December 4th, 2012
09:36 AM ET

The woman who wants to 'print' buildings

Editor’s Note: Watch Neri Oxman’s full profile this Sunday on CNN’s “The Next List”

Who: Neri Oxman, designer, architect, artist and founder of Mediated Matter group at MIT’s Media Lab.

Why you might know her: Oxman was named one of the most creative people in design by Fast Company magazine. She is pushing the limits of what it means to erect a building and believes one day soon we'll be able to "print" our buildings using 3-D printers.

Her artistic medium: At MIT’s Media Lab, Oxman experiments with different printable materials – everything from concrete to silk. She’s also repurposed a robotic arm into a 3-D printer. “How can we reinterpret 3-D printing in a way that suggests a new design language?” she wonders. Oxman plays with different gradients in her materials, with a goal of printing, for example, concrete that can go from porous to dense. “That concrete can be many things,” she says. “That concrete can become a transparent window.”

Her design inspiration: Oxman thinks about architecture and design in completely new ways. Her muse for all of it is nature. Take the spider, which generates a different silk for different purposes: building a web, creating trailing routes, capturing their prey, wrapping their eggs. Oxman believes that in a way, spiders are like a multi-material 3-D printer. “One cannot separate the spider web’s form from the way in which it originated,” she says. “Nature doesn’t divide between the architect, the engineer and the construction worker. These are processes we’re interested in and want to explore.”

Why she matters: The traditions of building construction in many ways are very old-fashioned,” says Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. “The way that Neri has used the 3-D printer proposes … the possibility of a different way of making things. Can we also think about buildings that will be made through a process of 3-D printing – that will make our houses, that will make our cities?”

Oxman as artist: Many of Neri’s “experiments” with 3-D printing and materials are so beautiful they wind up in permanent collections in museums around the world. “I don’t see her work as art – I see her work as architecture and design,” says Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator for Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. “You can see her work as art if you look at the object itself, but in truth, it comes from very serious studies and from serious examination of data and figures. What is distilled at the end is an object, that if divorced from all the background, can be considered art. But in truth it’s an experimental study.”

Her roots: Oxman grew up in Haifa, a city in the north of Israel, until she left for the Israeli Army at age 18. Both of her parents are also architects. “I grew up in a modernist house, in a modernist culture. There was a love for modernism everywhere – the furniture, the books, the food, even the cutlery,” she says. “So I learned very early to appreciate the value of design and the value of architecture.”

Something you might not know about her: She's a medical-school dropout.  “It was one day, I remember it clearly – it was a hot day in Jerusalem, and I left class and called my father and announced to my parents I was going to leave medical school,” Oxman says. “I don’t think I would have made for a good doctor. It was not meant to be, and it took me a long time to realize that.”

Her life philosophy: “There is a very beautiful expression in the Hebrew language that’s borrowed from spoken Torah… ‘All is predicted and permission is given at any point to change anything,’” she says. “I think I live by this idiom in the sense that there is always a goal there is always something to look forward to in life and my creative search and that goal is there … and when I look at it I know it can change at any point and I give myself permission to completely reconsider it every time I look at it. And that’s a very empowering and invigorating way to live life for me ... that maintains an openness toward anything that I choose to pursue.”

 

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Filed under: Architecture • Design • Innovation • Tech • The Next List
3-D photo booth makes a miniature you
November 15th, 2012
12:00 PM ET

3-D photo booth makes a miniature you

By Heather Kelly, CNN

If you've always wanted a smaller replica of yourself, but are hesitant to commit to the cost and stress of parenthood, there is now an alternative. If you're in Tokyo, you can sit for a 3-D portrait.

Omote 3D Shashin Kan is a pop-up portrait studio that uses a handheld scanner to create a three-dimensional model of your entire body.  A 3-D printer then makes a small, intricately detailed plastic figurine. The final, full-color models look exactly like the larger you, down to the wrinkles on the clothes and part in the hair.

The 3D photo-booth project is part of a photography exhibition at the Eye of Gyre gallery in Tokyo's Harajuku neighborhood. It's the brainchild of PARTY, a young ad, branding and entertainment company based in New York and Tokyo. FULL POST

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DIY Africa: Empowering a new Sierra Leone
November 14th, 2012
08:36 AM ET

DIY Africa: Empowering a new Sierra Leone

Editor's note: David Sengeh is a doctoral student working at MIT’s Media Lab.

By David Sengeh, Special to CNN

(CNN) - When Kelvin Doe, a then-13-year-old from Sierra Leone, saw that off-the-shelf batteries were too expensive for the inventions he was working on, he made his own at home. Kelvin did not have the privilege to do his project in a school environment. Rather, he was compelled to act by necessity and for the joy of solving practical problems. Kelvin combined acid, soda, and metal, dumped those ingredients in a tin cup, waited for the mixture to dry and wrapped tape around the cup to make his first battery. He failed several times before completing a final, working prototype. He hasn’t purchased a battery since.

Next up: A generator. Kelvin made one of those by hacking an old rusty voltage stabilizer he found in a dustbin. The generator’s motor, plug, and other components are either homemade or picked from the garbage. In addition to providing electricity to his home, where neighbors come to charge their mobile phone batteries, the generator powers Kelvin’s homemade FM radio station, fully equipped with a custom music mixer, recycled CD player and antenna that allow his whole neighborhood to tune in. Now 16, Kelvin has expanded operations: he employs his friends as reporters and station managers, tasking them to interview spectators at local soccer games and keep the calendar of requests for his DJ services at parties and events. The average age of his crew is 12.

I am a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab working on developing the next generation of prosthetic sockets and wearable mechanical interfaces. I am motivated to do this work by the needs I have seen in my country, Sierra Leone, and elsewhere. At the MIT Media Lab, I have access to immense resources and expertise. But it has become apparent to me that when I take the prostheses back to Sierra Leone, the machines and technologies needed to maintain them will be left at my lab. And, as important, the recipients of the technology will not have participated in finding solutions to their problems nor shared in the joy of creation. FULL POST


Filed under: Design • Education • entrepreneurs • Future • Innovation • Robots • Social change • The Next List • World
Student turns table into an iPhone keyboard
November 13th, 2012
02:54 PM ET

Student turns table into an iPhone keyboard

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - Here's a new stab at a solution for that old fat-thumbs, small-phone problem: Turn your desk - or table or whatever - into a keyboard.

That's what Florian Kräutli demonstrates in a video called "Vibrative Virtual Keyboard," posted on Vimeo about a month ago. His unreleased virtual-keyboard software, which is making the rounds on design blogs like Fast Company's Co.DESIGN and designboom, lets him place his iPhone on a flat surface and then use the area in front of it to type.

"Touch screen devices, such as smartphones, lack a suitable method for text input which can compete with mechanical keyboards," Krautli is quoted as saying in a press release from Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is studying cognitive computing. "The Vibrative Virtual Keyboard aims to appease the frustration felt by smartphone users when faced with drafting lengthy e-mails or notes on a small onscreen keyboard." FULL POST

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Filed under: Design • Future • Innovation • Smartphones
October 17th, 2012
10:53 AM ET

Lowline: proposal for the world's first underground park in NYC

By Julia Lull and Brittany Rivera, Special to CNN

New York (CNN) - In crowded cities like Manhattan where most people work and live in high-rise buildings, there is a desire for green space and fresh air. Rather than create another park above the ground, two designers have proposed the LowLine, what they call “the world’s first underground park.”

The project, founded by Dan Barasch and James Ramsey, would take the old Essex Street Trolley Terminal located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and convert it into a subterranean playground, complete with sunlight.

After a friend and former MTA employee told Barasch and Ramsey about the amount of unused space underground, they decided to build something that would use the free space in the city, rather than add to the already dense skyline. FULL POST

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Meet the inflatable, 'invisible' bike helmet
August 17th, 2012
04:44 PM ET

Meet the inflatable, 'invisible' bike helmet

By Doug Gross, CNN

Hey, cyclists! Want to look more stylish while riding and still avoid the inconvenience of a cracked skull?

Then a pair of Swedish designers have got just the helmet for you - provided you're willing to fork over about $600 and aren't afraid of looking a little like a deployed airbag when you fall.

The newly released Hovding (no, Americans, that's not a futon from Ikea) is billed as The Invisible Bicycle Helmet. Begun in 2005 as a project for a master's-level industrial design course,  the blow-up helmet is housed in a pouch that, when wrapped around your neck, looks a little like a puffed-up ski-jacket collar. FULL POST

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Signal-blocking wallpaper stops Wi-Fi stealing (and comes in a snowflake pattern!)
July 18th, 2012
11:35 AM ET

Signal-blocking wallpaper stops Wi-Fi stealing (and comes in a snowflake pattern!)

By Olivia Smith, Special to CNN

New York (CNN) - Imagine wallpaper that does work for you and for your electronics. Wallpaper that doesn’t only protect your walls, but also protects your health, equipment and data.

Researchers at France’s Institut Polytechnique de Grenoble have worked with the Centre Technique du Papier to develop Wi-Fi-blocking wallpaper. The product, also known as metapaper, claims to selectively filter, reduce or reflect electromagnetic waves.

Metapaper not only protects against intruders stealing Wi-Fi from buildings, but also ensures that signals inside a building are more secure and stronger, the group says. Benefits include data security for companies or people that need dependable Wi-Fi. The wallpaper can also be used to create quieter spaces for places like hospitals and movie theaters. FULL POST

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Filed under: Culture • Design • Environment • Innovation • Internet • Tech
A touchscreen with keys that rise and disappear
June 6th, 2012
11:10 AM ET

A touchscreen with keys that rise and disappear

If you've ever followed up a garbled text with "Damn You, Autocorrect," some high-tech help might be on the way.

A California company says it's created technology that could make keyboard keys rise out of the touchscreen on a smartphone, tablet or other device, then disappear when you were done with them.

Tactus Technology this week demoed Tactile Layer, a product that uses haptics, or a touch-based interface, to make patterns or shapes rise and recede on a regular touchscreen.

The company says its panel, which it displayed on a prototype Android tablet at this week's Society for Information Display showcase in Boston, is  "the world's first deformable tactile surface."

"The origin of Tactus goes back to 2007," said CEO Craig Ciesla in a video.  "Looking at the iPhone and all the elegance of that user interface, I also realized that I like my BlackBerry with the buttons ... . As human beings, we really want to be able to feel things; we really want that tactility."

The layer is flat and transparent and wouldn't add any thickness to a gadget since it would replace a layer that already exists, Tactus says.

For tech consumers, devices that could benefit from the system include smartphones, tablets, e-readers, gaming devices and remote controls, the company says.  But it also has potential in automobiles, medical devices and personal navigation systems, they say.

Tactus has partnered with Touch Revolution, a touchscreen manufacturer. The first Tactus products will be available by mid-2013, Ciesla said.

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June 1st, 2012
08:00 AM ET

Swap-O-Matic: A vending machine for bartering with just about anything

By Laura Ly, Special to CNN

New York (CNN) - On any given day, the vending machine at Ample Hills Creamery in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, may offer anything from books to original artwork to toys.  If you see something you want, however, no need to take out your wallet.  The ‘Swap-O-Matic’ vending machine allows you to swap and trade items, rather than buy them.

“The Swap-O-Matic recognizes that there is a thrill in getting things.  The vending machine satisfies our desires for instant gratification, but it co-ops it and re-appropriates it to something that is a more sustainable method of acquisition, which is through swapping and trading,” said Lina Fenequito, the creator and primary designer of the ‘Swap-O-Matic.’

Fenequito wanted to call attention to issues of overconsumption and needless waste and aimed to find a creative way to encourage trading and reusing.  For her senior thesis project at Parsons School of Design, she built an earlier, low-tech model.  In August 2011, with the help of visual designer Ray Mancini and electrical engineer Rick Cassidy, Fenequito built upon her thesis project and created a machine with touchscreen capability and digital locks. FULL POST

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Why Rube Goldberg machines still matter in 2012
May 7th, 2012
06:48 PM ET

Why Rube Goldberg machines still matter in 2012

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - Rube Goldberg machines - those contraptions that, like the board game Mouse Trap, aim to accomplish a simple task in a needlessly complex way - don't really fit in an age obsessed with efficiency and perfection.

Yet, online, these fun-to-watch systems do seem to have incredible currency. Think OK Go music videos, for starters.

The machine below, called Mini-Melvin, caught my eye this week. Housed inside two suitcases, Mini-Melvin employs an alarm clock, a smartphone, a child's xylophone, a toy train and many other trinkets - all to stamp a short message on a postcard.

Check out the video below:

FULL POST

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