First floating city set to advance the development of drone taxis: Hoverbike director

A talk at The First Tahitian Seasteading Gathering yesterday has opened up the possibility of seasteadings – small floating cities – as a proving ground for people-carrying drones. With the first floating ‘island’ units having undergone early-stage testing for a seasteading off French Polynesia, the work currently being done could act as fuel for a variety of experimental technologies.

The talk was given by Oriol Badia Rafart, director of business development at Malloy Aeronautics. Building on Malloy’s work with the Hoverbike, Rafart described the development of “the uber of the skies, the airline of daily objects”. At the basic level, Rafart believes that floating cities will act as an accelerant for the development of drones in our daily lives.

The development of drones for wider commercial use is not a unique idea; Airbus for example is working on the development of various drone-based forms of public transportation. In concept, by making use of the skies we ease road congestion and, in no small part due to the automation, can potentially come up with more efficient modes of transport.

Rafart, however, focuses on the belief that the development of seasteadings will provide a fertile ground for scientific development. Moreover, it is the kind of development that will be vastly accelerated by the purpose and environment of a seasteading.

A proposed design for the French Polynesia-based floating city. Image and featured image courtesy of The Seasteading Institute

He suggests that the kind of machinery Malloy is developing is perfectly suited to the philosophy of the Seasteading Institute.

“The Seasteading Institute wants to create an ecosystem in which progress can happen: social progress, political progress and scientific progress,” he said. “We at Malloy Aeronautics believe we have to put technology and machines to work for those individuals there so they can focus only on such purpose.”

Of course, what makes the Seasteading Institute’s work of real value to people like Malloy is regulation. Free of traditional government, and established with the purpose of progress, seasteadings are ideal environments in which to test and develop technologies that would otherwise become quickly entangled in regulatory red tape.

A hoverbike developed by Malloy Aeronautics. Image courtesy of Malloy Aeronautics

It is of course understandable why regulations are in place over autonomous drones. If something goes wrong, no one wants a hoverbike plummeting from the sky above a busy street. That said, though, as laid out by Rafart, the current state of regulations poses large problems to making any actual progress in the field.

“Regulations that don’t allow any vehicle to fly without a pilot, to fly out of the line of sight and beyond the line of sight of a pilot, to fly to and from platforms that are not fixed in the ground, and they classify these vehicles and drones by their weight instead of by their use and their safety,” he said. “So, in sum, regulations that don’t understand what they are regulating.”

This sounds all well and good: the establishment of seasteadings as bastions of scientific progress that, free of regulation, allow researchers and companies to make quantum leaps in development. However, I’m just going to note that this whole thing is a little creepily reminiscent of Bioshock. Of course I want to ride a hoverbike. But the memories of an ocean-based society devoted purely to scientific progress with no limitation are a little too real.

From suffocating smog to futuristic fuel: Air purifier turns pollution into power

A device that generates hydrogen gas while purifying air could one day be used to simultaneously combat urban pollution and provide an environmentally friendly fuel source for vehicles.

Developed by scientists from the University of Antwerp and the University of Leuven in Belgium, the device only requires light to work, making it a promising technology for cities looking to improve their air quality.

“We use a small device with two rooms separated by a membrane,” said study lead author professor Sammy Verbruggen, from the Universities of Antwerp and Leuven.

“Air is purified on one side, while on the other side hydrogen gas is produced from a part of the degradation products. This hydrogen gas can be stored and used later as fuel, as is already being done in some hydrogen buses, for example. “

The device is currently only available as a prototype, but the researchers plan to scale it up to be used in industrial-level settings, where it could be used to combat the ever-growing problem of urban air pollution.

Air pollution in California, the US

The device relies on specific nanomaterials within the its membrane, which act as a catalyst to help convert air pollution into hydrogen.

Previously these materials have been used to convert water into hydrogen, however the researchers found that using polluted air was not only also possible, but potentially more effective.

“These catalysts are capable of producing hydrogen gas and breaking down air pollution,” explained Verbruggen. “In the past, these cells were mostly used to extract hydrogen from water. We have now discovered that this is also possible, and even more efficient, with polluted air.”

With a prototype now demonstrated, the researchers plan to develop an industrial-scale version.

“We are currently working on a scale of only a few square centimetres. At a later stage, we would like to scale up our technology to make the process industrially applicable,” explained Verbruggen.

“We are also working on improving our materials so we can use sunlight more efficiently to trigger the reactions. “

The prototype device. Image courtesy of UAntwerpen and KU Leuven

Air pollution is a problem attracting increasing attention in much of the world. The UK government, for example, is currently being sued for repeatedly failing to act on the problem, having taken little action after repeatedly breaching legal air pollution limits in many of its urban areas.

A growing body of research is also drawing links between air pollution and poor health. A study published in ACS Nano in April suggested that nanoscale particles in polluted air could be contributing to heart disease and strokes, while a study by Yale School of Public Health found that air pollution contributes to higher levels of depression.

Other conditions linked to poor air quality include lung cancer and respiratory diseases such as asthma.

It is hoped that the research, which is published today in the journal ChemSusChem, could help to combat the problem.