Is the World Ready for a Radical, Low-Cost Housing Boom?

Is the World Ready for a Radical, Low-Cost Housing Boom?

The next housing boom will be far more radical than the last housing boom. Instead of moving middle-class families into McMansions they can’t possibly afford, this next housing boom will be radical because it will take low-income families from developing markets and move them into affordable, modular housing at a price point close to $2,000 per home. (Yes, that's the total cost of the house, not the monthly mortgage nut). Imagine every family in the world – even those making less than $2 per day – suddenly having potential access to sturdy, affordable housing. Oh, and did I mention that this housing will be powered by the sun? Eventually, these innovations from developing markets will find their way into developed markets, and that will lead to a radical re-think of what’s possible for the lowest strata of American society.

In other words, if you thought "affordable housing" was a code word for welfare, then think again.

Technology visionary Bill Gross, who created the legendary Internet incubator IdeaLab, is now the chairman of WorldHaus, which wants to house the world's poor. As he outlined in his presentation at the United Nations’ Social Innovation Conference last month in New York City, his audacious vision is to create an affordable housing boom in places like India – 200 new houses by the end of this year; 2,000 new houses by the end of 2013; 20,000 new houses in 2014; and 1,000,000 new houses by the end of the decade. Talk about the power of exponential thinking. In January 2012, WorldHaus created the first prototype home in Chennai, India and the plan is to roll them out to low-income areas across India before taking them to other emerging markets.

This idea of low-cost innovations making their way from emerging markets into developed markets is one that has already disrupted the laptop market and the automotive industries. Nicholas Negroponte, with his vision for One Laptop Per Child, gave us the idea that a world-class computer could be made available for under $100. The Tata Nano inspired us to think that a world-class automobile could be made for a fraction of the cost of Western autos. Now, how about a house for under $2,000? It’s classic Bottom of the Pyramid-type thinking, and it’s already yielding results in industries that matter deeply to the developed world, from healthcare to technology. 

The mission of WorldHaus is all the more fascinating, given that Bill Gross does not intend to compromise on home quality. This is not the case of replacing sticks and muds with better sticks and better mud, it's about coming up with something radically different. His own experiences in India, where he was leading a solar power initiative, humbled him. He saw that his workers were returning home to the equivalent of shanty towns and realized that nations like the U.S. could do better when it came to housing the world's poor. What Gross wanted was a no-compromise solution that would be safe, efficient and cheap – cheap enough that it would be perceived as within the budgetary constraints of the world’s Rising Billion. In other words, it had to be available at a cost of $10 per month. To get to that magic price point, there was a lot of thinking about materials, about shipping costs, and about how technology could come up with innovative new solutions - such as solar panels for the home's energy needs.

What remains to be seen is if and when these housing innovations will make their way into developed markets. IKEA, which popularized the idea of low-cost modular furniture has inspired its own version of a low-cost modular house (the Aktiv), now available for less than $100,000. We are also seeing the arrival of affordable "shipping container homes" made from recycled freight containers. Who knows? Maybe instead of plunking down a cool half-mill for a place in the suburbs during the next housing boom, we’ll be plunking down the equivalent of a month’s salary for a place that will last a lifetime. That truly is a radical idea.

image: The first WorldHaus community

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.


Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Learn the Netflix model of high-performing teams

Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.

  • There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
  • Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
  • "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
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Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
She was walking down the forest path with a roll of white cloth in her hands. It was trailing behind her like a long veil.
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