September 2012 issue

Date:1 September 2012 Tags:, , ,

Somewhere out there

It sounds like something from the fevered imagination of a movie scriptwriter, but the well-heeled backers of a newly established company called Planetary Resources are quite serious: they expect to mine asteroids for a handsome profit. As this month’s cover story explains, although they don’t expect a quick return on their investment, they have every expectation of making the project economically viable over the long term. As co-chairman Eric Anderson puts it, “we have a 100-year view for this industry”.

Our story details some of the ways in which suitable asteroids would be located (not easy, considering that these lumps of rock or metal are small, dark and easily obscured by the distorting effect of Earth’s atmosphere), analysed and exploited. Yes, but could asteroid mining really produce a good return, taking into account the huge costs – not to mention the technological challenges involved in extracting the valuable minerals? Well, it’s been estimated that a 24 m-diameter metal asteroid could hold 30 000 tons of extractable metals, including R400 million worth of platinum alone, so perhaps it could.

Still on the subject of exciting opportunities in our future, we’re becoming rather excited about our upcoming FutureTech 2012 conference, which happens in Johannesburg on 25 October. Our presenter line-up includes highly respected scientists, digital tech gurus and a leading expert in cyberforensics, with more to come. If you’d like a better understanding of the technology that runs our world (and of our occasionally uneasy relationship with it), this is your chance: check out the details on page 77, or visit the FutureTech section on our Web site.

Moving along, we describe an outlandish project – the brainchild of Frenchman Georges Mougin – that entails capturing and towing a large iceberg from its freezing birthplace to a parched area of the world such as Australia, Peru or even Namibia, where the potable water would change people’s lives. “Ice dream” (page 22) tells how a company called Dassault Systèmes applied its formidable computing muscle to the concept, using 3D software to simulate an iceberg tow from Newfoundland to the Canary Islands, with encouraging results. Could Mougin’s dream come true? Stranger things have happened.

Finally, a diversion to the Land of Weird. While compiling a feature on wearable tech, deputy editor Anthony Doman received a hot tip (courtesy of PM’s Webmaster, Nikky Oosthuizen) about a product that should resonate with cat-lovers everywhere. He duly located a Japanese fashion electronics company that markets a pair of brain-activated fluffy cat ears with unusual properties: they reflect your state of mind. Apparently, an EEG sensor located on the user’s head picks up the brain’s electrical impulses and the ears are activated accordingly.

Seriously?

Alan Duggan