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Maker Danny Benedettelli recently used an Android app, Arduiono and Bluetooth technology to wirelessly control a Lego humanoid with an exosuit. The technology isn’t new, but it may have big implications for the future of LEGO Bricks. (via DannyLabs/PolkaRobot)

If you’ve watched any kind of futuristic show growing up, you’re probably familiar with the idea of robots being controlled wirelessly. Maker Danny Benedettelli took that idea and ran with it. While he certainly isn’t the first person execute such a maneuver, he is one of the first to do so with LEGO Bricks. (LEGO has asked me to not say LEGOs... but instead say LEGO Bricks. Just so you know.)


LEGO Bricks are every kid’s dream, because it marries an idea with the tools needed to build something cool. Whether its fairy princess castles or dangerous alien spacecrafts you fancy, LEGO Bricks can help you make than dream a reality. Benedettelli’s dream was building LEGO Bricks to do his bidding via wireless exosuit. While he’s accomplished some cool things thus far, it has been a long time coming.



Cyclops (image: LEGO: PolkaRobot/DannyLabs)


Benedettelli has been working on his “Cyclops Project” since May 2011. While there are many robots controllable via handheld remote, this maker wanted a LEGO structure to mimic his physical movements. It took some time to build a humanoid robot that was capable of executing such movements (over a year to be exact), but with a few servo motors and a lot of patience, Benedettelli did it.


Using a custom Android app, Arduino, Bluetooth technology and a telemetry suit, the humanoid robot mimicked Benedettelli’s movements. While the maker didn’t give any specifics on how he did it, he did say that the telemetry suit was equipped with potentiometers that can predict the range of motion of the robot. This keeps the robot from overextending itself during bigger movements.


Benedettelli said the robot was superhero-inspired, per the suggestion of a friend. Lego didn’t hesitate to initiate a photo shoot with the maker and his humanoid bot that mimicked that. As corny as that is, the technology still has implications for what LEGO Bricks can do in the future.


One designer recently unveiled a mechanical arm for amputees that’s customizable with LEGO Bricks. This Cyclops  project can vastly reduce the cost of custom surgical robots, for example, in low-income areas. If surgical robots can be built mostly with LEGO Bricks (excluding the surgical instruments themselves, of course), building costs would be greatly reduced. This would give poor communities access to better medical devices and healthcare.


Benedettelli did not say that was his vision for the technology. It is quite possible he wants to be a superhero. Regardless, the technology certainly exists. And if we can make it, we should.



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I am liking this bot. Have you ever been so tired after work you opted for take out instead of cooking? We all have. But imagine a world where your personal robot can handle the cooking for you. The technology is still under development, but Yaskawa (via RS Tech) recently showed the world that its industrial robots could be coerced into cooking egg sandwiches.


Looking like a Japanese Tea Ceremony master, the Motoman cracks an egg...


(via RS Tech youtube)


Yaskawa is a U.S.-based company that specialized in industrial robotics. Perhaps one of its engineers got bored, or hungry, and wanted to see if the Motoman SDA10 dual arm model could cook. With a small grill, an English muffin and an egg, the robot successfully grabbed the right ingredients from a mini-fridge and cooked an egg sandwich to perfection. While it’s unlikely that average consumers would purchase an industrial-grade robot for cooking purposes, it is possible that kitchen robots will pop up in the near future.


We live in a world of automation and digital advancement. People have less time than ever for everyday tasks like laundry and washing dishes. We already have machines that do the washing for us, why not machines that can cook? Maybe your robot butler won’t have the same skills as Bobby Flay, but if a decent, warm meal just happens to greet you when you walk through the door, who is complaining?


Makers have tinkers with the creation of breakfast boxes and other food-friendly contraptions. None have made it mainstream yet, but stay tuned. If robots can drive our cars, they can surely cook our breakfasts, too.  Isn’t this a fine use of research funding?

A bot more of that tea ceremony style moving...



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Sydney becomes first city to use electronic paper for city traffic signs with the help of E-Ink and Visionect. (via Visionect)

Have you ever wondered if there was a better way to update traffic signs? (Traditional street signs not blowing your hair back?) Australian urban planners had the same question, and opted to use the same technology e-readers use to create traffic signs that are easy-to-read, solar-powered and easily updatable – no screwdrivers required.



image: Visionect


The Sydney Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) agency decided it was spending too much on sign replacements and updates and decided there was a better way. The RMS called upon Visionect, a Slovenia-based tech company specializing in electronic paper signage, to see if city streets could benefit from electronic signs, as easily updatable as New York City’s Times Square ads.


Visionect and E-Ink came together to create traffic signs that featured solar panels, glare-resistant screens and even nightlights for easier reading. Since E-Ink is the same company upon which Nook, Kindle and Sony rely upon for their e-reader technology, Sydney placed its vision in good hands. Now Sydney can save time and money with electronic-paper signs that are updatable for special events and more with the touch of a button. The signs are also theft-proof, as they feature GPS tracking and tamper-proof technology.



Visionect at work (image: Visionect)

The new initiative will likely take off in other major cities, as the amount of resources dedicated to traffic signage is steep. According to Visionect, Los Angeles spends $9.5 million each year on temporary parking restriction signs, and its likely not alone. Although the initial price of switching to e-paper may be steep, it’s nothing in comparison to what cities everywhere spend on similar projects.


Now, decorating your room in stolen street signs will have a whole new look. (psa… don’t steal street signs)


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StemBox DNA Workshop Group (image via StemBox & Kickstarter)


The days of boys-only computer science programs are in the past. Not only are more girls taking an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), but there is also an increasing number of programs geared specifically for young girls. Sorry boys, but this piece is for girls-only.


Why STEM Programs need to focus on girls


Women only comprise 13 percent of the current engineering professionals and only 25 percent of current computer science and mathematic professionals, according to Kina McAllister. McAllister is the creator behind StemBox, a subscription that sends young girls new and fun science projects intended to interest girls specifically.



StemBox Owl Pellet Dissection Box (image via StemBox & Kickstarter)


STEM for kids said most professionals who work in STEM fields found their interests at the age of eight. Getting young girls engaged in STEM at an early age, with projects that actually appeal to them is important if women are to have any power in shaping the future, as it become more and more digitized. 


Girls really are interested. They just aren’t catered to.


StemBox is currently running its Kickstarter campaign and is more than halfway to its goal of $15,000. On the page, McAllister said the idea for the subscription came when she thought about how difficult it was to find science projects she was interested in growing up. If kits weren’t catered to making your own cosmetics, they were “gross,” targeting young boys. StemBox will hopefully serve as an alternative to girls who want to explore computer science, physical science, aviation, engineering and more, without all of the bugs and dinosaurs. Subscriptions start at $36 and will be available for purchase for the next two weeks.


McAllister isn’t the only one pushing girls-only STEM. According to a recent study conducted by the Girls Scouts Institute in 2012, 75 percent of the girls surveyed expressed interest in STEM. Despite this interest, the statistics prove that for whatever reason, these same girls don’t pursue STEM careers. For this reason, there is a huge push to cultivate a potential interest in STEM for young girls, including coding.




Jewelbots (image via Jewelbots & Kickstarter)


Jewelbots is a friendship bracelet that vibrates or lights up when a girl is near her best friend. The corresponding app allows girls to send secret messages to one another and more, while teaching them the basics of coding through the Arduino platform. Jewelbots smashed its Kickstarter campaign, although bracelets will still be available for pre-order for $59 over the next two weeks. Initiatives like this are what is needed to engage girls in exploring STEM before the media inundates them with images of unrealistic social expectations.


The embedded and digital revolution is here, and it's ingrained in these generations


Whether you’re the parent of young girls or boys, schools everywhere are changing in preparation of the increasingly digital world. There are elementary, middle and high schools now dedicated to STEM education, and for good reason. If you want your child to have a job by the time they graduate from college, STEM will not only be the most in-demand fields, but they will shape our world.


Flatiron Pre-College Academy is one such school. The high school trains students in the same skill set current professionals learn to develop apps and online platforms. The school has collaborated with tech giants, including Google, to prepare the next generation for the changing world with the best hands-on education possible.


Flatiron knows that although not every young girl will be excited about STEM, programs must cater to young girls to make them feel welcome. That’s why its offers the Kode with Karlie program – a two week intensive coding course for girls-only. Girls from across the nation are welcome to take the class, which teaches back-end coding for Ruby. Not only does the school offer scholarships to make its course even more accessible to young girls, but it also markets it as a cool, glamorous experience, to battle against powerful media images of what being a woman should be all about.


We have to fight for our girls


Women in the U.S. are flooded with images of what they should be – beautiful, thin, sexy and broke. Billboards should have images of educated, successful women with great careers, wonderful families and phenomenal lives, but we don’t. Access to education is the most important thing we can give our children, STEM or otherwise. What’s important is to discover what your kids are passionate about and let their creativity flow freely.


We remember the importance of STEM projects growing up, for all kids.


STEM for Kids said parents reported that when their children went to science camp, they came back rejuvenated, with dreams of becoming scientists and entrepreneurs. Although we are all grown up now, think about how your parents helped you cultivate your interests in your field.


As I write this, I remember my parents buying me journal after journal when they discovered I was passionate about writing. Every birthday and Christmas, I got a new journal, with a cover image of my then-favorite animal or place, and a matching pen. They told all of their friends how excited they were that I was going to be a writer, although I was just a child, and my skill set was nonexistent. Still, they cultivated that passion in me, and it paid off.


Getting your child engaged in anything they are passionate about not only helps to cultivate their mind, but it helps keep them away from the negative social pressures of growing up today. And who knows, maybe your child will become the next Bill Gates, because you helped him or her discover a dream they didn’t know they had.



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That tiny fairy is actually plasma produced by femtosecond lasers (via


Mid-air displays are nothing new (see Displair, LED Wave Display and Ariel Burton) in terms of technology advancements, they’ve been around for a few years now. But what if we could physically touch them as though they were something tangible, something that had some essence of substance? That day is closer than you think thanks to some cleaver group of researchers from the University of Tsukuba, Utsunomiya University, Nagoya Institute of Technology and the University of Tokyo.

The team was able to project images in the air that can be ‘touched’ using a kind of haptic feedback with the added benefit of not burning skin while doing so. To create the floating images, the team used high-speed laser that pulse in the femtosecond territory rather than the nano-second- that’s fast considering the nano version pulses at 1-billionth of a second and the femto, a million times over that.



Those tiny illuminated particles are known as ‘Voxels’ (a pixel in 3D space) and are essentially heated plasma that’s ignited by femto-lasers.


To produce a tangible 3D image (or volumetric display) the team used the femto-lasers to produce plasma-based (heated gas) voxels, which are rendered in a fixed 3D workspace with the help of a galvano mirror for the X and Y-axis and a verifocal lens for the Z. Combing the tech allows the creation of a very small image that features a haptic feedback sensation (due to the laser speed) when touched.


Yes, the image and the work area are on the small side with an image resolution of roughly 200,000 voxels in a workspace of only 8-cubic millimeters, however the technology is still in its infancy and the researchers hope to develop larger versions in the future. As the technology stands at this point, the researchers demonstrated that their technology can be used as an spatial AR overlay for real-world objects (albeit very small objects)- meaning you can superimpose an image over a 3D object, which would be useful for building or back engineering an object.


They also found that it’s great for aerial interaction- meaning when touched, the plasma becomes brighter, which can act as a cue of contact, much like pressing a keyboard key a tapping an icon on a mobile device. Finally, the haptic feedback produced by the femto-lasers can be used for a myriad of applications where touch is necessary. It will be interesting to see how the technology evolves over the next few years. Will we finally be able to see and feel 3D images on the scale of Star Trek’s Holo-Suite sooner rather than later?



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A recent study discovered medical robotic surgical machines were linked to nearly 1,400 injuries and at least 144 deaths. The study researchers called for improved safety standards for machines to ensure human welfare, but others disagree. Do we trust robots too much? Is it safe to entrust them with our lives? (image via CDC)

A recent study conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, MIT and Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center discovered that robotic surgical machines were linked to at least 144 deaths and nearly 1,400 injuries over a 14-year-period. In a world where innovators continue to rely upon robotic technology, we must wonder if entrusting human lives with machines is safe. It’s a question few are willing to ask.


According to the study, researchers discovered that in 1.7 million medical procedures involving machines, more than 8,000 malfunctioned. These errors included machines turning off, losing parts (inside of patients), losing control of movement and dropping video feeds. If this isn’t nightmarish enough, these malfunctions were linked to at least 400 injuries and at least four deaths.


Critics of the study said the researchers failed to cross-analyze data to determine if outside factors contributed to injuries or death, such as state of being prior to procedure and medical history. They say the study results are misleading, as robotic procedures offer other benefits, such as allowing doctors to make smaller incisions, thus expediting a patient’s healing process. Still, researchers stand by the data, warning that doctors should trust less in the promise of machines.


While the study did not prove machines were directly responsible for the deaths to which they are linked, it did prove that machines have at least undoubtedly injured hundreds of patients, including burns. More importantly, perhaps, it forces us to ask ourselves if our trust in machines is in fact well-earned.


The industrial sector provides primary examples of the dangers of working closely with machines. Deaths linked to machines and equipment accounted for 16 percent of all deaths reported by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2013.  Deaths linked to falling, slipping and tripping accounted for an additional 16 percent. Since the inception of industrial machines, stories have surfaced of people being crushed and ripped apart by machine malfunctions. Still, we further develop robotics for our convenience. Be it autonomous automobiles or smart homes, when will we ask ourselves the true cost of convenience? Is safety for ease-of-use a fair trade?


The research study team warned not that we forget microsurgery altogether, but rather that we improve safety standards for machines that can control the outcome between life and death. For all machines that come into such close contact with people, we must consider the possibility that machines are machines, and may malfunction. We must consider all consequences before allowing laziness to impede our personal safety. Although critics of the study, and this argument, may disagree, people will continue to die unless measures are taken to improve machine safety. That is the ugly, and unfortunate, truth.



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The competition features robot in a somewhat tame match of soccer...

First it was robot weddings, now it's robot soccer.  Just when you thought things couldn't get any weirder for Japan, it was revealed that they took home the world championship of the RoboCup, a robot soccer event held in China. This annual outing features various types of robots that fight it out in different categories for the world cup. Over 40 countries participate in the games, including the Bold Hearts, a team of robotics experts from the University of Hertfordshire representing Britain. The team didn't get very far as they were beaten in the second round by a French team.


(via Robocup)


This year's final match up was between the University of Chiba's The Brain Kids and ZJUDancer from China's Zhejian University. The Brain Kids took home the winning title. The whole thing sounds pretty impressive, but it's not a cutthroat competition. The robots aren't very quick as they look like babies taking their first step when they walk. Then they need to find the ball themselves and communicate with other team members to figure out the next move. They may not be fast and they may not be graceful seeing how often they fall over, but this odd competition shows how far robotics have come in such a short time span. If developments keep coming at a steady pace there may be more robotics teams for basketball and baseball. Will this be the future of professional sports? Probably not, but it's still an interesting event.



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Henn-na Front Desk. Japan opened the doors to the world’s first robot hotel. Henn-na Hotel, or Strange Hotel, is entirely robot run and promises to keep costs and its eco-footprint lower than the competition. (via Henn-na)

If you thought I, Robot was a far away dream, think again. Japan just opened the doors to a new five-star hotel that’s entirely robot-run. Henn-na Hotel, or Strange Hotel, is the world’s first robot hotel and hopes to inspire the hospitality industry with its energy-efficient, fun atmosphere and robotic dinosaur.


Imagine visiting Hius Ten Bosch theme park in Nagasaki Prefecture. After spending a day at the water park, teddy bear museum and fighting off ghosts at the The Castle of the Dead, you retire to your room at Henn-na Hotel. One of three robot hostesses will greet you. If you speak Japanese, you can speak to a humanoid. If you speak English, however, you must fend for yourself against a robotic Dinosaur that can’t wait to eat you. If you survive, you can retire to your room, to which access is granted via face-scan. 



Robotic Porters - luggage carrying. (via Henn-na)


After check in, droids are on-deck to help with your luggage. Even the cleaning staff is robotic. Hopefully you won’t have to worry about the maids having sticky, robo-fingers. Robots, in fact, will run 90 percent of the entire park property.


Thankfully for lodgers, robots aren’t paid wages, so costs are kept low. The hotel goes a step further to keep prices down – visitors are asked to request toiletries on-demand, as none will be provided otherwise. Air conditioning is not an option, although each room is equipped with a radiation panel that can detect body temperature and adjust the temperature as necessary.

The hotel facility is equipped with other alternative energy solutions and the hotel not only wants to cut costs, but wants consumers to do so too.  For this reason, anyone who wants to stay at the hotel can bid for a room. Each room has a bidding maximum. For a single room, this cap is $60 per night and it’s $153 per night for a triple bed. There are superior and deluxe room options, which will of course cost more.



Robotic Luggage Check (via Henn-na)


Huis Ten Bosch President Hideo Sawada believes this is only the beginning. Henn-na Hotel currently has 72 available rooms. This number will double by the end of next year and the president hopes to build 1,000 robot hotels around the world in the future (although, maybe vicious, extinct robotic hostesses won’t make the cut for the next model).


While Henn-na hotel is surely inspiration for the future of robotic technology for consumer use, its vision is controversial. For anyone who worked in early computer technology, welding or factory labor, they will remember how these industries were impacted by robotic technology. The hospitality industry was a $1.5 trillion industry in 2013. Students can major in the field and come out with incredible job prospects due solely to demand. If robots overtake the field, however, what will this work force do? Not a likely transition in our lifetime, but if your grandchildren are majoring in hospitality, they might encounter a Dead End sign in the not-so-distant future.

If only to see the novelty... this concept will make a lot of money. If I go to Japan... I would stay here.



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First Flight.jpg

First Flight is Sony's answer to Kickstarter (via Sony's First Flight)


Sony is getting behind the crowdfunding platform in a major way. Earlier this month, the entertainment giant announced First Flight, a crowdfunding site, which will allow customers to decide the company's future product investments. Along with contributing to new projects, the site will also let backers directly buy and pre-order new devices made by Sony workers. The new platform was made in conjunction with Sony's Seed Acceleration Program, which seeks to fast-track promising business ideas from Sony employees into full-fledged businesses.



With First Flight, Sony hopes to support the launch and growth of new businesses and will give developing projects the chance to meet the actual needs of the market, meet customer demands, and have the means to keep developing their products.




The site will be familiar to anyone who has visited Kickstarter as the layout is similar with an introductory page, videos, pictures, and product information. Right now there are only two products ready for pre-order: the MESH Creative DIY Kit, a smart project maker that combines inputs and outputs with brightly colored bricks, and the FES e-ink watch, which allows users to change the layout and color of the watch face to match an outfit or mood. The watch can apparently last for two months on a single charge and screen refreshes the time every time you lift your wrist. The FES pre-order starts at 29,700 yen (roughly $242) with plans to ship in October.



Currently, there's a funding campaign for an all-in-one remote called the HUIS Remote Controller, which has over 40 percent of its target goal of 5 million yen ($40,000) from 79 backers. This universal remote has a customizable interface, haptic feedback, and switches to control everything from lights, fans, and air conditioners. As of right now, First Flight is only available to Japanese market. That's a shame... I like the idea of a tech giant, that actually makes something, backing a crowdfunding site. I can see element14 heading in this direction. Just take a look at all the contests, the best one's win big prizes. Well.... I can only hope! (Pi Ball & Drinkmotizer anyone?)



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Ecocapsule (via Nice Architects)


Ecocapsule interior (via Nice Architects)


Want to go off the grid without having to part with the comforts of flushable toilets and hot showers? A small architectural studio based in Slovakia called Nice Architects is preparing to launch its portable, off-grid home called the Ecocapsule. It is entirely wind and solar powered and can self-sustain its energy supply for nearly a full year without ever needing a charge.




(via Nice Architects)


The Ecocapsule is a portable home that is meant to bring the comforts of home off of the grid. Originally intended for researchers or faint-hearted campers, this egg-shaped futuristic pod is equipped with a kitchenette, water faucet, full-sized bed, bathroom, workspace and even storage. At only 14.6 feet long, 7.4 feet wide and 8.4 feet tall, it’s small enough to be towed and respectively much more comfortable than even your finest tent.


The pod maintains its energy from 600W solar panels and a built-in 750W wind turbine. Its curved shape also naturally allows for the collection of rainwater (which you’ll need for those long, hot showers). It features both energy technologies to increase the probability that it can maintain its energy from either wind or sunlight, and any energy it doesn’t use is stored into a high-power battery.


The Ecocapsule is fitted with 2.6 square meters of optimum solar cells and the wind turbine is retractable for travel. It weighs 3,300 pounds and Nice Architects claims the tiny eco-home is compact and sturdy enough to be shipped, airlifted or even dragged by a pack of wild dogs. The possibilities are endless.




Ecocapsule blueprint (via Nice Architects)


While the portable house is said to be large enough for two people, some may feel restricted if this was their primary, long-term home. Nice Architects hopes, instead, that the concept takes off as a temporary dwelling for emergency responders, researchers who work off-grid or even campers who don’t want to take their chances camping with the bears. If you’re a lone wolf, like camping in style (aka "Glamping" glamour camping), maybe the Ecocapsule is big and versatile enough for just you.




(via Nice Architects)


Nice Architects are touring with the Ecocapsule at the Pioneers festival in Vienna this week. It will also be showcased at the national pavilion during Slovakia’s Expo 2015. The company hasn’t announced a price yet, but said it will be revealed during Q4 at the end of this year. Pre-orders will be taken at the end of the year and the product can be shipped. In the future, you will also be able to customize your pod if you order early. Maybe you can request it look like a police box. Everyone knows the box is bigger on the inside.

I love the concept. Living with less is always the goal. It clears your mind, detaches you from the system. In this case, literally. If this makes it to retail... I bet the price will be far from "hippy."



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John Nash, the mathematician behind Game Theory, died in a car crash at 86. The Nobel Prize winner fought against Paranoid Schizophrenia and proved to the world anyone can accomplish anything. His legacy will live on through his students.  (via wiki images)

Better late than never, my John Forbes Nash, Jr, eulogy.

The genius mathematician who created game theory, John Nash, died May 23rd, 2015, in a car crash at the age of 86. The theorist won many awards for his mathematics, including the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, despite battling with Paranoid Schizophrenia. He was the subject of an Academy Award-winning motion picture for his ‘Beautiful Mind.’ His work will continue to live on through his students and enthusiasts.


Nash studied at the Carnegie Institute of Technology and finished his graduate studies at Princeton University, where he wrote his doctoral thesis on Game Theory. He went on to teach at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he began a battle with paranoid schizophrenia soon after. Campus students called Nash “The Phantom,” as he would walk the school paths, talking to himself and leaving complex math equations behind. He battled schizophrenia for roughly 30 years. He began to improve around the age of 60, and at 66, he won the Nobel Prize for his doctoral thesis some 40 years prior.



Nash’s work in Game Theory was significant, as it offered more flexibility than Dominant Theory for shorter-term strategizing. Dominant Theory calculates the probable outcome of a situation, independent of the actions of stakeholders. This works well for grand scale strategizing, such as determining economic trends and basic international relations concerns, but it is limited if a business owners, for example, wants to create a sound growth outlook. That’s where Game Theory comes in.



Game Theory allows someone to create a strategy while considering the probable actions of stakeholders. For this reason, it is considered the basic theory for calculating the outcome for a wide range of circumstances, including corporate strategies, product pricing, national security and life decisions, such as marriage and family planning. In fact, the Pentagon and U.S. Department of Defense have used game theory to strategize optimal tactics for handling threats to national security.


Game Theory is now a required class in many MBA programs and its reach will only continue to grow over time. Even Nash couldn’t predict the impact of his work some 60 years after its advent. The world has lost ‘A Beautiful Mind,’ but his work lives beyond him, proving too that even mentally ill patients can accomplish incredible things, one equation at a time.



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ReWalk Robotics Ltd. has unveiled the latest edition of its FDA-cleared, electric-powered exoskeleton system—the ReWalk Personal 6.0. ReWalk is a device invented by an Israeli scientist which allows paraplegics to walk again, offering those in the spinal cord injured community what the company claims is “the most functional exoskeleton system with the fastest walking speed and the most precise fit.” 

A computer-controlled device that uses servos in the hips and knees to help those with lower limb disabilities and paralysis to walk upright using crutches, ReWalk employs accelerometers to detect when the user has shifted his weight and is ready to take his next step. The model 6.0 offers customized fittings and software to better match the size and anatomy of each individual user, providing a smoother gait and thus a better walking experience. It is fitted to the user’s measurements and custom ordered for each individual. This precise fit enhances system function, safety and alignment of the user’s joints. In version 6.0 the backpack that previously housed the unit’s processor has been replaced with a fanny pack.

Clinical research on the ReWalk device has demonstrated that users can walk at speeds up to 0.71 meters / second, said to be faster than any other exoskeleton.

Developed by Israeli scientist Amit Goffer, who was paralyzed in a 1997 accident and became disheartened that his only option for mobility was a wheelchair, the ReWalk exoskeleton enables paraplegics to stand, walk and even climb stairs (although it has not yet been approved for stair climbing). Dr. Goffer is founder, president and Chief Technical Officer of the company.

ReWalk is the only exoskeleton manufacturer in the United States with FDA clearances for both its Personal and Rehabilitation systems. ReWalk has also received regulatory clearances for its systems in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Australia.

The ReWalk Personal 6.0 Systems are now available for purchase (it is expensive, with a list price approaching $80,000); delivery of the first units are expected this summer.


NuVu Studios student’s Kate Reed and Nathaniel Tong designed their Wheelchair Hand Drive to allow users to easily propel themselves both forward and backward. (all images via Kate Reed and Nathaniel Tong)


The standard wheelchair design hasn’t changed much over the last 80 or so years (although they date back to the 5th century BCE). Unless it’s electric, users propel themselves by pushing or pulling the wheels, however there are easier ways to move around while being chair-bound- hand drives.


These attach to the wheels and allow users to move by cranking on a bar, almost like rowing a boat or using a really big ratchet. While these have been around since the 90’s with NASA’s RowWheels and GoGrit’s Grit Freedom Chair, they tend to be on the expensive side (in some cases thousands of dollars), which can limit some users from owning them.



The hardware that makes up the Hand Drive is mostly 3D printed and open-source so anyone can download the design files and print their own.


Students from Cambridge’s NuVu Studios have designed a unique Hand Drive that is almost entirely 3D printed and costs a fraction of those more costly units at a cost of $40. The device works by using several ratchet mechanisms and a stacked gear system that allow the user to move forward. Shifting the ratchets allows for reverse movement on the fly.


I was able to interview the team, Kate Reed and Nathaniel Tong, who developed the Hand Drive and wondered where the inspiration came from in designing their system. “Our challenge for this project was to hack the wheelchair for urbanity. We live in a fast pace world and we noticed that the wheelchair hasn’t evolved much over the years.”


They go on to say, “We originally wanted to create the hand drive to make a wheelchair faster, but after doing research we found that a lever-powered wheelchair would also allow people to use different muscle groups while powering a wheelchair, which would help them stay healthier.” The team knew that the concept of using a hand drive isn’t new, they just set out to reinvent it- “Our approach was to create a lever-powered wheelchair that can go both forwards and backwards, can snap on and off of the wheelchair easily, but most of all, is entirely 3D printable and completely open source. This means anyone can download our files and print their own lever-powered

wheelchair for around $20.”



Kate Reed briefs President Obama on the Hand Drive during a recent visit to the White House.


The team designed their Drive using Autodesk’s Fusion 360 CAD software and printed out the parts using a 3D printer. “90% of the Wheelchair Hand Drive is 3D printed and printed on a Maker Gear. The other 10% consists of everyday hardware; an aluminum pole from Home Depot, five bicycle knarps, two mountain bike cables, a mountain bike brake, and two springs.”


They go on to state, “We want the entire Wheelchair Hand Drive to be accessible to everyone,

so we tried to use basic parts that you can find at a bike shop or hardware store. We used many bike parts because they are cheap, very sturdy, and because they too are meant to pull a lot of weight.”


The White House noticed their design and the team were subsequently invited to the 5th White House Science Fair to share their Drive with President Obama. Over 100 students attended the science fair, which was STEM-based and also had a specific focus on girls and women who are excelling in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

Thanks again Kate Reed and Nathaniel Tong, for speaking with me!



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How much do you trust a computer to drive a car without failing?


It's an important question, but I wonder if it's really the one that we should be asking. Instead, I think the question ought to be, "Can a computer drive as well as a human?" And most of us would probably agree that the majority of humans are terrible drivers (not us personally, of course, but other people), so in this respect the bar is actually set quite low for a self-driving car. They almost can't go wrong, when you approach it in this way.


But there's one roadblock standing in the way of self-driving cars that I keep coming back to, and I really don't envy the engineers who are faced with tackling it. The trolley problem.


The Trolley Problem (AKA: Kobayashi Maru)

The trolley problem is a thought experiment devised by Phillipa Foot in 1967, and it goes like this:


There's a runaway train barreling down the tracks toward a team of five railroad workers. There's no way to alert the workers, who are absorbed in repairing the tracks, and they've no idea the train is coming. The train is, without question, going to kill them.


But you could throw a switch that would divert the train into a siding before it gets to them. The only trouble is, there's a worker in the siding, too. Do you throw the switch so only one worker is killed, or do you refrain from action and leave the five workers to go under the wheels instead?


Trolley Problem

Firstly, there's obviously no right answer to this question. What it's really asking is what type of person are you? Could you take dramatic action that directly results in one death, or do you prefer to avoid any involvement in such difficult situations, even if doing so would indirectly cause a five-fold increase in fatalities?


The trolley problem has evolved over the years to build on the moral quandary. For example, what if the guy in the siding deliberately put the other five in danger in the first place? Would that change your feelings on action/inaction? And, of course, it's been adapted to great sci-fi purpose in the Kirk-thwarted Kobayashi Maru training exercise in Star Trek, to train starship captains in facing no-win situations.


Ultimately you and I will never have to solve this ethical conundrum. It's not really meant to be solved anyway, so much as highlight the relativity of morality. And should we find ourselves in such a bizarre situation, we can answer for our action/inaction emotionally, and that answer will likely be a fine one. A self-driving car, however, can make no such argument.


The Ethics of Engineering

A self-driving car is travelling down the road when an accident takes place in front of it. The car's sensors determine that there's not enough room to stop. Does it crash into the swerved car in front that's carrying five people, or does it mount the pavement where a single pedestrian is walking?


The car itself has no ethical dilemma to worry about here. It's just another set of parameters that are easily programmable, and as far as the car's concerned, no different to stopping at a red light or turning left. The onus, instead, is on the engineers and programmers who designed the car and its auto-driving system in the first place.


Self Driving Cars

Thus far, the trolley problem hasn't required a formal resolution, but someone might finally have to answer it -- in a very literal fashion -- if we're to have self-driving cars on the road. It could be argued (somewhat ironically) that the problem is circumnavigated by programming the car so it'll always avoid being so close to another vehicle. Stopping will always be possible, and that's probably pretty fair. But the trolley problem can never be ruled out entirely, so this becomes a semantic matter.


Neither is it entirely a problem that engineers and designers have much experience in facing. Someone who builds an ordinary car could be considered as the person standing beside the railroad tracks, waiting by the switch. It's not for them to cover every crazy eventuality that some weirdo might do with the car once it's in their possession. As long as it's built to certain safety standards and provides the expected functions of a car, their responsibility is very, very limited.


I'm not sure that same claim can be made for a self-driving car that's facing the trolley problem head on. The car isn't making decisions -- not even bad decisions, or decisions made in a panic, or decisions with unintended consequences -- it's simply following its programming, and it won't have to explain itself afterwards.


The engineer and coder might, and therein is found a brand new take on this 50-year-old thought experiment. How will self-driving cars solve the trolley problem, and can they be allowed on the roads before they can't?


Vortex – a programmable, open-source robot toy – is available for backing on Kickstarter for $69. The makers promise it will help your child develop the programming and coding skills necessary to lead the cyber revolution. (all images and video via Vortex)


Parents are increasingly concerned that toys don’t have educational benefits for their kids. That’s why a team of engineers created Vortex – an interactive, programmable toy that teaches kids about robotic software development from the ages of 6 and up.




Vortex is a robotic toy that, when paired with the iOS and Android app, can be programmed to do just about anything. The small, dome-shaped bot comes with preloaded games, including Virtual Golf, racing, sumo wrestling and soccer. Devices can be paired (from two units to 22 for soccer) so kids can play together. The real fun, however, comes from customizing the software from a smartphone, tablet or computer.


Vortex makes programming easy by allowing users to drag and drop commands instead of relying solely on coding. The makers of the bot say kids can learn the basics of coding by navigating the app (which is likely to be the theoretical fundamentals). Still, because Vortex is open-source, users can turn it into just about anything they can dream.




The muffin-sized robot runs on AA batteries and connects to the app via Bluetooth 4.0 or USB connection. Because it comes equipped with infrared proximity sensors, it can easily be programmed to steer clear of ledges and seemingly high falls. The unit’s display relies on RGB LED lights and comes programmed with 32 various “facial” expressions. The robot is programmable through the WhenDo platform and the hardware is expandable to include temperature sensors, motion and touch sensors, Ultrasonic and more via 12C input.


Although Vortex is expandable via 12C input, its hardware expandability is limited. While tinker-friendly toys are popping up everywhere for kids, many only encourage basic software development. Maybe soldering and advanced electronics are too difficult of skills to teach kids off the bat, but if a child is excited about tinkering, there seems to be no bridge between adult-sized making and rudimentary robotics for kids. Is it a safety concern? Or, is there a reason children everywhere are being inundated with coding?




Everywhere we look, children’s games are incorporating coding. From DIY computers to tablet applications, it seems there is a big push for the next generation to be fluent in coding, but no one is asking why. The benevolent voice of reason believes the age of technology is upon us, and if the next generation doesn’t learn coding, technological innovation could die with us. The cynical conspiracy theorist says the government knows the next world war will occur in cyberspace and it needs an army with coding expertise to man the front lines. Both theories are probably right, in some capacity, but only the passage of time will remove the wool from our eyes.


Vortex launched its Kickstarter crowdraiser and has about a month to go to meet its goal of $54,035 (it’s about two-thirds of the way there at the time this article was posted). Single units retail at $69, including the sticker and golf sets, and if multiple units are purchased, the price of each Vortex is discounted. The product is a great option for younger kids just getting into robotics. If your child has taken a liking to tinkering, however, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. With a few spare parts and a little encouragement, you’d be surprised what this ‘next generation’ can create.



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