Core77

Ants Building Rafts and Bridges to Escape Flooding

On Sunday, a reporter covering the flooding in South Carolina made an interesting discovery: A colony of fire ants were weathering the storm by creating an enormous life raft, made out of themselves. The ants had all linked their limbs together, creating a contiguous mass that readily floats. The reporter subsequently posted a video of it, and it went viral almost immediately. But as it turns out, this isn't a new discovery at all, and the fire ant raft practice is even more amazing than you'd think. For years the BBC, National Geographic and Georgia Tech grad student Nathan Mlot have been publishing their findings on how fire ants cope with flooding. Once the colony is endangered by rising waters, a portion of ants start linking up to create a base for the "island," while others start grabbing the colony's eggs and tucking them safely away up top. The queen, too, is ferried to the middle of the island, where she can sit high and dry. And the ants on the bottom of the raft do not become submerged, as the fine hairs on their bodies prevent the water's surface from breaking.They even retain buoyancy when researchers, perhaps bored of burning them with magnifying glasses, attempt to dunk them:However, nature being nature, it is not all smooth sailing. Fish turn the ant rafts into a Jaws movie:And as Entomology grad student Alison Bockoven has observed, these rafts can also be formed into living bridges—and incredibly, the ants are somehow able to generate soulful folk music as they work:To gain a deeper scientific understanding of what causes this behavior, Core77's editorial team reached out to Paul Rudd for comment, but at press time he had not returned any of our messages.

No Penalty for Poverty:  A Conversation with Hugh Whalan

Today on ImpactDesignHub.org, Core77's Allan Chochinov speaks with solar tech pioneer Hugh Whalan about his most recent project PEG, a pay-as-you-go technology to provide financing for solar to 500,000 customers in West Africa by 2018. Read the full interview on ImpactDesignHub.org to hear more about Whalan's strategies for change-making, entrepreneurship and behavioral economics in West Africa.

DiResta’s Cut: Tree Slice Stool

Finishing up his trilogy of furniture built from large tree parts, Jimmy DiResta tackles seating in this episode of DiResta's Cut. (The previous two installments included a live-edge shelf and a table.)Though under the weather, Jimmy DiResta still managed to get into the shop to crank out this latest installment of DiResta's Cut. Finishing up his trilogy of furniture built from large tree parts, Jimmy tackles seating this time around (the previous two installments included a live-edge shelf and a table):Up next, DiResta will be switching materials. "This is the last thing I make using a tree," Jimmy says. "Corian project next!"

In a Massive Brooklyn Garage, a Man is Patiently Repairing 58 Classic Cars

For auto design lovers it's hard not to pine away for the 1950s, when America released bold, original shapes that became the envy of the world. Outside of Cuba or a retro auto show, you're not likely to see dozens of these cars at once.Unless you know Lenny in Brooklyn, that is. A self-professed lover of exterior automotive designs from roughly the late '40s to the late '50s, Lenny has been collecting and repairing the cars in a massive garage space in Gowanus. The breadth of his handpicked collection has to be seen to be believed, and it's a real pleasure listening to him explain why he does what he does: Lenny's Garage from Peter Crosby on Vimeo.Props to photographer Peter Crosby for telling Lenny's story.

Brilliantly-Designed Inuit Fish Hook That Allows the Halibut Population to Replenish Itself

Time to put your ID thinking caps on. Take a second and think about how you'd solve the following problem using design: 1) You feed your family by fishing in frigid Alaska, out on the open water in a dugout canoe. 2) If you catch a fish that's too big, it'll capsize your boat and you'll drown. 3) If you catch a fish that's too small, you're killing an infant that isn't a meal-worthy size—and more importantly, hasn't yet had a chance to reproduce, and you want that fish population to continually replenish itself, for the sake of the next generation. So you're looking for that Goldilocks fish. How do you ensure that fish of only a certain size get caught on your hook? Absent nylon netting, Native Alaskans designed a very clever device to achieve this aim.By observing their prey, these Inuit fishermen saw that the fish in question, halibut, did not nibble at bait; instead they opened their mouths wide in an attempt to inhale it. They then came up with these precisely-sized, hand-carved wooden objects accompanied by a bone barb:Can you figure out how it works? The bait is placed inside the object's "mouth," near the crook of the "V." And the overall object is sized such that a small fish cannot open their mouths wide enough to get to the bait and become hooked by the barb. A too-large fish, meanwhile, has a mouth that spans the maximum width of the object, meaning they can't get stuck by the barb either. Only the Goldilocks halibut can reach the bait and become hooked by the barb.The Halibut Hook, as it's referred to by the Smithsonian and other museums, surely deserves a design award; it was sourced from local materials, locally produced, contributes to sustainability by allowing the fish population to replenish itself, and it's pure form-follows-function. And the unnamed designers should get extra credit for carving the hooks into attractive, animal-spirit-inspired shapes.While it looks small in the photos, it actually isn't. The following video gives you a sense of the object's scale, and a modern-day user describes how he uses it to fish:

Clever Glue Bottle Design

Here's a great example of how clever design features can be packed into something as simple as a bottle. Billed as "The glue bottle that sucks," FastCap's GluBot shows that by analyzing how things are actually used and making some clever changes, one can vastly improve the end user's experience.Let's look at your standard bottle of Titebond. When you slide the nozzle shut, a little plastic "tongue" occupies the slit, pushing a small amount of glue residue outside the tip. I always thought that was neat, as you just peel off the dried residue next time you use it. But the GluBot goes well beyond this in terms of convenience, and gets around the problem a finish carpenter might encounter, where he's trying to glue a piece of crown molding up near the ceiling and doesn't have the clearance to turn the bottle upside down.Who better to describe the GluBot's design features than someone who uses it every day for work? Here's Ron Paulk running down the list of design wins, and showing you the only thing that's better than the standard GluBot:

An Elegant Lamp, Inflated Using Heat and a Bike Pump

In many cases, furniture and products are simply presented in shiny, spotless and finished form, void of any context. On less frequent occasions, a designer's process is voiced through the actual form of the object; in these instances not only does the form shed light on how something was made, but it also gives an indication of the hand who made it. Some of my favorite examples of this include the experimental wax joined chair designed by Jerszy Seymour, or Max Lamb's nanocrystalline copper furniture created using electro forming. Ruben der Kinderen's blown-glass lampThe "BLOW-lamp," designed by Ruben der Kinderen, recently sparked my interest with its inventiveness and process transparency. The lamps are made by manually injecting hot air into PET tubes, which are then inflated like balloon animals using a tool almost identical to a conventional bike pump. The video that accompanies the photographs on his site absolutely serves to enhance the overall intrigue of the object. Check out the quick inflation process here:So sure, the process of how the lamp is made may serve as a gimmick to purchase—but the object also manages to stand apart from its process, and can be admired simply for its delicate and minimal form.

Game-Changing Product Design: Small L16 Camera Replaces an SLR and a Bag Full of Lenses

Market research shows that 50% of folks who own an SLR camera no longer use it. It's simply too bulky to carry around, especially with a full complement of lenses, and most of us find it more convenient to shoot with our phones.Enter brilliant inventor Rajiv Laroia, who stopped carrying his SLR for the reason mentioned above. Laroia observed that tiny, smartphone-sized camera lenses were becoming more and more affordable, and he then spent nine months studying optics to design a camera that would incorporate them. The result is the Light L16 camera, which incorporates 16 lenses, each with their own sensor, and fires 10 of them with every shot.Courtesy: Light (http://light.co/) Courtesy: Light (http://light.co/) Courtesy: Light (http://light.co/) Courtesy: Light (http://light.co/) After capturing light from ten "cameras" at once–the company refers to each lense/sensor as its own camera–the device uses software to crunch that information into a single photo, which the user can tweak during processing, changing the aperture after-the-fact. This means that as with the Lytro, one can alter the depth of focus after the image has already been shot–for example, bringing a person in frame into sharp focus while blurring the background behind them. The Light Story from light on Vimeo.Here's a closer look at how the camera is constructed, and some of the back story:It took two years to get Light, Laroia's company, up and running and with funding behind it. They've just signed a production deal with Foxconn and the product will begin shipping in 2016. Perhaps most amazing is the price: The folks at Light reckon the camera replaces $6,000 worth of SLR lenses, while costing only $1,699—and they're knocking $400 off of the price for those who pre-order. You can just picture the panicky meetings being called at SLR and lens manufacturers around the world.

Beijing Design Week 2015: Mall Madness

Even as the mall meets its demise in America, the one-stop retail megaplex rises anew, bigger and better than ever, in the Far East, with the gravitational pull to bring design week into its purview.The narrative is altogether too obvious; the artlessness fitting, in some ways, for China, but all-too-easily misinterpreted: After three solid years exhibiting in a quiet artist's village, one of Beijing Design Week's more eclectic offerings had forsaken its home to relocate to a generically ritzy shopping mall. But considering that Parkview Green — another luxe shopping center that expressly differentiates itself with contemporary art exhibitions all year round — is also participating this year, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on why, exactly, exhibiting in a shopping mall is a contextually appropriate solution for a design exhibition in China.Designed by Studio O, the "Symphony of Blues" installation features 88 distinct hues of blue.To elaborate on the first example, I was initially surprised to learn that the tight-knit CaoChangDi design community (originally established by none other than Ai Weiwei some 15 years ago) would not be reprising their well-regarded exhibition on their home turf but rather at the multilevel retail concourse of INDIGO Mall. Even so, if this bizarro-world epiphenomenon is attributable to the rise of consumerism in China, it is less a case of selling out as it is a symptom of contemporary Chinese culture.In some ways, it is a kind of reaction, a knowingly subversive ploy to infiltrate the system. Given curator Ben Hughes' evergreen intentions, the temporary colonization of Indigo is best construed as a means of hacking urban space, meeting the everyday citizens halfway, at a popular venue where an unsuspecting public might stumble across a proper design week exhibition. A destination in itself, INDIGO is both familiar and accessible to the vast majority of the populace — especially compared to an artist's village on the outskirts of the city, tucked in an otherwise unremarkable residential pocket of northeast Beijing.Beijing-based motorcycle brand Munro exhibited a few of their café-racer-inspired bikes.Offering a well-curated selection of Chinese furniture and design brands, Haozai launched at INDIGO.Haozai did well to stage "Like East Like West Like Home" as a kind of mini-showroom.And to its credit, Hughes spoke highly of mall management: Indigo is owned and operated by multinational developer Swire Properties, which boasts tens of millions of commercial square footage in mainland China and Hong Kong, where it is based. Moreover, Swire's recent development efforts have a cultural dimension, and the “INDIGO – Designed to Delight” exhibition is simply the latest manifestation of this strategy. Cynicism about the high-end property developer's agenda aside, Hughes and his team at A4 had a high degree of creative control and were well aware of what they were getting themselves into.Working with Indigo has given us the opportunity to re-imagine some familiar spaces in unusual ways. Temporary installations within shopping malls are typically heavily commercial in nature. We hope that our designers' exhibitions will give visitors the chance to experience the space in a different way.Of course, the wider audience comes at the expense of the focus afforded by non-commercial environs: even within the largely self-contained “Symphony in Blue” pavilion in the Winter Garden, the porous walls intended to invite mall patrons but inevitably permeable to the sights and sounds of the multi-story food court surrounding it on three sides. The pop-up exhibitions throughout the rest of INDIGO similarly suffer from the supersaturated backdrop of window displays and bombastic signage.Ridiculous Playroom by Lin JingDigital X chairs by Zhang Zhoujie"Everyday Issues (Continued)" by CAFA Industrial Design studentsNevertheless, it seems that visual cacophony is the norm for Chinese city-dwellers — middle-class mallgoers and nouveau riche collectors alike. One of Swire's competitors, New World Development, opened the first K11 Art Mall in Hong Kong in 2009, set the precedent for the hybrid temple of art and commerce. By last January, M+ Museum's Lars Nittve (a colleague of BJDW's founding Creative Director, Aric Chen) expressed his reservations about the rise of the art mall in China and beyond; from a South China Morning Post article:“Artists don't make art to fit in malls. Artists make works of art for different types of spaces, usually discrete and distant from the ambience of commerce. ”But retailers have more leverage because of a lack of exhibition space around the city. “It's more challenging in a city where you don't have lots of opportunities to exhibit in proper exhibitions spaces… We struggle all the time to find spaces to do exhibitions. I'm sure this gives malls in Hong Kong an upper hand. Artists are satisfied with less than they would be in, say, in London.”Conversely, Beijing's 798 Arts District has endured the opposite, as the last few years have seen property owners capitalizing on its status as a tourist destination, leasing newly inflated commercial space to retailers, brands and companies looking for a bit of cachet. While it's no coincidence that INDIGO is actually a short walk from 798, it's worth noting that Ai Weiwei himself would hang out at that very mall, during his otherwise idle days of house arrest — equally at home in his former stomping ground and the newer establishments that his efforts have indirectly attracted, some two decades later.It's perhaps too optimistic to depict it as a rising tide, lifting all boats, but suffice it to say that the status of art and design remains subject to the whims of a still-nascent market and consciousness; there's no crystal ball, but at least the annual pulse of Beijing Design Week serves as a useful barometer.VULCAN pavilion by the Laboratory for Creative Design (Yu Lei & Xu Feng)It was not surprising, then, to see that another shimmering shopping center offer a design exhibition of its own. Run by yet another developer, Parkview Green is both a mall and a gallery, with rotating permanent exhibitions of artwork from the private collection of owner George Wong, a Hong Kong real-estate mogul. Known in Chinese as FangCaoDi, the LEED-certified glass demi-pyramid hosted a special exhibition, apropos design week, of its own, anchored by a 3D-printed pavilion. Designed by architects Yu Lei and Xu Feng of the Laboratory for Creative Design (LCD), the freestanding canopy — created with bespoke software — is made of over 1,000 unique panels, produced on 20 FDM machines of Yu's own design in the ten days leading up to design week. Lo and behold, the 8.08m-diameter structure earned the Guinness World Record for largest 3D-printed structure.Detail of VULCANBack in INDIGO, Hughes mentioned that Swire, too, would be keeping at least one of the pieces from “Designed to Delight.” Acknowledging the lack of seating in shopping centers, where idling is discouraged, Hughes explained that Lin Jing's “Ridiculous Bench” speaks to the Chinese proclivity to adapt objects at hand as stools, a riff on psychologist James Gibson's notion of affordance.It's a funny concept, actually, presenting these ad hoc stools graphically, printed on a series of rectilinear objects, each measuring slightly larger-than-life scale and arranged as a single linear seating unit. For a seemingly straightforward concept, there's a lot to unpack: The basketball, for one, evokes a Jeff Koons equilibrium tank. The fact that the volumes overestimate the dimensions of the original objects means that each would make a perfect plinth for its "contents"; the larger size also implies that the original object might be encased within, either boxed up in foam or otherwise packaged for shipping and safekeeping.Yet the objects have been flattened into pictures; stripped of their utility, their function is reduced to sitting, to the effect that they are useful precisely because they have been made sculptural. As a series of white cubes, the “Ridiculous Bench” might be construed as a gallery that has somehow been turned inside-out — a fitting metaphor for “INDIGO – Designed to Delight.”

Toyota Demonstrates Amount of Energy Recovered Through Regenerative Braking By Using Racecar to Power Breakfast Preparation

There are two Toyota stories in the news right now, and we're guessing they only want you to hear about one of them. The one we assume they'd rather go unnoticed is about government bodies asking why Toyotas are so popular with ISIS members. (I had a couple of jokes written here on this topic, but as I submit this post I find myself too chicken to taunt a violent extremist group and have deleted them.)The second, more pleasant story is to do with Toyota's Barista project, which has to do with regenerative braking. It takes a lot of energy to move an automobile from a dead stop up to speed, and once we hit the brakes, all of that energy is lost and turned into useless heat in the brake pads. Thus manufacturers have been looking at regenerative braking systems to recover that energy and pump it back into acceleration.The Barista project is meant to illustrate just how much energy they're able to recover. Thus they took their TS040 Hybrid racecar, had it run a simulated lap of Le Mans complete with acceleration and braking, and had their Kinetic Energy Recovery System feed the regained juice back into a bunch of electric appliances producing breakfast. Yes, breakfast. Here are the results:You have to admit that one cup of coffee, a third of a fried egg and half a piece of toast each for 171 people does paint a clearer picture than saying that the KERS recovered "Six million joules." And once their engineers have fine-tuned KERS through the brutal rigors of endurance racing, we expect to see a version of it popping up in consumer-level cars, fulfilling its original purpose: To store it in a battery, to be used to help the car accelerate again. There may not be coffee and fried eggs, but there's sure to be a savings at the pump.