Distributed Infrastructure

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Spending a the past week driving somewhere new, I’ve been driving by huge infrastructure projects and it makes me think about whether these might be a relic in the next 50 years.

When I was in undergrad studying aerospace engineering, I remember how a few of my profs would marvel about how new aircraft would have distributed hydraulic systems that would cut down on weight and potential catastrophic failure modes. Distributed was safer.

The idea is not new. The Internet is essentially distributed communications infrastructure meant to survive the failure of a node. Fifteen years ago, when the Northeast blackout affected 50 Million people, it was an example of how a centralized power infrastructure (even with distributed generation) could come to a crumbling halt. The Y2K preppers felt vindicated for a few days.

While distributed power generation is gaining popularity with government solar power incentives and new products like Tesla’s Power Wall being offered, other infrastructure is still at risk. Water, for example, is one of them.

Several years ago, at a pitch competition called 1776, I remember hearing RainGrid talk about distributed storm water systems that could help save municipalities millions in infrastructure development. It was amazing.

Other companies like the Leafy Green Box might make it possible to have distributed agriculture that can be loaded into one’s backyard. Then there are local wells and purification systems or even air osmosis systems.

The next push for human resilience after setting up distributed communications infrastructure is to also make sure that we can live even if natural or human-made disasters hit us. Air, water, food, shelter… we’ve kind of reversed Maslow’s hierarchy in building systems. Maybe we can finally change that?

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