FutureTech 2014: all abuzz about bees

  • Keynote speaker Captain Nick Sloane recounted the gripping tale of the raising of the Costa Concordia.
  • Cyberguitarist Jonathan Crossley kept the audience enthralled.
  • Greg Aberdeen (left) and Mark Collins show off their awards.
  • Headline sponsors WorldsView Technologies and Autodesk captured the imagination of delegates at their foyer display with insights into the technologies now shaping our world.
Date:4 November 2014 Tags:, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What do a cyberguitarist, beekeepers, dark matter and the most ambitious salvage operation in history have in common? That’s right: #PMFutureTech2014

First, the increasingly awed silence that, translated, indicates the sound of jaws dropping. Smiles. And then, spontaneous applause. It was like that, listening to the story pour out of Greg Aberdeen.

And what a story it is. An unlikely – miraculous, almost – tale of a home-grown beekeeping innovation that is taking the world by storm. To think it all started out with the idea of generating some extra employment for a hearing-impaired workforce. After their story appeared in Popular Mechanics, that workforce has had to be trebled. And re-trebled.

Fittingly, PM awarded its prestigious Inventor of the Year title to Mark Collins and Aberdeen for the development of this revolutionary beehive system. Their BeePak composite flat-pack design, an all-South African concept featured in PM August 2014, solves some of the most critical problems in modern beekeeping.

In a citation accompanying the award, made at Popular Mechanics FutureTech 2014 in Cape Town, the two inventors were praised for their “inspiration, technological prowess and entrepreneurial spirit”. At the same function, two University of Cape Town bio-engineers, Dr George Vicatos and MSc student Severin Tenim, were honoured with the Cutting Edge award for the design and development of an affordable anthropomorphic (human-like) prosthetic hand. Three years ago, Dr Vicatos claimed the top spot for inventing a versatile and potentially life-changing facial reconstruction system.

PM also presented deserving players in the industry with Breakthrough Awards: the Science Award was handed over to the University of Stellenbosch for the recent nanochip on a capsule breakthrough; BMW accepted the Automotive Mobility Award for its innovative mobility technology.

The announcements came at the end of a varied and exciting programme described by one impressed delegate as “insane, but wonderful”. Keynote presenter was Costa Concordia salvor Captain Nick Sloane, who delivered an illustrated talk on the biggest salvage operation in maritime history.

Looking to the future, in a wide-ranging overview of the design process, Imraan Lambat – who heads the technical division for manufacturing and process plant verticals at FutureTech headline sponsors WorldsView Technologies in Africa, representing multinational 3D CAD software company Autodesk – provided delegates with penetrating insights into the innovative ways in which our world is being shaped. Similarly, Deena Govender, from FutureTech associate BMW, lifted the lid on the company’s vision of the mobility of tomorrow – some of it available right now.

Making his valedictory appearance, outgoing PM Editor Alan Duggan – for so long the driving force behind FutureTech and its precursors – gazed into his crystal ball for some 2020 predictions. In typically waggish mood (then again, he might have been entirely serious) he concluded by saying, “I am looking forward to the day I can merge with a machine and become superhuman.”

Also in the spotlight were cyber-guitarist Jonathan Crossley, a formidably accomplished musician and doctoral student from Wits University who played a weird guitar and waxed lyrical on “organised noise’; and Stellenbosch University history professor Sandra Swart, who spoke about “Zombie zoology” (actually, a commentary on attempts to revive extinct species).

Delegates also heard about dark energy candidates from Professor Peter Dunsby, co-director of the Centre for Astrophysics, Cosmology and Gravitation at UCT; took a sneak peek at future technology on our seas with Nautic CEO James Fisher; learnt about modern photonics from the CSIR’s Professor Andrew Forbes; and were blown away by a talented musician who goes by the name Wild Lettuce.

Said PM Editor Anthony Doman: “I’ll admit I was a little concerned about whether dark matter and biomechanics could coexist with amplified guitars – not to mention didgeridoos. But I’m pleased to report that, not only do they coexist, they even at times draw on each other’s DNA to create an altogether new, exciting hybrid.

“In fact, that description pretty much encapsulates FutureTech. Under the stewardship of my predecessor, Alan Duggan, this unique event has steadily grown in stature. And I’m truly excited by its potential. Curiosity is hardwired into humankind; FutureTech celebrates that enquiring mind. It informs, challenges and inspires, reflecting our maxim, ‘Be the first to know’. Above all, like Popular Mechanics, it accomplishes this in a thoroughly engaging, compelling way.”