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.

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Filed under: Crowdsourcing • Design • Education • Innovation • Robots • Tech • The Next List
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
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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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
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."

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