The $65 DIY robot that moves like a bug
September 5th, 2013
03:30 PM ET

The $65 DIY robot that moves like a bug

By Heather Kelly, CNN

For a tiny bug-shaped robot made of cardboard and plastic, Dash is surprisingly advanced.

The new $65 DIY programmable robot is built for tinkering. It comes with a gyroscope, visible light and infrared sensors, and an iOS app for controlling it over Bluetooth 4.  The Arduino-compatible bots also have LED lights and additional ports for expanding and hacking the Dash.

You can program in your own behaviors, making the robots move in patterns or follow walls. They can operate as a swarm and cooperate, or set off on individual tasks. Add in touch sensors and turn two peace-loving Dash robots into battlebots that fight each other and keep score on their multi-colored LEDs.

"Our goal is to get a robot into everyone's hands because we think they're great educational tools," said Nick Kohut, one of the founders of Dash Robotics.

Conveniently, Dash will fit right into in the palms of those hands. It has six legs, weighs about half an ounce, and its killer feature is being able to move quickly over various kinds of terrain. It can cover five to six feet a second and is able to cross sand, concrete and other surfaces.

FULL POST


Filed under: Crowdsourcing • Design • Education • Innovation • Robots • Tech • The Next List
Met RHex – the curvy-legged, leaping robot
August 15th, 2013
04:07 PM ET

Met RHex – the curvy-legged, leaping robot

By Doug Gross, CNN

If you only watch one video today of a robot that hurtles across uneven terrain like a water-walking lizard, does gymnastic back flips and climbs tall objects, make it this one.

If you watch two? Send us the other one.

RHex is a creation of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania who hope it could one day climb rubble in emergency rescue situations or zoom across scorching desert sands with its six whirling, springy legs.

"What we want is a robot that can go anywhere, even over terrain that might be broken and uneven," said graduate student Aaron Johnson, one of those researchers. "These latest jumps greatly expand the range of what this machine is capable of, as it can now jump onto or across obstacles that are bigger than it is."

RHex (short for "robot hexapod" and pronounced "Rex") is actually more than a decade old, the brainchild of a multiuniversity project. But Penn researchers recently created a new version - called X-RHex Lite - that, as its name suggests, is lighter and more agile than previous versions.

The result: a moving rectangle that has, in effect, been taught robot parkour.

In the video posted late last month, RHex charges across Penn's campus (with an appropriately epic soundtrack) before showing off an impressive vertical leap, doing several back flips and propelling itself up steps.

Its most impressive moments, though, might be jumping from one picnic table to another over a gap greater than its own length and flipping up on a tall stone block, grabbing on with its curved front legs and pulling itself upward.

On robots, legs are more effective than wheels when it comes to rough terrain. But it can be complicated to teach the human-like legs on walking robots how to respond to unpredictable conditions. RHex's simple, one-jointed legs are better suited to getting around obstacles in creative ways, the Penn team says.


Filed under: Design • Future • Innovation • Robots • Tech
August 1st, 2013
04:44 PM ET

Lifeguard develops inflatable rescue board

By Elissa Weldon, CNN

There’s nowhere quite like the beach in summer. But between the sun, scenery and a relaxed vacation mindset, many beachgoers don't think much about their safety in the ocean.

Ask anyone who has ever had a close call in the water - been caught in a rip current or struggled against powerful tides to make it to shore. Often, there's only one person standing between them and death: a lifeguard.

Meet Archie Kalepa, chief of ocean safety for the Hawaiian island of Maui. Kalepa has a team of 64 lifeguards under his command and is responsible for the safety of about 2 million beach visitors every year.

"It only takes 5 minutes for a person to go brain-dead, or to drown," Kalepa says. "For us, a lot of times the surf is way offshore. And so it's all about the response time. How quickly can we respond from Point A to Point B?"

His commitment to public safety has deep roots. Kalepa pioneered the use of Jet Skis for water rescues nearly 25 years ago.  After Hurricane Iniki struck Hawaii in 1992, he became a local hero by using a Jet Ski to save 12 people from drowning.  Those rescues proved to be a turning point in Kalepa’s drive to adopt the Jet Ski for widespread water-safety use.

“We were the ones with the idea,” says Kalepa, “but we needed everybody’s support to get the officials to realize that this (watercraft) is a tool, not a toy.”

Today, Kalepa is still working on improving his lifesaving techniques while developing innovative rescue equipment.   He has devised an inflatable rescue board that the head of the United States Lifeguard Association calls a “real, significant innovation” with “enormous promise.”   Kalepa is working with partners to commercialize the product.

Kalepa also is an elite athlete who relishes the chance to surf some of the biggest waves in the world.  He's drawn to “the excitement, the thrill, dabbling in danger," he says. "I really, really enjoy being in that kind of environment.”

Kalepa uses his knowledge of the ocean to help others - even rescuing big-wave surfers in dangerous conditions.

“I’ve seen him in action.  He will rush in without question and try to help anyone in peril,” says tow partner Buzzy Kerbox.

As a fifth-generation Hawaiian, Kalepa is probably proudest of his Hawaiian heritage and his honorary title of Waterman.

He was recently inducted into the Duke Kahanamoku Hawaiian Waterman’s Hall of Fame, a prestigious honor reserved only for those with vast knowledge of the ocean and experience in all aspects of water. Watermen can swim, surf, dive, paddle, fish and canoe with skill, strength, agility and instinct. 

“Archie to me exemplifies exactly what a Hawaiian Waterman is, which is connected,” says Kaino Horcajo, an expert in Hawaiian culture.  “We say the words fearless, courageous, brave, crazy.  But what we really mean to say is connected - in tune, down to earth, and without filters.”

For Kalepa, being a Waterman and a Hawaiian means sharing his knowledge of the ocean with others.  He trains some of the world’s most elite military units in water safety and Jet Ski rescues.

“Out of pure respect for what they do to keep America safe, it was an honor to train these people and work with them,” Kalepa says.

As a public-safety expert, a big-wave surfer and a Hawaiian Waterman, Archie Kalepa is driven to help others and spread what he calls the spirit of "aloha," the Hawaiian greeting.

“Sharing the spirit of aloha is always giving somebody a helping hand, always giving somebody a kiss. Always when somebody needs help, you help them, show them how to be good people," he says. "That's what the aloha spirit is, showing people love. It's what people from Hawaii do.  It's how we live our life."


Filed under: Design • Innovation • Tech • The Next List
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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June 14th, 2013
04:56 PM ET

The Right Stuff

Editor's Note: Tune in to CNN Saturday, June 15th, at 2:30 pm ET to see "The Next List's" 30-minute profile of Graham Hill. 

What is most important to you? House? Car? Clothes? Formal china? Probably not. These things might make your life more convenient. To some extent, they might enable you to do the things that Are actually important. But our stuff, when we think about it, isn’t that important.

What is important to most of us? Our friends, families, having meaningful work, amazing experiences. As I have heard it said, “The most important things in life aren’t things.”

Yet somehow, when many of us look at our lives, we see a disproportionate amount of time and energy directed toward stuff. We work extra hard so we can make the car payments. We max out our credit cards to keep up with fashion. We move into big homes so we have a place for the hutch that stores the formal china.

In the late nineties, I had the great fortune of selling my startup. What did I do with my newfound cash? Same thing any good American would: I got lots of stuff like a new car, furniture, gadgets and of course a big house.

This ability to consume was new to me. When I was growing up, everyone in my middle-class, six- child family had everything they needed but not much more. When you’re raised with just enough, you imagine having more than enough will make you that much happier.

But there I was living the American dream–driving a quick car, living in a big house, with the ability to buy more–and I was no happier. What was I missing?

I was missing the fact that no amount of stuff would ever make me happy. I actually found the more things I had, the more complicated life became. There were more things to buy and maintain, more things to keep track of, more things to lose.

A number of events in my life–most notably a serious romantic relationship–made me realize that people, amazing experiences and meaningful work are the real important parts of my life. The other stuff is just stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, I love objects and architecture. I studied product design in college and have built homes as a carpenter before I got into startups. But my later life experiences made me reevaluate how and why our stuff and homes were designed. I started to wonder why we often ended up living to support our stuff and homes rather than the other way around?

It was with this question in mind that I started LifeEdited. I wanted to help start a movement where our products, homes and the way we live are aligned with what’s important to us.

On a practical level, this meant doing more with less. The average American takes up three times more living space than sixty years ago. Yet we still don’t have enough room for our stuff, evidenced by a $22 billion dollar personal storage industry. Worse still, we have become a nation of debtors paying for our big homes and stuff. Clearly, our lives could use a good edit.

LifeEdited is starting with homes. We help conceive homes around what is important in people’s lives. We are specialty consultants to architects, currently working in cities such as New York City and Las Vegas. Often, the result is a space that is much smaller than the typical American home. My own 420-square-foot Manhattan apartment sleeps up to four, seats twelve for dinner, has a home office and much more. The smaller footprint is cheaper to buy, easier to clean, greener and, even though there’s a generous 426 cubic feet of storage, doesn’t permit me to collect a lot of unnecessary stuff.

Because I have fewer things, the stuff I do have is quality stuff I love and appreciate.

LifeEdited is about freedom, not restriction. We think the less-but-better approach leads to more money in the bank, more time for friends and recreation and less to think about. It’s about including everything that’s important and “editing” out the rest.

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May 17th, 2013
01:41 PM ET

Stanford's unique approach to teaching problem solving

Editor's Note: Jim Patell's full 30-minute profile will air on CNN's "The Next List" Saturday, May 18th, at 2:30 P.M. ET.

By James M. Patell, Special to CNN

Last week, at the invitation of my niece Alexis, I video chatted with a sixth grade class in the South Jefferson Middle School about a unique course I teach. Design for Extreme Affordability is a graduate-level course at Stanford in which interdisciplinary teams design new products and services, together with the associated implementation plans, for the world’s poor.

The class, offered jointly by the Graduate School of Business and the Mechanical Engineering Department, is now finishing its tenth year; by this June, we will have completed 90 projects with 27 partners in 18 countries. Cumulatively, these projects were conducted by 365 students from 27 programs across Stanford, including all seven schools: Business, Earth Sciences, Education, Engineering, Humanities and Sciences, Law, and Medicine.

One thing the middle schoolers wanted to know was why we had chosen to mix students from various fields to work on the projects instead of limiting it to just engineers.

They aren't the first to wonder. Conducting a truly interdisciplinary course is challenging for the instructors and for the students. The various schools have different grading systems, different registration systems and so on. Even the simple logistics of finding a class time-slot is difficult, because each department has its own norms that dictate which times of which days are reserved for required courses and other mandatory tasks. Why bother?

Having fresh eyes and child-like curiosity is important. Seeing the world through different lenses also is important. Our engineering students recognize systems of forces and flows, while our business students see intersecting webs of potential consumers and producers. Medical students envision vectors of transmission for disease or treatment, while our international policy students identify competing interest groups. The different frameworks that they use to model causal relationships, and the different “mental filing systems" and vocabularies they use to store and express their impressions, allow us to gain “3-D empathy” for our users, before we conduct the first brainstorm or build the first prototype.

One of the founding tenets of the d.school (the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford) is human-centered design. Rather than beginning with shiny new technology, we start by trying to establish deep, personal empathy with our users to determine their needs and wants. We must fill in two blanks: Our users need a better way to ___ BECAUSE ___. The because portion is a big deal.

We are working across cultures, across geographies, across political systems and across myriad differences in the contexts of daily life. The hardest lesson for designers to remember is that we are not designing for ourselves. We must listen carefully and we must watch carefully. We must ask polite but probing questions about those elements of our users’ lives that strike us as "curious.”

We cannot assume we understand their preferences. We cannot assume that they can articulate those preferences in terms we will understand. We cannot assume that our users will emphasize elements that are so deeply ingrained in their daily existence that, from their perspective, "go without saying." And we cannot assume that they are aware of the full menu of possibilities from which they could be choosing new ways of doing and living.

Getting interdisciplinary teams to work well is not easy. We try to model the behavior we need in the teaching team, which consists of a business school professor, a mechanical engineering professor, a business entrepreneur, a practicing clinical psychologist and a recent graduate of the medical school.

I am the Business School representative. My colleague Professor David Beach is a revered teacher in mechanical engineering and the patriarch of the Product Realization Laboratory - the "machine shop" in which our teams' physical prototypes become real. Mr. Stuart Coulson is a high-tech serial entrepreneur who founded and sold two companies before volunteering to join the teaching team five years ago.

Dr. Julian Gorodsky has been a psychological counselor to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and companies for several decades, and previously served as a field assessment psychologist for Peace Corps trainee groups. Dr. David Janka took the course as a fourth-year medical student two years ago, and then joined the teaching team as a design fellow, the sixth Design for Extreme Affordability alum to do so. Ms. Joan Dorsey and now Ms. Rita Lonhart have been the coordinators who keep the course on an even keel.

As with the students, even finding a time we all can meet is a challenge, but we have come to appreciate the different perspective that each member brings in selecting course partners, deciding which students to admit, determining where we need to up our game as teachers, and especially in counseling teams who are struggling.

We have a straightforward mission statement: every student deserves a great educational experience, and every course partner deserves a great new product or service. We are convinced that interdisciplinary teams, of both students and instructors, give us a better shot at achieving those goals.


Filed under: Design • Education • entrepreneurs • Social change • The Next List
A 3-D pen that lets you draw objects in the air
February 21st, 2013
11:43 AM ET

A 3-D pen that lets you draw objects in the air

By Brandon Griggs, CNN

We're all doodlers by nature. Give most people a pen, paper and some down time, and they'll fill the margins with the fruits of their imagination.

But imagine if you could wave a pen in the air and create a three-dimensional rendering: A toy, a sculpture, a crude architectural model.

Soon you will. A Boston-based startup, WobbleWorks, has created what they are calling the world's first 3-D printing pen. It's called the 3Doodler, and it's been a sensation on Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site, since it debuted there Tuesday morning. The makers of the 3Doodler set a modest fundraising goal of $30,000; within 48 hours, backers had pledged more than $1.1 million.

"We knew it was a great product. But we didn't expect the response to be this fast," said Daniel Cowen, a spokesman for the gadget, which is still a prototype. "The velocity of the response caught us by surprise. It's phenomenal." FULL POST

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Filed under: Architecture • Art • Design • entrepreneurs • Innovation • Tech
February 19th, 2013
01:33 PM ET

Diana Eng melds high tech with high fashion

Editor’s note: Diana Eng is a fashion designer and technologist who gets her inspiration from math, science and nature. Watch a full profile of Diana Eng this Sunday at 2:30p ET (all-new time!) only on CNN.

Diana Eng’s mission is to bring innovation to the fashion world, and she’s doing it with some very unlikely tools.

Best known for her role on the second season of "Project Runway," Eng creates fashion and accessories that combine cutting-edge technology with design concepts from nature and science.

“I like to look at technology, math and science and how to integrate it into fashion designs,”says the New York-based designer. Eng has knitted scarves using the formula from the Fibonacci code as well as thermochromic scarves which change color with the temperature. She also uses laser cutters to design lace patterns and distressed T-shirts.

The composition of flower cells has inspired her designs and help them keep structural integrity.

“I like to make fashion and accessories that tell a story,” says Eng. “The story usually comes to me while I’m designing.  And it can take me two or three years to design something, because I’m carefully gathering little bits and pieces of the story together, to create my design.”

Eng is also one of the founding members of a Brooklyn-based hack space called NYC Resistor. In an unassuming warehouse, she and 30 other members with a variety of backgrounds meet to learn, make things and share ideas.

“They have a whole bunch of electronics there so I feel like whatever I’m doing, whatever technical development (I want) inside of things, I’ll go to NYC Resistor,” she says.

Eng says she wants people to enjoy not only her fashions but the thinking behind the product.

“I’m really interested in making people think differently about things,” she says. “I feel like it’s really teaching people to look at materials that already exist and think about how it can change how we live our lives and how we can create.”

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Filed under: Design • Fashion • Innovation • Tech • The Next List • Thinkers
January 31st, 2013
07:44 PM ET

The origami-inspired folding kayak

The full-size Oru Kayak folds up for easy portability.

By Anton Willis, Special to CNN

To me, boats are about great adventures. Being out on the water - even near a city - has a freedom and magic that’s hard to describe.

But when I first started work on the Oru Kayak, I had no idea how big of an adventure it would be.

Four years ago, I moved into a small San Francisco apartment, and had to put my kayak in storage. At the same time, I read a magazine article on new advances in the art and science of origami. This led to a question that soon became an obsession: what if a boat could fold up like a piece of paper? What if it could go wherever you wanted it to go?

I started folding paper models, and soon switched to full-scale plastic prototypes that I tested in the Bay and elsewhere. I built over twenty versions - first in a friend’s garage, then at Tech Shop in San Francisco. Tech Shop was a revelation: Its tools allowed me to build far better and faster, and the community got me thinking about the future of the Oru Kayak.

I met entrepreneurs who had turned obsessions into livelihoods, and encouraged me to think more about getting the Oru Kayak out into the world.

With the help of a small but committed team, the Oru Kayak launched on Kickstarter late last year. It exceeded our wildest expectations. We raised enough money to launch the business, but even more exciting was learning more about our customers, including kayak commuters in New York, scientists in Alaska, explorers in the Amazon and many other people we’d love to join on a paddling trip.

We’re now about to go into full production. We’re manufacturing Oru Kayaks not in Asia but here in California - something that we’re very proud of. We’re motivated by a shared vision of making the outdoors more accessible and connecting people to nature, even in urban areas.

Scaling up to build more than 500 kayaks in a few months certainly has its share of challenges. But it’s enormously exciting when a weekend passion becomes a grand adventure and takes you in directions you couldn’t have imagined.

My advice: Nurture your passions and let them turn into obsessions. Find a way to work on them that’s tangible and gives you joy, even if you don’t know where it’s all headed. And don’t be shy about sharing your story as you go along. You’ll find help and encouragement all over the place, and you may even find a new community, as I did with Tech Shop.

I'm now doing this with kayakers all over the globe. I’ve always been into making things, but building a community of enthusiastic supporters has been even more exciting than building a cool product.

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Filed under: Design • Science • The Next List
December 7th, 2012
02:39 PM ET

Printing 3D Buildings: Five tenets of a new kind of architecture

Editor’s Note: Neri Oxman is a designer, architect, artist and founder of the Mediated Matter group at MIT’s Media Lab. See Oxman's full 30-minute profile this Sunday 2 P.M. E.T. only on CNN.

By Neri Oxman, Special to CNN

In the future we will print 3D bone tissue, grow living breathing chairs and construct buildings by hatching swarms of tiny robots. The future is closer than we think; in fact, versions of it are already present in our midst.

At the core of these visions lies the desire to potentiate our bodies and the things around us with an intelligence that will deepen the relationship between the objects we use and which we inhabit, and our environment: a Material Ecology.

A new model of the world has emerged over the past few decades: the World-as- Organism. This new model inspires a desire to instill intelligence into objects, buildings and cities. It is a model that stands in contrast to the paradigm of the Industrial Revolution, or the World-as-Machine.

While I believe that the new model will eventually become the new paradigm, it coexists for the time being with the old model: our minds are already at home with this new view of the world, but we still employ the building practices and design traditions that we inherited from the industrial era.

For instance, today’s buildings are made up of modular parts and components that are mass-produced and interchangeable. A furniture piece can easily be replaced by a ready-to-assemble kit of parts while a damaged tooth-root or bone can be replaced by the design of a titanium implant.

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