This Smart Paint Talks To Canes To Help People Who Are Blind Navigate

ohio state school for the blind

The Ohio State School for the Blind is pioneering new technology that causes canes to vibrate when it touches lines of traffic paint.

The crosswalk on a road in front of the Ohio State School for the Blind looks like one that might be found at any intersection. But the white stripes at the edges are made with “smart paint”–and if a student who is visually impaired crosses while using a cane with a new smart tip, the cane will vibrate when it touches the lines.

The paint uses rare-earth nanocrystals that can emit a unique light signature, which a sensor added to the tip of a cane can activate and then read. “If you pulse a laser or LED into these materials, they’ll pulse back at you at a very specific frequency,” says Josh Collins, chief technology officer at Intelligent Materials, the company that manufacturers the oxides that can be added to paint.

As the company explored how the paint could be used with autonomous cars–the paint could, for example, help a car recognize an intersection or lane, or provide markers that make GPS much more accurate–they realized that the paint could also be useful for people who are blind.

A person who is blind usually relies on the sound of parallel traffic rushing by them on the side to help stay oriented while crossing the street and not veer out of a crosswalk (in some cities, beeping walk signals also help). But that doesn’t always work well, and it’s particularly challenging on streets with less traffic.

“It’s much easier to stay oriented when you can hear those traffic sounds,” says Mary Ball-Swartwout, an orientation and mobility specialist at the Ohio State School for the Blind, who helps teach students skills for navigating. “When we talk about lower-traffic areas, that’s where [smart paint and a smart cane] could really have a lot of use.”

Students at the state-run boarding school, which has a large, enclosed campus in Columbus, Ohio, will help researchers test several crossings with the new paint on the school’s internal streets. The paint, which can be clear or gray on a gray surface so it’s essentially invisible to sighted people, could also be used in other locations. “We’re also thinking about providing them with guidance as they move down a sidewalk or guidance about whether or not they’ve arrived at a bus stop or at a certain destination,” says John Lannuti, a professor of materials science engineering at Ohio State University who connected Intelligent Materials with the School for the Blind.

GPS, which isn’t precise enough to distinguish between a street or a sidewalk–and occasionally doesn’t even recognize the right street–isn’t a foolproof system for navigation. But the paint could help someone identify, for example, if they are standing on the northwest or southwest corner of an intersection, or the exact location of an entrance to a building. The paint could also be used with other navigation tools.

“What we’re envisioning is sort of a Google Maps for the blind, that says, okay, you want to go to the barbershop, and sets a path for you and tells you when you’ve arrived because the cane senses a stripe of paint associated with the barbershop,” Lannuti says. “There may be a point where a smartphone connected to the paint speaks to the user.”

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This Restaurant Robot Is Designed To Help Servers–Not Replace Them

robot serving food

People might not want to eat in a robot-run restaurant, but what if the waiter has a robot that helps them carry your food?

If you order bibimbap at the Kang Nam Tofu House, a Korean restaurant in a strip mall in Milpitas, California, a robot will help your server bring the food to your table. The restaurant is the first the world to use the robot, which was designed not to replace human servers, but to act as an assistant.

“Our goal is to automate the hard part of [restaurant] work, so employees focus more on customer service,” says John Ha, who is both the owner of the restaurant and the co-founder of Bear Robotics, the startup that designed the robot.

Before owning Kang Nam, Ha worked as an engineer at Google. But he was a frequent customer at the mom-and-pop restaurant, and when the previous owner decided to sell, he invested. He got a quick education in the world of restaurant work–filling in for dishwashers and cooks and servers when someone was out sick or quit–and realized that technology could help improve the experience. He decided to build a robot and pilot it first at his own restaurant.

“I realized, why have all the manual labor?” he says. “No one’s really happy. No one’s proud of a restaurant job . . . I thought robots could bring a huge impact to society. So I decided to quit Google, started building the prototype, and now it’s running as a daily operation at my restaurant.”

The small, pedestal-shaped robot, called Penny, is designed to navigate in a restaurant’s crowded, narrow spaces, using sensors to avoid any obstacles. If a customer’s foot is in the robot’s path, the robot will automatically stop. After restaurant staff programmed in the location of each table and the kitchen, the robot made itself a map of the restaurant; now, servers use a tablet to summon the robot whenever food is ready and tell it where to go.

At the Korean restaurant, which is fairly small, there are generally two human servers working, and one robot. One person stands at the kitchen window, loading food onto the robot and prepping side dishes. The other person greets customers, waits on tables, and handles the cash register. The robot goes back and forth, delivering plates and bills.

It’s a dramatic shift from past; Ha says that servers had to adjust to the fact that they were no longer running around, and he had to reassure them that they were still being productive by focusing on customers instead. “Some servers actually walk many miles a day, even in these smaller restaurants, because they’re literally running back and forth to get food that’s ready to go to serve to another table,” says Juan Higueros, Bear Robotics COO. “This actually cuts down on that for them, allows them to interact with the people who are coming, and hopefully allows for more return customers.”

Continue onto Fast Company to read the complete article.

What It Means To Lead An Inclusive City In 2018–And Into The Future

mayor of oakland libby schaaf

In Oakland, Mayor Libby Schaaf is leading the exceptionally diverse city through a period of unprecedented growth and investment–while trying to create an ethos of inclusion.

During a session of Civic I/O, the mayors’ summit at South by Southwest, the mayors of 19 cities around the U.S. gathered to both imagine and plan for their cities’ future challenges. Jake Dunagan, research director at the Institute of the Future, instructed the mayors in thinking like futurists–first assessing problems on the numbers level (for example: not enough housing), then contextualizing them in the prevailing culture to develop solutions that remain sensitive to place while driving change.

The challenge: During a two-hour session, the mayors used an interactive card game developed by the design firm Situation Lab to imagine an artifact–a newspaper headline, a monument, a document, a public service announcement–from their city at some future point.

For Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, though, the future is happening right now. Schaaf is a lifelong Oaklander, and she’s witnessed the city’s rapid transition in the past five years from underinvested to being near the center of tech-industry-driven gentrification and growth.

Oakland is known as one of the most diverse cities in the U.S.; it’s long been a place with a strong multicultural backdrop and was, for decades, largely affordable for anyone who wished to live there. With the effects of the tech industry beginning to spill over from San Francisco and Silicon Valley into its neighbor, that’s no longer the case: Rents have risen consistently in the past several years; a two-bedroom apartment now costs well over $2,000 per month.

Schaaf–who recently made headlines for enraging Donald Trump and heartening activists by tipping immigrant families off to an ICE raid–is acutely aware of what’s happening in her city. “The market forces, the regional impacts of years of adding jobs to the economy without building housing at every income level, those impacts that are decades in the making are coming to roost now,” Schaaf says.

She is determined to maintain affordability across all income levels represented in Oakland, and is pushing for both new development and nonprofit partnerships to expand protections for existing low-income renters. “We are building at a rate we’ve never seen before,” she says. “This year, we’ll finish 3,600 new units of housing–that’s three times our previous record.” That’s a testament to the fact, Schaaf says, that “Oaklanders are very generous voters.” Last year, residents approved two bond measures to finance and build more housing.

But a truly equitable city, Schaaf says, is not possible without equal opportunity for all, regardless of race or economic situation. For Schaaf, that starts with access to education–and with reforming a justice system that has long worked to perpetuate economic and racial inequity in the city.

When Schaaf got up to present her idea for an artifact from the Oakland of the future, she described sentencing slips–not for jail terms, but for school, or community volunteering, or for participating in a local design process.

Continue onto Fast Company to read the complete article.

These Savvy Cities Are Using Tech To Spark Citizen Engagement


In the spring of 2017, the doors to a new type of community center swung open in Louisville, Kentucky. The Gigabit Experience Center, located in the city’s long underserved West End, provided a now critical 21st century public service: free high-speed internet access.

Although an estimated 94% of Americans have web access today, many low-and middle-income families are saddled with a slow and unreliable connection. The Gigabit Center not only alleviates this often overlooked digital inequity but also gives locals an inviting place to meet and share ideas about improving their community.

Located near the banks of the Ohio River, the facility is part of what Grace Simrall, Louisville’s chief of civic innovation and technology has described as a citywide ‘digital inclusion strategy.’ By removing a barrier to high-speed connectivity, the city aims to provide underserved citizens with access to potentially life-altering opportunities online, such as applying for jobs, acquiring new job skills, and earning a degree. With the space, the city is also looking to leverage its local tech talent. At a civic hackathon last year, coders, designers, and urbanists tackled low voter registration and other problems.

Louisville’s Gigabit Center is an example of the types of local projects that are emerging around the globe to foster physical community and citizen engagement in an increasingly digital world. It’s not that city halls are shunning technology. On the contrary, municipalities from Athens, Greece, to Anchorage, Alaska, are fusing the best of analog and digital with the help of institutions such as Cities of Service. The New York City-based independent nonprofit supports mayors and chief executives in more than 235 cities in the United States and United Kingdom in their efforts to involve citizens in developing solutions to local problems. And its Engaged Cities Award, the winners of which will be announced this spring, is the organization’s first annual search for the best and most creative approaches.

“At its core, Cities of Service is focused on helping local leaders connect with their people to diagnose public problems and fix them,” says Myung Lee, executive director of Cities of Service. “Cities that effectively use technology as a tool to support this work are greatly expanding the impact of these efforts.”


The 2008 global financial crisis hit Athens like a wrecking ball. The Greek economy was decimated, and citizens throughout the country endured a combination of austerity measures, tax increases, and massive unemployment. In the immediate aftermath, 98% of Greeks believed government corruption was a major problem. Only 13% trusted their public institutions. Some wondered whether Greece would weather the storm, but a newly energized civil society bloomed. Unable to count on government for even basic services, Athenians stepped up.

“A new type of identity rose in the aftermath of the crisis,” says Amalia Zepou, Athens’s vice mayor for civil society and innovation. “It was defined by spontaneity and improvisation. Those people showed that some of their urgent needs were actually about a sense of ownership of their block or of the park across the street or of how they wanted to introduce visitors to the city.”

Eager to activate that grassroots energy, government officials developed synAthina. A Bloomberg Philanthropies 2014 Mayors Challenge winner, the online platform enables citizen groups to submit projects to a central server where they connect with like-minded groups and the corresponding government agencies. The resulting programs are then tracked on a publicly accessible map.

“We’ve collected almost 3,000 activities on synAthina,” Zepou says. “You can immediately see what citizens are doing in the city, whether that’s beautification projects or cleaning up a park. And the city isn’t just collecting the projects, it’s facilitating them and supporting them.”

Continue onto Fast Company to read the complete article.

Ford Pilots New Exoskeleton Technology to Help Lessen Chance of Worker Fatigue, Injury

ford auto worker

Putting dishes on a high shelf or changing an overhead lightbulb occasionally might not be difficult, but could you imagine performing either of these tasks 4,600 times per day? How about 1 million times a year?

These are the approximate number of times some Ford assembly line workers lift their arms during overhead work tasks. At this rate, the possibility of fatigue or injury on the body increases significantly. But a new upper body exoskeletal tool – the result of a partnership between Ford and California-based Ekso Bionics – helps lessen the chance of injury.

“My job entails working over my head, so when I get home my back, neck and shoulders usually hurt,” said Paul Collins, an assembly line worker at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant. “Since I started using the vest, I’m not as sore, and I have more energy to play with my grandsons when I get home.”

Called EksoVest, the wearable technology elevates and supports a worker’s arms while performing overhead tasks. It can be fitted to support workers ranging from 5 feet tall to 6 feet 4 inches tall, and provides adjustable lift assistance of five pounds to 15 pounds per arm. It’s comfortable to wear because it’s lightweight, it isn’t bulky, and it allows workers to move their arms freely.

Designed and built for dynamic, real-world environments like factories, construction sites and distribution centers, the non-powered vest offers protection and support against fatigue and injury by reducing the stress and strain of high-frequency, long-duration activities that can take a toll on the body over time.

“Collaboratively working with Ford enabled us to test and refine early prototypes of the EksoVest based on insights directly from their production line workers,” said Russ Angold, co-founder and chief technology officer of Ekso Bionics. “The end result is a wearable tool that reduces the strain on a worker’s body, reducing the likelihood of injury, and helping them feel better at the end of the day – increasing both productivity and morale.”

With support from the United Automobile Workers and Ford, EksoVest is being piloted in two U.S. plants, with plans to test in other regions, including Europe and South America.

“The health and safety of our membership has always been our highest priority,” said UAW-Ford Vice President Jimmy Settles. “With the proven success at the piloted locations, we look forward to expanding this technology to our other UAW-Ford manufacturing facilities.”

EksoVest is the latest example of advanced technology Ford is using to reduce the physical toll on employees during the vehicle assembly process. Between 2005 and 2016, the most recent full year of data, the company saw an 83 percent decrease in the number of incidents that resulted in days away, work restrictions or job transfers – to an all-time low of 1.55 incidents per 100 full-time North American employees.

“Our goal has always been to keep the work environment safe and productive for the hardworking men and women we rely on across the globe,” said Bruce Hettle, Ford group vice president, Manufacturing and Labor Affairs. “Investing in the latest ergonomics research, assembly improvements and lift-assist technologies has helped us design efficient and safe assembly lines, while maintaining high vehicle quality for our customers.”

Continue onto Ford’s Newsroom to read the complete article.

This One Simple Thing Can Help You Learn Better

Listening to Music

Next time your dormie tells you to turn the music down, just reply, “it’s helping me learn!” A study by the Stanford University School of Medicine found that listening to music can help the brain focus and organize information.

Listening—And Learning

For decades, researchers have been studying the link between learning and listening to music. The concept was introduced into the popular imagination in the early 1990s, when Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis coined the phrase “the Mozart effect.” The term referred to Dr. Tomatis’ finding that listening to Mozart could temporarily improve performance on certain spatial-temporal reasoning tasks, such as the Stanford-Binet IQ test. People quickly mis-translated the finding to “listening to Mozart makes you smarter,” and a new industry was born: To this day, there are all sorts of “intelligence-boosting” products available that claim to harness the power of Mozart.

The link between music and learning isn’t all hype, however. A 2009 study by Joseph M. Piro and Camilo Ortiz published in the Psychology of Music journal found that children who were exposed to music training performed better on vocabulary and reading comprehension tests than those who were not. The researchers hypothesized that studying music helped the children develop the mental coding systems necessary to learn language. Although they acknowledge that this is only a preliminary study—simply having different language instructors may have led to measurable differences in ability—the project is part of a growing body of research that suggests that music and learning are correlated.

Music Helps the Brain Focus

Enter the research team at the Stanford University School of Medicine. During a study designed to measure how the brain sorts out different events, they stumbled upon a concrete physiological link between the acts of listening to music and learning. The researchers played short symphonies by obscure 18th-century composers to subjects while scanning their brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. The research group found that music “lights up” areas of the brain involved with making predictions, paying attention and committing details to memory.

But don’t switch on that stereo just yet—peak brain activity actually occurred between musical movements. Dr. Vinod Menon, the study’s senior author, noted that “In a concert setting, for example, different individuals listen to a piece of music with wandering attention, but at the transition point between movements, their attention is arrested.” In other words, you get the most brain activity just after, or between, intense musical movements.

“I’m not sure if the baroque composers would have thought of it in this way,” Menon added, “but certainly from a modern neuroscience perspective, our study shows that this is a moment when individual brains respond in a tightly synchronized manner.”

So what does this mean for students? While Stanford hasn’t published a “learning with music” guide just yet, we think it probably can’t hurt to incorporate some tunes into your studying routine. Just remember: Study during the interludes.


Working, Beating Hearts Will Soon Be 3D-Printed From Patients’ Own Cells


Heart cells grown in a lab and assembled in the shape of the organ will eventually start beating in unison–and create a heart for a patient that has a higher chance of success in a transplant than one from another human.

Inside a lab that will open in a couple of months in Chicago, a biotech startup will soon begin perfecting the process of 3D-printing human hearts that could eventually be used in transplants.

“What this is set up to do is to make a patient-specific, fully functioning heart that’s viable for transplant, using the patient’s own cells,” says Stephen Morris, founding partner and CEO of the startup, Biolife4D.

The process combines several steps that have been developed by various researchers in university labs. First, a patient’s heart will be scanned using an MRI machine to create a digital image of the heart’s shape and size. Next, doctors will take a blood sample. Using techniques that have been developed over the last decade, the blood cells will be converted into stem cells–and then converted a second time into heart cells. Those new heart cells will be combined with nutrients in a hydrogel to make a “bio-ink” that can be used in a specialized 3D printer.

Printing one layer at a time, with a biodegradable scaffolding to keep everything in place, the cells can be formed into the exact shape of the patient’s original heart. The new heart will be moved to a bioreactor to strengthen it. Amazingly, new heart cells outside a body will begin to self-assemble.

“When we’re done ‘bioprinting,’ we have something that looks like a heart, but it’s just individual cells in proper places,” says Morris. “Within a couple of days, the cells just know . . . ‘I’m a heart cell, you’re a heart cell, we’re supposed to join together and start beating.’ And they do that.”

Continue onto Fast Company to read the complete article. is bringing computer education to Alaska Airlines’ in-flight entertainment

LinkedIn has partnered with Alaska Airlines to offer free educational videos on how computers and the Internet work, CEO Hadi Partovi wrote in a blog post.. The video series, which stars Microsoft founder Bill Gates and other industry leaders, will be available beginning in April on Alaska Airlines flights.

“Whether you use a PC, a smartphone, a wearable device, a connected home appliance, or a self-driving car, the same principles explain how all these computing devices function,” says Bill Gates. “In the 21st century, these computer science ideas are part of digital literacy that every student and adult can benefit from.”

The series entails short lessons on binary and data, circuits and logic, CPU, memory, input and output, and hardware and software. The series is designed to be easy for everyone to understand, Partovi wrote.

In addition to making them available on airlines, will integrate the videos into its middle and high school curriculum. They will also be available on Khan Academy, a startup that offers computer science education, and tools for parents and teachers.

“With hubs up and down the “Tech Coast”, we’re both witnessing and leveraging the innovations that we see occurring every day in our own backyard,” says David Scotland, Manager of Inflight Entertainment & Connectivity at Alaska Airlines. “’s new series is an entertaining and approachable way for us all to gain a basic awareness of how computers work. We’re pleased to offer over 40 million guests the opportunity to view’s new video series inflight through our partnership.”

Continue onto Tech Crunch to read the complete article.

NewME, A Pioneer in Tech Diversity

NewME Angela Benton

Founded in 2011 by Angela Benton, NewME has accelerated hundreds of entrepreneurs through their online platform, residential “boot-camp” accelerators and equity portfolio. They pioneered diversity in Silicon Valley by focusing on helping entrepreneurs identify strengths from their non-traditional backgrounds and leveraging them in business. They’ve helped hundreds of entrepreneurs build better businesses some of whom have raised venture capital funding ($25+MM to be exact).

NewME has announced the relocation of its headquarters from Silicon Valley to Miami with $191,000 in support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The support will also help NewME expand existing programming focused on providing entrepreneurs with the advice, skills and access to resources that will support their success. By expanding its programming, NewME aims to improve the success of black-led startups through mentorship, coaching and community convenings. Through the program, black entrepreneurs and their businesses will further learn from and be exposed to angel and venture capital investors, along with NewME’s professional investor network.

NewME will target both local and global talent through weekly programming and monthly events, and connect them to online resources through the NewME platform. In addition, the accelerator will host quarterly one-week residential boot camps, which bring together a select group of tech entrepreneurs from around the world; industry experts then work with entrepreneurs to help accelerate their businesses. Additionally, NewME will hire a Miami-based program manager who will support the growth and sustainability of local black and other underrepresented minority-owned businesses.

“Relocating NewME to Miami was a natural choice given its diverse makeup,” says Angela Benton, founder of NewME. “Miami is already an international hub for innovation and the local community is rich with talent. I’m excited to continue my work with NewME in our new, inclusive home.”


A 14-Year-Old Made An App To Help Alzheimer’s Patients Recognize Their Loved Ones


After watching her grandmother struggle to remember her own family members, the young coder Emma Yang decided to figure out how to use AI and facial recognition to help her–and others coping with the illness.

When Emma Yang was 7 or 8 years old, her grandmother became increasingly forgetful. Over the next few years, those memory problems, caused by early Alzheimer’s disease, worsened. Yang, who learned to code at an early age, decided to create an app to help.

“I have personal experience with how the disease can affect not only the patient, but also family and friends. When I was about 11 or 12, I got really interested in using technology for social good to help other people around the world,” says Yang, who is now 14.

In her app under development, called Timeless, Alzheimer’s patients can scroll through photos of friends and family, and the app will tell them who the person is and how they’re related to the patient using facial recognition tech. If a patient doesn’t recognize someone in the same room, they can take a picture and the tech will also try to automatically identify them.

“I saw a lot of things about how AI and facial recognition were really evolving and being applied in more and more areas, especially healthcare,” she says. She partnered with mentors at the tech company Kairos, which makes the facial recognition software that is now used by the app, and learned to code for the iPhone for the first time.

Continue onto Fast Company to read the complete article.

Amazon’s automated grocery store of the future opens

LinkedIn Inc (AMZN.O) will open its checkout-free grocery store to the public on Monday after more than a year of testing, the company said, moving forward on an experiment that could dramatically alter brick-and-mortar retail.

The Seattle store, known as Amazon Go, relies on cameras and sensors to track what shoppers remove from the shelves, and what they put back. Cash registers and checkout lines become superfluous – customers are billed after leaving the store using credit cards on file.

For grocers, the store’s opening heralds another potential disruption at the hands of the world’s largest online retailer, which bought high-end supermarket chain Whole Foods Market last year for $13.7 billion. Long lines can deter shoppers, so a company that figures out how to eradicate wait times will have an advantage.

Amazon did not discuss if or when it will add more Go locations, and reiterated it has no plans to add the technology to the larger and more complex Whole Foods stores.

The convenience-style store opened to Amazon employees on Dec. 5, 2016 in a test phase. At the time, Amazon said it expected members of the public could begin using the store in early 2017.

But there have been challenges, according to a person familiar with the matter. These included correctly identifying shoppers with similar body types, the person said. When children were brought into the store during the trial, they caused havoc by moving items to incorrect places, the person added.

Gianna Puerini, vice president of Amazon Go, said in an interview that the store worked very well throughout the test phase, thanks to four years of prior legwork.

“This technology didn’t exist,” Puerini said, walking through the Seattle store. “It was really advancing the state of the art of computer vision and machine learning.”

Continue onto Reuters to read the complete article.