Sometimes it feels like the world is going to hell before our eyes. Luckily, some enterprising individuals are thinking outside the box to help fix these issues. Actually, thinking outside the box is an understatement. These innovators have ripped the box open, taken a wide-stance squat, and deposited a corn-studded steamer inside it … 

Painting Eyespots On Cows

Farmers in the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana often lose their free-ranging cattle to lions and leopards. In retaliation, the farmers sometimes hunt down the big cats responsible. So how do you save both cats and cows? Maybe introduce an even larger predator to scare away the lions like some kind of bear or the student loan industry? We're no conservatologists. But Neil Jordan, who is, and a damn fine one at that, concocted a much simpler solution. 

Jordan took inspiration from the natural world. He noted that butterflies, birds, fish, and other animals with eye-like designs unknowingly (but effectively) trick predators into thinking they'd been spotted. Jordan figured the same strategy might work with mammals, deterring the big hungry cats who often rely on ambush

And Jordan was right. After proving the efficacy of "anti-predator eyespots" in a small pilot study, Jordan's conservation team collaborated with farmers and the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust on the "eye-cow" (or "i-cows") project. 

It involved 14 herds and 2,061 total cattle, split into three groups. Conservationists stenciled eyespots on the backside of 683 cattle, painted crosses on the rumps of 543 others, and left the remaining 835 unpainted. 

At the end of the four-year study, none of the eye-painted cattle had been killed, only four of the cross-painted ones had been killed, while 15 of the unpainted specimens fell to predation. Not bad for a few cents of paint and other minor materials

The farmers don't have to change their lives in any way, except eating more steak to attenuate their now-larger herds. Plus, the increased focus on non-lethal coexistence can help save lion populations, which have declined by 40% over the past two decades. A win-win all around … except for the cows that have only had their delicious demise slightly delayed.

Researchers must still test whether the method works if none of the cows are left unpainted. Maybe the unmarked cattle saved their brethren by inadvertently offering themselves as sacrificial big cat cannon fodder. Regardless, the results are promising, and the method is now being used in Argentina, India, and Kenya, among other places.

The most significant risk is that the feisty felines could wisen up. We know from viral videos that house cats have learned to use toilets, drink from the fridge, and break into seemingly secure automatic feeders. So imagine what a giant cat-brain is capable of. And how pissed off it'll be when it learns we've been tricking it. 

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Man-Made Glaciers

More than 10,000 feet up in the Himalayan plateau, the people of the Ladakh region inhabit the geological ass-crack of the Himalayas and the Kunlun mountain ranges. The area receives less than four inches of annual rainfall, so villagers rely on glacial meltwater, which starts flowing in June. But every spring, they face a water shortage, recently exacerbated by rising global temperatures. This leaves them a nigh-impossible choice: should they irrigate their nutritive, life-sustaining crops or use the water to wet the community Slip' N Slide?

Unwilling to compromise, Indian engineer Sonam Wangchuk built a glacier inspired by ancestral "glacier crafting" practices

These practices involved chipping away ice chunks and forming a big pile at high altitudes, where they'd freeze into a mini-glacier. Apocryphally, the plateau-dwellers attempted to halt Genghis Khan's advance this way. Though the prevalence of the last name "Khan" suggests, they weren't so successful. Wangchuk's method requires less labor and exploits natural black magic. Water holds its level: if it's piped from a height of 60 feet, it sprays 60 feet into the air when it exits the downstream pipe. The falling spray freezes in the frigid Himalayan night, naturally forming a cone that can reach more than 100 feet in height. 

Cones also melt slowly: they create their own shade and have less sunlight-soaking surface area than other shapes. To test the concept, in 2014, Wangchuk built the prototype, a 22-foot-tall ice cone, and placed it in direct sunlight and at the warmest, lowest altitude possible. It proved successful, lasting until mid-May.

The only obstacle was cost. To construct the piping infrastructure for a larger ice cone, Wangchuk raised $125,000 through crowdfunding and, presumably, selling peanut brittle door-to-door. The resultant six-story ice mound survived until June and watered some poplars, but villagers weren't particularly excited. So Wangchuk promoted the cones as ice stupas, for their resemblance to regional Buddhist shrines made of stones or mud, called stupas.

People soon lined up to pray and prostrate at the ice stupas. They decorated them with sacred flags and circumambulated about them, chanting mantras. Spurred by the positive response, Wangchuk built an even mightier, seven-story stupa that contained a million liters of water and supplied thousands of liters per day. 

And by 2020, 26 ice stupas have been erected, thanks to government assistance. Additionally, a pipeline to create 50 more is in the works, hoping to supply 10 million liters of water per year. So even though some may consider the Ladakh-ians disadvantaged, when's the last time you drank from a badass man-made glacier? 

Water Bottle Lights

In this century of Large Hadron Colliders and Mars rovers, it's a sad reality that over a billion people live without electric lighting. A fact you're unlikely to appreciate as you sit there reading this, with the combined glow of an HD TV, laptop, and smartphone softly illuminating your bulging, gummy worm-filled cheeks. Luckily, people better than us are working hard to light the world.

Brazilian mechanic Alfredo Moser invented the solar bottle light in 2002. He was spurred into action by the rolling blackouts so common in Brazil that citizens can set their watches to them. Moser's solar bottle lights are cheap, easy to make, and highly reproducible, requiring only a bit of water and a splash of bleach to prevent the formation of algae. And despite their low-tech nature, they're stupendously bright:

The surprising brilliance is achieved naturally, as light bounces around (or refracts) inside the bottle like some kind of ecstasy-fueled, orgiastic mosh-pit of photons. And with a lifespan of up to five years, solar lights are a reliable, safe replacement for kerosene and biomass materials (including dung) that pose a fire risk and create toxic fumes when burned. 

In 2011, Moser helped birth the Liter of Light project, which aims to supply developing countries with inexpensive, reliable, and accessible light sources. The grassroots, open-source framework has inspired and empowered a global community of DIY solar engineers, who illuminate their communities, earn extra income, and utilize local materials to help end the reliance on external aid

Liter of Light also designed an upgraded bottle-light, supplying LED bulbs, micro-solar panels, and tiny rechargeable batteries to create typhoon-proof streetlights with a several-year lifespan. The worldwide impact is significant. Within 20 months of its inception, Liter of Light lit up 150,000 homes in the Philippines and 350,000 homes in 15 countries. And the project continues to grow, with solar lights gracing more than a million households in over 30 countries as of 2019. 

In the Philippines, where around 16 million people live without electricity, these lights now illuminate 350,000 homes. In Yemen, cities are lit by 10,000 DIY street lights. And in the UAE, a group of 300 children shattered a record by producing 2,000 solar lights in a single day. Even global poison purveyor Pepsi has pledged funding and support to light villages in Colombia, Egypt, Mexico, and Pakistan, presumably to make amends for all those "We don't have Coke" moments. 

Shape-Shifting Pasta

The phrase "MIT invents" usually ends with "a new type of particle accelerator" and definitely not "shape-shifting pasta." But flat-packed noodles, which take form when boiled, are worth the effort.

Even when perfectly packed, a box of macaroni contains 67% air by volume, putting Fritos' bags to shame. But shape-shifting pasta can be packed flat to double up on packaging space. It reduces waste, has a lower carbon footprint, and cooks faster for business-oriented pasta-eaters on the go

MIT achieved this miraculous food feat with gelatin, which absorbs water and expands. By varying the density of the gelatin, different areas absorb more water and bloom into almost any imaginable – and a few unimaginable – shapes. The scientists describe their invention as edible origami: a playful but ambitious mix of eco-friendly innovation and performance art. And truly, watching these wild forms take shape is a hypnotic, meditative, almost cathartic experience akin to a culinary Cirque du Soleil.

To showcase their foodstuff's potential, the MIT team collaborated with a "high-end" Boston chef – the type that plates a sprig of romaine, five parmesan shavings, and an eyedrop of dressing before charging you $37 for a "deconstructed Caesar." Their collaboration birthed a dish consisting of plankton and squid ink-flavored gelatin discs wrapped around beads of caviar. And a self-dividing fettuccine made of gelatins that melt at different temperatures when submerged in hot broth. 

The project's lead author, Lining Yao, says the pasta has great texture and that it "tasted pretty good." "Tastes pretty good" is an underwhelming bit of pasta box copywriting for sure, but when's the last time Barilla tried to save the world? 

MIT also seeks to "democratize the design of noodles" through an online database that allows pasta enthusiasts to model the noodles of their dreams by digitally fiddling with their shape and texture. So even though we were promised a future of anti-cancer serums and sexy robot maids, we'll accept "customizable pasta that's 3D-printed and shipped to our door" as a (more than) fair trade.

“Super Monster Wolf”

Thanks to a state-sponsored eradication program, Japan hunted its native wolves to extinction in the early 1800s. And now pesky boars, deer, and vermin have overrun parts of Japan and invaded farms, eating rice and chestnut crops. To neutralize the nuisance, the Japanese have devised the most Japanese solution possible:

That handsome, solar battery-powered fellow is known as "super monster wolf," an animatronic super monster wolf that inhabits farmlands near the city of Kisarazu in Chiba Prefecture. It's Japan's technological take on the scarecrow. When it senses an approaching threat, its eyes emit a fiery red glow, and it unleashes a fearsome howl.

With an effective range of 0.62 miles, it proved much more effective than an electric fence even though the robot wolf is, for now, (thankfully) immobile. It's so effective at shooing away wild animals that it received approval for mass production in 2018. And machine-makers Ohta Seiki (whose tortured, fevered dreams produced the robot) have sold about 70 units as of 2020. 

Two of those went to the city of Takikawa, on the island prefecture of Hokkaido, to scare away the emboldened bears that have become more aggressive while foraging for acorns and nuts, which have become scarcer in the wild. These smarter-than-your-average-bears have descended, without much resistance, upon the lockdown-emptied cities. As a result, bear encounters reached a five-year peak in 2020 and included two fatal attacks. But since the implementation of the super monster wolf, no bear sightings have been reported

The only downside? A steep price tag of around $5,000 per unit -- super monster wolves aren't as cheap as they used to be. But farmers will have the option to lease the robots, introducing the potential for the most hilarious Yakuza protection racket yet

Top image: Jamestgurley/Wiki Commons

 

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