Natural Gas: It turns out that dog poo, the stuff we pick up and toss, is a useful—and a definitely renewable—resource. Placed in an airtight container, or “digester,” anaerobic bacteria break it down, converting it to biogas—primarily methane. At Cosmo Dog Park in Gilbert, Ariz., a digester project run by students at Arizona State University’s College of Technology powers one of the park’s lights and reduces maintenance costs. It’s also lighting up the night in Cambridge, Mass., in Pacific Street Park, where conceptual artist Matthew Mazzotta’s “Project Park Spark” keeps the flame burning in an old-fashioned park light using methane produced in a dual-tank digester. In both instances, the systems are themselves fueled by dog owners, who use biodegradable bags to pick up after their pups, then toss the bags in the digester: a perfect functional/technical mash-up.
Connectivity: A Mexico City Internet company recently tested a novel concept in 10 public parks: dog-walkers dropped full poop bags into a special container that doubled as a router. For each pound of poop deposited, a set number of minutes of free wi-fi were available to all park users. Though it was conceived as a short-term publicity action, rewarding people for doing the right thing sounds like a winner to us.
Poop Power: Pet waste is a big deal, and a big business. An entire industry is devoted to removing it from yards, dog daycares, vet clinics and cities. Left uncollected, it’s a hazard not only to the unwary but also to the environment. To keep it out of landfills and waterways, some cities are taking the proactive approach of asking trash collection companies to apply technology to the problem. By developing strategies to convert poop to power, this oh-so-common waste material can be converted to a useful and environment- friendly fuel.
Sad Tech: In 1957, a Soviet mutt named Laika became the first animal to orbit the Earth, as well as the first to die in the process. A good-natured stray from the streets of Moscow, Laika became famous worldwide as “Muttnik.” Her demise was met with protest from around the world, and help propel the humane movement into the modern age.
Bad Tech: Snuppy, an Afghan Hound born in 2005, is credited with being the world’s first cloned dog, and Time labeled him the “most amazing invention of the year.” Commercial cloning of dogs has since become slightly more common, but is still a controversial use of the technology.
Weird Science: Using high-speed cameras and advanced mathematics, researchers have studied everything from how dogs shake themselves dry to how they figure out where to intercept a flung Frisbee. Thanks to their loose skin, wet dogs can shake off 70 percent of the water from their fur in four seconds; their backbones move only 30 degrees in either direction, but their skin can swing a full 90 degrees. Some of the things they discover may eventually find their way into use—such as automated cleaning techniques for the interiors of distant space rovers.