How iPhones helped Elon Musk crush Detroit

Way back in 2011, major American automakers were slow to realize that "companies in Silicon Valley have for some time been looking at cars just like another mobile device or app." When the disruption, hit, it hit hard, writes Nick Bilton: Read the rest

NASA's new "space fabric"

This is NASA's new "space fabric" in development at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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Research principles from the legendary Xerox PARC

Founded in 1970 as Xerox's R&D division, PARC was a dream factory that brought the world laser printing, Ethernet, the graphical user interface that led to Windows and the Macintosh, ubiquitous computing, and many other technologies that we now take for granted. Why made the place so damn special? Alan Kay, who pioneered networked computing while at Parc, lays out a few of the principles of the research community of which Parc was a hub:

1. Visions not goals

2. Fund people not projects — the scientists find the problems not the funders. So, for many reasons, you have to have the best researchers.

3. Problem Finding — not just Problem Solving

4. Milestones not deadlines

5. It’s “baseball” not “golf” — batting .350 is very good in a high aspiration high risk area. Not getting a hit is not failure but the overhead for getting hits. (As in baseball, an “error” is failing to pull off something that is technically feasible.)

6. It’s about shaping “computer stuff” to human ends per the vision. Much of the time this required the researchers to design and build pretty much everything, including much of the hardware — including a variety of mainframes — and virtually all of the software needed (including OSs and programming languages, etc.). Many of the ARPA researchers were quite fluent in both HW and SW (though usually better at one than the other). This made for a pretty homogeneous computing culture and great synergy in most projects.

7. The above goes against the commonsense idea that “computer people should not try to make their own tools (because of the infinite Turing Tarpit that results)”.

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How to teach robots teamwork

For robots to make our lives easier, they'll need to work together. But how do we teach them teamwork? University of Southern California engineer Nora Ayanian studies how groups of robots, including flying drones, can be better collaborators and what the machines can teach humans about collaboration. Mark Frauenfelder and I interviewed Nora about robot collaboration in this episode of For Future Reference, a new podcast from Institute for the Future:

Please subscribe to For Future Reference: iTunes, RSS, Soundcloud Read the rest

Kim Dotcom says he's launching a Bitcoin startup that will pay you for content

Kim Dotcom says he's launching a Bitcoin payments system for users to sell content uploads, or charge for streaming live video.

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Computing in your fingernails and other weird wearables

Computers in your fingernails. Temporary tattoos laden with sensors. These are some of the new wearable technologies that UC Berkeley engineer and artist Eric Paulos is developing with his colleagues in the Hybrid Ecologies Laboratory. Mark Frauenfelder and I interviewed Eric about Cosmetic Computing in this episode of For Future Reference, a new podcast from Institute for the Future:

Please subscribe to For Future Reference: iTunes, RSS, Soundcloud

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New podcast about the future from Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz

Mark Frauenfelder and I are researchers at the non-profit Institute for the Future. During the course of our work, we frequently meet fascinating scientists, engineers, and big thinkers who are shaping the future through their groundbreaking work in the present. For Future Reference is IFTF's new podcast where we share those conversations about the expanding horizons of science, technology, and culture over the next decade. Listen below and please subscribe now: iTunes, RSS, Soundcloud

We hope you enjoy it!

Episode 1: Teaching Robots Teamwork

Institute for the Future researchers Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz talk with University of Southern California roboticist Nora Ayanian about what robots can learn from humans working together, and vice versa.

Episode 2: Alien Hunting

Institute for the Future researchers Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz talk with Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Episode 3: Hacking Your Biology

Institute for the Future researchers Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz talk with rogue biophysicist Josiah Zayner about affordable tools for DIY genetic engineering and how to hack your biome.

Episode 4: Fueling Greener Fuels

Institute for the Future researchers Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz talk with chemist Kendra Kuhl, CEO of Opus 12, about her technology for recycling carbon dioxide into useful fuels and chemicals.

Episode 5: Mind Melding

Institute for the Future researchers Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz talk with neuroscientist and IFTF fellow Melina Uncapher, CEO and co-founder of the Institute for Applied Neuroscience that brings scientific research about our brains to critical social issues. Read the rest

DJI proposing "electronic license plates" for drones

Drone manufacturer DJI published a white paper proposing a kind of license plate for drones in the form of a wireless identifier that the buzzing UAVs would be required to broadcast. The paper describes a possible way to balance the privacy of drone operators with perceived public concern about whose controlling the bots buzzing overhead. You can read the full paper as a PDF here. From David Schneider's column in IEEE Spectrum:

As the company points out in its whitepaper, drone operators might want to maintain anonymity even if there were people around to witness their flights. Suppose, for example, that a company were surveying land in anticipation of purchasing and developing it. That company might not want to clue in competitors. Or perhaps the drone is being flown for the purposes of investigative journalism, in which case the journalists involved might not want others to know about their investigations.

DJI proposes that drones be required to broadcast an identifying code by radio . . . That code would not include the name and address of the owner, but authorities would be able to use it to look that information up in a non-public database—a kind of electronic license plates for drones.

At the same time, it’s easy to understand why law-enforcement or regulatory authorities would sometimes want to identify the owner or operator of a drone, say, if somebody felt the drone were invading their privacy or if a drone were being flown close to a nuclear power plant.

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How new emojis are born, a comic

Over at The Nib, excellent historical cartoonist Andy Warner, author of the wonderful Brief Histories of Everyday Objects, tells the story of how the Unicode Consortium brings new emoji into our online lives. From The Nib:

Read the full comic: "Want a New Emoji? Good Luck." Read the rest

Anti-theft toilet paper dispenser with facial recognition technology

The public bathroom at Beijing's Temple of Heaven Park now has a toilet paper dispenser outfitted with a camera and facial recognition technology to prevent toilet paper theft. From the New York Times:

Before entering restrooms in the park, visitors must now stare into a computer mounted on the wall for three seconds before a machine dispenses a sheet of toilet paper, precisely two feet in length. If visitors require more, they are out of luck. The machine will not dispense a second roll to the same person for nine minutes.

At the Temple of Heaven Park, one of Beijing’s busiest tourist sites, many people said on Monday they were pleased by the new machines.

“The people who steal toilet paper are greedy,” said He Zhiqiang, 19, a customer service worker from the northwestern region of Ningxia. “Toilet paper is a public resource. We need to prevent waste...”

I agree with park visitor Wang Jianquan, 63: “The sheets are too short."

"China’s High-Tech Tool to Fight Toilet Paper Bandits" (NYT) Read the rest

Flexible, printable circuits inspired by goldbug beetle

Poking a golden tortoise beetle ("goldbug") triggers the insect's color to change from gold to a red-orange. Inspired by the natural system underlying that insectoid superpower, MIT researchers have developed flexible sensors circuits that can be 3-D printed. Eventually, the technology could lead to sensor-laden skin for robots. From MIT News:

“In nature, networks of sensors and interconnects are called sensorimotor pathways,” says Subramanian Sundaram, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), who led the project. “We were trying to see whether we could replicate sensorimotor pathways inside a 3-D-printed object. So we considered the simplest organism we could find...."

The MIT researchers’ new device is approximately T-shaped, but with a wide, squat base and an elongated crossbar. The crossbar is made from an elastic plastic, with a strip of silver running its length; in the researchers’ experiments, electrodes were connected to the crossbar’s ends. The base of the T is made from a more rigid plastic. It includes two printed transistors and what the researchers call a “pixel,” a circle of semiconducting polymer whose color changes when the crossbars stretch, modifying the electrical resistance of the silver strip.

In fact, the transistors and the pixel are made from the same material; the transistors also change color slightly when the crossbars stretch. The effect is more dramatic in the pixel, however, because the transistors amplify the electrical signal from the crossbar. Demonstrating working transistors was essential, Sundaram says, because large, dense sensor arrays require some capacity for onboard signal processing.

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Clock presents the time as math problems

MNTNT's Albert Clock is a clock that presents the hours and minutes as simple math problems. Is it annoying or engaging? Or.... both!

In standard mode, the queries change every minute. They are completely random, so even the query for the hours change, even if the result stays the same.

You can speed up this challenge so the queries change in the fastest mode every 10 seconds.

You can also download the Albert Clock as a free mobile app.

(via Uncrate) Read the rest

Incredibly fast calculator fingers in Japan

"Before a finger leaves a key, the next key is already being pressed. She is making 9 keystrokes per second."

(From the Japanese TV series Begin Japanology)

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Supply of old-fashioned CRT arcade monitors dries up

The last manufacturer of arcade-sized cathode ray tubes is out of the business, with one supplier having only 30 or so in stock and no chance of ordering more. The manufacturing process is difficult enough that it's unlikely anyone will step into the breach; Venturebeat's Jeff Grubb reports that times will be good for skilled repairers.

“I have a feeling that — y’know how there are those guys doing pinball repair on the side — there will probably be some guy you can send your monitor to and have him rewind the bulb,” says Ware. “I think it’s going to be really expensive.” A CRT tube is very heavy, so shipping costs alone would be costly. “Right now, I don’t know of anyone who does [the winding].”

To fill the void, Day suggests that new companies will emerge to reproduce those old machines using only modern-day technology. An LCD screen connected to a PC running a piece of software that approximates the original experience will be adequate for most people.

CRT emulation is amazing, but still obviously such to me. But I bet using curved OLED panels embedded in thick CRT-style glass would fool my eye in darkness. There's yer Kickstarter. Read the rest

Silicon Valley technology firms meet to plan legal challenge of Trump #MuslimBan

A group of tech firms will meet today to plan the filing of an amicus brief in support of lawsuit to challenge U.S. President Donald Trump's “Muslim Ban.”

Trump's order was issued on Friday, and restricts immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries in which Trump has no business interests. Adjacent Muslim-majority nations in which Trump does have business interests were left untouched by the ban. Administration staffers took great pains to keep the orders secret from other government officials, and from the public, until it went into effect.

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What new technologies carry the biggest risks?

The World Economic Forum asked "leaders from business, government, academia and nongovernmental and international organizations" to take a survey on the potential risks and benefits of different emerging technologies. They seemed to think the space technologies will have little benefit and pose little risk. Energy capture, storage, and transmission has the great promise and little downside. Geoengineering offers little benefit in relation to the risks. And AI/Robotics will either make a hell or heaven of our planet. Read the rest

Thinnest-ever electronic tattoos are capable of precision health monitoring

The graphene temporary tattoo seen here is the thinnest epidermal electronic device ever and according to the University of Texas at Austin researchers who developed it, the device can take some medical measurements as accurately as bulky wearable sensors like EKG monitors. From IEEE Spectrum:

Graphene’s conformity to the skin might be what enables the high-quality measurements. Air gaps between the skin and the relatively large, rigid electrodes used in conventional medical devices degrade these instruments’ signal quality. Newer sensors that stick to the skin and stretch and wrinkle with it have fewer airgaps, but because they’re still a few micrometers thick, and use gold electrodes hundreds of nanometers thick, they can lose contact with the skin when it wrinkles. The graphene in the Texas researchers’ device is 0.3-nm thick. Most of the tattoo’s bulk comes from the 463-nm-thick polymer support.

The next step is to add an antenna to the design so that signals can be beamed off the device to a phone or computer, says (electrical engineer Deji) Akinwande.

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