New electric bike can haul 100 pounds of cargo
September 4th, 2013
10:12 AM ET

New electric bike can haul 100 pounds of cargo

By Heather Kelly, CNN

There's only so much you can fit inside one of those cute woven baskets found on the common bicycle: a small bag of groceries, fresh-cut flowers and a baguette, maybe a puppy.

But the new 2X4 cargo bike from NTS Works is built to haul up to 100 pounds of goods and, with the help of its electrical-assist engine, go as fast as 20 miles an hour.

The bike, a cross between a bicycle, motorcycle and beast of burden, is the brainchild of California bike designer Neal Saiki. He hopes the $4,800 2X4 will catch on with regular people running errands, as well as companies that deliver packages, fruit boxes, pizzas and other goods in urban areas.

Enterprising riders around the world have used the humble bicycle to haul freight for more than 100 years. They creatively balance large loads or small families on two wheels, often modifying a bike's design to accommodate specific hefty cargo.

These "cargo" or "freight" bikes are still in use in many places where cars and gas remain too expensive, or where the roads are so small or congested that a bike is a more efficient way to get around. They're especially popular in Europe, where some manufacturers have added electrical engines to boost the bikes' hauling power and assist riders up hills. FULL POST


Filed under: entrepreneurs • Environment • Innovation • Tech • The Next List
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
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
Is this (finally) our flying car?
May 9th, 2013
03:52 PM ET

Is this (finally) our flying car?

By Doug Gross, CNN

It's one of science fiction's greatest unfulfilled promises, right up there with teleportation and time travel.

And, no, Terrafugia hasn't built us a Tardis or promised to beam us up. But they say they're closer than ever to giving us a flying car.

This week, the Woburn, Massachussetts-based aerospace company announced it has begun feasibility studies on a car capable of vertical takeoffs and landings. The TF-X would be a four-seat, plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, according to the company.

“We are passionate about continuing to lead the creation of a flying car industry and are dedicating resources to lay the foundations for our vision of personal transportation,” Terrafugia CEO Carl Dietrich said in a media release. “Terrafugia is about increasing the level of safety, simplicity, and convenience of aviation.  TF-X is an opportunity to provide the world with a new dimension of personal freedom!”

Yes, the long-awaited promise of "The Jetsons" may soon become reality.

Lest you think  the company is just getting our hopes up for some cheap publicity, know this - they've already created a flying car of sorts.

The Transition is a street-legal vehicle that's designed to fly in and out of airports. It was successfully flown for the first time in 2009. The second-generation version of the Transition performed a driving-and-flying demo last year.

The new TF-X project comes as work on the Transition shifts "from research and development to certification, production, and customer support activities," the company said.

Terrafugia says it has about 100 orders for the Transition, which goes for $279,000.

MORE: Robotic jellyfish could be undersea spy

The big difference between the Transition, which is scheduled to hit the market in 2015, and the new flying car is that the TF-X would be able to take off anywhere,  like a helicopter, and not just at an airport.

Its automation systems would make taking off and landing a self-driving process, though the driver would be able to take over manual control at any time.

Terrafugia (Latin for "escape from Earth") says it has had "preliminary conversations" with the Federal Aviation Administration about the TF-X and that the agency has "demonstrated their willingness to consider innovative technologies and regulatory solutions that are in the public interest and enhance the level of safety of personal aviation."

In other words, we might actually get to ride in one someday.

What do you think? Will we see widespread use of flying cars in our lifetimes? Let us know in the comments.

More: Rugged wheelchair offers off-road freedom for disabled

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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
January 4th, 2013
02:35 PM ET

Lino’s Lesson

Editor's Note: Jim McKelvey is an engineer, entrepreneur, artist, environmentalist, co-Founder of Square and Third Degree Glass Factory and general partner of Cultivation Capital. He is a man who embraces challenge in many forms. Tune in Sunday, January 6 at 2 P.M. E.T. to watch The Next List's full 30-minute profile on McKelvey.

By Jim McKelvey, Special to CNN

Most glassblowers agree that one man, Lino Tagliapietra, is the best.

Who’s the most skilled programmer? Who’s the most talented singer? Who’s the smartest attorney? Who knows? But in glass, we all agree that this 80-year-old Italian dude is the best in the world. Imagine what you can learn from someone who is undisputedly the best in the world.

I got to study with the “Maestro” at a time when he took only 10 students a year.

During the week I spent with Lino, every student got to ask him one question. It could be anything. Lino always knew the answer.

Your one question was a big deal. Students either asked ultra-complex technical questions or requested that Lino make the glass behave in ways nobody thought possible.

My question was elementary. I asked the world’s best glassblower how to properly center a foot on a bowl.

FULL POST

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Filed under: Art • Education • entrepreneurs • Innovation • Music • Tech • The Next List • Thinkers • Video
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
September 25th, 2012
10:49 AM ET

Turning trash into building material

By The Next List staff, CNN

(CNN) - Susanne Heisse is founder of Pura Vida, a movement for alternative trash management in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Her innovation: the eco-brick.

In its simplest form, the eco-brick is a plastic bottle stuffed with inorganic trash. Stuffed to capacity, these bottles are of sufficient integrity to be used as building blocks for homes and schools throughout Central America.

With the help of the Peace Corps and charities like Hug It Forward, this deceptively simple building innovation is now spreading throughout the world. FULL POST

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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Filed under: Design • entrepreneurs • Fashion • Innovation • Science • Tech • Uncategorized
July 5th, 2012
04:09 PM ET

African foundation meets new partners on tour of America

By Dan Ogola, Special to CNN

Editor's NoteDan Ogola is the founder and director of the Matibabu Foundation, a organization in Eastern Africa creating jobs and opportunity through healthcare. Founded in 2006, Matibabu has offered health services to over 60,000 Kenyans. It recently opened the community’s first hospital, a state-of-the art facility drawing new businesses to one of the country’s poorest regions. 

As a result of a CNN profile on "The Next List," Matibabu Foundation got invited to the recent Global Health and Innovation Conference at Yale University by the event organizers, Unite for Sight. As Social entrepreneurs, myself and Dr. Fred Okango expanded the scope of the trip to include contact with potential partners. Our goal was to espouse our vision of a healthy, productive, and prosperous society in Western Kenya through the efforts of an empowered community and strengthened systems.

We travelled the length and breadth of the United States from New York, to Yale University in Connecticut, to Boston and Washington D.C., to Atlanta and South Carolina, and finally to the west coast, visiting both San Francisco and Los Angeles.

FULL POST

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