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Circulate on Fridays: Robin Chase on self-driving cars plus crop and fish farming innovation!

Every Friday, Circulate closes out the week with a selection of some of our favourite circular economy-related news from the week that was. Today, we’re sharing an in-depth take on self-driving and autonomous technologies from Robin Chase that genuinely moves the conversation forward. We’re sharing a couple of potentially exciting innovations including high tech bacteria that could make fish farming more effective and a new way of increasing crop yields without fertiliser and minimal water. But what did we miss this week? Let us know in the comments.

Will self-driving cars improve our cities or ruin them?

The kinds of conversations and articles that appear about self-driving cars and autonomous technologies are becoming increasingly familiar. They either take the form of marvelling at a latest update or step forward, or pieces posing hypothetical, but quite distant dilemmas, such as whether a self-driving car would choose to run over an elderly woman or group of school children. Cutting through the generic content, former Zipcar co-founder and owner of Peers Inc. Robin Chase has written something genuinely insightful that could move the conversation forward. Starting with the transformation that the advent of cars had on cities, the economy and the whole of society, Chase asks whether policymakers, businesses and ordinary people are truly prepared for the change that the inevitable rise of automation will bring. Through an exploration of the challenges including issues such as jobs, resource use, congestion and the healthiness of cities, she paints a picture of two potential alternatives, one where the 21st century seizes the opportunities offered by technologies such as self-driving cars, and one less optimistic vision where modern day challenges are intensified. Read the piece to find out how she thinks it might play out.

Chase’s article could hardly have come out at a more opportune time with the announcement that Uber will begin offering a self-driving vehicle service in collaboration with Volvo allowing users to hail autonomous cars. The service is expected to be available in the next few weeks, though of course city regulations will determine that the vehicles have to be occupied by a supervisor. This initiative may be more of a demonstrator than a true addition to Uber’s business for now, but it does show just how progressed these technologies are becoming.

Food innovation

A couple of food related stories have come to our attention this week. In GreenBiz, Kristine Wong focuses on the story of FeedKind, a new fish farming method that could reduce the burden on ocean stocks. In many fish farms, several pounds of wild fish are used as feed or they rely heavily on agricultural land for soy or other types of grain. FeedKind is made by dissolving methane in water with a particular kind of bacteria, which eats those molecules and ferments the mixture that can be extruded to form pellets. The process isn’t without flaws or questions, in particular in terms of the energy picture, but the Carbon Trust has reportedly estimated that the water savings compared to other feed processes are over 75%.

Meanwhile, a French agronomist has uncovered an innovative new method for increasing crop yields. Polyter, a substance produced from a blend of cellulose, organic fertiliser and potassium polyacrylate, can be placed near the plant’s roots. When watered either by rain or farmers, the Polyter crystals act like a super sponge absorbing 97% of the water and swelling to over 500 times the size to act as a kind of pantry from which plants can draw the water and nutrients it needs.

How to be creative

Can anyone be creative? What is the ideal office environment? Listen to this BBC Business Daily podcast where members of IDEO talk about creativity, design thinking and reference strongly their collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and specifically the New Plastics Economy initiative.

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The Author

Seb Egerton-Read

Seb Egerton-Read

Seb writes daily content for Circulate across the full spectrum of the website's topics. Previously he has spent five years as a freelance writer for a number of websites and blogs. You can e-mail Seb at seb[at]circulatenews.org

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