Episode 78: There are no dead dogs on the internet of things

There’s a new Wink hub heading to Walmart, Home Depot and Amazon, so Kevin Tofel and I unpacked the new features on the second generation of the smart home hub in this week’s episode. We also discussed Amazon’s delivery plans that could take advantage of your connected door locks and garage doors, and then hit Kevin up for his opinion on the Apple Watch 2. SAP’s $2 billion investment in IoT, an IoT botnet, The Wirecutter’s favorite connected camera and Snap’s (formerly Snapchat) new glasses round out the show.

The Wink Hub 2 will sell for $99.The Wink Hub 2 will sell for $99.

Afterward Carlos Herrera, the CEO of PetNet talks about what happened when his company’s pet feeder stopped sending users updates in late July. He offers a valuable lesson on building connected devices and sets the story straight about what really happened during a 12 hour server failure. All pets were fed during the lack of internet access, which means for now, the internet of things didn’t kill anyone’s dog.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Carlos Herrera, CEO of PetNet
Sponsors: HPE and ARM

  • What’s new with the Wink 2?
  • Amazon and August teaming up?
  • The Apple Watch 2 is a good fitness tracker
  • No dogs were kills during the loss of these servers
  • What a bunch of aerospace engineers learned when building a connected device

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United Launch Alliance announces CubeSat STEM winners

September 22, 2016

United Launch Alliance (ULA) has selected four proposals from university students to receive free CubeSat launch slots on future Atlas V missions through the company’s new innovative rideshare program. Dubbed CubeCorp, the program encourages hands-on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) experience to motivate, educate and develop the next generation of rocket scientists and space entrepreneurs.

“ULA is passionate about educating and developing future leaders in the space industry,” said Tory Bruno, ULA CEO and president. “We’ve established a very low-cost approach to CubeSat design and launch to accommodate our commitment to STEM and innovative commercial CubeSat entrepreneurs.”

This year’s first place winner of the CubeSat STEM education program was the University of Texas at El Paso, with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette coming in second. Other winners are: Purdue University and University of Michigan.

A team of reviewers from across ULA and Tyvak, ULA’s primary auxiliary payload integrator, thoroughly evaluated each proposal. Selection criteria included mission objective, educational outreach and ability to meet technical requirements. Launch date coordination will begin in the next few weeks.

Additionally, ULA offered universities around the nation the opportunity to help name the CubeSat STEM education program. Austin Braun, a student at the University of Colorado Boulder, submitted CubeCorp as the winning name.

“Congratulations to all of our winners,” said Bruno. “You are the next generation of rocket scientists and space entrepreneurs and we could not be more pleased to offer this unique opportunity.”

ULA has delivered well over 100 conventional satellites and 55 CubeSats to orbit that provide critical capabilities for troops in the field, aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, enable personal device-based GPS navigation and unlock the mysteries of our solar system.

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Paving The Way For Global Smallsat Innovation: A Tyvak International Perspective

By Dr. Marco Villa, CEO, Tyvak International

Space-based research and utilization are at an all-time high right now, and the industry is only growing.

To meet growing international needs, Tyvak International has leveraged the recognized leadership of Terran Orbital within the small satellite (smallsat) sector to assemble a diverse team to develop European-made, state-of-the-art solutions, solutions that are not yet being offered by others in the marketplace.

Through contracts with organizations across the globe, Tyvak International is developing nexgen spacecraft that will raise the company’s profile in the international market. Following requests from local customers, these platforms maintain the characteristics of their American counterparts, but adopt non-US technology and manufacturing.

By being widely adaptable and easily customizable up to 100 kg, and having radiation-tolerant architecture—as well as low power consumption built in—these platforms are capable of supporting multiple applications that are at the epicenter of today’s space utilization market.

From formation flying to interplanetary missions, maritime domain awareness to weather monitoring through GPS radio occultation, comparable solutions able to reach the same level of optimized performance, assurance and cost would be difficult to locate. Through inter-satellite communication and data fusion capabilities, these platforms can work together as a network or in an isolated manner. The potential is truly limitless with this type of smallsat technology—and the world is taking note.

Earlier this year, the European Space Agency (ESA) selected Tyvak International to demonstrate the feasibility of having smallsats provide autonomous inspection and support services on the International Space Station (ISS). The company was selected as the prime contractor for the “Multi-Purpose CubeSat at ISS” study, conducted under the ESA General Studies Program (GSP).

Tyvak International is responsible for developing a design for the ISS-bound platform, identifying innovative methodologies for the platform’s launch to, or deployment from, the ISS, all of the safety needs and to pinpoint any possible constraints of having smallsat units operating autonomously in the ISS environment. Additionally, Tyvak International will develop and recommend an optimal path forward to ensure full flight readiness within a short timeframe. The ESA study is expected to be completed by early fall 2016.

In parallel to satellite development, within the launch integration domain, Tyvak International has already won an open competition from the ESA Educational Office to integrate three European cubesats into the Soyuz launch that is slated to carry the Sentinel-1B.

The mission, part of the “Fly Your Satellite!” program, was successfully completed in April of this year and was executed in only five months. In addition to this incredible effort, Tyvak International has signed additional contracts to broker, integrate and launch commercial satellites from Italy and other EU countries in early 2017.

In order to be ready to provide customer support and to manage program execution from day one, the team spent the last few years engaged in extensive research within the European market. The team met with key government and commercial players to determine the market’s immediate needs in the smallsat space. As a result, the company has been purposefully structured to provide one of the most advanced suites of smallsat products and services available in the world…

The Endeavour product line is Tyvak’s solution to the needs of high-performance cubesat missions. The system incorporates all spacecraft bus subsystems including high speed communications, 3-axis high performance attitude control and high power options. All the Endeavour components were designed and engineered in-house to ensure that all subsystems interact flawlessly and provide a single interface point for development of a mission.

• Tailored consulting services for each mission type and vehicle design
• Launch integration services, leveraging close relationships with global launch providers to garner the best value for each customer
• Customization of components to support unique projects
• Flight-proven, miniaturized, low-power electronic boards that are scalable in number and size
• High performance attitude determination and control hardware and software solutions and multiprocessor embedded Linux software architecture
• Launch and satellite insurance 

Created to address unfulfilled and growing smallsat needs, Tyvak International supports companies who may be unsatisfied by the currently available, legacy options for spatial missions. Newer companies such as Tyvak are now offering complete program lifecycle expertise, mission development, hardware and software, all under one roof. These products and services are available at far better price points and timelines than the current smallsat customer might expect to receive.

Tyvak International selected Turin for the location as their first European office due to the area’s strong aerospace industry focus and proximity to Politecnico di Torino (one of the largest engineering universities in Europe). Turin’s location also provides easy access to the multitude of high-technology companies available in Italy, France, Germany and Switzerland.

The new Tyvak International office is located within I3P, the leading small business incubator in Italy and one of the Top Five Incubators in Europe. As part of its low-cost strategy, I3P has been the perfect partner to offload administrative tasks, which then allows the team to focus on the capture and execution of contracts. The company is ahead of schedule to reach 50 full time employees and a secure and larger, independent office. The firm’s long-term potential has been confirmed by requests for Tyvak to open additional offices in other countries as the seed to develop a local ecosystem focused on smallsats.

Tyvak International will work closely with US-based Tyvak locations, but will operate independently and grow in response to European Union (EU) and European Space Agency (ESA) commercial needs, as well as requirements from other European-based small satellite programs.

Dr. Marco Villa is a seasoned aerospace executive. He currently serves as the CEO of Tyvak International SRL, as well as the COO of Terran Orbital Corporation. His responsibilities are day-to-day company management, strategic efforts and the acquisition and execution of all smallsat opportunities for government, commercial and university customers worldwide.

Dr. Villa has worked on some of the most advanced and cutting-edge programs in the aerospace industry, from technology demonstration satellites to leading commercial efforts, and has developed a unique expertise that combines business management, finance administration and technical knowledge.

Previously, Dr. Villa served as Director of Mission Operations at SpaceX and managed the missions of the Dragon spacecraft to and from the International Space Station. Additionally, as a founding partner of mv2space, Dr. Villa continues to provide broad business development expertise to the aerospace industry, including strategic planning, investment capture, and program management.

Founded in February 2015, Tyvak International SRL, based in Turin, Italy, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Terran Orbital that provides small satellite products and services to enable new capabilities for both government and commercial customers.

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Nativ Disc

Although most music lovers stream or download music today, the stubborn pre-millennials among us have legacy CD collections at home. This demographic is the perfect target group for Nativ Disc, a bit-perfect CD Ripper that allows users to import up to 12,000 CDs—in lossless FLAC, uncompressed WAV or lossy MP3 format—into their Nativ Vita high-resolution music player.

Nativ Disc and Nativ Vita are produced by Nativ, a self-described “nimble and innovative tech startup” that designs audiophile-level components with the latest and greatest in technology by leveraging the power of the crowd through an open platform. To make Nativ Disc the best it can be, Nativ partnered with music-database specialist Gracenote to deliver a more immersive experience and help users re-discover music like never before.

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Eight School of Science faculty appointed to named professorships

The School of Science announced that eight of its faculty members have been appointed to named professorships.

The new appointments are:

Bonnie Berger, the Simons Professor in Mathematics in the Department of Mathematics: Berger’s recent work focuses on designing algorithms to gain biological insights from advances in automated data collection and the subsequent large data sets drawn from them. She works on a diverse set of problems, including compressive genomics, network inference, structural bioinformatics, genomic privacy, and medical genomics. Additionally, she collaborates closely with biologists in order to design experiments to maximally leverage the power of computation for biological explorations.

James DiCarlo, the Peter de Florez Professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences: DiCarlo uses a combination of large-scale neurophysiology, brain imaging, optogenetic methods, and high-throughput computational simulations to understand the neuronal mechanisms and fundamental computations that underlie our ability to recognize visual objects. He aims to use this understanding to inspire and develop new machine vision systems, to provide a basis for new neural prosthetics (brain-machine interfaces) to restore or augment lost senses, and to provide a foundation upon which the community can understand how high-level visual representation and perception is altered in human conditions such as autism and dyslexia.

Raffaele Ferrari, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor in Earth and Planetary Sciences in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences: Ferrari studies the circulation of the ocean, its impact on present and past climates, and its role on shaping biological productivity. His group combines observations, theory and numerical models to investigate the physics and biology of the ocean from scales of centimeters to thousands of kilometers.

Timothy Grove, the Robert R. Shrock Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences: Grove is a geologist interested in the processes that have led to the chemical evolution of the Earth and other planets including the moon, Mars, Mercury, and meteorite parent bodies. His approach to understanding planetary differentiation is to combine field, petrologic, and geochemical studies of igneous rocks with high pressure, high-temperature experimental petrology.

Timothy Jamison, the Robert R. Taylor Professor in the Department of Chemistry: Jamison’s primary research interest is in the assembly of molecules, using the development of new chemical reactions, catalysts, strategies of synthesis, and technologies for synthesis to support this aim. His research focuses on epoxide-opening cascades, nickel-catalyzed carbon-carbon bond formation, target-oriented synthesis, and continuous flow chemistry.

Dennis Kim, the Ivan R. Cottrell Professor of Immunology in the Department of Biology: Kim studies host-microbe interactions and evolutionarily conserved mechanisms of innate immunity in Caenorhabditis elegans. His research group uses molecular genetic methods in this simple animal host to study the influence of microbial environment on neuroendocrine signaling pathways at the nexus of organismal innate immunity, stress signaling, development, and aging.

Troy Littleton, the Menicon Professor in Neuroscience in the departments of Biology and Brain and Cognitive Sciences: Littleton works to understand the mechanisms by which neurons form synaptic connections, how synapses transmit information, and how synapses change during learning and memory, as well as how alterations in neuronal signaling underlie several neurological diseases, including epilepsy, autism and Huntington’s disease. Using Drosophila as a model, Littleton combines molecular biology, protein biochemistry, electrophysiology, and imaging approaches with Drosophila genetics, to investigate the mechanisms underlying synapse formation, function and plasticity.

Thomas Schwartz, the Boris Magasanik Professor in Biology in the Department of Biology: Schwartz works to understand how signals and molecules are transmitted between nucleus and cytoplasm across the nuclear envelope. Malfunctioning of nucleo-cytoplasmic communication leads to a wide range of prominent human diseases, including viral infections, neuromuscular diseases and many more. Using a diverse array of techniques, including structural, cell biological, and genetic methods, Schwartz aims to decipher the mechanism and structure of the cellular machinery that executes these cellular processes. 

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Episode 77: So much about security plus Canary’s new service

The internet of things is about services, not devices. This is why I had Jon Troutman, co-founder of Canary on the show this week to talk about Membership, a new service offering from the all-in-one security device maker. This week Canary joined the masses in offering an outdoor camera, but it also launched a monthly service that does for security what AAA does for autos. The service holds your hand after a burglary, repays your deductible if anything was stolen and yes, provides some cloud storage. We talk to Troutman about how the company figured out what to offer and its hopes for Membership.

The Canary Flex wireless indoor/outdoor camera. The Canary Flex wireless indoor/outdoor camera.

But first, Kevin Tofel and I discuss more security related topics, from the governmental framework on autonomous cars to the Industrial Internet Consortium’s new security framework. I also clarify some things I said last week about the Kevo lock. We briefly discuss the idea of Google’s Assistant service getting a name so we can anthropomorphize it and cover ARM’s new chip design for industrial manufacturing, cars and robots. If nothing else, you’ll walk away from this show knowing that people are now thinking very hard about securing the internet of things.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guests: Jon Troutman, co-founder of Canary
Sponsors: Macadamian and the Smart Kitchen Summit

  • What should we call Google’s Assistant in the home?
  • Cars and the industrial internet get new security frameworks
  • Security begins with hardware
  • Why Canary joined the outdoor camera gold rush
  • Rethinking a security service

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GDAX, Bitcoin Development, and Five Years of Litecoin with Charlie Lee

Charlie Lee shares his thoughts on the expansion of GDAX, the state of Bitcoin, and the future of Litecoin. Original Link

How Monero may help shape Bitcoin

Riccardo Spagni talks Monero and how the development impacts Bitcoin. He believe if Bitcoin takes some of their ideas to improve they’ve succeeded, but this inside look into Monero gives us a fresh take at the issues like Blocksize and anonymity which Bitcoin struggles with. Original Link

[VIDEO] Raspberry Pi Zero USB/Ethernet Gadget Tutorial

In this video, I show you how to set up a Raspberry Pi Zero as a USB/Ethernet device. This will let you get internet access, local networking, and power to your Pi through a single USB connection. It’s a very easy and convenient way to connect to your Pi!

The post [VIDEO] Raspberry Pi Zero USB/Ethernet Gadget Tutorial appeared first on Circuit Basics.

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Episode 76: Tips and tricks for Apple’s HomeKit

Have you downloaded iOS 10 yet? If you have, and are wondering what to do with the Home app and your HomeKit home automation, then this show is for you. We brought on Adam Justice the head of ConnectSense, a home automation brand to discuss his experience with HomeKit so far (check out his video series).

This is screen from the Control Center pane. (Image courtesy of Apple).This is screen from the Control Center pane. (Image courtesy of Apple).

Before we get to HomeKit, Kevin Tofel and I talk a bit about last week’s Apple announcement, review the second generation Kevo smart lock and the Philips Hue Motion sensor. We led with news of Amazon’s new Echo, some data-leaking sex toys and the Department of Justice creating a group to investigate the security impacts of connected cars. Enjoy the show.

Hosts: Kevin Tofel and Stacey Higginbotham
Guests: Adam Justice CEO of ConnectSense
Sponsors: Macadamian

  • Amazon’s newest toy and DoJ investigates the IoT
  • Connected sex toys means private time isn’t so private
  • Review time!
  • The best feature on the Home app
  • Is HomeKit now ready for prime time?

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Students unlock the secrets of cryptography

“Split up into groups of three,” directed Sophia Yakoubov, associate staff in the Secure Resilient Systems and Technology Group at MIT Lincoln Laboratory and instructor of the LLCipher cryptography workshop. “Within each group, the person sitting on the left is Alice, the person on the right is Bob, and the person in the middle is Eve. Alice must write a secret message in a notebook and pass it to Bob. Eve must figure out Alice’s message and intercept everything that Alice and Bob pass to each other. Alice and Bob each have a lock and matching key, however, they cannot exchange their keys. How can Alice pass her secret message to Bob so that Eve is unable to unlock and view the secret, and only Bob can read it?”

The 13 high school students participating in the workshop glanced at one another until one brave student addressed the entire class, starting a flurry of conversation: “Any ideas?”

Thus began one of the many hands-on challenges that students tackled at the LLCipher workshop held in August at the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts. LLCipher is a one-week program that introduces students to modern cryptography, a theoretical approach to securing data such as Alice’s secret message. The program begins with lessons in abstract algebra and number theory that students use to understand theoretical cryptography during lessons later in the workshop.

“I decided that LLCipher was for me when I researched the course topics,” says student Evan Hughes. “As I made my way down the topic list, I didn’t understand many of the concepts, so I immediately applied to the program.”

Because of student feedback from LLCipher’s inaugural year in 2015, Yakoubov extended each lesson from two to six hours. “Many students said they wanted more time on learning,” says Yakoubov. “Specifically, they wanted to learn more than one cryptography technique and apply those techniques to ‘real-world’ scenarios, rather than just learn theory.” This year, in addition to the El Gamal public key cryptosystem, students learned the RSA public key cryptosystem. RSA is one of the most common methods to secure data and uses slightly different math from El Gamal. Both RSA and El Gamal use modular arithmetic, a type of math in which integers “wrap around” upon reaching a certain value, i.e., the modulus, similar to a clock that uses 12 numbers to represent 24 hours in one day. El Gamal uses a very large prime number as a modulus; RSA uses a very large composite number, i.e., a whole number that can be divided evenly by numbers other than 1 or itself, with a secret factorization.

To reinforce the techniques and allow students to apply the theory, Yakoubov, along with the help of Uri Blumenthal and Jeff Diewald of the Secure Resilient Systems and Technology Group, created an online platform that includes El Gamal- and RSA-based challenges. “With these exercises, we are able to show students examples of flawed cryptography so that they can see how easily it can be broken,” says Yakoubov. “Students can visualize huge numbers and see why concepts like randomization are so important to effective encryption.” The platform is used throughout the course and includes six challenges that bolster teamwork and creativity.  

“Learning about public key encryption is fun because it is so complicated and secretive,” says student Garrett Mallinson. “I like creating codes that no one else can break or unlock — this is like what characters do on television shows in just 45 minutes.”

During the final day of the course, students toured several Lincoln Laboratory facilities, such as the anechoic chambers and the Flight Test Facility. “I enjoyed the tour around Lincoln Laboratory,” says Hughes. “We always hear about theoretical concepts at school, so it is inspiring to see people applying and making the things we hear about.”

After the tour, students listened to a guest lecture from Emily Shen of the Secure Resilient Systems and Technology Group on a more specialized cryptography topic. Shen explained secure multiparty computation, a tool that allows multiple users with secret inputs to compute a joint function on their inputs without having to reveal anything beyond the output of the joint function. To demonstrate the concept, students participated in an activity to find out whether the majority of the group likes pie or cake without each student revealing his or her preference. First, the group assigned pie and cake a binary representation — 0 for pie and 1 for cake. The group also picked a modulus larger than the size of the group; in this case, the modulus was 14. The first participant secretly chose an auxiliary value between 0 and 13, added his vote, 0 or 1, to that value, and then used modular arithmetic to get a new value. For example, if he chose an auxiliary value of 13 and his vote was 1, he took the remainder modulo of 14 to get a total of 0. He then passed on the sum to the next student. This pattern continued until the last student gave her value to the original participant, who then subtracted the secret auxiliary number from the last value. The remaining value represented the amount of votes for cake and indicated whether the majority of the group likes cake or pie.

“Cryptography is a tool that is very important. It’s an interesting intersection of math and computer science to which people are not often exposed,” says Shen. “I want kids to learn about this field and hopefully find it exciting.” Yakoubov found that the students benefited from the new features, particularly the applied challenges, of the LLCipher program. She hopes that students realize that math can be fun and can be applied to complex and exciting real-life problems.

Following the program, students indicated that they were interested in taking computer science courses in college and hope to aim for careers in science, technology, engineering, and math fields.  “LLCipher helped us understand the cryptography-based concepts that we see in our everyday lives, such as encryption messages and functions on our personal computers,” says student Brandon Chu. “At the end of the program, everything came together and made sense, which was really exciting. We were doing things that seemed impossible at first glance. I definitely feel smarter and more empowered now than when we started.”

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This Water-Jet Cutter Can Slice Through Anything: Steel, Glass, or Steak

The phrase “desktop fabrication” has for the most part meant 3D printers and laser cutters. There are also small computer-numerical-control (CNC) mills and routers to be had, but until now you’d be hard pressed to find a small computerized machine hefty enough and flexible enough to cut complicated patterns in, say, steel. And you’d be totally out of luck if your material of choice was glass or ceramic.

That may be about to change, thanks to Wazer, which yesterday began offering Kickstarter backers the possibility of purchasing a small-scale water-jet cutter appropriate for DIYers or small businesses.

The company was founded by several young engineers who first met as students at the University of Pennsylvania, where they were involved in building small race cars and found themselves tediously fabricating many flat steel components by hand. “Even Penn didn’t have a water jet,” says Nisan Lerea, Wazer’s CEO. That frustration led Lerea and his colleagues to build a low-cost water jet as a senior design project in mechanical engineering.

Water jets cut through material using a narrow, high-pressure stream of water that (typically) carries abrasive particles. While this is a standard industrial process, it’s been limited to settings where there’s plenty of room and even more money. The least expensive one I could readily price starts at upwards of US $42,000.

Industrial water jets operate at anywhere from 60,000 to 90,000 pounds per square inch (414,000 to 621,000 kilopascals), says Lerea. “We’ve lowered the pressure so as to use off-the-shelf components from other industries.” As a result, the Wazer cuts relatively slowly, but if you’re not in industrial production, this shouldn’t matter much. More important is gaining the ability to cut things you couldn’t otherwise manage. “What a laser cutter does for plastics, we’re trying to do for metal and glass,” says Lerea, who claims that the Wazer can cut through 4-millimeter-thick steel with about 1 mm of kerf—and that the borders of the cut are smooth.

The engineers at Wazer have designed their machine to run on 110 volts. Its 12-inch-by-18-inch (30-cm-by-46-cm) working bed is fully enclosed, so you could presumably put it in a small workshop and not end up with a watery mess everywhere.

The machine being offered on Kickstarter costs between US $3,599 and $4,499, depending on how earlier you sign up for one. Retail pricing will be $5,999 once the company goes into regular production late in 2017, which is still low enough to be in a very different category from any water jet you can buy now.

While $6,000 is more than a casual DIYer would likely be willing to spend, it’s easy to imagine groups investing in one. And it opens up this technology to small businesses and tradespeople—I can imagine some more-creative tile installers getting very jazzed about this, for example.

What remains to be seen, of course, is whether this team will really be able to meet what is surely a huge engineering challenge: turning what is ordinarily a messy, expensive, and high-maintenance industrial cutting machine into something cheap and user-friendly enough to inhabit a hacker space or garage workshop. Only time will tell, but I’m certainly keeping my fingers crossed.

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6.042J Mathematics for Computer Science (MIT)

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Tackle This: Football’s Newest Most Valuable Player Is a Robot

The MVP robot-tackling dummy takes hits so football players won’t have to

A robotic tackling dummy created by Dartmouth College engineering students could turn out to be the most valuable player on the field this football season. Short for Mobile Virtual Player, the MVP robot is designed to take a beating during football drills, sparing players from an accumulation of the kinds of impacts known to result in concussions and long-term brain damage.

The robot was inspired by a jaw-dropping decision by Eugene “Buddy” Teevens, the Dartmouth head coach. Teevens shocked the football world in 2011 by announcing a complete ban on tackling during practice. While many predicted that the measure would cripple the team, Dartmouth College engineering students took it as a design challenge.

The robot’s two lead inventors—a defensive lineman on Teevans’ football team and a Dartmouth rugby player—designed their dummy based on their personal experience of getting clobbered on the field. Their remote-controlled foam robot reaches a top speed of 32 kilometers per hour (the fastest NFL players top out at 40 km/h), can tough it out in extreme Minnesota winters and Florida heat waves, and has circuits robust enough to withstand thousands of repeated blows. Best of all, its weighted base allows it to pop up after a tackle, just like a Weeble Wobble toy.

Read More: “How a Robot Football Player Will Prevent Concussions

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On-demand mobility experiment coming to MIT

Starting this month, there’s a new way for some of the MIT community to make its way around the Institute: chauffeured golf cart. Three of the diminutive, four-passenger electrical vehicles will ply the byways of West Campus, summoned, Uber-like, via a smartphone app, then plucking up passengers and depositing them at locations of their choice within a select service area.

The mobility-on-demand service is part of a collaboration between the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department’s Aerospace Controls Lab (ACL) and Ford Motor Company to develop a means of predicting customer location and requests for demand transportation services, while demonstrating algorithms and methods for navigating densely crowded pedestrian areas.

“Through the mobility-on-demand system we’re developing, we can investigate new planning and prediction algorithms in a complex, but controlled, environment, while simultaneously providing a testbed framework for researchers and a service to the MIT community,” says ACL director Jonathan How, who is also the Richard Cockburn Maclaurin Professor in Aeronautics and Astronautics. ACL researches topics related to autonomous systems and control design for aircraft, spacecraft, and ground vehicles. Theoretical and experimental research is pursued in such areas as estimation and navigation, planning and learning under uncertainty, and vehicle autonomy.

Since early this year the vehicles have plied campus byways, capturing pedestrian flow via onboard LIDAR and cameras, accumulating data to help the service anticipate where the most demand for the shuttles will be at any given moment.

The LiDAR scans pinpoint the vehicles’ locations and detect the movement of nearby pedestrians, allowing researchers to log the typical movements of people across the campus each day. Accurately predicting demand based on pedestrian flows will allow the shuttles to be carefully pre-positioned and routed to serve the MIT population in the most efficient way possible. “It’s all about being in the right place at the right time,” How says.

Researchers also take other factors into account that affect the movement of pedestrians on MIT’s campus, such as varying weather conditions, class schedules, and the dynamic habits of the MIT community across different semesters.

MIT community members who have volunteered for the test will use a smartphone app to indicate where they want to be picked up and dropped off. In return, they’ll be given a pickup time estimate. If things go as anticipated, they won’t be waiting long for a ride to arrive.

The vehicles are small enough to navigate sidewalks, while leaving plenty of room for pedestrian traffic. They’re outfitted with weatherproof enclosures to shield riders from inclement weather, which will be an especially rewarding feature when fall arrives.

How says that the local ride-hailing concept may someday provide a service that fills gaps between shuttle buses, automobiles, and public transportation, and may also have application to development of fully autonomous vehicles.

How says that the mobility-on-demand service will continue throughout the winter “unless Cambridge gets hit with blizzards like those we got a couple of years ago.”

Those interested in volunteering as passengers should email People interested in being hired as a paid shuttle driver should email

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Episode 75: What connected cars can learn from tractors

Nest is in the news again this week with a clarification on what its software engineers are really up to and new products. Its outdoor camera is launching as are thermostats in 3 new colors. It’s also unveiling a new software product that looks pretty cool. I’m still worried about the hardware innovation we can expect. Kevin and I also discuss Verizon’s new IoT network, leaked news of a new Wink hub and Kevin’s review of his Wink Relay light switch.

The new, Outdoor Nest Cam.The new Outdoor Nest Cam.

I interview Cory Reed, senior vice president of intelligent solutions at John Deere, to discover what connected car executives can learn from the company that pioneered a self-driving tractor. Reed and I also discuss how John Deere thinks about connectivity adding value to the business and how it prices connected products. Also, farmers are pretty sophisticated consumers of technology.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Cory Reed, senior vice president of intelligent solutions at John Deere
Sponsor: Macadamian

  • Will LTE Cat M1 pose a threat to other IoT networks?
  • News from Nest
  • Kevin’s thoughts on the Wink Relay
  • How to think about building connected products from production to pricing
  • What John Deere can teach us about building autonomous cars

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QS ranks MIT the world’s top university for 2016-17

MIT has been ranked as the top university in the world in the latest QS World University Rankings. This marks the fifth straight year in which the Institute has been ranked in the No. 1 position.

The full 2016-17 rankings — published by Quacquarelli Symonds, an organization specializing in education and study abroad — can be found at The QS rankings were based on research quality, graduate employment, teaching quality, and an assessment of the global diversity of faculty and students from 916 institutions worldwide. MIT earn a perfect 100 overall score for all categories combined.

MIT was also ranked the world’s top university in 12 of 42 disciplines ranked by QS, which were released from April to June.

Those top rankings included five of six disciplines in the “engineering and technology” category: chemical engineering; civil and structural engineering; computer science; electrical engineering; and mechanical, aeronautical, and manufacturing engineering. QS also ranked the Institute as the world’s best university in architecture; linguistics; chemistry; physics and astronomy; materials science; statistics; and economics.

The Institute ranked among the top five institutions worldwide in another seven QS disciplines: mineral and mining engineering (2), art and design (2), accounting and finance (2), biological sciences (3), mathematics (3), environmental sciences (3), and earth and marine sciences (4). MIT also remained in sixth place in business and management studies for the second year.

Topics: Architecture, Chemical engineering, Chemistry, Civil and environmental engineering, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Economics, Linguistics, Materials Science and Engineering, Mechanical engineering, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, Physics, Business and management, Accounting, Finance, Arts, Design, Mathematics, EAPS, School of Architecture and Planning, SHASS, School of Science, School of Engineering, Sloan School of Management

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Twelve School of Science faculty appointed to career development professorships

The School of Science announced that 12 of its faculty members have been appointed to career development professorships.

The new appointments are:

Kristin Bergmann, Victor P. Starr Career Development Assistant Professor

Kristin Bergmann works to reconstruct the record of environmental change from observations of sedimentary rocks from latest Precambrian to Ordovician time. To date her work has focused on marine carbonate sedimentary rocks and fossils from sites that include locations in United States, Oman, and Svalbard. She analyzes these rocks using a variety of tools in order to better understand how the chemistry and climate of the oceans and atmosphere affected the evolution of complex life, from unicellular microbial communities to multicellular animal communities. Her research has multiple important components including placing constraints on the environmental change that provides a backdrop for early evolution, and quantifying the range of climatic conditions the Earth system is capable of.

Ibrahim Cissé, Class of 1922 Career Development Assistant Professor

Ibrahim Cissé uses physical techniques to study weak or transient biological interactions, and collective behaviors that emerge inside living cells. He develops and employs highly sensitive experimental techniques capable of detecting the behaviors of single biological molecules in vivo, with quantitative live cell and super-resolution imaging. He focuses on uncovering the function of transient interactions in subcellular organizations and dynamics, and in gene expression regulation directly in living cells.

Gregory Fournier, Cecil and Ida Green Career Development Assistant Professor

Gregory Fournier’s research integrates phylogenetics and horizontal gene transfer (HGT) with studies of microbial evolution, geochemistry, and planetary history. Specific areas of his research include: HGT- and genome-based calibration of molecular clock models of microbial evolution; ancestral reconstruction of ancient proteins and metabolisms; the biogeochemical impact of HGT and microbial metabolism evolution; and the role of partial HGT in the complex ancestry of organismal lineages.

Liang Fu, Lawrence C. (1944) & Sarah W. Biedenharn Assistant Professor

Liang Fu is interested in novel topological phases of matter and their experimental realizations. He works on the theory of topological insulators and topological superconductors, with a focus on predicting and proposing their material realizations and experimental signatures. He is also interested in potential applications of topological materials, ranging from tunable electronics and spintronics, to quantum computation.

Mark Harnett, Frederick A. (1971) and Carole J. Middleton Career Development Assistant Professor of Neuroscience

Mark Harnett studies how the biophysical features of individual neurons, including ion channels, receptors, and membrane electrical properties, endow neural circuits with the ability to process information and perform the complex computations that underlie behavior. Harnett’s research addresses the hypothesis that the brain’s computational power arises from these subcellular building blocks. He focuses in particular on sensory processing and spatial navigation, with the goal of understanding the mechanisms underlying these brain functions.

Myriam Heiman, Latham Family Career Development Assistant Professor

Myriam Heiman aims to understand how neuronal identity is established and maintained, and how the molecular identity of a neuron determines its susceptibility to disease. She uses biochemical, genetic, and molecular biological tools, including mouse models of neurodegenerative diseases and a novel methodology termed Translating Ribosome Affinity Purification (TRAP) that allows molecular profiling of individual types of neurons from within the mammalian brain.

Yen-Jie Lee, Class of 1958 Career Development Assistant Professor

Yen-Jie Lee works in the field of proton‐proton and heavy ion physics, primarily studying quark‐gluon plasma (QGP), a hot and dense matter created in the collisions of heavy nuclei predicted by lattice Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD) calculations. His research aims to move beyond discovery‐era qualitative measurements of QGP and to understand QCD matter in extreme conditions, such as those that existed in the first microseconds of the universe and that are thought to exist at the core of some neutron stars.

Ankur Moitra, Rockwell International Career Development Assistant Professor of Mathematics

Ankur Moitra is interested in algorithms and their connections with the related areas of machine learning, statistics, operations research, and mathematics.  His research spans a diverse set of topics, from statistical inference to optimization and approximation to codes and combinatorics.  He has made important contributions in graph algorithms and learning theory, for example developing an efficient algorithm for estimating the defining parameters of a distribution that is a mixture of any constant number of Gaussian distributions.

Matthew Shoulders, Whitehead Career Development Assistant Professor

Matthew Shoulders studies protein homeostasis and folding, both of which are inextricably linked to disease states such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and many types of cancer. Shoulders focuses on developing and applying a chemical biology and small molecule-derived toolbox to investigate and manipulate the cell’s protein folding network. He uses a multidisciplinary approach to understand how the cell remodels itself to address challenges to protein homeostasis, to elucidate the pathophysiology of protein folding-related diseases with poorly defined etiologies, and to target the biological processes he uncovers for the development of first-in-class small molecule drugs.

Tracy Slatyer, Jerrold R. Zacharias Career Development Assistant Professor of Physics

Tracy Slatyer is a theoretical physicist who works on particle physics, cosmology, and astrophysics. Her research interests are motivated by key particle physics questions, such as the search for new particles and forces and a microscopic description of dark matter. Slatyer has been a leader in studying models of dark matter with new interactions, the potential impact of dark matter annihilation or decay on the early history of the cosmos, and separating potential dark matter signals from novel astrophysics using gamma-ray data. She won the 2014 Rossi Prize of the American Astronomical Society for her discovery of the giant Galactic gamma-ray structures known as Fermi Bubbles.

Yogesh Surendranath, Paul M. Cook Career Development Assistant Professor

Yogesh Surendranath works to develop new methods for investigating and manipulating chemical reactions occurring at solid-liquid interfaces. In particular, his group aims to use electricity to rearrange chemical bonds by controlling interfacial reactivity at the molecular level. The chemistry of these interfaces is at the heart of nearly all contemporary challenges in renewable energy storage and utilization in a wide variety of devices ranging from batteries, to fuel cells, to electrolyzers; therefore, addressing these challenges is essential for enabling a low-carbon energy future.

Lindley Winslow, Jerrold R. Zacharias Career Development Assistant Professor of Physics

Lindley Winslow is an experimental nuclear physicist whose primary focus is on neutrinoless double-beta decay. Neutrinoless double-beta decay is an extremely rare nuclear process which, if it is ever observed, would show that the neutrino is its own antiparticle, a Majorana particle. A Majorana neutrino would have profound consequences to particle physics and cosmology, among them an explanation of the universe’s matter-antimatter symmetry. Winslow takes part in two projects that search for double-beta decay at CUORE (Cryogenic Underground Observatory for Rare Events) and KamLAND-Zen, and develops new, more sensitive double-beta decay detectors.

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Episode 74: More Nest distress and a primer on protocols

As IFA starts in Berlin, there’s a bunch of product news to cover, including a partnership between Sonos and Amazon, that will let you control your Sonos from the Amazon Echo … in 2017. But before we get to that, Kevin Tofel and I explore what it means that Nest’s developers are reportedly moving over to Google, specifically part of the Google Home team. We also cover Z-wave becoming a more open standard, which could lead to more Z-wave compatibility in products like the Amazon Echo or smart TVs.


After Kevin and I hit the news, strap yourselves in for a primer on the pros and cons of different radios, protocols and even clouds for those designing a connected product. Chris Matthieu, VP of IoT Engineering at Citrix, and one of the creators of Citrix Octoblu, came on the show to offer his expertise. This is nerdy, but great for anyone who wants to understand some of the popular options out there for making a connected product, whether you are a developer, a product manager or just someone trying to keep up with the trends.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Chris Matthieu of Citrix
Sponsor: Macadamian

  • The distress at Nest
  • Two great pieces of news
  • How do you pick a radio for a connected project?
  • A primer on protocols
  • Which cloud works for you?

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In batteries, a metal reveals its dual personality

Battery researchers have been focusing on lithium metal electrodes as leading contenders for improving the amount of energy that batteries can store without increasing their weight. But lithium in this metallic form has a problem that has stymied much of this research effort: As the batteries are being charged, finger-like lithium deposits form on the metal surface, which can hamper performance and even lead to short-circuits that damage or disable the battery.

Now, a team of researchers at MIT says it has carried out the most detailed analysis yet of exactly how these deposits form, and reports that there are two entirely different mechanisms at work. While both forms of deposits are composed of lithium filaments, the way they grow depends on the applied current. Clustered, “mossy” deposits, which form at low rates, turn out to grow from their roots and can be relatively easy to control. The much more sparse and rapidly advancing “dendritic” projections grow only at their tips. The dendritic type, the researchers say, are harder to deal with and are responsible for most of the problems.

Their findings are reported this week in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, in a paper by Peng Bai, a senior postdoc; Ju Li, the Battelle Energy Alliance Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering and a professor of materials science and engineering; Fikile Brushett, an assistant professor of chemical engineering; and Martin Z. Bazant, the E. G. Roos (1944) Professor of Chemical Engineering and a professor of mathematics.

This research provides “fundamental experimental and theoretical insights into the growth of lithium metal, showing that there are really two different kinds of growth,” Bazant says. Although it was known that such growth occurs on lithium surfaces, this is the first study to show the two different types — mossy, which grows slowly from the base, and dendritic, which extends rapidly from the growing tips.

While previous research has always lumped the two types of growth together under the blanket term “dendrites,” he says, the new work demonstrates the precise conditions for each distinct growth mode to occur, and how the mossy type can be relatively easily controlled.

The root-growing mossy growth, the team found, can be blocked by adding a separator layer made of a nanoporous ceramic material (a sponge-like material with tiny pores at the nanometer scale, or billionths of a meter across). The tip-growing dendritic growth, by contrast, cannot be easily blocked, but fortunately should not occur in practical batteries. The normal working currents of these batteries are much lower than the characteristic current associated with the tip-growing deposits, so these deposits will not form unless significant degradation of the electrolyte has occurred.

The “mossy” type of root-based growth is followed by the faster, tip-based needle-like dendritic growth. (Courtesy of Peng Bai)

In principle, replacing conventional carbon-based anodes with lithium metal could cut in half the weight and volume of lithium-ion batteries, for a given amount of storage capacity and output current, Bai explains. But the poorly understood occurrence of these surface deposits during recharging has been a major obstacle to the development of such batteries.

Unless they are somehow controlled, Bai says, “those small fibers can go right through the separator [layer inside the battery] and cause explosions or fires.”

Even short of such destruction, the filaments gradually reduce the storage capacity of the battery and cause it to degrade over time. Now, this research shows that these growths can be effectively controlled at lower current levels, for a given cell capacity, and demonstrates what the upper limits on battery performance would need to be in order to prevent the truly damaging dendritic filaments.

The separators that could block the mossy growth are made of anodic aluminum oxide, or AAO, which is 60 micrometers thick and has well-aligned, straight nanopores across its thickness. “It’s a big discovery, because it answers the question of why you sometimes have better cycling [charging and discharging] performance when you use ceramic separators,” Bai says. The research suggests that flexible composite ceramic separators, such as those made by coating ceramic particles onto conventional polyolefin separators, should be used in lithium metal batteries to help block the root-growing mossy lithium.

Bazant explains that most previous research on the use of lithium metal anodes has been carried out at low current levels or low battery capacities, and because of that the second type of growth mechanism had not been reliably observed. The MIT team carried out tests at higher current levels that clearly revealed the two distinct types of growth.

He says that the findings were made possible by his team’s development of an innovative laboratory setup, a glass capillary cell, that “allows you to see the growth, and you can see where there is this transition from one kind of growth to the other.” Previous research had mostly relied on electrical measurements to infer what was taking place physically inside the battery, but seeing it in action made the differences very clear. The slow, mossy growth proceeds for a while, and then at a certain level of current, “all of a sudden, this little finger [of lithium] snaps out. It allows you to see exactly when the dendrites begin.”

The new findings will now provide battery researchers with a better understanding of the underlying scientific principles, and show “what are the limitations on rates and capacity that are achievable,” Bazant says.

The work was supported by Robert Bosch LLC through the MIT Energy Initiative.

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Setting a Land Speed Record with a Sidecar Motorcycle

Kevin Clemens built this electric sidecar motorcycle to set a world record on the salt flats of Bonneville

Kevin Clemens, an engineer studying for a Ph.D. at the University of Canterbury, in New Zealand, has a rather unusual doctoral project: He’s researching the aerodynamics of asymmetrical vehicles. The topic is an outgrowth of his interest in setting land speed records with electric motorcycles, something that’s been a passion for him for the past five years.

His latest effort in that sphere is to establish a land speed record for a sidecar motorcycle, a three-wheeled vehicle that is rarely seen on roads these days but is still raced. But he’s not using just any sidecar motorcycle: He has converted a gasoline-powered one formerly used for racing into an all-electric streamliner, albeit one with a very asymmetric cross section.

Clemens is at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats right now, where he will be racing his electric three-wheeler. You can learn about his preparations by viewing the video above, follow his progress on his team’s Facebook page, or read about his earlier efforts chasing land speed records with electric motorcycles at his website.

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Episode 73: AI is just a buzzword

Can we change the way companies use our consumer and personal data derived from connected devices? Gilad Meiri, the CEO of Neura, discusses a new model for data privacy and a way to apply machine learning to connected devices. The results he’s after sound like magic, but we explore how it could be made real in this week’s show.

Would you spend $60 on this NFC-enabled ring? Would you spend $60 on this NFC-enabled ring?

Before we talk about AI and privacy, Kevin Tofel and I discuss the possible reasons behind Amazon’s reportedly new streaming music plan for the Echo, news in the world of connected cars and a new Ecobee thermostat spotted at the FCC. Kevin may also buy some connected jewelry made with NFC chips inside. Finally, we talk about turning your home into a smart house ahead of putting it on the market. It’s pricey, but is it worth it?

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Gilad Meiri, CEO of Neura
Sponsors: ARM and the Smart Kitchen Summit

  • Amazon wants to charge $5 for an Echo-only music service?
  • Staging the smart home with August, Lutron and Nest
  • Kevin’s eyeing NFC jewelry
  • AI is mostly a buzzword at this point
  • Consumers alone will not be able to preserve their data privacy

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Festo’s Fantastical Flying Robots

Festo’s chief pilot gives us a private demo of its eMotionButterfly, AirJelly, and AirPenguin

At the USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., Festo, a German  industrial automation company, brought along some of its incredible robotic animals for a rare public display. We stopped by the Festo booth to check them out. In an abandoned ballroom upstairs, Festo’s chief pilot, Markus Schäffer, showed off three of the company’s spectacular flying robots: eMotionButterfly, AirJelly, and AirPenguin.
Festo uses robots like these to explore creative ways in which nature can be used as an inspiration for improvements in technology. In addition to these three robots, Festo engineers have also developed flying seagulls, hopping kangaroos, robotic ants that cooperate, a soft manipulator based on an elephant’s trunk, and a gripper inspired by the tongue of a chameleon. Festo comes out with something new every year, and while Schäffer wouldn’t give us any clues about what to expect for 2017, we’ve been promised that there’s some very cool stuff in the works.

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Episode 72: Your IoT efforts can expose you to legal risks

Hell hath frozen over at Intel, with the big news this week that Intel has taken an ARM license so it can manufacture ARM-based chips. We talk about what this news means for Intel, its IoT strategy and more. We also try to make sense of Fucshia, a reportedly new OS that Google has dumped in Github. And for those less enamored of the big companies’ strategies, I also share my review of the Brita Infinity water pitcher that uses the Amazon Dash Replenishment service. You can see if it’s your thing.

The Wi-Fi connected Brita pitcher sells for $44.99. The Wi-Fi connected Brita pitcher sells for $44.99.

Our guest this week explains why you should call your lawyer before deploying sensors or flying drones to collect interesting data. Elizabeth Wharton, an attorney at Hall Booth Smith (@lawyerliz on Twitter) has been working on IoT issues and security for the last decade. She talks about the regulatory environment, things companies should worry about, and a future fight over end user license agreements.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham
Guest: Elizabeth Wharton an attorney at Hall Booth Smith
Sponsor: ARM

  • Intel’s new deal with ARM is the tip of the iceberg
  • What is Fuchsia? We take a guess.
  • Is this pitcher for you?
  • A word of warning for drone-happy entities
  • Insurers and lawyers may be the reason we get rules for the IoT

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Bitcoin for Zimbabwe Farmers

Sinclair Skinner joins us to talk about Bitcoin in Zimbabwe, the land of starving billionaires. Bitmari is helping local farmers use bitcoin to buy supplies and experience financial inclusion.

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Exciting future for continent that accesses the power of Internet of Things

LAGOS, NIGERIA: With smartphone usage on the up and IT literacy expanding, bringing Internet of Things (IoT) level connectivity is a natural progression for this tech-hungry continent.

Africa is no stranger to connectivity. While Africa may be behind when it comes to IT infrastructure compared to more developed nations, the fact is that more than double the population of sub-Saharan Africa has mobile phone access.

The future is connected

The IoT should be considered more than just technology. Rather, it is an ecosystem of products and services – from software to cloud technology – where effective connectivity adds real business value. This derived value presents an exciting prospect for the region. It also has the potential to drive significant economic growth and, in time, bring African IT up to speed with the rest of the world.

And the adoption of IoT solutions across Africa is not a farfetched idea: research from McKinsey estimates that Africa will have tripled its internet penetration to over 50% – the equivalent of 600 million regular internet users – by 2025. It’s also predicted that the potential of the IoT in developing countries is huge, with such nations to be accountable for 40% of the worldwide value of the IoT market by 2020.
Currently, 15% of the global population resides in Africa. More than half of global population growth from now until 2050 is expected to stem from the continent. This means having a global, connected system is crucial.

Infinite possibilities

The IoT has the potential to solve many of the issues the continent is currently facing. And many African countries have already embarked on the IoT journey.  Healthcare providers in Ethiopia are monitoring the health status of outpatients to better adjust  treatment. Intelligent traffic lights in Nairobi are helping ease traffic congestion.

Utility providers in South Africa are using load-limiting smart meters that can warn residents ahead of imminent controlled outages. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), satellite imagery, DNA analysis and apps are being used as part of conservation efforts – by predicting poaching attempts and monitoring wildlife.

The potential is limitless. As technology advances and encroaches upon most people’s day-to-day lives in some shape or form, people can expect more IoT enabled solutions that address the unique issues facing Africa.

Agriculture is a vital, yet struggling, industry. Sub-Saharan Africa has 95% of arable land that is dependent on rainfall-fed agriculture. This means food crop productivity is often low, with food insecurity a constant issue. This is where the IoT can help: wireless sensors can track crop growth, soil moisture and water tank levels. Unmanned vehicles can reduce physical labour. The result will be better yields at a lower cost.

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, food production must increase by 60% to be able to feed the growing population expected to hit nine billion in 2050. With SAP’s help, John Deere for example, is taking the IoT out into the field and boosting efficiencies with the goal of improving per-acre crop yields. They are using Big Data to step into the future of farming.

This interconnectivity with owners, operators, dealers and agricultural consultants helps farmers enhance productivity and increase efficiency. Sensors on their equipment help farmers manage their fleet and decrease downtime of their tractors as well as save on fuel. The information is combined with historical and real-time weather data, soil conditions, crop features and many other data sets.

Future looks bright

Connected robots and systems can help limit the effects of a mass disaster. The ongoing Ebola outbreaks in West Africa highlight the ramifications of human contact. While current technology is still relatively immature, the future of the IoT-enabled technology and better-developed robots and outbreak control mechanisms, like SAP’s SORMAS, could see many lives saved and the spread of disease minimised.

The future looks bright, but there are still barriers to overcome. The cost of implementing the IoT is huge and investment will most likely come from outside the region. As well as that, the potential risks of hacking remain a threat as long as there is internet-enabled technology involved. And, having the right skills and training programmes in place will be imperative when making the most of the opportunities that come with new technology.

Overall connectivity is clearly an important enabler. As it stands, many African nations fall short in this area. Yet the lack of a legacy infrastructure can actually be beneficial for Africa. Instead of gradual tech upgrades, the continent can jump ahead into new technologies in ways more developed countries cannot. This also means that the decisions of those spearheading change now are likely to impact the solutions of the future.

There is no question: the IoT is coming to Africa and African businesses cannot ignore it. For now, having the right mindset to embrace innovation is crucial. Added to this, being aware of the inevitable security challenges, and being able to articulate the return on investment to fellow board members will be key skills when pushing for a new tech ecosystem. For a continent fuelled by its entrepreneurial spirit, the prospect of an IoT enabled future presents an exciting period to come.

Source: African Media Agency.

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Customized Drones Give Pilots an “Out of Body” Racing Experience

Ask Tyler “RaceDayQuads” Brennan what first-person-view drone racing feels like, and his eyes light up.

“This is like the first week of having a brand new video game—except it lasts forever,” says the 22-year-old drone pilot from Colorado. He says he’s hooked, addicted. And he’s not the only one.

“There’s nothing else like it,” says Ken “Flying Bear” Loo, another avid drone racer. “It’s really immersive and a great experience.”

At the 2016 U.S. National Drone Racing Championships on Governor’s Island in New York City early this month, drone pilots gathered to test their racing chops. Drone racing is one of the first mixed-reality sports, combining virtual and physical worlds. A camera in the nose of the drone streams a live video feed to a set of virtual reality goggles. This first-person-view (FPV) experience gives pilots the sensation that they’re right in the cockpit of an aircraft, dodging through trees and soaring over buildings.

Brennan, like the other pilots gathered on the field, had competed at one of several qualifying events held all over the country, earning the right to race in in the finals. For him, the event represented a last hurrah before heading off to fly actual planes for the U.S. Air Force. But organizers hope that a heightened level of competition—combined with ESPN’s coverage of the event—are signs that the budding two-year-old sport could go mainstream.

While some pilots are drawn in by the adrenaline rush, they often stick around for the engineering. Many start off purchasing a pre-built drone. But as those crash and break, pilots get out their soldering kits, make their own repairs, and start customizing, meaning that the sport is as much about “making” as it is about racing.

In designing their drones, pilots adhere to a fairly minimal set of requirements set by the Drone Sports Association (DSA). According to DSA chief executive Shahand Barati, that’s by design. DSA’s strategy is meant to spur innovation in a sport where the technology is constantly evolving. Pilots design their own frames and then cut them out of carbon fiber; they hand pick all of their components—including flight controllers and motors—and then test everything themselves until they hit upon a version that fits their unique flying style.

Take “Zoe FPV” Stumbaugh for example. She got her first taste of the thrill of drone racing when medical complications got in the way of her original passion, riding motorcycles. The rush of flying like a bird, without having to leave her seat, was the perfect substitute.

But her love of flying quickly developed into a passion for tinkering.

“When I got into the hobby I didn’t know how to solder anything together,” she said. “Now I’m soldering all my own equipment, I’m programming all my own equipment. I’m working with manufacturers to develop new product for the market—stuff that doesn’t exist yet.”

For “Flying Bear” Loo, this freedom to hack and tinker is a major draw. He says designing and optimizing drones is a perfect complement to his day job designing consumer gadgets. It has given him the opportunity to try out new skills such as programming firmware and software—skills that then augment his professional work.

“I burn up all my vacation time, and my team members think I’m crazy,” Loo says. “But it’s something I love to do, so I’m just going to keep doing it and having fun.”

Credits: Special thanks to SFPV and Flying Bear for use of their footage; Music: Night Rave by AudionautixOriginal Link

Episode 71: Don’t panic over IoT hacks

Ransomware on a connected thermostat. Bluetooth locks that can be opened from a quarter-mile away. Cars that can be controlled at highway speeds. All of this and a Mr. Robot reference await you in this week’s show as I discuss the news from Defcon and BackHat with Beau Woods, the deputy director of the Cyber Statecraft Initiative at the Atlantic Council. Woods’ advice for consumers was surprisingly comforting. And yes, you have heard him before. He appeared on Episode 52 with 9 tips to secure the smart home.

The Staples Connect Hub (plus assorted gadgets) in November 2013. The Staples Connect Hub (plus assorted gadgets) in November 2013.

Before we delve into the insecurities of the internet of things, Kevin Tofel and I discuss the demise of the Staples Connect hub, which hubs we’re currently fans of and updates on several developer tools. We also talk about carriers’ efforts in the IoT, connected car data plans and a new device from Logitech.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Beau Woods, Deputy Director Cyber Statecraft Initiative at the Atlantic Council
Sponsors: Xively and ThingMonk

  • Are hubs like the Highlander? Staples Connect is done!
  • Dev news galore! Particle, MyDevices and Omega2
  • Introducing the Logitech Pop
  • So many hacks at Defcon, but don’t panic.
  • Good security advice for everyone

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Blender for Visual Effects

Video editing and visual effects are two closely related fields. They’re also dominated by expensive proprietary software. There are open-source alternatives to some of these packages, and some of them stand up very well by comparison. Blender and Natron are two outstanding examples of FOSS software that give the big names a run for their money.

Blender was once a commercial package, but the source was opened and given to the community. Since then, it’s enjoyed contributions from hundreds of developers and has an enviable collection of powerful features. As a community project, the addition of new features is driven by the needs of the users.

In fact, many professionals favor Blender over the likes of Maya. Blender isn’t just a copycat—it’s designed with productivity in mind. It’s packed with shortcuts and hotkeys that make it possible to become productive quickly. But with so much power hidden away behind arcane invocations, it can be rather difficult for newcomers.

During the past several years, the Blender Foundation has put a lot of effort into Blender. The goal has been to make it a serious tool for CGI, post-production and visual effects. It has funded several open film projects to showcase the tool’s abilities and to provide resources for the community.

But while the power is there, it can be hard to learn. To say there is a steep learning curve is more than an understatement. The impressive examples together with Blender’s wide availability has led millions of people to download it and take it for a spin. Often this leads to a long and productive partnership, but there also are many cases where aspiring VFX artists crash and give up.

Clearly, there’s a need for more training resources. And, that’s why Sam Vila’s new book Blender for Visual Effects is so welcome.

The book follows the format of an extended tutorial, guiding the reader through a single project. It’s a real-world project from the author’s portfolio. Along the way, many features are exposed, and the reader learns how to use them in a real post-production workflow.

The book covers many important techniques, including tracking, rendering and composition. Blender is undeniably powerful, but it does have its own idiosyncrasies and some weaknesses. The book highlights these and teaches the student how to work with and around these issues.

Blender is an amazingly productive tool when you know how to work with it, rather than against it. Much like vim, it can be frustrating at first, then liberating. Without a good guide, it’s a dizzying mass of confusion.

Vila’s book peels away the confusion and reveals the joy of working the Blender way.

Blender for Visual Effects is available in print or as an ebook. You can read more here.

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New Version of GParted

Back in my Windows days, disk maintenance was a task that filled me with dread. I remember the endless hours spent scanning, defragmenting and scanning again. And partitioning the hard disk always held a special terror for me—I’d heard too many stories of hard drives bricked when Windows decided to reboot at a critical point in the process.

Life on Linux has been much less stressful. The modern filesystems have made endless defragging a thing of the past for me, and partitioning is much simpler too. There are many options when it comes to disk maintenance, but GParted is one of my favorites. I use it on all my machines.

GParted is a nice tool for managing disk partitions in Linux. It’s very powerful, but the interface is simplicity itself. The live version is OS-independent. You can use it on most computers that can boot from a USB drive or CD—just plug the USB or CD in to the machine and reboot. Instead of loading the operating system, you get GParted, all by itself.

This is especially useful if you’re trying to fix a Windows PC after one too many blue screens or if you’re partitioning a hard drive before installing an OS.

Even if your computer is running smoothly, running GParted live from a USB stick or CD is the best way to access all the features. Also, you won’t have to worry about permissions or other processes competing for processor resources. With less disk activity going on at the same time, there’s less risk of something going horribly wrong.

The latest version of GParted Live tackles a couple issues that were causing crashes. One issue involves certain BIOSes that failed to boot the app. Another issue involved FAT32 volumes—a bug in the libparted library sometimes would cause the app to choke and die. This now has been addressed, although the developers are asking users to check that Windows recognizes the new partitions.

Another bizarre bug involved missing GUI elements when the app was run inside VirtualBox. The window bars were reported as missing, but they’re back now!

The current release has been tested on multiple BIOSes, virtualization environments, and architectures. It works with NVIDIA and Intel graphics. You can download an ISO image for your target architecture. There are several options covering the most common configurations available here.

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Protecting privacy in genomic databases

Genome-wide association studies, which try to find correlations between particular genetic variations and disease diagnoses, are a staple of modern medical research.

But because they depend on databases that contain people’s medical histories, they carry privacy risks. An attacker armed with genetic information about someone — from, say, a skin sample — could query a database for that person’s medical data. Even without the skin sample, an attacker who was permitted to make repeated queries, each informed by the results of the last, could, in principle, extract private data from the database.

In the latest issue of the journal Cell Systems, researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Indiana University at Bloomington describe a new system that permits database queries for genome-wide association studies but reduces the chances of privacy compromises to almost zero.

It does that by adding a little bit of misinformation to the query results it returns. That means that researchers using the system could begin looking for drug targets with slightly inaccurate data. But in most cases, the answers returned by the system will be close enough to be useful.

And an instantly searchable online database of genetic data, even one that returned slightly inaccurate information, could make biomedical research much more efficient.

“Right now, what a lot of people do, including the NIH, for a long time, is take all their data — including, often, aggregate data, the statistics we’re interested in protecting — and put them into repositories,” says Sean Simmons, an MIT postdoc in mathematics and first author on the new paper. “And you have to go through a time-consuming process to get access to them.”

That process involves a raft of paperwork, including explanations of how the research enabled by the repositories will contribute to the public good, which requires careful review. “We’ve waited months to get access to various repositories,” says Bonnie Berger, the Simons Professor of Mathematics at MIT, who was Simmons’s thesis advisor and is the corresponding author on the paper. “Months.”

Bring the noise

Genome-wide association studies generally rely on genetic variations called single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs (pronounced “snips”). A SNP is a variation of one nucleotide, or DNA “letter,” at a specified location in the genome. Millions of SNPs have been identified in the human population, and certain combinations of SNPs can serve as proxies for larger stretches of DNA that tend to be conserved among individuals.

The new system, which Berger and Simmons developed together with Cenk Sahinalp, a professor of computer science at Indiana University, implements a technique called “differential privacy,” which has been a major area of cryptographic research in recent years. Differential-privacy techniques add a little bit of noise, or random variation, to the results of database searches, to confound algorithms that would seek to extract private information from the results of several, tailored, sequential searches.

The amount of noise required depends on the strength of the privacy guarantee — how low you want to set the likelihood of leaking private information — and the type and volume of data. The more people whose data a SNP database contains, the less noise the system needs to add; essentially, it’s easier to get lost in a crowd. But the more SNPs the system records, the more flexibility an attacker has in constructing privacy-compromising searches, which increases the noise requirements.

The researchers considered two types of common queries. In one, the user asks for the statistical correlation between a particular SNP and a particular disease. In the other, the user asks for a list of the SNPs in a particular region of the genome that correlate best with a particular disease.

In the first case, the system returns a widely used measure of correlation called a p-value. Here, the p-value would be modified — augmented or reduced by some random factor — in order to ensure privacy.

In the second case, the system has some chance of returning not the top-scoring SNPs in a given region, but several of the top-scoring SNPs and maybe one or two lower-scoring ones. To calculate the probability that a given SNP will make it into the results, the researchers use a measure called the Hamming distance, which indicates how far away a lower-scoring SNP is from the one that it’s replacing. This turns out to yield more useful results than relying on the p-value. Finding an efficient algorithm for calculating Hamming distances on the fly is one of the system’s chief innovations.

Ironing out differences

The other is that the system corrects for a problem common in population genetics called population stratification. “The standard example is that a particular SNP is closely linked to being lactose intolerant,” Simmons explains. “Let’s say that people in East Asia are more likely to be lactose intolerant than someone in, say, Northern Europe. But also Northern Europeans tend to be taller than people from East Asia. A naive method would suggest that this particular SNP has an effect on height, but it’s really a false correlation.”

The researchers’ algorithm assumes that the largest variations in a given population are the results of differences between subpopulations, filters those differences out, and hones in on the ones that remain.

“Since Homer’s attack in 2008, the biomedical community has been debating to what extent and to whom genomic and phenotypic databases should be made accessible,” says Jean-Pierre Hubaux, a professor of computer science at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, referring to a paper by Nils Homer, then a graduate student at the University of California at Los Angeles, on determining whether a given person’s genetic data is present in a database. “In parallel, Cynthia Dwork and other computer scientists have developed the concept of differential privacy, the theory of which is now well-understood. The authors of this paper make a crucial contribution, because they provide concrete examples of how differential privacy can be used to protect the privacy of genome-wide association studies in heterogeneous human populations. Hopefully, this will encourage the biomedical community to test this promising approach at large scale and, if it’s successful, define best practices and develop related tools.”

Topics: Research, Big data, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Computer science and technology, Data, Mathematics, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Medicine, Genetics, Health care, Privacy, School of Science, School of Engineering

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Tor Is Released

The latest version of the Tor project was released this week, offering greater security and anonymity to individuals and organizations. Here’s why you should care.

Once upon a time, worrying about government surveillance was a sure sign of paranoia. Unless you were building bombs or stealing secrets, the spies and spooks couldn’t be bothered.

Today, governments can and do spy on all of us. Technology makes it possible—automated systems sift through our internet traffic, voice calls are monitored, and SMS messages are intercepted regularly. The cost of violating privacy has come down to the point where it isn’t just viable—it’s routine.

It’s always been dangerous for citizens in oppressive regimes to speak out against their governments. Dictators have a bad track record for handling criticism. Today, there are countries where simply looking at information can lead to an arrest or worse.

Although it’s easy to imagine such things happening overseas, the risk is much closer than you may think. Click on a link to the wrong website, and you’re tagged. Search for ISIS news, and you’re marked as a “radicalized menace”. Send the bomb emoji once too often, and you’ve had it.

And if that wasn’t enough, cyber-criminals also are getting in on the act. With so much private information passing through our devices, they make a juicy target.

Security and privacy are fundamental rights, and without them, life is pretty harsh. So it’s in all our interests to protect them.

Which brings me back to Tor. While technology has increased the threat to many of our liberties, it also offers solutions. Tor is one such solution.

Tor circumvents many of the mechanisms that governments and others use to track your online actions. Normally, when you browse the web, your computer sends a steady stream of HTTP requests to your ISP and through multiple routers. These requests identify your machine and the server to which you’re connecting. They are logged and can be monitored.

Now the content of the requests can be secure. If you visit a site with an https:// address, both sides will encrypt the information to protect your privacy. But the client and server still are visible in the request header.

For instance, if you posted some information to WikiLeaks, the content of that post would be encrypted. It would be safe from prying eyes, but those eyes would know that you posted something.

This information is visible as the request makes its way through the internet. Internet packets pass through many points before they reach their destination. That’s how the internet works. Each step along the way is another point where data could be collected.

Tor offers a solution by hiding the source and destination under multiple layers of encryption. It uses its own decentralized network to forward requests and responses so they remain private.

And even if one of the Tor nodes is compromised, the sender and recipient still are protected. The entire message is encrypted so that only the last node in the circuit can read it. The layers of encryption are like the layers of the onion, and that’s why it’s referred to as onion routing.

Tor is essential for people in oppressed countries, organizations transferring sensitive data and journalists. But it isn’t perfect. Cyber-criminals and intelligence agencies constantly are looking for exploits and weaknesses. That’s why it’s essential that the Tor developers keep working on the project to patch the holes and improve the performance.

The latest release contains more than 300 individual fixes and improvements—it’s the result of months of work. The bootstrapping process has been overhauled for faster performance. The security keys for relays are stronger. And the code is now more thoroughly tested than before. The Tor team also has collaborated with Debian developers to offer better protection to their users.

If you want to read more about the changes that have gone into this new version, check out the changelog.

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Builders of satellites large and small
 must work together to benefit science

In recent years, large satellite and small satellite companies have made groundbreaking technology advancements for the benefit of industry. Today, however, there is a divide between the two due, I believe, to each side feeling slightly threatened by the other. New mission-relevant technology, lower costs and faster turnaround times are available through smallsat integrators, and yet the larger satellite providers have a long legacy of proven technology that works, technology that we already use regularly in our daily lives. Both sides have come so far that it would be a shame for us to miss the opportunity to cooperate and use our abilities and knowledge to make a real difference to the world.

“Current smallsat programs represent enormous potential to advance the satellite industry as a whole. We must allow these newer companies to continue to innovate in a way that allows everyone to capitalize on this evolution.”

— Marco Villa

Large satellite manufacturers ruled the industry for decades, providing life-altering information and findings. Conversely, the small satellite industry has served as a catalyst for change — significantly reducing price points and timelines and making space more accessible to scientists and business people alike. Today, most of the world’s satellite funding is invested in large, space-based communications and scientific platforms. However, one cannot disregard the fact that more and more scientific and commercial applications that can only be enabled by smaller platforms are being financed at an ever-increasing rate.

Nanosats and other types of small satellites have pioneered the use of industrial (i.e. non-space-rated) components in space missions for the last 15 years, resulting in missions that can have rapid development timelines and inherently lower costs. The community is now facing a great deal of stress from performance expectations, however, and is rapidly recognizing that it needs new and dedicated principles to apply to development projects hat cannot be managed the same way as traditional projects.

Both communities are moving toward a “hosted partnership” architecture, where satellite developers are partnering with commercially focused companies to demonstrate sustainable, space-based business opportunities. Additionally, there is an increasing recognition of the advantages of standardizing platforms while leveraging more high-performing payloads, often developed for a wide variety of environments. This has yielded developments where the primary risk is not in the design phase, but rather, is shifted to the integration and testing phase. These are risks that have already been encountered by large satellite manufacturers that are often pushed to integrate multiple payloads into their buses. As such, there are lessons to be learned from the legacy processes of these larger satellite companies.

Current smallsat programs represent enormous potential to advance the satellite industry as a whole. We must allow these newer companies to continue to innovate in a way that allows everyone to capitalize on this evolution. We must be able to experiment with and adopt these evolutionary approaches in technology, processes and innovative cost structures that will allow aerospace to close the gap that currently exists with other high-technology sectors.

Although the smallsat industry has made a real difference in the advancement of allowing science to reach it’s full potential, we can’t do it alone. This is why I propose a call for both small and large satellite manufacturers to work together — versus in competition — to combine legacy knowledge and new technology/miniaturization to benefit commercial, civil and defense customers. It’s time to let go of ego and focus on new and improved ways to maximize mission success by combining best practices and lessons learned from both sides. Only then will we see more affordable, highly dependable programs across the globe.

Tyvak_Marco_VillaMarco Villa is chief operating officer of Tyvak Nanosatellite Systems. He will be discussing the need for large and small sat convergence with Rob Schwarz, SSL’s executive director of spacecraft engineering, and Clay Mowry, president of Arianespace Inc., during the “Small Sat’s Big Impact on Larger Sat” panel discussion Aug. 8 at the 30th Small Satellite Conference in Logan, Utah. 

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Episode 70: Distributed computing comes to the smart home

Wearables make a return to the podcast with Philips’ news of a suite of medical-grade devices to measure health. Plus, I give my impressions of the UnderArmor Fitness box after a few months living with it. Kevin Tofel and I also talk about Black Hat and IoT security, including a $9.4 million grant to study the electromagnetic noise made by hacked devices as a means of detecting hacks. There’s also new lighting tech from Philips on the Hue light bulb side! We end our segment with a first look at the Brita water pitcher connected to the Amazon Fulfillment service.

The Plum light switches in their package. The switches cost $289 for three. The Plum light switches in their package. The switches cost $289 for three.

Our guest is Utz Baldwin, the CEO of Plum, the maker of a Wi-Fi light pad. Smart home aficionados will appreciate the quality Wi-Fi light pad that accepts dimming and other commands, while nerds will be excited by the fact that this light switch runs Erlang and acts as a node for a distributed compute network in the home. Baldwin also is the former head of CEDIA, which means he gives a professional installer’s point of view on DIY smart home devices. You’ll enjoy this episode!

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Utz Baldwin, CEO of Plum
Sponsors: Xively and ThingMonk

  • Thoughts on Philips’ new consumer medical device suite
  • Thoughts on UnderArmour’s products
  • Brita’s Amazon Dash water pitcher in the real world
  • How a CEDIA president views the smart home today
  • Why the smart home needs a fog

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John Fernández: Growing grassroots for sustainability on campus and abroad

John Fernández ’85 is not interested in overleaping boundaries so much as erasing them. The MIT professor, who was recently named director of the Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI), started out as a child who loved math and art, and saw no reason to keep them separate.

“What brought me to MIT was my love of math. But I had always loved to draw, too, and I found sketching and the arts super interesting.”

The “happy medium,” as Fernández calls it, for a student like him was architecture and design — the subject he ended up studying, and later teaching, at MIT.

“I have always been most excited by creating an environment where there are no boundaries between disciplines,” he says. “In architecture, the most important boundary to dismiss is that boundary between design and technology or science. For me there is no boundary there. It’s all the same thing.”

Architecture is also what brought Fernández to the topic of sustainability. The period when he was studying architecture in school coincided with the rise of the green building movement. The United States Green Building Council had just been formed — the organization that would soon introduce the voluntary LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification process, the most widely used third-party verification system for sustainable building in the world.

Today, this interest in sustainability and architecture has grown from a focus on buildings into an interest in the cities in which they’re housed. Fernández studies urban resource flows, also known as “urban metabolism.” Since starting the Urban Metabolism Group at MIT a decade ago, Fernández has conducted research in several cities across the globe, including Lima, Manila, Los Angeles, New York, Lisbon, and Boston.

This research on sustainability played a large part in Fernández’s selection in October 2015 as director of ESI, succeeding Susan Solomon, the Ellen Swallow Richards Professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, who served as the initiative’s founding director.

ESI’s focus is environmental and social sustainability at all scales, from campus-wide to worldwide. In a previous announcement of the new appointment, Solomon emphasized Fernández’s international research on urban sustainability as a major asset to ESI but explained that he also brings much more to the initiative. Fernández, she said, “has a deep understanding of MIT’s strengths across a very diverse suite of environmental challenges, and he brings a clear commitment to excellence and breadth.”

This breadth becomes clear when Fernández describes his vision for ESI. “There is enormous potential on campus to greatly expand in many different ways MIT’s engagement with the environment, both locally and regionally, but also to extend MIT’s role as a critical global player.”

According to Fernández, “research, education, and convening” are the pillars in ESI’s next phase as an organization. He’s looking forward to working with the MIT Energy InitiativeOffice of SustainabilityClimate CoLabJoint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, and others on campus engaged in solving challenges at the intersection of energy, environment, and climate change. Fernández knows that participating in “strong, deep, and sustained conversations” will continue to propel MIT forward as a leader in these areas.

On the research front, a key ESI activity is providing seed funding for highly multidisciplinary projects that can be difficult to fund through traditional channels. In fall 2015, ESI awarded nine seed grants for research focusing on topics including sustainable consumption in cities, safe mining on land and at sea, and mitigating global climate change. The initiative expects to launch another round of seed grants in fall 2016.

In terms of education, says Fernández, “We want to expand the undergraduate and graduate students’ exposure to environmental topics as part of their education, as part of the offerings that are available for their courses and their individual research.” ESI is now designing an environment and sustainability minor for undergraduates, in consultation with faculty and students across the Institute.

In Fernández’s view, MIT students are central to all ESI efforts. Part of the importance of focusing on students, he says, lies in engaging them to catalyze change. “We want to create a pathway from learning and research to action,” he explains. “Many of the most promising modes of action are student-driven.”

Measuring cities’ sustainability

In Fernández’s own research on urban metabolism, the action that stems from the data is also important. Fernández and his fellow researchers are trying to “establish a typology, or classification, of urban resource consumption.” In Fernández’s words, “The idea is that all cities are different, but we wondered whether you could group cities in clusters depending on their urban resource consumption.” To bring this about, Fernández and his team ran a statistical study and developed a global urban resource consumption profile. This profile, in turn, informed a computational model that enables city leaders to visualize their cities’ resource needs and utilize materials and energy in the most efficient, sustainable way possible.

Research on this model is part of what has made Fernández’s travel destinations over the past decade so free-ranging: He aims to understand, and help others to understand, resource consumption on a global scale. The timescales he thinks in are similarly large. “One thought experiment we run is to imagine what pre-fossil-fuel-era cities’ resource intensity was,” he says. “If we want to have a post-fossil-fuel future, we can also look to the past for clues as to what that looks like.”

There is no one answer. Fernández is quick to point out that development needs vary greatly between what he refers to as “the global north and global south.” This means that the ideal definition of urban sustainability varies, too. “In the north, standout cities are those that have begun to shift their existing infrastructure toward decarbonization and deep resource efficiency, including better water management and waste management systems,” he says. “In the developing global south, model cities are those that are leapfrogging 20th century urban models to take advantage of renewable energies and decentralized and modular technologies and systems.”

On top of this, Fernández says, it’s important to remember that the most important measure of a city’s sustainability is how it treats its inhabitants. “Development and sustainability must be accomplished in a humane way,” he says. “The most resource-efficient cities on the planet — the ones that run themselves with the fewest resources — are also the least humane cities because they essentially underserve their populations. We need to couple sustainable development with lifting people to humane living standards.”

At home with students

On campus, director of ESI isn’t Fernández’s only new position. He was recently made head of Baker House, meaning that he acts as a faculty presence within that slice of the student community, albeit “one who is never going to grade you.” Fernández and his family live in an apartment attached to the dorm, and he holds weekly events with the students. “Being head of house means you’re someone students can bounce ideas off of and have an intellectual relationship with, but the evaluation piece goes away. That’s really nice, because that cuts through the anxiety and the stress.”

Being head of Baker also gives Fernández a chance to partner with interested students on small-scale sustainability projects. One example, he says, is a form of dorm-scale indoor farming. The incentive, he says, is not just to have herbs and vegetables at the ready for cooking, but also “for the mental health benefits of having plants around.”

The personal growth of students is important to Fernández for several reasons. What he finds most exciting about teaching, he says, is “the full cycle. Seeing students going from the classroom out into the world within just a couple years, practicing in their fields and in many cases becoming champions of a better world — that’s the most rewarding part of teaching.”

This article appears in the Spring 2016 issue of Energy Futures, the magazine of the MIT Energy Initiative.

Topics: Faculty, Architecture, ESI, MIT Energy Initiative, Research, Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, Climate CoLab, Environment, Mathematics, Sustainability, Design, Alumni/ae, Urban studies and planning, Climate change, Student life, Profile

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How to Detect a GPS Spoof on a Superyacht

In a live demo, a detector deploys direction-of-arrival sensing to alert users on board a superyacht to GPS spoofing

Every day, smartphone users, cruise ship captains, and airplane pilots rely on the Global Positioning System (GPS) to safely navigate to their destinations. But attackers can dupe a receiver into thinking it’s somewhere that it’s not by imitating signals emitted from the constellation of GPS satellites operated by the U.S. Air Force. With the right know-how, executing such a spoof requires only about $2,000 worth of equipment. This threat is not purely theoretical: Iran once claimed to have used GPS spoofing to divert a highly classified CIA drone from its route to Afghanistan. 

Now, researchers and some manufacturers are developing GPS spoofing detectors to prevent users from being unwittingly steered off course. In June 2014, aerospace engineer Mark L. Psiaki of Virginia Tech (formerly of Cornell University) successfully demonstrated one such spoofing detector on board the White Rose of Drachs, a US $80 million superyacht. His detector used direction-of-arrival sensing, which relies on principles of interferometry to monitor the directions from which GPS signals arrive, and to identify inconsistencies in those angles. It alerted the ship’s crew to a spoofing attack launched as the ship cruised off the coast of Italy. The spoof was coordinated by a group under the direction of Todd E. Humphreys, who leads the Radionavigation Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. 

Read More: Protecting GPS From Spoofers Is Critical to the Future of Navigation

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Better Cloud Storage with ownCloud 9.1

A new version of ownCloud community edition has been released, and it brings a number of important updates, new features and security improvements. The result is a more useful and safe environment for collaboration and cloud storage.

OwnCloud is an open-source alternative to commercial services like Dropbox and Google Drive. It offers complete control over the environment, and the only storage limit is the physical size your hard disk.

It’s extremely useful to organizations and individuals. Some people use it to manage files on their home network, but it scales effortlessly to handle large collaborative projects.

Security has been beefed up in the new release thanks to input from PrivacyIDEA. You can use token-based authentication, with full support for device specific tokens. Time-based one-time passwords also are available for even tighter security. Administrators can integrate ownCloud with the Google Authenticator or choose another service.

Users can get real-time updates of all the devices accessing their storage. If they don’t like what they see, they can invalidate the session instantly, blocking unauthorized access.

Tighter security makes ownCloud a more attractive solution for organizations that must share documents over the internet. But, that’s not the only improvement this new version brings.

The Federation feature has been improved, making it easier for distributed teams to collaborate. Federation is a feature that allows users to share files even if they are using different ownCloud installations. For instance, freelance workers with their own installations can share documents hosted on their employer’s server. They can do this through their own interface, which reduces some of the headaches that come with remote work.

Although it always has been possible to share files, it was a little more complex in the past. You had to know the full email address of the file’s owner. Now you can configure ownCloud installations to communicate with each other. You need to know only the owner’s name—the interface will autocomplete the full ID.

OwnCloud’s built-in applications have been upgraded, so users can enjoy new versions of Mail, Calendar and Contacts.

Perhaps the biggest news though is the integration of Collabora Online. Collabora brings the full power of LibreOffice to the web. Users can create and edit documents and spreadsheets in all the usual formats in their web browser (much like Google Docs).

Instead of re-inventing the wheel, Collabora leverages the existing LibreOffice codebase. It runs this code inside a Docker container. Putting the code in a container guarantees it will run (all the dependencies are included in the image). It also simplifies updates.

I’ve covered only a few of the highlights in this post. You can see the full list of updates here.

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Episode 69: Amazon opens up about the Echo

The Amazon Echo is the gateway drug to the smart home for many folks. They start with Alexa and move to shopping for connected lights or outlets. So we brought Charlie Kindel, director of Alexa Smart Home at Amazon, on the show to discuss the Echo’s history, its future and what voice can and cannot do in the home. So turn off your Echo mics for this one because we couldn’t avoid saying “Alexa” for this show.

The Amazon Echo in my kitchen.The Amazon Echo in my kitchen.

Before we get to the Echo, Kevin and I discuss security challenges facing Osram light bulbs and security challenges from connected industries. We also explain why the Thread Group is teaming up with the OCF and what it means for developers. Finally, we discuss if companies should reimburse customers when their connected devices have outages or features are late.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Charlie Kindel, director Alexa Home Services at Amazon
Sponsors: Xively and The Smart Kitchen Summit

  • Outages and security flaws abound
  • The Thread Group and Intel’s Open Connectivity Foundation get together
  • A modest proposal for connected devices
  • You can command August locks from your Amazon Echo
  • Charlie Kindel’s favorite Echo hacks (including one that works with Sonos)

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16.842 Fundamentals of Systems Engineering (MIT)

Don’t show me this again


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Raspberry Pi Zero USB/Ethernet Gadget Tutorial

The Raspberry Pi Zero’s small size isn’t the only thing that makes it an awesome single board computer. Thanks to its ability to be recognized as a USB/Ethernet gadget, you can connect to your Pi from another computer via USB. Power is provided over USB, and your computer’s internet connection is shared over USB too. You […]

The post Raspberry Pi Zero USB/Ethernet Gadget Tutorial appeared first on Circuit Basics.

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Vagus Nerve Stimulation Fights Rheumatoid Arthritis

Surgically implanted bioelectronic devices may one day treat inflammatory conditions with electrical nerve stimulation

Though chronic inflammation occurs all over the body, a team of researchers suspected that the problem might actually originate in the brain. To test this, the researchers, funded by the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, surgically implanted a stimulator that sent pulses of electricity into the vagus nerve, the superhighway of the nervous system.

By electrically stimulating nerve fibers that extend from the brain to the spleen, the researchers successfully treated a small group of patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

The stimulator sent pulses every day for a little over a month. The pulses inhibited the body’s production of certain cytokines, molecules that help regulate immune cells and can cause inflammation. The experimental trial significantly improved arthritis symptoms in the patients in the study, several of whom hadn’t responded to any other available treatment.

This discovery could potentially open up a new landscape of bioelectronic medicines for inflammatory diseases, including Crohn’s, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, replacing pharmaceutical drugs with electricity.

Read more: Scientists Discover How Vagus Nerve Stimulation Treats Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Episode 68: The future of food and ARM’s buyout

Japanese conglomerate SoftBank making an offer to buy chip design firm ARM in a deal worth $32 billion kicks off our show this week, as Kevin and I weigh the merits and opportunities presented by the deal. We then skip over to ZenReach, the Wi-Fi provider that uses Wi-Fi as a means to capture more data about you. Kevin and I share some tips to ensure privacy. On a somewhat related note, the Federal Trade Commission is eyeing the longevity of connected devices and the marketing practices uses to sell them to consumers.

Arable's sensor in the field. Image courtesy of Arable. Arable’s sensor in the field. Image courtesy of Arable.

We also touch on a White House plan for $400 million in “IoT” funding, but it’s really for 5G wireless research, some doorbell camera news and a bit on why your garage door and LED lights might cause interference problems. Then we have a guest who is building a sensor for farmers to discuss how farmers are adopting technology. It’s not actually the farmers doing the buying in all cases.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guests: Adam Wolf, CEO of Arable Labs
Sponsor: Xively

  • What happens with ARM post-SoftBank?
  • The FTC is not impressed with bricking consumer devices
  • Skybell works with SmartThings and August doorbell disappoints
  • How data changes the business of farming
  • Is more data the future of food?

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High-Tech Jobs on the Ground Keep Egypt’s Economy Flying

Many different advanced skills are required to run an airline. While pilots get most of the attention, the technical and engineering knowledge required to maintain, repair and overhaul (MRO) aircraft engines are equally crucial.

Only highly skilled professionals with advanced training can work on these machines. So as EGYPTAIR works with GE to expand its MRO capabilities to handle the CFM56-7B engine line, it’s also contributing to the country’s economic development by creating high-tech job opportunities for Egyptians.

GE is working with EgyptAir – the only full-service MRO provider in Egypt – through a TrueChoice ™ Materials agreement . CFM is a 50/50 joint company between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines.

GE is providing technical support and consulting for MRO operations, facility readiness, tooling optimization and other necessary services required to achieve facility certification. The new MRO capability is part of EgyptAir Maintenance and Engineering’s determination to grow its MRO business and expand its capabilities with state-of the-art technology to emerge as an independent MRO provider for various aircraft, aircraft engines and components.

“EGYPTAIR Maintenance and Engineering is growing its MRO business and expanding its capabilities with the state-of the-art technology to be an independent MRO provider for various aircraft, aircraft engines and components. We look forward to working with GE to enhance our CFM56-7B MRO capability and be a major player in the MRO industry and more,” said Abou Taleb, Chairman of Egypt Air’s Maintenance and Engineering Company.

With their intention for deeper cooperation, EGYPTAIR and GE agreed they will study the possibilities of operating EGYPTAIR engine shop together as a center of Excellence in the region. Established in 1932 as the seventh carrier in the world, EGYPTAIR operates 80 aircraft with 60 percent of the fleet powered by GE and CFM* engines. The carrier flies to more than 75 destinations around the world and is a member of the Star Alliance.

“This agreement will further strengthen our partnership with EGYPTAIR which extends to over 35 years,” said Isam Moursy, Vice President of Regional Sales for GE Aviation in Africa. “This a true testament of how we can continue working with our partners to drive localization in Egypt and build local capability and know-how. EGYPTAIR is one of the world’s pioneer airlines, and our collaboration on MRO efforts will continue in the airline’s long tradition of entrepreneurial endeavors.”

The TrueChoice suite of engine maintenance offerings for commercial aviation industry emphasizes the breadth and depth of capabilities and customization across the entire engine lifecycle.

More than 550 employees work in Egypt with GE . The company operates across a variety of industries, where it is creating job opportunities for Egyptians and continues to invest in building local talent and talent management. GE began this journey in Egypt in 1974 , and by helping its customers address their most difficult challenges, GE is continuing to deliver better outcomes for Egypt by speaking the language of industry. This includes the aviation sector, where GE technology powers 60% of EgyptAir’s 80-aircraft fleet.

This version of the article first appeared on GE Hewar Blog

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‘Telecoms Sector Improving Africa’s GDP’

By Adeyemi Adepetun
For Nigeria and other sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries to wriggle out of their current economic challenges, the need for governments to focus more on telecommunications sector has been stressed.

This is even as it has been adequately established that there is strong correlation between telecommunications sector and the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) growth rate in Africa.

Speaking at the weekend in Lagos, at the 12th Nigerian Telecom Lecture and Awards, the Executive Vice-Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta, said in a period where Africa is burdened by poverty and debts, telecommunications has become one of the key sources of improving the GDP of the African economies.

Danbatta said currently, telecommunications and ICT contribute up to 10 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP.

He disclosed that during his recent visit to the Governor of Kano State, Alhaji Umar Ganduje, while referencing a report from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), which put the contributions of the telecommunications sector to the GDP at N1.4 Trillion in the first quarter of 2016, said “this is a positive indication that more investments, more deployments and more economic activities around the sector will continue to impact positively in the sector.

“However, it was good reason for various agencies of government, and governments at all levels in Africa, to show greater understanding and support for to the quest by various regulators in Africa to improve the telecommunications environment.”

Juxtaposing the effect of broadband on GDP, Danbatta posited that there have been global expectations of the impacts of broadband and efforts by various countries to achieve fast deployment of broadband infrastructure are currently on.

“We all know that Broadband is an enabler of other economic and human activities. The World Bank and the International Telecommunications Union, ITU, have made recommendations about broadband that cannot be ignored by any progressive telecommunications regulator”, he said.

According to him, the Broadband Commission, while emphasizing its importance for future economic development of every nation, referred to the World Bank research that indicates that, “for high-income countries, a 10-percentage-point rise in broadband penetration adds a 1.21-percentage point rise in economic growth – or an added 1.38 percentage points for low- and middle-income countries. This is more than any other type of communication service.”

Danbatta pointed out that this was one of the reasons why broadband is on the top of the eight-point agenda of the NCC under his leadership.

The NCC EVC posited that he believes many African countries are giving serious thoughts and actions towards the provision of broadband to make it available, accessible and affordable for the citizens of the continent, and in the process, impact positively to their national economies.

According to him, in Nigeria, the target is already set for 30 per cent penetration in 2018, against the current 10 per cent penetration across the country.

He said plans are already in place, which includes the licensing of fibre infrastructure providers in the remaining five geopolitical zones of South West, South East, South South, North West, and NorthEast.

“Two companies are already licensed for North Central and Lagos, which is considered a zone on its own right as the commercial capital of this country with huge demands for telecom services. We have successfully sold some slots of frequencies in the 2.6GHz Spectrum Band, and will continue to commit efforts towards efficient management of resources to achieve the various targets expanding the frontiers of broadband and improving the telecommunications sector”, he stated.

Danbatta said Africa is still very promising for investments, stressing that telecommunications investors have huge opportunities to explore the African continent, which still has huge potentials for returns on investment.

According to him, the developed parts of the world are almost saturated with different types of telecommunications services. “Therefore, Africa stands a chance to make desirable impact in the next few years if we get our plans right. Therefore, this is another opportunity to advice fellow regulators that we need to keep our eyes on the ball for the benefit of the continent’s faster development”, he stated.

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Can Snapchat Help Us Tell the Stories of Survivors of Sexual Violence?

By Dana Da Silva
Former eNCA journalist, and recently appointed mobile editor of the Hindustan Times, Yusuf Omar, has received huge plaudits for his creative storytelling abilities. And for good reason too. Most recently Omar, used Snapchat filters to tell the stories of rape survivors.

Snapchat has cleverly employed technology to allow its users to transform themselves into a dog, fire-breathing dragon, lion and other creatures with its filters. But Omar, recently found a new way to use this facial mapping technology.

He used the Snapchat filters to film interviews with rape survivors under the age of 18, while covering a Climb Against Sexual Abuse event, where 50 young people climbed the Chamundi Hills in Mysore, India, as a way of trying to undo the stigmas and taboos around sexual violence. He documented this by only using an iPhone 6 and a selfie stick.

It certainly is a triumph of innovation in journalism but days after the story went live, are we fixating on the technology at the expense of the story itself?

Speaking to The Daily Vox, Omar said he doesn’t think innovation has trumped the journalism.

“I think that if we use this technology as a mechanism to get people talking about these stories, then it’s important. I think it’s about making it relevant to young people’s lives. Young people are on Snapchat and that’s how they understand the world around them, then that’s where we have to tell the story,” he said.

Omar thinks that when a journalist considers the, who, what, where, when, why and how of their story, it should include the technology.

“I think the second half of that conversation has to be, 50% of that conversation, has to be the technology,” Omar said.

And while technology is certainly becoming increasingly relevant to the ways in which we tell stories, it is still crucial for us to probe the ideologies behind our use of technology.

When it comes to stories related to sexual violence, survivors struggle to speak publicly about their experiences. When we ask survivors to recount their experiences, we are inviting them to relive a trauma, but we are also exposing them to people who may not believe what they say. And yet, the rate of sexual violence, in India, as in South Africa, is staggering. Considering then that there is already such a stigma surrounding sexual assault survivors in India, similar to South Africa – shouldn’t we do whatever we can to humanise them and make them more relatable? As journalists should we not be showing that survivors of sexual violence are the very same humans we live among?

“I think that that was my biggest fear in doing this piece on Snapchat, was that people would get perceptions that the survivors were being made into monsters, with this devil-like mask,” Omar said.

In an interview with International Business Times, he said that even though the survivors are wearing masks they are still humanised by their eyes, which provide integrity when a viewer is watching a documentary or a film.

“For the first time you got to see somebody whose identity was hidden but eyes were visible, where you could see that drop of the jaw, the expressions on the forehead. All those details still come through that devil’s mask,” he said.

This isn’t going to be the last time that Omar will be using Snapchat to tell these kinds of stories. “I think the applications for using Snapchat to hide the identity of people in sensitive subject matter, is only just beginning,” he said.

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JuliaCon draws global users of a dynamic, easy-to-learn programming language

“Julia is a great tool.” That’s what New York University professor of economics and Nobel laureate Thomas J. Sargent told 250 engineers, computer scientists, programmers, and data scientists at the third annual JuliaCon held at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

If you have not yet heard of Julia, it is not a “who,” but a “what.” Developed at CSAIL, the MIT Department of Mathematics, and throughout the Julia community, it is a fast-maturing programming language developed to be simple to learn, highly dynamic, operational at the speed of C, and ranging in use from general programming to highly quantitative uses such as scientific computing, machine learning, data mining, large-scale linear algebra, and distributed and parallel computing. The language was launched open-source in 2012 and has begun to amass a large following of users and contributors.

This year’s JuliaCon, held June 21-25, was the biggest yet, and featured presentations describing how Julia is being used to solve complex problems in areas as diverse as economic modeling, spaceflight, bioinformatics, and many others.

“We are very excited about Julia because our models are complicated,” said Sargent, who is also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. “It’s easy to write the problem down, but it’s hard to solve it — especially if our model is high dimensional. That’s why we need Julia. Figuring out how to solve these problems requires some creativity. The guys who deserve a lot of the credit are the ones who figured out how to put this into a computer. This is a walking advertisement for Julia.” Sargent added that the reason Julia is important is because the next generation of macroeconomic models is very computationally intensive, using high-dimensional models and fitting them over extremely large data sets. 

Sargent was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2011 for his work on macroeconomics. Together with John Stachurski he founded, a Julia- and Python-based learning platform for quantitative economics focusing on algorithms and numerical methods for studying economic problems as well as coding skills. 

The Julia programming language was created and open-sourced thanks, in part, to a 2012 innovation grant awarded by the MIT Deshapnde Center for Technological Innovation. Julia combines the functionality of quantitative environments such as Matlab, R, SPSS, Stata, SAS, and Python with the speed of production programming languages like Java and C++ to solve big data and analytics problems. It delivers dramatic improvements in simplicity, speed, capacity, and productivity for data scientists, algorithmic traders, quants, scientists, and engineers who need to solve massive computation problems quickly and accurately. The number of Julia users has grown dramatically during the last five years, doubling every nine months. It is taught at MIT, Stanford University, and dozens of universities worldwide. Julia 0.5 will launch this month and Julia 1.0 in 2017.

Presenters at JuliaCon have included analysts, researchers and data scientists at the U.S. Federal Reserve, BlackRock, MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Intel, Conning, and a number of universities around the world. In addition to a community of 500 contributors, Julia’s co-creators include Alan Edelman, professor of applied mathematics at MIT; Jeff Bezanson SM ’12, PhD ’15; Viral Shah, co-founder of Julia Computing; and Stefan Karpinski, co-founder of Julia Computing.

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Tech Meets Art: Capturing Life with the Eyes of a Machine

The two women make their way painstakingly around the cramped apartment, dancing in sync with each other in a sort of techno-tango. Ziv Schneider steadily passes a discontinued PrimeSense Carmine 3-D scanner over rows of picture frames, pots and pans. Its infrared sensors take in every curve and divot of the tiny studio apartment. Caitlin Robinson tails her, shotgun microphone in hand, carrying the computer that’s tethered to her partner by a USB cable. Their subject, Telma, sits frozen on her living room sofa bed, caught up in an episode of Downton Abbey.

When Schneider and Robinson finish, they’ll have a miniature, egg-like, 3-D printed replica of Telma inside her home—a single moment in the life of an East Village resident that can be held in the palm of your hand.

“When you don’t have five different rooms, then the one room you have—everything in that space—becomes critical to who you are as a person,” says Robinson. “So we wanted to capture that: people’s personalities as they are reflected on the walls.”

Schneider and Robinson set out hoping to document a time in New York City’s history in which more people are choosing to live alone. Capsule Portraits began as a documentary project at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. But the project quickly evolved when the technology itself became an integral part of the creation process.

What began as a very human-centered project spurred a fascinating dialogue between the two artists and their frequently-glitchy gear and software—a dialogue that’s influenced their art in surprising and beautiful ways.

Robinson says she’s come to think of the technology as a third collaborator on the team. “It’s kind of interesting,” she says, “to see the world not through my own eyes, but through the eyes of a machine.”

Schneider and Robinson had originally imagined that the scans would be a virtual environment, static worlds experienced with Google Cardboard or a similar VR platform. However, they quickly realized that the detailed 3-D meshes created by the scans were too data-heavy to be processed by most current mobile devices. So as an experiment, they gave 3-D printing a try, incorporating the “watertight” function of their Skanect 3-D software.

Watertight employs an algorithm that uses the internal structure of the apartment to guess at the external shape so the scan can be closed up into an object and printed. The results were odd: curvy, bumpy, organic-looking shell enclosures with strange, unintended color artifacts. Schneider admits that she didn’t like them at first, but quickly fell in love when she realized how the prints resembled a living creature—a physical representation of the symbiosis between an apartment and its occupant.

Other happy accidents continue to inspire possible future directions for their work. Schneider says the Kinect 1 scanner she uses has trouble with reflective surfaces, for instance, causing the software to make strange guesses about mirrors and what exists on the other side. The result is an Alice in Wonderland-like “world beyond the mirror.”

“It’s fascinating to see the sensor’s interpretation of what might be another reality—or another layer of reality,” says Schneider.

Rather than being frustrated by the now-discontinued hardware and problematic software, Schneider says her biggest worry is actually that its creators will make updates, “fixing” the glitches that she’s come to love so much.

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Episode 67: New Nest gear and a shocking experience

For the first time since it became part of Google/Alphabet, Nest has released a new product. It’s an outdoor camera for home security. But Nest has added a bit of a twist. We discuss the $199 camera and the ideas behind it with Mehul Nariyawala, a product manager who was in charge in building the camera.

The new Nest Cam Outdoor.The new Nest Cam Outdoor.

Before we dig into the deets on Nest, Kevin Tofel and I share this week’s news. First up, Kevin installed an Ecobee 3 and learned some valuable lessons. (This is the Steve Jenkin’s post that Kevin wished he had seen.) And because we felt left out of the general hubbub about Pokemon Go we talked about the game and augmented reality. It probably could have helped Kevin with his install. To make sure we got into the IoT news of the week, we ran down the partnership all-in-one security device Canary signed with an insurance company, GE and AT&T’s partnership with Microsoft Azure and bit more depth on Alibaba’s new smart car. Also, he’s a link to my new favorite app, Lexa.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Mehul Nariyawala of Nest
Sponsors: Xively and wolfSSL

  • Kevin’s shocking Ecobee experience and some good advice
  • Pokemon whoa!The game taking the world by storm
  • Microsoft’s Azure is cleaning up with the enterprise IoT
  • Is this the Nest security product you were looking for?
  • Outdoor cameras are so hot right now!

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SuperTuxKart 0.9.2 Released

Linux gamers all over the world will be happy to hear that a new version of SuperTuxKart is available. This should strike a nostalgic chord to people who have used desktop Linux to play games during the past ten years.

At first glance, it bears more than a passing resemblance to Mario Kart, but it has its own charm. With a number of unique tracks and game modes, the gameplay is quite different (but still very familiar).

SuperTuxKart has been maturing for more than ten years now, but the developers have kept improving the graphics and performance with each new release. Version 0.9.2 also brings several new features and content.

Ghost replays allow you to record a race and then attempt to beat yourself. The AI has been improved, so the computer opponents put up more of a fight during races. Combat mode and soccer mode both benefit from AI upgrades as well.

There also is a new Kart Characteristics feature that allows you to modify the physics characteristics of the karts. You can give yourself a tougher challenge or alter the gravity for comical effects.

Fans who were hoping for networked multiplayer mode will be disappointed as the code isn’t quite ready for production yet. The mode has been coded, but it’s still too glitchy, leading to a bad experience during testing. Hopefully, they’ll iron out the glitches in time for the next release.

This version also includes a couple new race. With a name that reminds me of H. P. Lovecraft, “Antediluvian Abyss” was previously part of the “gift pack” (which I cover shortly). “Volcano Island” is a submission from a new team member.

Additionally, Ozone0ne and Krobonil have lent their musical talents, composing new tunes for several race tracks.

Beneath the hood, there have been several improvements that most users may not notice. For instance, the application now uses TTF fonts, which means it has better support for internationalization. Previously, there were some glyphs that did not render correctly for languages other than English. Now the game can render characters from all of the most common languages.

The SuperTuxKart team also has released plugins for Blender, so you can create your own tracks and game assets. As an open-source project, it’s possible to take an active role in developing the game by creating new race tracks or arenas, or you could help code new features.

The team is looking for sponsors, and it has a special gift for anyone who donates at least $5 to the project. The “gift pack” provides early access to racetracks and arenas that will be released with the next version. These donations help cover the costs of web hosting and fund the development of new features.

SuperTuxKart is a fun diversion. For budding game developers, the source code contains plenty of practical lessons. Contributing to open-source projects is a great way to “learn the ropes.”

With networked multiplayer mode in the pipeline, the next version could become a major time drain!

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Genetically Engineered Rat Cells Make This Robot Stingray Swim

Robots have advanced an enormous amount over the past few years, but they’re nowhere close to the efficiency and capability of animals. One way to avoid playing catch-up is to simply steal everything you can from animals as directly as possible. Which is exactly what a team of researchers, led by Sung-Jin Park and Professor Kevin Kit Parker at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard did.

Why a stingray? Read all the details: A Cyborg Stingray Made of Rat Muscles and Gold

Video and Photo Credits: Sung-Jin Park,  Kyung Soo Park, Karaghen Hudson, and Michael Rosnach

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