April 26th, 2013
02:58 PM ET

MIT’s ‘bionic man’ offers assistance to amputees of Boston bombings

Editor’s note: Jared Markowitz is a PhD candidate with Hugh Herr's Biomechatronics Group. Hugh Herr heads up MIT’s Biomechatronics Group where they invent cutting edge bionic prosthetic limbs, exoskeletons and more. Herr and his team have mobilized their resources to assist the amputee victims of the Boston bombings in some profound ways. Watch more this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EST on CNN’s “The Next List.”

By Jared Markowitz, Special to CNN

The events in Boston last week were tragic in many ways: human suffering was on display for the world to see, a city was locked down while killers were pursued, and a nation was once again forced to recognize its vulnerability to senseless acts of violence. A week later, the wound is still fresh. Our community continues to mourn the dead, treat the injured, and search for ways to eliminate such attacks. Many lives have been altered irreversibly, yet there is also an abundance of resiliency and hope.

The bombings on Monday left many people with significant injuries and, in many cases, missing lower limbs. The horror of waking up with a different body as a result of a random act of terror should not be understated. Yet thanks to recent advances in prosthetic and rehabilitation technology, many of those who have suffered these devastating injuries have the hope of returning to a full and normal life.

There is now a bionic ankle, foot and calf system that allows the user to walk as quickly and efficiently as non-amputees. Computer-controlled prosthetic knees have been developed that adjust knee resistance continuously, allowing above-knee amputees to walk with improved versatility and stability. Lightweight, compliant running prostheses make it possible for amputees to excel in both sprinting and distance events, including marathons. These technologies are all improving rapidly, with researchers constantly striving to produce more comfortable, responsive and life-like prosthetic limbs.

Despite these advances, the road back from severe lower limb trauma can be long, arduous and expensive. To help those injured in the Boston bombings, the MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics Group has partnered with the Mass Technology Leadership Council and No Barriers on two initiatives.

First, we are working with the Mass Technology Leadership Council to ensure that each amputee is provided with the assistive and rehabilitative solutions that best address their injury. To that end, if you have a technology that you believe could help those who suffered traumatic injuries please contact us at www.masstlc.org.

Second, the No Barriers Boston Fund has been established to give the victims devices that will allow them to lead full and active lives. The fund will provide these people with prosthetic limbs designed for athletic activities so that they can run, bike, swim and even dance again. To donate to this important effort, please visit www.nobarriersboston.org.

The symbolism of such events occurring around the Boston Marathon is difficult to ignore. Few endeavors provide such a ready analogy for the highs and lows of life as this race; it is a celebration of the city, running and the human spirit. While the motivations of those who run the Boston Marathon vary, everyone who participates has endured the grueling training required to qualify. During the marathon, runners are tested by the hills of Newton and the unavoidable "rough patches" that come with the marathon distance. However this all melts away during the triumphant finishing stretch on Boylston Street, an experience that validates all of the struggles up to that point.

It is our hope that the trials the surviving victims are currently enduring will give way to an even greater victory.


Filed under: Events • Innovation • Science • Tech • The Next List • Video
April 15th, 2013
04:14 PM ET

Bringing solar power to Israel, and the world

Editor's NoteYosef Abramowitz is a solar-power pioneer, an entrepreneur, an activist, an environmentalist and co-founder of the Arava Power Company. Abramowitz, a three -time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, has been instrumental in helping Israel become one of the world’s major players in alternative energy.  A 30-minute profile of Abramowitz will air on CNN's "The Next List" coming soon!

As we approach Earth Day we will hear a lot about the threat of global warming and how solar power could be part of a solution to save the environment.

Israeli innovator Yosef Abramowitz is so convinced renewable energy is the answer he’s made it his mission to install solar fields all over the world. The activist, dubbed “Captain Sunshine” because of his superhuman efforts to save the planet, pioneered the concept of “impact investing” to make his solar dream work.

“I went in completely naïve about how hard it was going to be. We have to do something very proactive, very immediate,” says Abramowitz. “The need to replace burning fossil fuels is a clear and imminent danger to survival of our species. We’ve innovated an idea by bringing together technology, finance and regulation to save the world through solar power.”

His idea stemmed from what he calls a serendipitous trip to the desert. In 2006, looking for a more laid-back lifestyle, Yosef and his wife, Rabbi Susan Silverman (sister of the comedian Sarah Silverman), moved with their five kids — including two adopted from Ethiopia — to Kibbutz Ketura in southern Israel. Abramowitz was raised in Boston but had fond memories of volunteering at the kibbutz after high school.

Yosef says their plan for a quiet family sabbatical changed as soon as they arrived.

“The sun, even though it was setting, was just burning our skin. I thought, ‘I’m sure the whole place works on solar power.' ”

But it didn’t, because solar power was non-existent in Israel. Abramowitz began taking classes in renewable energy and talking to people at the kibbutz about forming a company. He found partners with businessmen Ed Hofland, who lived on the kibbutz, and David Rosenblatt, based in New Jersey, and together they started Arava Power, the first company to sign a deal with the Israeli government for production of solar power.
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March 29th, 2013
02:52 PM ET

David Peterson and the languages of 'Game of Thrones'

Editor's NoteDavid Peterson is the creator of the Dothraki language used in the HBO show "Game of Thrones." Peterson also is a member of the Language Creation Society.  A 30-minute profile of Peterson will air on CNN's "The Next List" this Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET.

By David Peterson, Special to CNN

It's now a little over a year from the day when CNN’s "Next List" crew came to Orange County to do an episode on my language-creation work. At the time, I really had no idea what the coming year held in store for me, so I did my best to look busy.

I had recently joined Syfy's "Defiance" as a language creator, but hadn't yet done any serious translation work, and while I'd finished my work on season two of HBO's "Game of Thrones," there'd been no discussions about season three up to that point. I remained hopeful, but that March I didn't really have much going on.

During my first interview on the morning of twelfth, the "Next List" producer asked me if I'd be working on the Valyrian language for the show's upcoming season. Immediately alarm bells went off, as I started to think back and wonder, "Did I accidentally say anything?"

Though there had been no discussions, I and many assumed that some form of the Valyrian language would make an appearance in season three, but at that stage, any such discussion would have been premature, and certainly would have been covered by a non-disclosure agreement. Trying not to look too perturbed, I asked why she would ask that, and she told me that when she'd interviewed executive producers Dan Weiss and David Benioff earlier, they'd said I'd be working on Valyrian this season.

And that's how I learned I'd be creating a new language for season three of "Game of Thrones."

For those tuning in to the "Game of Thrones" premiere this Sunday, you'll still have to suffer through a few subtitles, but the audio will sound a bit different from seasons past. Though there are a number of Dothraki speakers yet alive on the show, there's surprisingly little Dothraki this season. In its place is quite a bit of dialogue in two related languages: High and Low Valyrian.

In George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire," High Valyrian was meant to occupy the place Latin occupies in the Western world. Latin was the language of the Roman Empire, spoken commonly for several centuries in and around the Italian peninsula and beyond. It's the mother language for all the Romance languages spoken today (Italian, Spanish, French, Catalan, Romanian, etc.).

High Valyrian, in turn, was the language of Martin's Valyrian Empire, an expansive domain that existed for several millennia before it was destroyed by a mysterious event cryptically referred to as the Doom. In its purest form, High Valyrian still exists as a language of scholarship and refinement, though its impact on the region was far greater.

High Valyrian was taken up and creolized by the old Ghiscari Empire, where it's still spoken at the time of action in the books and the show. And it served as the mother language for the various Low Valyrian languages spoke in the Free Cities of Volantis, Braavos, Myr, Pentos, Lys, etc.

This season, I worked on two of the Valyrian languages: High Valyrian (the oldest form of the language) and the Low Valyrian spoken in and around Slaver's Bay. To translate sentences into the latter variety of Valyrian, I would first translate them into High Valyrian, and then apply a series of phonological, semantic and grammatical changes to the text. The resulting language is approximately as different from High Valyrian as Old Spanish is from Classical Latin.

If you watch the "Game of Thrones" premiere, you'll hear some of the Slaver's Bay variety of Valyrian. Both Nathalie Emmanuel and Dan Hildebrand do an outstanding job with their lines. I was extraordinarily pleased with their performances, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

And even if languages aren't your thing, I hope the Valyrian won't distract you from what I think is a truly superlative premiere for season three.

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Filed under: Innovation • Language • The Next List • Thinkers • TV • Video
March 22nd, 2013
04:40 PM ET

Leading the Charge in Wireless Health

By Leslie A. Saxon, MD, Special to CNN

Technologic advances don’t happen in isolation. There are many different elements— cultural and technologic — that must come together to turn an innovation into a scalable business product, and then, possibly—but rarely—a cultural phenomenon.

The internet, for example, changed banking, journalism, and commerce in many parts of the world. But the connection, information, and convenience it afforded missed medicine because the innovation and the cultural desire hadn’t yet arrived. Advancing technologies will soon radically change healthcare. The cultural and technologic pieces are coming together like a rising storm. I remember, like it was yesterday, when we hosted our first University of Southern California Body Computing Conference. It was in 2007.

I wanted to bring together various experts, from Academy Award winners to engineers, to imagine the future of healthcare in a digital world. In several instances, people left in a huff, or laughed off the notion of digital technology changing healthcare. Many of the physician-attendees said the change wouldn’t happen “for two decades.”

The reactions interested me because, in my experience, where there is anger, there is also fear and irrationality.
Just this week Congressional hearings debated digital medicine because lawmakers and regulators recognize that there are hundreds of millions of dollars—including the $10 million Tricorder X Prize—being invested in new, consumer-oriented technology. And these products will soon start hitting the market. At this point, some of the products are more marketing fluff than reality, while others are too difficult to use.

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February 26th, 2013
06:18 PM ET

Saul Griffith and his 'wouldn't it be cool if?' inventions

Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear about the perils of global warming and the toll that fossil fuels take on the environment.  Most of us, though, are too consumed with managing the daily blitz of life to do much about it.  

Apart from the rising cost of gasoline, it’s easy to forget.

But Saul Griffith is making it his mission to focus on the nuts and bolts of changing the energy equation. His goal is to transform the way America generates and uses power and make alternative energy the fuel of the future once and for all.

Griffith is an inventor, engineer, scientist and recipient of a coveted MacArthur “genius” award.  He also is co-founder of Otherlab, a hothouse of ideas and inventions where he and his team are developing technologies that could dramatically cut the cost of solar power, make it possible for cars to run on natural gas and change everything you think you know about robots.

Wouldn’t it be cool if…?  That’s the philosophy that guides all the work that Griffith and his colleagues do at Otherlab.

“We try to skip a few generations in the things we’re working on,” says Griffith.

For example: Wouldn’t it be cool if robots were made of cloth? One of Griffith’s most intriguing ideas is making ‘soft’ machines.

“We proposed to DARPA, here is a way that we could really transform the cost of robots.  We’ll eliminate all the servo motors. We will eliminate the pins and bearing and joints.  And we will sew you a robot out of fabric and use pressurized fluids to make it work," he says. "And it will reduce the cost of robots 100 fold.  And it will make them 10 or 100 times more powerful."

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Filed under: Environment • Science • Tech • The Next List • Video
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 15th, 2013
01:51 PM ET

A chance to prevent future asteroid impacts

Editor’s Note: Ed Lu is an explorer who loves mapping the unknown – whether it’s the oceans at Liquid Robotics, our neighborhoods, leading Google Advanced Projects Teams, or unveiling the secrets of the inner solar system and saving the world with the B612 Foundation, where he serves as CEO. A NASA Astronaut, he’s flown three missions, logging 206 days in space to construct and live aboard the International Space Station. Watch Ed Lu’s full plan to save the world, this Sunday 2:30 P.M. E.T. on “The Next List”

By Ed Lu, Special to CNN

Today's meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk is a reminder that the Earth orbits the Sun in a shooting gallery of asteroids, and that these asteroids sometimes hit the Earth.  Later today, a separate and larger asteroid, 2012 DA14, will narrowly miss the Earth passing beneath the orbits of our communications satellites.  We have the technology to deflect asteroids, but we cannot do anything about the objects we don't know exist.

Discovered just one year ago by an amateur citizen observer, 2012 DA14 will fly only 17 thousand miles above Earth - the distance the Earth travels in just 15 minutes, and not much longer than many people travel on common air flights. So this truly is a close shave. In fact, 2012 DA14 will pass underneath our communications satellites as it flies by Earth.

This particular object is not large for an asteroid; it is about 160 feet across or roughly the size of an office building. It is not going to hit us on February 15, but it should serve as a wake-up call for planetary defense. Consider that just 105 years ago, an asteroid slightly smaller than this struck Earth in Siberia near Tunguska and completely flattened a forested area of 1000 square miles, an expanse larger than New York City or Washington D.C.

Tunguska – 1000 square miles of trees blown over like matchsticks.

2012 DA14 is what is known as a near-Earth asteroid because its orbit crosses Earth’s orbit and it may therefore someday run into Earth. Millions of these asteroids exist, we just can’t see them from Earth. Of the million asteroids as large as or larger than 2012 DA14, we have only tracked less than 10,000. That we knew ahead of time that 2012 DA14 would buzz by Earth is really only a matter of luck. Ninety nine percent of the time we are oblivious to such impending flybys, simply because we currently don’t have the means to map and track the other 99 percent.

We established the non-profit B612 Foundation to protect humanity from asteroid impacts and, at the same time, open space to future exploration. Our Sentinel Mission is an infrared space telescope that we will launch and place in orbit around the Sun. From its vantage point looking back at Earth’s orbit, Sentinel will discover, map and track the trajectories of asteroids whose orbits approach Earth and threaten humanity. We will be the first privately funded, launched and operated interplanetary mission, and the most ambitious private space mission in history.

The Sentinel Map will give us decades of advance notice of an impending impact so that deflection becomes relatively easy. There are several promising technologies including kinetic impactors, gravity tractors and nuclear standoff explosions. The urgency in completing the map arises because there could be an impact in the next few decades. With only a few years' notice, the task of deflecting an asteroid becomes extremely difficult, to the point where it could become almost impossible (depending on the size of the asteroid) using current technology. Every year delayed in completing Sentinel increases our chances of having no available options. Why take this risk?

The chances in 90 years (roughly your lifetime) of Earth being hit by another asteroid like at Tunguska is about one in three. Shouldn’t we know in advance of the next asteroid impact, and actually prevent it?

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Filed under: Robots • Space • The Next List • Video
February 12th, 2013
01:13 PM ET

One man’s bold quest to save the Earth from asteroids

Editors Note: Ed Lu is a former NASA astronaut and current CEO of the B612 Foundation. His goal is to build a space telescope that will detect possibly cataclysmic asteroids headed for Earth. Watch more about Ed Lu’s incredible mission this Sunday 2:30 P.M. E.T. (all-new time!) on “The Next List.”

He calls it the biggest environmental project imaginable. Ed Lu believes one of the biggest threats to the planet isn’t even on the Earth, it’s in space. Asteroids.

Ed Lu says asteroids hit earth all the time.  “Really small ones are just the shooting stars you see when you look up in the sky,” says Lu. “Larger ones, like the one that hit Tunguska in Siberia, those hit about every couple hundred years.” In 1908 an asteroid about 130 feet wide hit Tunguska Siberia with a force that was 1000 times stronger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It totally destroyed an area the size of the San Francisco bay area. They happen more frequently than we realize – and there are no guarantees that the next one won’t hit a city.  “There is about a 50 percent chance in your lifetime that another explosion of that size is going to happen somewhere on earth,” says Lu.

And here’s the really scary part: right now we’re only able to detect about one percent of the asteroids that are actually orbiting near Earth. The reality, says Lu, is that there are 100 times more asteroids than that.

“That’s about a million near Earth asteroids that are larger than the one that hit in Tunguska in 1908,” he said.

But Lu has a solution.

He is building one of the most powerful space telescopes in the world, called The Sentinel. It will launch in 2018 and orbit the sun, which means it will be between 30 million and 170 million miles from Earth. To put it in perspective, that’s about 500,000 times further from Earth than the Hubble space telescope.

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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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