wonders of our modern world. Here is the third wonder
MPesa originally targeted Nairobis higherincome men, who would use the system to send money to relatives in villages. But urban shopkeepers and rural rmers have picked up on it. Originally designed as a peertopeer network, MPesa has evolved into a commercial tool. CocaColas Kenya distributor uses MPesa to accept payments from its network of vendors. Welloff people use MPesa to pay their domestic staff. As Omwansa and Sullivan note inMoney, Real Quick,the Mumias Sugar Company uses MPesa to pay many of its cane cutters instantly. Previously, theyd have to line up for hours to get paid and miss work as a result. The company has also done deals with banks that allow people to set up savings accounts through MPesa and save in increments of as little as a few pennies.
At John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, where the traffic on the runways has often rivaled that on the New Jersey Turnpike,controllersare now using a virtual queuing system. By forecasting traffic through historical data, they assign minute slots to flights up to two hours in advance. Rather than leave the gate and sit on the runway, planes wait with their engines off until their appointed times. That saves fuel since they can run systems on electric power at the gate and reduces congestion in the taxi areas.
When the weather is clear and all systems are go, as many as , flights can take off and land each day at HartsfieldJackson Atlanta International, thebusiest airport in the world. In recent years, the airport has expanded its flight capacity slightly, but not by increasing the number of runways. Watch the planes take off, and you might see a more subtle innovation.modern designThe new s