Study: At-home 3-D printing could save consumers 'thousands'
July 31st, 2013
12:06 PM ET

Study: At-home 3-D printing could save consumers 'thousands'

By Heather Kelly, CNN

Personal 3-D printers may sound like a pricey luxury or a niche product for geeks, but soon they could become a household appliance that saves people thousands of dollars a year.

Researchers at Michigan Technological University conducted a study to find out how much a family might save by printing common objects, such as simple replacement parts or toys, at home instead of buying them in stores or online.

"It was relatively shocking what the return on investment was," said associate professor Joshua Pearce, who led the study. "Realistically, it's in the thousands."

Much of the recent 3-D printer hype has focused on how the technology is going to revolutionize the manufacturing industry or what cool things it can create - human organs, duck feet, see-through hermit crab shells shaped like cities. But it's the small, mundane objects that could have the most immediate impact on wallets. (Especially if you print your own wallet.) FULL POST

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Filed under: Crowdsourcing • Design • Environment • Innovation • Tech
Open-source airplane could cost just $15,000
July 29th, 2013
02:31 PM ET

Open-source airplane could cost just $15,000

By Jason Paur, Wired

There’s an open-source airplane being developed in Canada, and now its designers are looking to double down on the digital trends, turning to crowdsourced funding to finish the project.

The goal of Maker Plane is to develop a small, two-seat airplane that qualifies as a light sport aircraft and is affordable, safe, and easy to fly. But unlike other home-built aircraft, where companies or individuals charge for their plans or kits, Maker Plane will give its design away for free.

The group behind the project consists of pilots and engineers who are designing the airplane, allowing it to be built using the kind of personal manufacturing equipment somebody in the maker community might already have at home or can easily purchase. The idea of a home-built airplane is nothing new. It dates back to the earliest days of flight, after Orville and Wilbur made and flew their own airplanes (and engine), the homemade plane movement — literally — took off.

Today, the home-built movement continues, and this week tens of thousands of pilots and fans of home-built airplanes are descending on the annual Airventure in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

This cross-section shows the wing's design.

In the spirit of the open source and maker movements, the Maker Plane group is including components from many designers and builders outside their circle. As they focus on the design of the airplane (fuselage, wings, etc.), the Maker Plane team helps connect those interested in building their own with other open source components such as an air data computer and radios. They even show you where you can get plans to build your own traffic and collision avoidance system.

The structural parts of the airplane, including the fuselage, will be built from composites. There are many home-built composite airplanes already taking to the skies, so the techniques are well proven. Smaller pieces such as knobs and handles will be made using 3-D printing. And after a year and a half of design, the Maker Plane team has started to build the first prototype. That’s why they’re turning tocrowdsourced funding to help the project along.

The basic specifications of the airplane follow the guidelines of the light sport aircraft regulations. The aviation industry and the Federal Aviation Administration created the LSA category to encourage more people to fly. The airplanes are limited to two seats, a maximum weight of 1,320 pounds, and a top speed of 120 knots (138 mph).

Maker Plane says they expect their design will fall within these requirements and have a range of 400 miles. More ambitious: They hope the cost to build the airplane will be under $15,000, including the engine.

The aviation world is filled with optimistic ideas that don’t always get off the ground, but the Maker Plane is the first attempt at sourcing the entire airplane from the open-source community, which should help keep costs down, assuming you have the skills to build the various components. And if they succeed, Maker Plane hopes to fly the first prototype in 2015.

See the original article at Wired.com.


Filed under: Innovation • Science • Tech
Robots: The future of elder care?
July 19th, 2013
03:42 PM ET

Robots: The future of elder care?

By Heather Kelly, CNN

Would you let a robot take over as a live-in nurse for your aging parent or grandparent?

In 2050, the elderly will account for 16 percent of the global population. That's 1.5 billion people over the age of 65, according to the Population Reference Bureau. Caring for those seniors - physically, emotionally and mentally - will be an enormous undertaking, and experts say there will be a shortage of professionals trained and willing to take on the job.

"We have to find more resources and have to get new ways of delivering those resources and delivering the quality of care," says Antonio Espingardeiro, an expert in robotics and automation at the University of Salford in Manchester, England, and a member of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society.

Enter the elder-care robot.

Robots have the potential to meet many of the needs of an aging population, according to Espingardeiro. A software engineer, Espingardeiro is finishing his PhD on new types of human and robotic interaction. He has developed a model of elder-care robot, P37 S65, which can monitor senior patients and communicate with doctors while providing basic care and companionship. FULL POST

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Meet DARPA's 6'2" disaster-response robot
July 16th, 2013
10:18 AM ET

Meet DARPA's 6'2" disaster-response robot

By Heather Kelly, CNN

At six-foot-two and 330 pounds, this hulking first responder has all the qualities you'd want in the field after a disaster:  strength, endurance and calm under pressure. Better yet, it has two sets of hands, 28 hydraulic joints, stereo cameras in its head and an onboard computer.

The ATLAS humanoid robot, which looks vaguely like something from the "Terminator" movies, was created by Boston Dynamics for DARPA, a research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense. It will compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), a competition that invites engineers to create a remotely controlled robot that can respond to natural or man-made disasters.

The winning robot could be used in situations deemed too dangerous for humans, like the 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

The DRC is broken up into three challenges. The first was the Virtual Robotics Challenge, in which 26 teams controlled simulated, 3-D robots. Only seven of those teams - including participants from MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory - were chosen to go on to the next stage. They will each get their very own ATLAS for the Robotics Challenge Trials, a real-life obstacle course competition between robots that will take place this December in Florida.

As part of the challenge, the teams will program their humanoid robot to accomplish a range of tasks. ATLAS will need to drive a car, navigate complicated terrain on foot and move rubble in order to enter a building. It will also have to climb stairs and use various tools to do things like turn off valves or break through concrete walls.

ATLAS has modular wrists so that it can swap out hands and attach third-party mitts to better handle specific tasks. The robot's head also has LIDAR to better gather information about the surrounding area.

The robots will need to be able to complete tasks on their own without constant human control, which will be a key feature if they are in situations where communications are spotty. DARPA also wants the final robots to be easily controlled by people who have had minimal amounts of training, so that the technology is accessible to more people on short notice.

The teams whose robots perform the best at the trials later this year will continue to receive funding and compete in the competition's final stage in December 2014. The Robotics Challenge Finals will put the robots through a full disaster scenario that will include eight tasks each robot must complete.

In addition to improving future disaster response, winners of the 27-month competition will receive a $2 million prize.

The ATLAS robots are the result of a $10 million contract with Boston Dynamics, the Massachusetts engineering and robotics-design company.  That amount covers eight robots, in-field support and any necessary maintenance.

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Filed under: Innovation • Military • Robots • Science • Tech
July 12th, 2013
07:47 PM ET

Creating a school for autistic adults, one student at a time

Editors Note: Dan Selec is the founder and CEO of the nonPareil Institute, a hybrid software company and school located in Plano, Texas that teaches adults on the autism spectrum to write and develop apps, video games and iBooks. Watch his full profile this Saturday at 2:30p ET on “The Next List.”

By Dan Selec, Special to CNN

"You’re doing what?" asked my wife, ”Starting a new company," I said. “Not in my den you’re not,” she replied as she took in the PCs, monitors and chairs that now filled the room. “But you can have the kitchen.”

And so it began. I started the nonPareil Institute to provide technical training to adults on the autism spectrum. The idea was to mentor them to work in teams, and teach them to produce products that we could take to market. The ultimate goal is to build living campuses where my son, and others like him who are on the autism spectrum, can live fulfilling lives doing what they love.

The core issue I noticed was that there were many programs for spectrum kids, but there weren’t a lot of choices for adults after high school. That when they should begin the most productive times of their lives, but instead the group is plagued by very low employment rates, depression and isolation. After looking at the statistics, I knew it was time to get off the bench and make some new life choices.

We formed the foundations of how to accomplish the organization's goals during those early months in our home. The next year and a half was a blur of holding down a very busy full-time job, and training two students each night for two hours, five nights a week. It was the most exhausting period of my life. My eternal thanks goes to a spouse who tolerated so much activity in and out of our home for so long. As she now says, “It was just our new norm.”

Once the nonPareil Institute moved to a new full-time facility, we talked about how much we would miss the day-to-day routine in our home. It’s funny, I think everyone really missed the kitchen and the nightly bustle of our regular home life. We were one big happy family.

This is a core element I wanted to bring to the campus, where we now have 125 people, called crew members  learning and working. Forget technology. It is important to put the human element first, especially with a group of young people who are struggling to find their way in life, much less while also dealing with autism spectrum issues.

I spent much time mentoring, consoling and sometimes even praying with this early group, as they did their best to cope with the world they faced each day. The first nine crew members proved it was a good idea because they were learning and their lives were better as a result of the time we spent together.

Any parent who has a child with a disability walks around with the same question in their mind: "What happens to my child when I'm gone?"

At nonPareil Institute, we focus on three areas that will answer that question: Train, work and live. We provide technology training to adults on the autism spectrum. We mentor them into becoming functioning members of our working product teams. They build products and release them to the market (we have six apps in the App Store now). With parental, donor and product support, our crew members can live on campuses that are built to meet their needs for a lifetime.

Seeing how most of our crew does not drive, the campus environment solves the transportation issues we struggle with today. Building a community around my child that knows who he is, and lets him work on projects he loves, will allow my child to live a safe, productive and fulfilling life.

It turns out, there are quite a few other families who feel the same way. Simply responding to the massive influx of “requests for information” is an overwhelming and full-time job for several people.

At nonPareil, there is not a lot of theory. What is practical, what moves us forward, and what works are all that counts. We are, at our very core, a working software company. Yes, we do provide training in tools and technology, but the bigger part is helping individuals become functioning members of professional software teams.

For our donors, this is the most compelling kind of gift to give; a gift that, over time, allows an individual on the autism spectrum to no longer need outside support. We provide community and satisfaction for our crew, now at 125 strong. They are seeing real results for their efforts, which will allow them to contribute to their own success.

Ultimately, nonPareil is more a mission of love than technology, and it has to be a solution for the lifetime of our children. This is the one central objective that all of us as parents remain focused on: providing a lifetime answer for our kids.

Next time you bust out your mobile phone, head to the store and search for “npi” to buy an app from nonPareil Institute. Our crew will thank you.


Filed under: Education • entrepreneurs • Innovation • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers • TV • Video
July 9th, 2013
12:01 PM ET

Turning people on the Autism spectrum into tech innovators

Editors Note: Dan Selec is the founder and CEO of the nonPareil Institute – a hybrid school and software company in Plano, Texas that teaches adults on the autism spectrum to write and develop apps, video games and iBooks. Watch his full profile this Saturday at 2:30p ET on “The Next List”.

By Kristyn Martin, CNN

Dan Selec has a revolutionary idea: teach adults on the autism spectrum how to code so they can create apps and video games and make a living in the tech industry.

“If you want to know what terror is, find out that your child has a disability,” said Selec.  “As a parent we’re all asking the same question: what happens after we’re gone?”

Selec, who has a son on the autism spectrum, wanted to find the answer to that question. “I wanted Caleb to have a chance to live a fulfilled life, not just a life,” said Selec. “He loves technology … it turns out there’s a whole population of this group where, this is their core strength. They’re digital natives.”

Selec, along with his partner Gary Moore, founded the nonPareil Institute in Plano, Texas. NonPareil is a hybrid school-meets-startup tech company. There, he teaches around 120 adults on the spectrum everything they need to know to create apps, video games and iBooks.

“For me, and I think a lot of students, we never expected to make video games,” said Jeremy Gage Farris, a student at nonPareil. “They might be lucky enough to just get a janitor’s job like I had for a few years. And just going from that to this is just a miracle for a large group of people like us.”

While the exact unemployment rate for adults on the autism spectrum is unknown, studies point to it being very low, according to The University of Missouri.

“It’s very limited in the number of job opportunities they have, the pay is very poor if they get paid at all,” said Jim Connell with the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute. “The nonPareil model is very viable for a specific portion of the population.”

Selec wrote and designed software specific to the needs to adults on the autism spectrum to streamline their learning process. It teaches them everything they need to be competitive in the software industry.  “When you have gone through all the training and all of the courses you begin to get assignments and campaigns," said Selec. "And campaigns are product that is going to market.”

The nonPareil Institute already has several video games and apps available for purchase on iTunes and on most mobile platform stores. “That’s our vision, to be an innovation factory for approaching the market place and giving our crew sustainable revenue for the future,” said Selec.

Moore says the school's long-term goal for people on the Autism spectrum is more ambitious.

“We want to provide a campus community where they can train, they can work and they can also live,” said Moore. “Just like anybody else, they’re looking for purpose in life… and unfortunately there just are not many places that will give them that opportunity.”

“We want to answer this for every family across the U.S. and maybe even the world,” says Selec.

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Tech to detect when a driver is dozing off
July 9th, 2013
08:58 AM ET

Tech to detect when a driver is dozing off

By Heather Kelly, CNN

While Google, universities and car companies work on perfecting self-driving vehicles, flawed and sometimes sleepy human drivers still fill our roads.

But new technology could help detect when those drivers start to feel tired and possibly prevent dangerous accidents. A research project at the University of Leicester has combined eye-tracking and brain monitoring to calculate when a driver's alertness starts to wane.

Researchers have used the two tracking technologies on their own before, but Dr. Matias Ison, who led this project, said they've found a new way to combine them for more accurate information about a person's state of mind.

"There are a variety of behaviors that are related to sleepiness and distractions," said Dr. Ison. "Some of them, such as blinking more frequently, changing our eye movements’ pattern, or not fixating on the road ahead are well suited to be detected with an eye tracker. However, brain activity changes during sleepiness and low cognitive alertness state can only be detected with an EEG."

FULL POST


Filed under: Innovation • Science • Tech • The Next List
July 2nd, 2013
03:33 PM ET

Combating disease with dance: a new approach to Parkinson’s

By Rebecca Bluitt, Special to CNN

Warm-ups, waltzes, partnering. These are all routines typical in dance settings like The Juilliard School in Manhattan. Many of the students here will perform them on stages all around the world, contorting their limbs and using their bodies to create seemingly impossible works of art, pushing the limits of human potential.

But on Monday afternoons, Juilliard hosts a different breed of dancers. Their bodies are slower and less limber; their movements lack fluidity. Yet the dancers execute each little gesture with determination and purpose, and their faces shine with a fresh enthusiasm that has often waned in seasoned professionals.

These dancers have Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative neurological disorder that is difficult to conceal, with symptoms often manifesting in the most cruelly conspicuous of ways. Twitches may start in the hand and can gradually progress into uncontrollable spasms. As the body becomes less mobile and speech is impaired, those living with Parkinson’s are often also crippled with feelings of isolation.

One remedy? For the Brooklyn Parkinson Group and the internationally acclaimed Mark Morris Dance Group, dance was the missing ingredient. These two seemingly improbable allies teamed up in 2001 to create Dance for PD, a non-profit that provides free dance classes to people with Parkinson’s. The Dance for PD class format parallels ordinary dance classes, with participants moving from seated exercises to combinations performed holding chairs for support and sequences that travel across the room.

There are multiple practical benefits to the class; participants report improvement in things like muscle control and posture. But co-founding teacher and Dance for PD program manager David Leventhal emphasizes the class’s artistry and sense of community - elements frequently lacking in conventional types of therapy.

"Dance gives people a way to think about movement in a way that is less mechanical and more about using the imagination in the service of movement," Leventhal says. "Sometimes in therapy you’re working on a very specific task - raising your arm, or tapping your foot at a certain rate. In dance class we often will raise our arms or move our feet at a certain rate, but those are done within a bigger context."

"I call this 'Mr. Parky,' my inner hand puppet," laughs Andrew Thomas, a Dance for PD participant, referencing the tremor in his right hand. As a composer, orchestra conductor, pianist and 43-year veteran music instructor at Juilliard, Thomas has had an extensive performing arts career. He is well versed in the art of nimble movements and quick hand gestures. But when doctors diagnosed Thomas with Parkinson’s in 2010, the value of this experience became even more tangible.

"With music-making - and I would include dance with music-making also - somehow it involves the entire brain," says Thomas. "And because of that neuron connections get made that make activities possible. If I just sit and I’m lethargic, then I’m guaranteed to deteriorate."

This positive correlation between dance and brain regeneration is also attracting the attention of neuroscientists. In September, a research project developed by Canada’s National Ballet School and scientists at Ontario’s McMaster and Western University will use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the effects of the dance learning process on people with Parkinson’s. Students of Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons have also visited Dance for PD classes to investigate new methods of treatment that do not involve medication.

While researches are just beginning to explore the mechanics behind the program, Dance for PD continues to receive a warm reception from members of the Parkinson’s community. From its origins in New York, Dance for PD has expanded to over 100 domestic and international sister programs, including a recently launched initiative in Australia. These budding enterprises are no stranger to adaptation, infusing local flair into the original class format. While New Yorkers move to familiar show tunes from "West Side Story," participants in Dance for PD’s location in India learn dance numbers from beloved Bollywood films.

Despite minor cultural differences, a sense of joy seems to resonate from all corners of the program.

"The first time I came to the class," Thomas says, "near the end of the class I burst into tears, because I was looking around and there were people who could not stand. They could do things with their head a little bit, but that was all. And it wasn’t tears of pity or grief. I was just terribly moved at their courage in showing up, that they were still here and demonstrating it with their presence and their bodies."

And as far as Leventhal is concerned, Dance for PD is just getting started in its mission to empower people with Parkinson’s "as dancers, as students, as lifelong learners and as artists."

"The innovation," Leventhal says, "was both that initial spark and the ongoing conversation, exploration, creation of what this program is and what it can be."

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