Bombproof TV rolling-news eco bins target the City
Zeitgeistgasm: Rubbish/media security recycling
City workers not yet living in old fridge boxes under motorways will now be able to receive news of their redundancies even faster, as a new video news channel may soon deploy onto street screens across the Square Mile. The screens will be attached to recyclo-eco-bins - which will also feature secret terrorist-bomb-proofing technology.
That, you have to say, is a positive zeitgeistgasm - relentless 24-hour feedback loop media, combined with a green/eco/recyclo push and some kind of mysterious counter-terrorism security bomb technology.
The scheme, known variously as RE:NEW and Renew, is the brainchild of former LSE students Kaveh Memari and Brian James, who have been punting it through six years and four rounds of financing. Last weekend, they finally clinched a deal with the notoriously stuffy City of London Corporation - the local government of the capital's financial district - permitting them to bring their bombproof media/rubbish bins onto the streets.
"The City has quite tough restrictions on street advertising," RE:NEW spokesman Bill Spears told the Reg. "They're also quite strict about street furniture - what they'll allow. This is a major step."
Spears said that the RE:NEW scheme  "won't cost the government or Joe Public a penny". Rather, the idea is that bins will be sponsored, often by a major corporation with offices nearby. The sponsor pays for the bin to be installed, and gets their corporate logo on top of it - linked to positive assurances that the rubbish in the bins will all be recycled.
The servicing, cleaning, emptying and recycling will all be handled by RE:NEW, who will also manage the "financial news channel" which will play on the screens attached to the bins. There's a handy chart of potential central-London rubbish'n'media recycle platform portals here (pdf)  for those interested.
Though Spears insisted that the video channel would be "agnostic" and "primarily news", he said that bin sponsors would be able to put "messages" on it, paying RE:NEW to do so. Likewise, "media partners" such as Bloomberg or Reuters, wishing to put their content on the bin channel, would be a "revenue source" for RE:NEW. There might also be paid-for "corporate announcements" - not adverts as such, but results and investor-relations stuff and so on.
But what about the bomb issue? As everyone knows, the reason that the City has almost no public litter bins is that they make a handy place to plant a bomb (or, for fans of the original Italian Job, an infrastructure-disabling electronics payload of some sort).
Not to worry - RE:NEW have that covered. Their bins, they say, feature "blast intelligent technology" which will mitigate blast and fragmentation. Amazingly, the bins are also "composed of more than 50 per cent recycled material". They also look quite slimline and elegant in the concept pics - no massive reinforced-concrete bunkers here.
We here on the Reg bomb-disposal desk loved the sound of that. We noticed a press release  from Florida company BlastGard, in which RE:NEW signed up for their amazing lightweight bomb-quench tech, BlastWrap™. Indeed, BlastGard also refer to their stuff as "blast intelligent technology" (pdf ), just like RE:NEW - especially if employed in their inhouse bombproof rubbish bin.
Unfortunately, Blastgard also specify  that:
For confined and poorly vented compartments, leakage pressure, gas pressure and gas impulse may be estimated by assuming the net equivalent charge is reduced by 50%... Similarly, effective charge weight can be assumed to be reduced by 50% when calculating external overpressure and impulse if charges are placed in containers expected to shatter due to internal blast.
In other words, the effect of a BlastWrap chemical-sachet bin liner is equivalent to that of halving the explosive charge. Not really good enough, we'd submit. We put that point to RE:NEW's Spears.
"There's steel reinforcement," he said, adding that BlastGard have "helped in the development" of the proposed London bins, but that they contained "multiple technologies".
Unfortunately, a steel box can be a bit of a double-edged sword when it comes to confining explosions. In the case of a small device, whose effects might be derived mainly from flying shrapnel - on the general level of a hand grenade, a pipe bomb or an incendiary - it could be very effective.
In the case of a good big charge of high explosive (home-made or not) a steel box can actually enhance the shattering force of the explosion as it fails - and worse still, add fragmentation.
But a small bin - so as to prevent people getting much bang inside - combined with BlastGard suppressant and a heavy steel box could work fairly well. You could probably still cause a catastrophic failure by elaborate methods - filling it to the brim with blasting slurry or some other liquid explosive, maybe - but terrorists operating within the CCTV nexus of the City would struggle to achieve this sort of operation.
The one thing that really bothered us about the bomb-bin tech specs was that they are being kept secret. RE:NEW have consulted with the UK government's Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure on it, said Spears, and the technical details are considered "so sensitive we don't even circulate them in the company".
"They don't want to talk in detail about the security features, for obvious reasons," he said.
We asked if that didn't pretty much imply that there was a vulnerability that terrorists could exploit.
"We don't want to make it any easier," said Spears.
Frankly, it seems fair to give Spears and RE:NEW the benefit of the doubt on the bombproofness of their bins, even given their security-through-obscurity approach. It's not as though bin bombing is that big a threat, after all, and they've plainly made some effort.
The solution adopted by less affluent London boroughs, with less restrictive ad-hoardings policies - so unable to sell binside media space - is transparent binbags attached to lampposts etc. This too is seen as an acceptable compromise between making life hard for bombers and reducing litter.
So what's worse? Twenty-four-seven ad-supported rolling financial news screens on every street corner, or transparent bags of rubbish and ad hoardings?
Would we, perhaps, sooner have ordinary bins back, and chance it that the odd one might explode? ®