Technology

This Toy Develops STEM Skills and Hands-On Thinking—Especially in Young Girls

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Gender disparity in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) continues to be a serious problem. The reasons are complex—from lack of children’s stories that feature women scientists, lack of female role models and STEM toys for girls, to persisting biases and stereotypes in schools and universities, and lack of mentorship and flexibility at the workplace. According to the 2016 Science and Engineering Indicators report of the National Science Foundation, women account for only 25 percent of the employment base in the computer and mathematical sciences field and 15 percent of the engineering workforce.

To light the engineering spark in young girls, MIT professors Maria Yang and Tony Hu have co-founded Brainy Yak Labs, a company with the mission to get kids excited about STEM through creative play. Their first product (which just finished a successful Kickstarter campaign) is a dance party lamp kit called Jubilite, which kids get to build and decorate themselves.

Jubilite lamp

While there are plenty of robot kits, drones, and programmable cars out there, nearly all of them are targeted to boys. A toy or a project needs to capture a child’s attention first, before he or she can learn from it. That is why the MIT duo has decided to start with arts and crafts which is something that many girls and boys love.

In the process of building the lamp, children learn how to use tools to assemble the plastic housing, secure the PCBs (printed circuit boards), and insert the switches. While connecting the electronic modules together, they learn about each component and its function. The instruction booklet also teaches important vocabulary like microcontroller, PCB, RGB, LED, as well as the principles behind electronics and mixing colors with light. After assembling the lamp, kids get to make it their own by decorating it with stickers, markers and sequins.

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How Smart is the Grid?

Marketing and advertising groups often have a tendency to capitalize on technological trends faster than engineers and users can settle into the technology itself. Perhaps it’s no surprise that it is difficult to hold back the motivation to get a product to market and profit. Right now the most glaring example is the practice of carelessly putting WiFi in appliances and toys and putting them on the Internet of Things, but there is a similar type of fiasco playing out in the electric power industry as well. Known as the “smart grid”, an effort is underway to modernize the electric power grid in much the same way that the Internet of Things seeks to modernize household appliances, but to much greater and immediate benefit.

A Cutler-Hammer industrial breaker ominously predicts the coming confusion in the smart grid arena.
Photo by Bryan Cockfield

To that end, if there’s anything in need of modernization it’s the electric grid. Often still extensively using technology that was pioneered in the 1800s like synchronous generators and transformers (not to mention metering and billing techniques that were perfected before the invention of the transistor), there is a lot of opportunity to add oversight and connectivity to almost every part of the grid from the power plant to the customer. Additionally, most modern grids are aging rapidly at the same time that we are asking them to carry more and more electricity. Modernization can also help the aging infrastructure become more efficient at delivering energy.

While the term “smart grid” is as nebulous and as ill-defined as “Internet of Things” (even the US Government’s definition is muddied and vague), the smart grid actually has a unifying purpose behind it and, so far, has been an extremely useful way to bring needed improvements to the power grid despite the lack of a cohesive definition. While there’s no single thing that suddenly transforms a grid into a smart grid, there are a lot of things going on at once that each improve the grid’s performance and status reporting ability.

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA)

The most widely used grid control system is known as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, or SCADA. This is an industry-standard across a wide range of technologies which has been adapted for use on the grid. This allows power system operators to see which breakers are open or closed, which generators are online, what the voltages are at various points, where problems in distribution lines might be, etc. It allows dispatchers to get a high-level view of the grid and to take some control over…

Farhad’s and Mike’s Week in Tech: More Ugly News for Uber

Farhad: Hello, Mike! Usually we start off with some kind of dad joke but today there’s no time. We have a huge tech story to get to, one that will deeply affect my life and the lives of all of our readers: Taylor Swift is finally putting all of her music back on all streaming services, including Spotify. Hurrah!

Mike, what’s your favorite Taylor song?

Mike: Hmm, I’m gonna have to go with “Telephone.” Or maybe “The Greatest.” That’s Taylor Swift, right?

Farhad: Yeah, I know, it’s so hard to pick just one. But seriously: This is an interesting development. Taylor famously ditched Spotify a couple years ago, arguing that the service’s free, ad-supported tier devalued music. (Spotify also has a paid service, but she didn’t let her music on there, either, out of spite, I guess.) Spotify has since adopted a few policies to address this concern, including a “windowing” system that allows labels to keep their newest hits off Spotify’s free service. So maybe that changed Taylor’s mind?

The other possibility: It’s a way to mess with Katy Perry, whose new album is releasing this week. Remember, the two have bad blood. Celebrities — they’re just like us!

Mike: Ooh, I like “Bad Blood” too. I used to have to play that by opening the music video on YouTube on my phone, then jack into my car stereo. It was very inconvenient. This makes it a lot easier.

Also of note: Taylor Swift is a shrewd businesswoman. She knew how much leverage she had to force change in Apple Music and Spotify, and she’s used her catalog to do so. Perhaps coming back to Spotify now isn’t a concession, more a victory lap.

Farhad: On to some smaller tech news. After President Trump announced last week that he would pull the United States out of the worldwide global warming deal known as the Paris Agreement, lots of tech companies balked.

But I guess those wounds heal quickly. Bloomberg reported this week that many tech C.E.O.s will visit the White House this week for the first meeting of the American Technology Council. That’s the group headed by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, which is looking to modernize government through tech. So much for tech joining the #resistance, eh?

Mike: I go back and forth on this sort of thing. On the one hand, I think there’s merit in the idea that engagement with a group — even one as clearly obstinate as the Trump administration seems to be — can be a method of changing opinions. I imagine the biggest names in information technology would have at least some sway inside the beltway.

That said, do we have any proof that these meetings make any difference whatsoever in changing their opinions? Travis Kalanick, Bob Iger, Elon Musk —…

Major tech stocks tumble, and it’s nothing to shrug off

After months of quietly climbing higher and higher, tech stocks began to tumble Friday, with the Nasdaq Composite falling as much as 2.8 percent during mid-day trading.

More disconcertingly, the selloff hit hardest some of the largest-cap and best-known names in tech. Microsoft fell as much as 4.6 percent, while Alphabet and Facebook lost as much as 5 percent. Amazon fell as much as 5.3 percent, Apple 5.6 percent, and Netflix 6.5 percent.

Such declines aren’t unheard of in the history of technology stocks, which have a long record of volatile performances because of their focus on growth and the cyclical nature of the industry. But the selloff was notable not only for its sudden onset but also because most of these stocks have seen low volatility for much of the past year, as they quietly edged to record highs.

In the past 12 months through yesterday, the Nasdaq Composite had gained 30 percent, while share prices of the six tech giants mentioned above have risen between 30 percent and 71 percent in that period without a sustained selloff. Shares of Google and Amazon both surpassed the $1,000 mark recently and seemed to hit a new record high each week. Both closed today below $1,000.

The sudden declines may reverse themselves soon enough, but that they came out of nowhere without a single, overriding catalyst suggests a…

Virtual reality tech may make ‘going shopping’ in real life a thing of the past

Virtual reality tech may make ‘going shopping’ in real life a thing of the past

High street shops are well-established online these days and provide new opportunities for interaction between shop and shopper. Consumers have become accustomed to shopping using a range of devices and the immense popularity of smartphones and mobile devices has led to the rise of mobile or m-retailing, with new communication and distribution channels created with these in mind. Perhaps this mix of the real and online worlds are helpful precursors for what may be the “next big thing”: virtual reality shopping.

Virtual reality (VR) experiences are typically provided through wearable headgear or goggles that block out the real world and immerse the user in a virtual one. This is distinguished from augmented reality (AR), where layers of digital content can be overlayed on the real world, providing access to both. For example, the digital information displayed on the visor of Google Glass.

Apps can provide ‘live’ augmented reality to try on superimposed accessories and clothes. Eawentling, CC BY-NC-SA

While AR can work with mobile devices and is already included in some apps, for VR to succeed the headgear needs to be comfortable, stylish and powered by sufficiently capable software so that the immersive visual effects are credible – and useful. It’s possible to add deeper engagement with the virtual world by incorporating other senses, for example tactile hand controls for handling and manipulating objects.

In-store tech

Magic mirrors, where how you’d like to look is projected onto your actual appearance. Intel[index company=intel], CC BY-SA

However, the use of technology by retailers in-store has been patchy. The availability of in-store Wi-Fi has increased, and some stores offer touchscreens and tablets for customers to browse and search for items and look up information. More common are video screens displaying fashion collections, often connected to apps offering inspirational looks. However more cutting edge tech, such as magic mirrors that overlay the image of…

Google accelerates customer data processing with new cloud feature

Google is making it faster for cloud customers to process data for analysis with a forthcoming feature called Cloud Dataflow Shuffle. It’s designed to make consuming streaming and batch processed data up to five times faster than before by applying technology the tech giant developed in-house.

The feature is built for Google’s Cloud Dataflow service, which helps customers process data before feeding it into databases, machine learning applications, and other systems. Customers set up processing tasks in Cloud Dataflow using pipelines written with the Apache Beam SDK, then Google handles the provisioning and scaling of compute resources necessary to handle those tasks.

Cloud Dataflow Shuffle accelerates those pipelines by using a Google-made system to manage shuffle operations, which sort data from multiple compute nodes. When this launches, customers will get the…

Tech and the renaissance of manufacturing in America

Image Credit: Praphan Jampala/Shutterstock

From campaign slogans to executive orders, manufacturing has quickly become one of the most politicized topics of our era. While this may help politicians get elected, it will not ignite a manufacturing renaissance in America. What will is technology.

We are lucky to live in the country that is the world leader in innovation, and those of us working in the manufacturing industry — from executives to machinists, to educators and government officials — must start embracing technology and innovation as an asset, not a threat. Specifically, we must leverage American ingenuity in areas like AI/machine learning, computational geometry, CAD technology, and 3D printing.

Nothing provokes a firestorm quite like a discussion on robots and their impact on employment. Bill Gates thinks we should tax them; Elon Musk is starting a new venture to develop a symbiotic digital layer to the human brain.

The conversation we are not having, however, is how existing AI is able to create, not eliminate, jobs. Nowhere is this more evident than in advanced manufacturing where AI can improve the precision and speed of production that maximize the skills of machinist, enhancing their competitiveness on the global market.

Computational geometry, too, is proving integral to advanced manufacturing. Not only is it creating new marketplaces for manufacturers in the cloud, it’s also increasing their production by saving them hours in costly admin time. Complex algorithms (similar to those of Uber or Amazon) are connecting engineers that need parts to the manufacturers that can make them. Not only does this provide a steady stream of work to help keep manufacturers in business, but, by predetermining the manufacturability and price for a part, the algorithms also save manufacturers hours in admin time.

These algorithms, however, would not be so transformative in the field of manufacturing if CAD technology did not exist. CAD technology allows engineers to develop digital designs for parts, which enables the engineers to design more…

Stop supporting tech companies as if they are sports teams

TNWCreative

Dear reader,

It’s 2017, and it looks like we still need to have that talk about fanboyism. It’s something we see in the comments section in our stories, and it’s something we’re accused of often – commonly for being fanboys of competing companies, I might add.

People sometimes tend to think of technology brands the same way they do when it comes to sports teams: that you can only support one at a time, that the others are your opponents and should be reviled as such, and that you absolutely have to take a side.

That’s not how technology works, and you’re doing yourself a disservice by thinking that way.

When it comes to consumer technology (read: apps, services and gadgets we pay for and use regularly), it’s important to remember a few things:

  • the position a brand takes on various issues can change over time
  • the public perception of a brand can change over time

As such,…

Fun Facts about the USA Tech Industry

How much do you know about technology in America? Well, we can guarantee you that you will learn something new as you explore this fascinating infographic. What’s the connection between goats and Google? How much does the US government spend each year on printing out documents? Did you know that NASA pulled an “out of this world” April’s Fools Day prank one year?

No doubt you’ll be very interested in discovering who actually owns the GPS system. You’ll also be surprised to learn that Microsoft guru Bill Gates had something very important designed on…

16 Young And Successful Entrepreneurs Who Prove That Age Is Nothing but a Number

has been blossoming over the past decade. In this age of internet and technology, people are now more confident to try and sell their ideas and hit the road to success. With even the basic skills like knowing how to create a website1 or marketing products online, people can reach out to the world and showcase their talent.

A study conducted in the year 2015 revealed that about 14% of the total working population in the U.S. was into running a business of their own and we all know that the numbers have been growing since then.

Each day while we drive, when we shower or go through a boring lecture, our minds come up with some of the most intriguing ideas that can potentially become big business plans, but we tend to ignore them as we are never looking to make anything out of it. Our brains are idea machines, but only a few of us go ahead to make these ideas big.

One of the most common complaints of the people who bloom late and succeed in the later ages of their lives is that they didn’t dare enough to sell their ideas sooner. Ironically, one of the most common excuses among the youth is that they are not old enough to start their own business. It is never too early or late to become successful in your life. You can begin the journey to becoming an achiever at any age, and the young entrepreneurs in the list below will just prove this to you.

1. Mark Zuckerberg: Founder of Facebook

Of course, Mark Zuckerberg must be on the top of this list. Facebook speaks for all the success the man has achieved by launching it when he was only 19 years old. Within few years of its launch, Facebook became one of the most used social media platforms across the world. Today, Facebook continues to grow and employ thousands of people. An inspiration to a countless number of people, Zuckerberg 2 is estimated to be worth 61.7 billion USD today and continues to progress as an entrepreneur.

2. Matthew Mullenweg: Founder of the WordPress

In the year 2005, Matthew founded the company Automattic which later proved instrumental in the creation of the WordPress before he was even twenty. WordPress is one of the leading Content Management Systems out there in the market making it the most used platform for blogging. Who would have thought that a college dropout will take the world by the storm with a simple idea of hosting a blogging platform? The net worth of Matthew Mullenweg today is 40 Million USD.

3. Catherine Cook: Creator of MyYearBook.com

4. David Carp: Founder of Tumblr

The year 2007 saw the onset of Tumblr. The micro-blogging website which is now owned by Yahoo was founded by David Carp after he turned 21 years old, whose net worth now is $200 million. Even after all these years of its launch and facing some serious competition from other websites, Tumblr stands its position among the social media platforms.

5. Varun Agarwal: Author of How I Braved Anu Aunty & Co-Founded a Million Dollar Company

The author of the book, ‘How I Braved Anu Aunty & Co-Founded a Million Dollar Company,’ Varun Agarwal is also…