March 7th, 2013
05:13 PM ET

Miguel Nicolelis and his mind-controlled prosthetic limbs

Brazilian-born Miguel Nicolelis is a professor of neurobiology at Duke University and a pioneer in the field of brain-machine-interfaces, in which brain waves from a human or animal control a robot-limb prosthethis. For more on Nicolelis and his work, watch "The Next List" this Sunday at 2:30 pm ET on CNN.

By Miguel Nicolelis

For the past 30 years, I have dedicated my career as a neurobiologist to unveil the physiological principles that underlie how our brain circuits, formed by billions of interconnected cells, known as neurons, create the entirety of our human nature and history out of sheer electrical brainstorms.

To pursue this quest, my colleagues and I at the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering have developed a variety of new methods and technologies to probe the brain in search of any hint, any glimpse that could place us on the right trail to answer the greatest mysteries of all times: how the entire wealth of the human mind emerges from a mesh of organic tissue.

In 1999, John Chapin, my former postdoctoral advisor, and I published a scientific paper that introduced to the neuroscience community what by then seemed to be just another promising new experimental tool in brain research. Without much ceremony, we named this new experimental paradigm brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) and, in a flurry of papers that followed the original report, we described the technical details of our unorthodox combination of neurophysiological methods, real-time computing and robotics to create a direct and bidirectional interface between living animal brains and a variety of mechanical and electronic machines.

In the late 1990s, our initial effort in building such devices was entirely motivated by the desire to establish a powerful experimental tool to carry on work related to the investigation of the neurophysiological principles that allow behavior, the true business of the brain, to emerge flawlessly and effortlessly, time and time again, from the widespread dynamic interactions of large populations of neurons that comprise any brain circuit.

By the time our original papers were published in scientific journals, very few people, outside a small number of experts working in the emergent field of BMIs, could envision the enormous clinical potential that this newly acquired ability to interface brains and machines could unleash and how it could influence the future of rehabilitation medicine.

What a difference 15 years make! After a mere decade and a half of intense research and stunning experimental demonstrations, brain-machine interfaces have become the core of a large variety of potential future new therapies for neurological disorders, such as untreatable epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and devastating levels of body paralysis. Moreover, in the not so remote future, BMIs of a different variety may allow us to perform a lot of our daily routine tasks, such as interacting with our smartphones, just by thinking!

Welcome to the era of brain-actuating technology; the age in which the brain’s voluntary desire to move will be liberated from the physical limits of the human body that host it.

In the CNN show you are about to watch, you will be introduced to the Walk Again Project (WAP), the first worldwide, non-profit international brain research consortium aimed at building a new generation of robotic limb prostheses, which can be directly controlled by the subject’s own brain activity through a brain-machine interface. In the future, we hope that neuroprostheses such as the ones the WAP intends to build could be used to restore full-body mobility in tens of millions of severely paralyzed patients worldwide.

To showcase to the entire world that this moment could be fast approaching, the WAP has proposed to have the first public demonstration of such a potentially revolutionary medical rehabilitation technology during the opening football match of the FIFA 2014 Soccer World Cup on June 12, 2014, in São Paulo, Brazil.

According to this proposal, at 5:00 pm that afternoon, a Brazilian young adult, who is paralyzed below the waist down will emerge in the pitch wearing a robotic vest, known as an exoskeleton, whose movements are controlled by some sort of brain-derived signals. Then, using all his voluntary will, this true herald of a new era shall walk autonomously all the way to center field, and once there,  kick a ball to deliver the official start of the World Cup.

In essence, what we propose is that, in the land that invented the “beautiful game," the opening kickoff of the greatest sports event in the world becomes a scientific “Gol” to all of humanity.


Filed under: Innovation • Robots • Science • Tech • The Next List • Thinkers
February 22nd, 2013
11:55 AM ET

Forging a new future in fashion with technology

Editor’s note: Diana Eng is a fashion designer and self-described geek who blends fashion and technology in surprising ways. Watch Diana’s full profile this Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on CNN’s “The Next List.”

By Diana Eng, Special to CNN

New York Fashion Week has just wrapped up. It's an event that reminds me twice a year of the moment I knew I was meant to be a fashion designer (as opposed to a computer programmer or electrical engineer).

The first time I attended Mercedes Benz Fashion Week was for the Project Runway, season two show at Bryant Park. I sat in the front row and felt like royalty as a bunch of reporters came up to ask me questions; “Do you know how lucky you are to be sitting in the front row?” “Is this the best day of your life?” “Who do you think will win?” “Tell me a secret about the show without violating your contract.”

I was still trying to get over the fact that I was actually at a fashion week show. Debra Messing walked by and said “Hi Diana” and I was like, “OMG, Debra Messing, you know my name!”

And then two men came out and removed the plastic covering the runway, the lights started to dim and there was finally a hush. It was like unwrapping a present. The show was about to start and I was filled with excitement, pride and anticipation. At that moment there were so many possibilities, anything could come down the runway. I thought, “I am so excited to be a fashion designer!”

Not everyone can relate the rush of fashion week, but we all have a personal relationship with the things we wear. They are our second skin. When someone sees us for the first time, our style conveys the first impressions about our personality.

Clothing can also say a lot about the world around us. In the 19th century, women would have conveyed their personal style with hoop skirts and bustles made possible by new advances in steel making. We’ve made many technological advancements since the Bessemer process. In the 21st century, what will your fashion say about you?

I like my fashion designs to make people stop and think twice. And I think that, like the hoop skirts of the 19th century, today’s technology can lead to new looks.

Using a laser cutter I am able to distress t-shirts in lace patterns, adding a delicate touch to an otherwise rugged style. I create scarves with snowflakes that appear and grow in cold weather. I play with electronics - LEDs, electroluminescent wire, microcontrollers - to make clothing that reacts to sound and motion. I work with technicians to program fully fashioned (3D) knitting machines to automatically knit lace created by the Fibonacci number sequence.

I’m excited to see what possibilities the next generation of designers will come up with. I’ve had the privilege of teaching the Click@MoMA: Wearable Technology class for high school students through Eyebeam. My class toured the Museum of Modern Art to view paintings by Picasso and Mondrian, and we discussed how shapes could augment the human body. Then the students built inflatable clothing to augment their bodies. We viewed Monet’s Water Lilies to see how Impressionist artists used color and texture to express different seasons and moods. The students created videos to project images on to dresses so that the dresses could portray different moods. Today’s teens have never lived without the Internet or cell phones. As technology becomes a bigger part of our world, tomorrow’s designers will need a greater understanding of science to create relevant designs.

It doesn’t matter how many fashion shows I attend, I still feel the same thrill when they peel back the plastic to start the show. Fashion has infinite possibilities and I’m excited to see what the future holds.

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Filed under: Fashion • Innovation • Tech • The Next List • Thinkers • Video
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 18th, 2013
10:43 AM ET

Skip Rizzo: Deploying virtual therapies for the real stresses of combat

By The Next List staff, CNN

(CNN) -  Skip Rizzo is a wizard of the virtual world, a clinical psychologist and anything but your average lab geek. He’s also a key combatant in the U.S. military’s battle against post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Rizzo's lab is a part of The University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies.

Watch CNN at 2 p.m. ET on January 27 to see a half-hour look inside Rizzo's world. Here's a primer on why he's a member of CNN's The Next List:

Why you might know him: Rizzo grabbed headlines back in 2006 with "Virtual Iraq," a virtual reality PTSD therapy for combat veterans. The treatment combines latest in gaming technology with a clinical approach to treating PTSD called prolonged exposure therapy. "Virtual Iraq" is used in more than 50 Veterans Affairs hospitals in the United States.

Why he matters: Despite advances in PTSD treatment, Rizzo believes America can do more for its troops. His current effort is called STRIVE - and it's designed to prevent PTSD by intervening before a war deployment. Funded in part by grants from both the Army and Navy research communities, the 30-chapter virtual reality program will use a fully immersive, “'Band of Brothers'-like” simulation to better prepare service members for the pressures of combat before their boots hit the ground. Research trials will begin at California’s Camp Pendleton this spring.

His philosophy: Rizzo says his calling is to "take care of the folks who put themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedoms."

Oh, he's also into skull collecting: Rizzo is Harley-riding rugby player with a penchant for collecting skulls.

Why combat-related PTSD matters: One in 5 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with PTSD, according to George Washington University. That’s nearly 300,000 veterans as of October 2012. And the social and economic costs of PTSD are immense. First-year treatment alone costs the government $8,300 per person, or more than $2 billion so far. Suicides among active-duty military personnel averaged one per day in 2012. Veterans now account for 20% of suicides in the U.S., with the youngest (age 24 and younger) taking their lives at four times the rate of older veterans.

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Filed under: Gaming • Military • Science • Tech • The Next List • Thinkers • Video
January 12th, 2013
10:11 AM ET

The Next Age of Neuroscience

By Greg Gage, Special to CNN

Our understanding of the brain is rapidly expanding. New tools and technologies coming online allow scientists to probe deeper into the microarchitecture of the circuits of our mind. It is an exciting time to be a neuroscientist, as over the past decade our knowledge has been rapidly growing.

But these discoveries and insights have all been limited to a small, select group of individuals that have dedicated their lives to study neuroscience in graduate school and become postdocs, researchers, and professors. While most everyone is fascinated by the brain, very few get the chance to peer into the world of neurons. Because, until now, there wasn’t a way for amateurs to get involved.

Throughout history, many great contributions to science and mathematics have been made by amateurs. For example, Thomas Bopp, a factory manager and an amateur astronomer co-discovered the great Comet Hale–Bopp of 1997. Amateur mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan made so many important discoveries that India has proposed that his birthday be declared the National Mathematics Day. The reason many amateurs can contribute to these fields in particular, is that the instrumentation is very affordable.
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Filed under: Innovation • Science • Tech • The Next List • Thinkers • Video
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
December 13th, 2012
04:39 AM ET

Jim McKelvey: 'People who solve problems are happier'

Who: Jim McKelvey is an engineer, entrepreneur, artist, community activist, environmentalist, and citizen of the world. Co-Founder of Square, Co-Founder of Third Degree Glass Factory, Co-Founder of Mira Publishing, Director of Emerald Automotive, 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.

Why you might know him: McKelvey is most well known as the Co-Founder of Square, the mobile-payment system. In fact, it was his belief that small entrepreneurs endured abuse in the credit world that led Square to focus on payments.

Why he matters: He’s tackling some really tough problems with imagination, passion and grit. Most notably, McKelvey is working on creating a new economic model to help keep the struggling publishing industry alive. Why? Because “that’s meaningful work - people who write, they need every bit of resource they can get.” If that’s not enough, he’s launching an initiative to try to help reduce violence and provide a path to jobs for highly motivated but poorly educated kids in crime-ridden sections of St. Louis.

McKelvey’s philosophy: That any problem can be solved with enough resolve and the right people. Even if a problem was too big yesterday, everything is changing all the time and new tools are available every day to take on even the most complex problems.

FULL POST


Filed under: Art • Culture • Innovation • Tech • The Next List • Thinkers
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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Filed under: Architecture • Art • Design • Tech • The Next List • Thinkers • Uncategorized • Video
November 13th, 2012
10:42 AM ET

Nalini Nadkarni: The tree-climbing scientist who brings plants to prison

By The Next List Staff, CNN

(CNN) - Nalini Nadkarni is a pioneer in tree canopy research and co-founder of the Sustainability in Prisons Project, which aims to teach inmates about ecology. Watch a 30-minute profile of  on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on CNN’s “The Next List."

Here's a primer on why she is fascinating enough to make The Next List.

Why you've heard of her: You probably haven't. Unless you're a tree climbing scientist or an inmate in Washington state (more on that soon). Oh - or you may have seen "Heroes of the High Frontiers," an Emmy-winning National Geographic film. She's in that. Or maybe you were one of the lucky few to get your hands on the "Tree Top Barbie Doll" she developed. FULL POST

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Filed under: Education • Environment • Innovation • Science • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers • World
October 9th, 2012
10:48 AM ET

Jim Newton, patron saint of do-it-yourselfers

Editor's Note: Jim Newton’s full 30-minute profile airs on CNN’s “The Next List” this Sunday at 2 P.M. ET. He is the founder and chairman of TechShop, a a membership-based workshop for do-it-yourselfers that provides access to tools, equipment and instruction.

Why you might know him: Newton is a serial entrepreneur, a maker and a hacker. He’s just opened a sixth TechShop, this one in Round Rock, Texas, so more tinkerers, artists, entrepreneurs and lovers of all things handmade can have access to the tools to build whatever they can dream up.

Why he matters: Newton is opening up a world of innovation by giving people the tools, the workspace and the confidence to make things they’ve always dreamed of making. He’s creating hubs for invention and creativity where people can come to inspire and be inspired.

Quotable Newton: “This is kind of innovation as recreation,” he says. “You just do it because it’s fun.”

TechShop by the numbers: There are six TechShops open right now: in Menlo Park, CA, San Francisco, CA, San Jose, CA, Raleigh-Durham, NC, Detroit, MI, and now Round Rock, Texas, near Austin. Three more are planned for  Brooklyn, NY, Pittsburgh, PA and greater Washington, D.C.  There are currently about 5,000 TechShop members nationwide.

In his own words: “Everybody has creative abilities but people just don’t express them. I mean, I see people come in here that are afraid to try anything. We give them some classes and some encouragement. And they have some success with their projects. And you see them just change. You see them light up. You see them say, 'Wow, I really can do this.' This is stunning. They’re stunned.”

Something you might not know about Jim: He worked as a science advisor on the popular Discovery Channel show "MythBusters." He’s taught robotics and is a former Battle Bots competitor.

What they did on summer vacation: The Newtons (Jim, his wife Barbara and their three children) took a 60-day long car trip across America to visit iconic landmarks.

Surprising Fact: They are still speaking to one another.

Newton’s Dream? To open a TechShop in every major city in the country. That way he’ll have access to a world-class workshop wherever he goes.

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Filed under: Innovation • Internet • Tech • The Next List • Thinkers
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