FIRST: How the Inventor of the Segway Found a Way to Create Engineers Using Robots

You’re probably familiar with the Segway, but do you know who invented it?  Or how about clean water? No, I’m not asking if you know who invented clean water. I am asking if you know who invented the water filtration system which allows you to drink that clean water?

Let me ask some different questions.

Did you ever want to be a famous athlete? Or a rock-star? What about a well-known engineer?

I might have lost you with that last one. And that’s alright. Try and stay with me. Your next thought should be something like, “What well-known engineers are there?” Emphasis on the “well-known” because there are plenty of engineers, but what engineers are recognized as celebrities? If you can’t name any, that’s ok. I couldn’t at first either.

But then the question becomes why aren’t engineers celebrated the way rock-stars are? And that’s a good one. It’s exactly the question that inventor of the Segway, Dean Kamen asked himself.

Dean Kamen
Dean Kamen speaking at the Robotics Competition at Kettering University. Photo credit: Pardeep Tour

While it’s true that most kids know that Selena Gomez is a rock-star or that Michael Jordan is one of the most famous athletes of all time, not many kids (or even adults) know Dean Kamen has been called the Thomas Edison of our time.

Kamen owns over 440 patents to inventions he has created some of which include: as mentioned, the Segway, the wearable insulin pump, a portable dialysis machine, the Luke Skywalker prosthetic arm, and so much more. Without Kamen, and an immeasurable amount of other brilliant engineers, our lives (as we know it) would be flipped upside down.

So, why aren’t there famous scientists and engineers?

Kamen wanted to change this. The challenge arose when he couldn’t find enough engineers for his company. He knew that most students weren’t breaking down any doors to major in engineering. He also knew most kids dreamt of being the famous athlete or the rock-star because our society chooses to focus on and celebrate those things. So, he set out to construct a way to make engineering and science just as cool and exciting as athletes or celebrities. That’s when FIRST was born.

. . .

What is FIRST?

Maybe you’re like me and you don’t know much about engineering. Well, grab your snacks because there’s a lot I learned and can’t wait to share with you.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Marie Hopper, President of FIRST North Carolina, to find out more about this organization.

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Marie Hopper announcing at the Asheville tournament. Photo credit: Danny Levenson

First, I should tell you that Lockheed Martin, a global aerospace, defense, security, and advanced technologies company, estimates it will retire 650,000 engineers in the next 5-10 years. Colleges don’t graduate that many engineers in any given year, introducing a real demand for engineers in the near future (I wasn’t aware of that.). Hopper commented on this need stating, “There is a critical gap [between engineers retiring and the need for new engineers] and our program is helping to fill that pipeline.”

Just from listening to Hopper for a few minutes, I knew this was a program worth learning about because of the way Hopper talked about FIRST. There was an excitement in her eyes, voice, and body language that you just can’t fake. So, let me fill you in on some of the basics.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded in 1989 by the aforementioned Dean Kamen. It is an international, non-profit organization that has programs from kindergarten through the twelfth grade. The original FIRST started in New Hampshire, but many states have their own “sectors” of FIRST (like FIRST North Carolina, which is based in Greensboro) that work closely with the “parent” organization.

If you came here just for a one-sentence summary, that’s not really my style. However, I did think of you when I had my interview. I asked Hopper to tell me, in one sentence, the purpose of FIRST. Her response was simple enough, “FIRST is about engaging and inspiring the next generation of engineers, innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders.” Now, if you’re interested in more than just that one-sentence summary, keep reading.

When Kamen established FIRST, he wanted to mix the excitement of sports, features of being a rock-star, and combine them with science and engineering. Insert robot competitions.

However, it didn’t just stop at robot competitions, since being founded, FIRST has become the 3rd largest scholarship provider in the country (Isn’t that insane? I had no idea!). Hopper was right, FIRST isn’t just an organization; Kamen has turned it into a movement.

Now that you have a general overview of the organization, let’s talk about their individual programs and what they have to offer.

The Programs (All About the Robots)

  • FIRST Lego League Jr.

This first-level program is for kids ages 6-10 (or grades K-4th). In groups of up to six kids, they begin learning about technology through building models out of Legos. These models must have, at least, one moving part. “For [FIRST], we believe education is hands-on. It has to be project-based [or game-based] learning…something that [will] engage students.” Since the programs are set up this way, it gets the kids excited about their projects (and their learning, even if they don’t realize it).

A “show-me” poster is required at the end of the program to illustrate what they’ve learned about teamwork and the topic of the year (Each year, the theme changes. For example, this year’s topic is “Creature Craze ®”. They will learn about the honey-bee’s habitat and animals that share that habitat.). They will present this poster at a “non-competitive expo” (think, science fair). In this presentation, students gain experience practicing their public speaking skills. (I don’t know about you, but I definitely could have benefitted from this when I was a kid.)

Hopper emphasized that teaching team work, respect, and a lot of those “soft skills” plays a major role in FIRST. Take the program they do with a school in Guilford County, in the 2nd grade, for example. Every year, after FIRST completes their course, teachers report the positive effects the program has had on the children. The most positive result? Teachers watch fights between kids on the playgrounds disappear. And it’s because they are learning about teamwork, respecting one another, and how to get along, even if you have a different opinion than someone. (Sounds to me like some adults could profit from these programs.)

  • FIRST Lego League

This next program is for kids ages 9-14 (or 4th-8th grade). These teams are of up to 10 kids and their season is between 8-12 weeks long. The robots they build are from Legos Mindstorm kits.

These robots are fully autonomous, as Hopper puts it. Game-play takes place on a 4×8 foot sheet of plywood which has a “pre-printed map rolled out onto it”. This mat adds another degree of difficulty. There are obstacles (made out of Legos) that the robot has to interact with during the tournament. So, the robots will have “missions” they must complete (all based around a yearly theme). Their robots will have to “trip mechanisms, deliver/pick up items, bring those items back to base,” etc. In addition, the teams’ robots are built before they come to a tournament.

The soft skills that participants of FIRST began learning in FIRST Lego League Jr. are implemented even more in this program. Each group goes through a “teamwork interview”. In this interview, students have the opportunity to explain what it means to work in a group. Hopper disclosed how much she loves the teamwork aspect of FIRST. There is a motto they train the kids to live and work by; it’s something they like to call “gracious professionalism”. They even give awards out for it. I’ll quote their website because they sum it quite nice. “It’s a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of other, and respects individuals and the community.” (Talk about something we should be teaching to everybody, huh?)

In this league, there is also a research element. Students receive a “current scientific question or problem” and are asked to invent a solution that they can allocate with the public. It is estimated anywhere between 50-100 teams, at this level, are filing for patents on the inventions they create. (Are you kidding me? When I was this age, the most I was focused on was who’s house I was having a sleepover at the next weekend.)

Hopper explained that FIRST isn’t so much about technology, but it’s more about a way of thinking (critical thinking to be exact). When given a problem, they want the kids’ minds to start churning on the most essential question: How can I solve this problem? They want to teach kids failure isn’t a bad thing; it just means you’re one step closer to finding a solution.

In joint with that, FIRST wants to show kids that technology is not just a toy or a game, but that it is a tool. A tool they can use to untangle and fix life’s most complex problems, like world hunger or global warming. They want kids to realize it isn’t just adults who can solve these big, scary problems, but that they, themselves, can create the solution.

For example, Hopper told me about a group of high schoolers, in Georgia, who designed a water filtration system. They were able to patent, package, and sell their product to underdeveloped countries. Meaning, now, clean water is more accessible to those who need it most. If you ask me, that’s a message kids need to hear: that they can change the world.

  • First Tech Challenge

This group includes children ages 12-18 (or 7th-12th grade) and they have teams composed of up to 15 kids. Instead of robots made out of Legos, imagine robots the size of a microwave with much more sophisticated and advanced technology (including motors, sensors, etc.).

These robots also require a higher programming language. FIRST believes if you give students a tangible challenge (like building a robot that uses coding and programming languages), they will become familiar with the technology. This is possible because they are learning in a “hands-on” environment. They will also become more “technology literate”, as Hopper put it, all around.

First Tech Challenge offers a new “challenge” that previous programs don’t. Teams will, now, be battling in a competition against other kids (as opposed to being judged against something like a perfect score).

They play on a field that is 12 feet by 12 feet with four robots on a field at a time (2 robots on a team). Each team attempts to win the game’s ultimate objective. The goal is to block the other team from their objectives in addition to helping their “partner” robot at the same time.

While there is no research component to this program, students are asked to keep an engineering notebook. This is because it is mandatory they “scrimmage and iterate” many times; they use the notebook to keep track of all their progress with building the robot, scrimmaging the robot, problems they might have with the robot, etc.

FIRST Tech Challenge’s season is one of the longest. It starts in September and the competitions are usually in February. When asked about the “seasons” (because it seemed like, to me, they were similar to sporting seasons) in FIRST, Hopper expressed, “We’re like a sporting event for the mind!”

  • FIRST Robotics Competition
Robot-in-action
A robot-in-action at a tournament! Photo credit: Danny Levenson

We’re at the main event, readers. Get ready for some action. OK, maybe there’s no literal action while reading this article, but the Robotics Competition is what draws most people’s attention.

FIRST Robotics Competition was the first program ever formed. It’s first competition was held in 1992. And now, FIRST North Carolina manages this program (along with FIRST Lego League Jr.).

These teams are larger, averaging around 35 students (In NC, the teams can be anywhere from 10-85 students). And these robots are no small endeavor. They can be up to 150 pounds and the kids design and program them with software that professional engineers use.

As a side note, maybe some of you are wondering (because I certainly did) about how many girls join FIRST. It’s no secret that the engineering (and even science) field is still a man’s world. However, I do have hopeful news for you. Hopper was elated to tell me last year, in NC, the high school program had 31% girl participants!

If that doesn’t seem high enough to you, you should realize the industry is between 12-18% girls. While colleges estimate to have somewhere in the mid 20% range of girls, so FIRST is crushing both of those statistics.

They strive to have that percentage go up each year. FIRST partners with organizations like Girl Scouts in order to encourage more girls to join. FIRST also sends out messages to teams that it is vital they represent their school’s or their community’s demographic (this is in regards to gender and race).

Ok, Ok, I could tell you a million side-notes about why FIRST is great, but let’s get back to the Robotics Competition.

Out of all the programs, the season for FIRST Robotics Competition is the most intense. They have a little over six weeks to build and test their robot. Then they won’t see their robot until it’s time for game-play. Each team battles in two competitions. (They will have the opportunity to go to the state and world competition, depending on their success.)

At the start of this season, teams have to set themselves up as a small business. They can have many departments in that “business” such as: a mechanical engineering department, an electrical engineering department, a computer programming department, and even departments like marketing and finance. FIRST wants students to create their own “brand” surrounding their robot (This teaches them work and real-life skills along the way.).

Participants of FIRST are not just learning “technology skills” or how to build and run a robot. They are learning skills that will go on to benefit them in their work and personal lives, as well. “The robot is the hook, but we are so much more than robots,” Hopper stated.

Do the Programs Work?

I would have been pretty confident that these programs worked just from the passion in Hopper’s eyes as she talked about the wonderful effect that FIRST has on kids.

I became certain this was an organization worth talking about when she told me the personal changes she sees in children that go through FIRST.

She painted a picture of students that walk in on the first day. Teenagers who don’t look you in the eye, who are lacking in self-confidence, and who are overall, disengaged.

Hopper then painted a different picture of the same kids, who, at tournaments come bounding up to her, shake her hand, and say, “I remember you!” Kids who can’t wait to tell anyone who will listen about the projects on which they have been working. Kids who are bursting full of freshly learned information and skills and who have passion in their eyes from what they are doing. Kids who are engaged, who are thrilled to be involved in engineering, and who are elated to be part of a team.

Ya’ll, I could stop there and it be enough to prove to you that this organization is altering the lives of kids in the most profound ways, but I do have more. (I told you to get your snacks, didn’t I?) Maybe you’re a scientific person yourself and you like proof. Cold, hard facts that have been taken from research and data. Well, you’re in luck because I have that too!

The following is from 10 years of evaluation data of FIRST participants. To see more of their research statistics and sources, please visit FIRST’s impact page here.

STEM MAJOR CITED BY FIRST PARTICIPANTS

impact-of-first
Statistics showing the impact of FIRST. Photo credit: FIRST’s website

21ST CENTURY WORK-LIFE SKILLS GAINED BY FIRST PARTICIPANTS

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Statistics showing the impact of FIRST (2). Photo credit: FIRST’s website

SCHOOL ENGAGEMENT INCREASES FOR FIRST PARTICIPANTS

impact-of-first-3
Statistics showing the impact of FIRST (3). Photo credit: FIRST’s website

And what’s not pictured here, but I feel is worth mentioning, is over 75% of Alumni are in a STEM field as a student or a professional.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: FIRST works and the benefits it can have on kids is unparalleled.

How Can You Get Involved?

Hopper stated to me towards the end of our interview, “It’s so much fun to know you get to touch the future.” Because that’s exactly what they’re doing. Changing the future by teaching kids they can change the world.

Hopefully after reading this article, you’re pretty fired up about this organization like I am. So, I’ll go ahead and answer the question I know you’re dying to ask. How can I get involved?

  • If you want to sign your kids up, you can go to FIRST’s website here or FIRST NC’s website here (if you live in NC) to find out which program will best suite your child. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to give them a call or shoot them an email!

If you don’t have a child, but still want to take part in FIRST, you can do a couple of things.

  • They always need mentors or coaches for teams. FIRST believes that right along with project-based learning, mentorship for the kids is crucial for their success. So, you can visit their website to pick an age group that you would like to help out. Then, you can email or call to find out more about becoming a mentor or a coach.
  • Don’t think you want quite that much responsibility? That’s okay! FIRST always needs volunteers for events. It takes a lot of time and effort to put on the tournaments and volunteers play a big role in making the magic come alive! If you want to be a part of that magic, you can email or call (Are you seeing a pattern here?) to find out what event(s) best fit your schedule!
  • If you don’t want to do either of these things, you can always go watch a tournament. Events are free, open to the public, and Hopper promises, “We are as exciting as the NCAA playoffs.” It’s a great place to go cheer on the kids or even take your own kids to help get them excited about science and engineering! Check out their website to find a tournament close to you.

Whether you’re looking to be a mentor, volunteer, donate, go to an event, or find something else you can help with, just (Can you guess what I’m about to suggest?) shoot FIRST an email or give them a phone call! Someone will be able to help you figure out the best way you can touch the future, too.

Alright, I could say more, but this does have to end somewhere.

So, is Dean Kamen creating engineers using robots? OK, maybe he isn’t creating engineers using robots, but he is creating a way for more kids to become engineers by using robots to pique their interests.

Like Hopper stated to me, “The robot is the hook…” The robot is the angle they use to get kids excited about science and engineering, about something that is real, about something that is crucial to solve the problems we have.

Maybe you remember this as a child because I certainly do. Getting told (a lot) that you can do anything you want to do, be anything you want to be and because of that you have the ability to change the world. But (and I still feel this way even as an adult sometimes), with so many options, it can be hard to know where to start.

And as a kid, you may not always feel that changing the world is possible when you’re just one person. Dean Kamen has made a way to bridge that gap between wanting to change the world and actually changing the world.

By being involved in FIRST, kids are finding real ways to change the world.

All of this is done by changing their perspective. By showing them it’s cool to be a scientist or an engineer.

And how does all that change happen? Robots.

9 “New” Features on the iPhone 7 & 8 Features That Make the iPhone 8 What You Really Want

*Picture Credit to Apple

Have you been waiting for the past two or more years to upgrade your old, worn out phone to the iPhone 7 or the iPhone 7 Plus?

I mean, new iPhones coming out are one of the biggest events every fall!

Did you wait eagerly by the internet to watch Apple release the new and exciting features they included in this iPhone?

And after hearing about the iPhone 7, were you a little disappointed?

If so, you’re not alone. Millions of people think Apple could have done so much more with the iPhone 7 release.

If you live under a rock, don’t have access to the internet, or just have better things to do with your time and haven’t heard what’s the fuss about this new iPhone 7, read on. I’ll be sure to fill you in on everything that I know (and many of my opinions, as well). There’s 9 bullet points that are chalked full of information, so make sure to grab some snacks before you start reading.

For those of you who have heard about the iPhone 7 features, you can skip ahead. There you will find my list of 8 features that will make you want to wait for the iPhone 8.

I know, I know, “The iPhone 8 isn’t even out yet!” you say. Well, being someone who loves Apple products and someone who likes to believe in people, I’ll go ahead and tell you. No, I have no idea what Apple will change when they release the iPhone 8 next year. However, the list I’m about to give you are a collection of my (and many other internet people’s) hopes for what we know Apple can achieve if they put their mind to it for the next iPhone release date.

iPhone 7 & iPhone 7 Plus Release Information (Included are my lengthy, humble opinions)

For those of you who are in the need to know or don’t feel like watching 37+ minutes of a YouTube clip, here’s what is coming “new” to iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.

1. Colors- Apple will be offering the iPhone 7’s in 2 new colors. Are you ready for your world to be rocked? These two new colors are…glossy jet black and matte black. *drops mic*

OK, maybe it’s not the most revolutionary colors in the world, but it’s “new” right?
However, you should know that the glossy jet black is only available to phones that are 128 GB or 256 GB. So, unless you have an extra 100 bucks to spend, then glossy jet black is not an option for you. The phones will come in the usual silver, gold, and rose gold as well.

2. Design- The design is almost identical to the iPhone 6S’s. Not much new in that area.

3. Home Button- They now have a solid state home button. If you don’t know what that means, no worries. All it means is you can’t click or tap the home button.  I have read it takes some getting used to. Then again, if you’ve been using an Android you will be accustomed to this feature, as many of their phones have had it for a while now.

Apple claims, it allows for new “feelings and experiences” when using your phone. New feelings? I guess so. New experiences? I’m not sure about that one. This isn’t a ride on a rollercoaster or a trip to Europe. To me, that seems like a more “humanizing” way to say that it gives haptic feedback. That is, specific buzzes and vibrations from the phone’s taptic engine.

For the average person, I don’t think this feature will blow many people away. It does take away the potential of the home button breaking or getting water inside it, though.

4. Stereo Speakers- This feature is new for Apple. They have designed the iPhone 7 to have stereo speakers at the top and at the bottom of the phone. Apple says the speakers have increased dynamic range and 2x the volume for better listening sound. This may be new for Apple’s phones, but not for phones like the HTC One M9.

5. Water and Dust Resistant- Also new for iPhones, but not new for Androids. The iPhone 7’s scored at IP67 in protection. Don’t understand that rating system? No problem! The new iPhone does have the highest rating for dust resistance, which is 6. So, it’s pretty safe to assume your iPhone is protected against things like lint, sand, etc. However, it is never guaranteed.

The water resistance score is 7. (The highest is 9.) While that is pretty good, there is definite room for improvement. Roughly, this means you can submerge your phone in 1 meter (around 3 feet) of fresh water for up to 30 minutes with no damage. Should you take it swimming with you or leave it exposed for that long? Probably not.

Apple did not mention if their warranty would cover water damage now. It’s a valid concern though. What if your phone drops in 1 foot of water for 5 minutes and stops working? Would they cover that?

6. Airpods- This might be long. If you don’t want to hear all the critiques I have about their newfound wireless dreams, then just know this. There is not a headphone jack on the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Instead, they have gone to wireless listening devices. Or you can connect your headphones through the lightning port (This is the port where you plug your charger into the phone.)

The positive thing about this transition is they do provide, with each purchase of an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus, a lightning adaptor. (It sells for $9.00 and you can use it to plug in your old headphones.) They also provide a set of ear-pods with a lightning connector. (They sell for $29.00. They are just like old headphones, but have a lightning connector at the bottom.) So I guess gone are the days where you could listen to your music and charge your phone at the same time.

I suppose the move to wireless headphones is futuristic. But, it is also expensive. They have created wireless ear-pods that can connect to your devices called Apple Airpods. These bad boys sell for a whopping $159. Not exactly available to all the masses out there, huh?

This also adds to the list of items you have to remember to charge each night. Each Airpod can play up to 5 hours of music. (This could be annoying if you’re someone who likes to listen to a lot of music.) You can charge them in the little box it comes in, but you have to charge that box every 24 hours.

You can use both Airpods at the same time or you can use them one at a time. Maybe you’re someone like me, though, who headphones don’t fit my ears well to start with. AND they fall out quite often if I’m running or working out. Since these are not connected to anything there is no doubt I would lose or step on one of these son of a guns. I also heard a comment from a YouTuber who questioned the protection of these Airpods if someone steals one out of your ear. Would they be under some kind of warranty?

They do have some better options that will work with the new iPhones. These include: Beats Solo3 Wireless On-Ear Headphones (You can get up to 40 hours of listening with these.), Powerbeats3 Wireless Earphones, and BeatsX Earphones. None of these options are “reasonably priced” though, as Apple mentioned. They cost $299.95, $199.95, and $149.95, respectively.

Yes, I think it’s awesome they have created their first W1 chip (wireless chip). But I also think they should make these products cheaper until they perfect the wireless listening devices. Or they should still give the option to use the old headphone jack. (Until they see how often people use/like the wireless aspect of the phone, that is.)

Alright ya’ll, I could say more, but we have to get to an entire other list! Let’s move on.

7. Camera- I think this is the feature Apple likes to focus on because it’s probably the most utilized feature that consumers use. So, it is what Apple spent the majority of their time talking about. But, I’ll shorten it up for you. They kept the 12-megapixel camera and added a f/1.8 aperture that lets in 50% more light. The camera has other cool features like a flicker sensor that reads flickering of artificial light and compensates for it. Or it now has optical image stabilization so you can still get clear photos even if your hands are shaking.

The iPhone 7 Plus is special and gets a second 56 mm telephoto lens for a pretty insane zoom option. There is a new front facing camera with 7 megapixels (the 6S has a 5-megapixel front-facing camera). It includes auto-image stabilization (but not optical image stabilization). (If you want to add even more cool features to your camera, you should check our blog post here about the Insta-360 Nano!)

So, yes, this camera is, without doubt, better than any camera an iPhone has had before and that’s cool. But, there are other phones out there with 16-megapixel cameras. There are phones that already have had 2 cameras on them. And there are phones that have optical image stabilization on both the front and the back cameras. So, while this camera phone may be the best one yet for Apple, there are other camera phones out there that are better or at least just as good.

This isn’t to say, however, it’s not a vast improvement for Apple. I was very excited to hear about the new features on the iPhone 7’s cameras and I think the camera aspect of the phone, alone, would make people want to buy an iPhone 7.

8. Performance- Apple says the iPhone 7 has the longest battery life of any iPhone so far. You can get 12 hours of LTE browsing; the iPhone 7 Plus adds up to 2 hours more. Yet, there are androids out there that can last 1-2 days without the need for charging them.

Apple has also added more storage. This iPhone comes in 32 GB, 128 GB, or 256 GB. Personally, I like that my phone is somewhere in between at 64 GB. Maybe this is just me but, I feel as if they didn’t offer 64 GB as the lowest option so that people will buy the more expensive (or as they see it, more bang for your buck) option instead. But hey, that’s just marketing strategies, right?

And this phone comes with the A10 fusion chip which is a 64 bit, quad-core processor. Apple says it runs 40% faster than the A9 and 2x as fast as the A8. I don’t think this means much to someone who isn’t a tech nerd.

9. Price & Availability- And finally, price and availability. The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus have been available for pre-order since September 9th. They became available for purchase on September 16th. So, you can go buy one today if you would like!

One of the biggest differences in this iPhone than the previous one is the price. The iPhone 7 sells at $649 for 32 GB, $749 for 128 GB, and $849 for 256 GB. The iPhone 7 Plus sells at $769 for 32 GB, $869 for 128 GB, and $969 for 256 GB.

$1,000 dollars? I didn’t realize we were putting a small mortgage down for this new phone. I guess whether you think it’s a bit extravagant of a price is up to you. Considering though, the price for the iPhone 6 was $199, $299, or $399 this seems a bit exorbitant to me.

*Phew* I told you guys there was quite a bit to cover, didn’t I? If you’ve made it this far, you’re all caught up and ready for part 2. Read on, soldiers.

8 Reasons why the iPhone 8 is What You Really Want

If you’ve made it this far, you might be thinking I hate Apple and their products. It’s quite the opposite actually. I’m an avid customer of theirs and prefer their products over others. They are user-friendly even to people who, like me, are not the most tech-savvy people in the world.

That said, I do think Apple dropped the bar a little bit on this new release by not adding anything that innovative. Most of what is “new” on the iPhone 7’s has already been on an Android phone.

This list you’re about to read (and some of what you’ve read already) should be read knowing two things. First, like I said, I’m not a tech person. The following list is just my opinion. They are things I think could make the iPhone better or more convenient. And convenient for people who are just basic consumers and are not “tech people”. Second, some of the things I’m going to list have already been applied to Android phones. So, they may not be actually be “innovative and new”. Not being great with technology, I think that someone much smarter than me would have to be the person to think of things that are actually considered “new” technology. Nonetheless, let’s get into it.

1. New Design- I think this is the easiest and most obvious one. The iPhone has looked pretty much the same the past couple of generations. How can they alter the design? Make it thinner? Make it skinnier? Make it foldable? Put legs on it? I’m not sure what the best route is when creating a whole new design but, with the iPhone 8, it’s time for a change.

2. Wireless Charging- This has been around on Androids for a bit now and I’d love to see this be an option in the iPhone 8. Who knows? Maybe I’m wrong and people will love the wireless/lightning port options for listening to music. If so, then this could allow you to listen to your music and charge your phone at the same time again!

It’d be great to see an option for fast charging too. You know, for those times when you forget to charge your phone and have only 15-30 minutes in the morning to get ready. But you still want to get a decent charge before you leave the house?

I think consumers would appreciate both of these functions in an iPhone. They would help make their lives easier and more convenient.

3. Waterproof- Is there a way to make a phone 100% waterproof? I don’t know, but if there is, I’d like to see Apple be the first to do it. Imagine! Not having to use a life proof case to take photos underwater! Being able to Snapchat in the shower without worry!

OK, so maybe you might not want to do that last one. But, there would be a lot less stress in having a completely waterproof phone than there is with one that is water “resistant”.

4. Shatterproof or Shatter Resistant- This kind of goes along with #3, but I lovethe look of my iPhone without a case. I’m also accident prone, so I have to have a case on my iPhone. I’d love to have the anxiety-free ability to drop my phone here or there and not worry about it shattering.

And if they do come out with a whole new design for the iPhone 8… Why cover that I-know-it-will-be beautiful design with a case just to protect it? #freetheiphones

5. Removable Storage- Again, this is a feature that is found on Androids. And I know, Apple has the cloud. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know how to work the cloud. I can’t figure out how to upload stuff to it or delete stuff off of it. Then I will get a message saying my cloud is full and I need to buy more storage (When, hello! I don’t remember putting anything on it to begin with?!)?

Maybe I’m old school, but I like storing my pictures and documents on something that is tangible. I think a lot of users want to see this as a feature on the iPhone 8.

6. Customization- Who doesn’t like to have pretty fonts, colors, and designs on their phones? It’d be great to see a way (or even an App) to add more personalization on the iPhones. So you can customize things like colors, fonts, backgrounds, Apps, or (and this might give away my age here) even ringtones!

And this adds to the design aspect, but maybe having the option to pick an actual color you want your iPhone (the body of it anyway) to be? I love the neutral tones for the phones myself, but I know loads of people who like brighter colors!

7. Siri- This goes along with customization and maybe this is just me, but I would appreciate having the option to change Siri’s voice. You know how you can change the voice of your GPS to a sexy British man? Yeah, give me the ability to change Siri’s voice to that instead.

8. Headphone Jack- And last but certainly not least, the headphone jack. Now, I like I said, I could be wildly wrong and the transition to wireless might end up being a huge success. Ormaybe in a few years, once the technology isn’t so new, the wireless listening devices won’t be so expensive, but I think a lot of customers are going to want this classic feature added back to their phones. (It’s like email, it’s timeless!)

And there you have it folks! 9 new features that the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus will have and 8 features that might make you want to wait till the iPhone 8 comes out to buy a new iPhone.

Would I buy this iPhone? You’d probably guess no. If I hadn’t just upgraded my current phone in the past couple of months and I had the extra cash laying around, I might buy it. I am very curious to test all these “new” features out for myself so I can give a more proper critique of them, but for now I’ll stick with my iPhone 6S.

So, when is the new iPhone 8 coming out? I assume it’ll be out in 2017, roughly around the same time as it did this year.

Can we be certain that Apple will drastically improve the iPhone 8? No, but I like to hope Apple will step back up and regain their place as the leader in technology next time around.

What can we know for certain? We know that with the next iPhone release date, Apple will have pretty high expectations coming their way.

 

What do you think about the iPhone 7’s? What do you like and what don’t you like? Do you agree with the critiques that are being said about this new phone? Let us know in the comments below!

Changing the Meaning of “Pillow Talk”

Imagine. A couple comes home after a long, hard Monday. All they want is to do is lie down beside each other. They want to feel the person they love’s warmth and heartbeat next to them. The familiar type of reassurance which can only come from that one person. They get into separate beds and pull the covers over top of them. Wait. Something is wrong with this picture. Shouldn’t they bed in the same bed, comforting one another? The dilemma is that they are a long distance couple.

Spending any extended period of time away from the person you love is tough. If you ask me, a big part of choosing to be with a person is because their presence comforts you. This includes not only couples, but other relationships as well. The father missing his children while he is overseas. The sisters who live across the country from one another. The best friends that moved away after college and haven’t had time to visit each other. The grandparents that aren’t able to travel to see their grandchildren. All these relationships face the same problem. Distance. So, how do you fix the problem of having to be apart from your loved one? How about a little Pillow Talk?

Little Riot created Pillow Talk to ease the burden of long-distance relationships. They believe that “emoticons and pixelated video calls just don’t really cut it” and that we should be able to actually feel connected to those we love (Little Riot).

So, how does it work? I’m glad you asked!

When you buy Pillow Talk, you will get two wristbands and two speakers. They come in red or blue. The device works through an app on either your iPhone or your Android in two different ways. When you want to listen to the other person’s heartbeat, you put on the wristband, put the speaker under your pillow, and connect to the app. Your partner will get a notification that you want to “pillow talk” with them. They put on their wristband and put their speaker under their pillow. Then you both can fall asleep to the sound of each other’s heartbeat playing in real time. If you want the sound of their heartbeat to be louder, just take off the soft material that is on top of the speaker.

Or you can plug headphones into your phone, connect to the app, and listen to their heartbeat that way at any time of the day. All you need to do is make sure that your loved one has on the wristband.

Pillow Talk is available to be purchased for $179. Which, for couples that spend a lot of time apart from each other, $179 may not seem like much. If it brings you closer together and makes the time apart more bearable, then that seems like a pretty good deal. If you do decide to pre-order one, Pillow Talk is set to be delivered in late 2016.

The designer of this unique item is Joanna Montgomery. What does she think Pillow Talk is really all about? She released a press statement that said, “

Pillow Talk is about feeling that connection with someone. Anyone who has spent time apart from someone they love knows that – while it’s great to talk to them on something like Skype – you don’t get that same closeness from a face on a screen. We designed Pillow Talk to give people the feeling that they’re somehow closer together, even when they’re many miles apart.”

Ultimately, Pillow Talk was designed to bring a familiar type of intimacy back into any long-distance relationship. So, if there someone in your life who means the world to you, but you have to be away from them, this invention could be just the gadget for you. Little Riot posted a quote from a user that said, “I love it. It feels so human…like I’m lying with my head on his chest.” It seems that Pillow Talk is redefining the phrase “pillow talk”.

 

*Picture Credit goes to Little Riot’s Pillow Talk

Can Therapeutic Robots Teach Us to Connect?

Connecting to other humans can be hard. It can be hard because of disorders like autism or depression. It can be hard because of behaviors learned from a young age. Or it can be hard because someone has an introverted personality. Whatever the reason (and there are plenty more of them), for some of us, it’s a daily struggle. But as Jasna Burza writes, “Our well-being depends on our connection with others.” So, how can those of us who have a hard time connecting find a way to relate to other people?

Researchers are starting to think therapeutic robots could be one part of that solution.

Physical therapy has used robotic systems for a while now. These same systems are starting to branch out. Assistive robots are being tested for their functionality in psychological therapy. Their biggest achievements, thus far, have been seen in children with disorders like autism or in elderly patients.

Meet “Bubblebot”

Children with autism often have trouble interacting with their peers and adults. They can, also, have an inability to empathize with other people’s emotions. In short, their disorder limits their capacity to connect with other people.

“Bubblebot” was created to help children with disorders like, but not limited to, autism. Brian Scassellati, PhD, a social robotics researcher at Yale, told the American Psychological Association (APA) that autistic children tend to gravitate towards technology. He said, “In almost all cases, you see kids with autism get very excited to interact with [a] robot[.] And they have sustained interest.”

An autistic child’s curiosity in interacting with a robot is important. It can be seen as the first step towards learning how to connect with someone (or something). This is a great achievement because, now, they are not forced to step out of their comfort zone, but they are doing it on their own will. And if they learn how to socially behave with a robot, the thought is that they can then take those skills and apply them in real life.

Maja Mataric, PhD, is a robotics researcher at the University of Southern California who developed “bubblebot”. Her previous graduate student, David Feil-Seifer, PhD, helped create this robot alongside her. She has seen, firsthand, “bubblebot” help teach autistic children how to connect to other people.

She recalled, in an interview to APA, an autistic child interacting with “bubblebot”. He became irritated when he told the robot to do something and the robot would not do it. He then stated, “This is how my teacher feels when I don’t do what the teacher says.” By using the robot, the child was able to learn to empathize with the frustration he had seen his teacher feel. This lesson of empathy could go on to be implemented in his daily life when he is in school or playing with other kids. And that’s a huge success if you ask me.

Meet Paro

It is no secret that a lot of elderly patients in nursing or assisted living homes suffer from loneliness. The elderly also have a higher risk of not being able to relate to their caregivers and/or peers. This inability to connect could come from Dementia. It could come from some form of a debilitating mental disease or even from depression.

That’s why researcher’s at Japan’s AIST developed Paro. Paro is a soft, “stuffed-animal” like seal robot that’s sole purpose is to bring comfort to its owner. Paro reacts to sound and touch. It can move, coo, wiggle, and blink its eyes. It’s said to reduce negative factors in a person’s life like stress and loneliness. While also increasing mood and the ability to connect on a social level.

From what I understand, it seems as if the owner of Paro starts out by learning to care for and interact with this “seal”. Then, after a while of connecting with the seal their happiness increases. They are, at that time, able to take the social and behavioral skills they have learned from caring and interacting with the robot and apply it to everyday life.

The function of this robot seems to be a little bit different from the robots meant for children with autism. This robot appears to re-teach elderly patients how to connect with an object. As a result, they are able to connect with people in real life. (Whereas with children who have autism, the robots seem to just teach them skills they do not have.) Though, I think one the biggest factors with this robot is it lets the user really care about something, maybe even for the first time in years. To me, the benefits that follow that are unparalleled.

 

The use of robots in therapy is still very new. There is a lot of research that needs to be done on the true effects therapeutic robots have on patients. It does seem promising though. Teaching social skills in children with autism or allowing elderly patients to have a companion are essential uses. But robot therapy could even go on to help those with other disorders.

They could be there for patients who are having flashbacks from PTSD or for those who suffer from anxiety and need something to calm them down. They could help teach healthy behaviors like encouraging patients to work-out or to do their homework. The potential for these therapeutic robots is limitless. I don’t think, however, that robots will ever be able to replace the need for therapists and psychiatrists, but it does look like they could be an essential tool in rehabilitation and growth.

At our worst, humans can be judgmental, mean, and hurtful. So for those of us who already have trouble connecting with people, getting help on how to do that from a non-judgmental robot could be a dream come true. Who knows? Robotic therapy could be the first step in teaching us all (those with disorders and even those without) better and healthier ways to connect with each other than ever before. And after all, being able to connect with others is one of the essential things we need to stay happy and healthy.

Everyone needs help sometimes. Would you accept that help from a robot?

 

* Much of the information in this blog post was found through APA’s article

HapticWave: Touching Virtual Realities

Virtual realities used to be a thing only movies could depict. They are now something almost anyone can experience. All you need is a little help from companies like Oculus (or to walk into a Brookstone). Now, I don’t think researchers have yet found a way to create a virtual reality as intense as the one in the Matrix. (Not that we would we want them to.) But, virtual realities have finally stopped being just predictions of the future. They have become, well, a reality.

Oculus researchers have started taking virtual reality games one step further. They want users not only to experience sound and sight, but touch too. Insert HapticWave. This new research is a project backed by Oculus and, would you believe it, Facebook. “Similar” technology has not been able to give feedback that gives a sense of direction. (ex. the buzz your cellphone makes). As a result, the capabilities of that technology are limited.  These devices also usually necessitate the user wears gloves or holds the object. But HapticWave changes both of those features.

In design, HapticWave is “a circular metal plate set atop a ring of electromagnetic actuators” (MIT). How does it work? Well, the user places his or her hand on top of the plate. Then the electromagnetic actuators will send vibrations into that person’s hand. Ravish Mehra, a research scientist at Oculus, commented that a headset and audio features help enhance the illusion even more.

HapticWave has different reactions when low-frequency vibrations and high-frequency vibrations occur. Low frequency vibrations gear towards heavier objects. This means they make it seem like those heavier objects are hitting other items in virtual space. Whereas, it’s the opposite for high-frequency vibrations. They give off the perception that small objects are hitting other items in the same way. One of the main components that sets apart HapticWave is the directional aspect of the vibrations. It conveys to users where the objects are in relation to them. This makes the interactions feel more genuine.

The researchers at Oculus used their Rift VR headset to create a demo for HapticWave. They also added in the factor of spatial audio alongside the two other elements. In one of these demos, they had an animated ball bounce across a table. Then vibrations came from the plate so users could feel where the ball was coming from. And if they wanted to move the ball, they could use their keyboard. Ultimately, in this version of virtual reality, the user could see the ball, hear it, move it, and (as an added bonus) feel it.

The possibilities of where the research of this new technology could go are endless. HapticWave could improve at home video games, for sure. But, this technology might also enhance gamification in learning. If a student is learning about dinosaurs, he or she could actually feel the vibrations from the dinosaurs walking around (PM). You could even hypothesize this technology may allow for games (educational and home) to be developed for users who are blind or hearing impaired. Can you imagine how the aspect of touch would enhance their experience while playing a game they otherwise could not play?

Mehra said he couldn’t comment if HapticWave would appear in any Oculus gadgets. But, he did mention that researchers envision HapticWave used in tabletop style virtual reality games. It’s possible that could be sooner rather than later. The demos Oculus created were set to be shown at the Siggraph computer graphics and interaction conference this past week!

“Our hope around this project was [that we could] generate this extrasensory input so users can be more perceptive and more believable of virtual objects,” Mehra stated. It looks like as if virtual realities might become a big part of our society. They have possibilities of use in the home, a business, or even in education. And I think the greatest aspect of HapticWave is it’s not limited to sight and sound. It brings touch into the equation. There is hope for the development of games that don’t involve sight or maybe even sound at all. Thus, an even bigger population of humans could enjoy and benefit from its technology.

 

*Much of the information (and the photo added) in this post were found from an article on MIT’s Technology Review by Rachel Metz.

Insta 360 – Nano: The Full 360 Scoop

Full HD 360-degree camera footage used to be something only photographers could do. Not anymore. The Insta 360 – Nano has changed the way our world will look at HD 360 degree cameras forever. This pocket-sized device is able “to shoot and live-stream high definition virtual reality and panoramic stills and videos directly from an iPhone” (t3).

It is compatible with the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, and 6s Plus (there is not one yet for an Android). However, don’t worry about your Insta 360 somehow becoming outdated for your phone. The Insta 360 can clip to a helmet, drone, selfie stick, or is even usable by itself. This makes it easier than ever to get high quality videos.

There are a lot of pros with this nifty little device and, what seems to be, far less cons. But, there still are a few. It is always more fun to hear how a product can benefit your world so, let’s dig into the pros first.

  • This is the smallest spherical camera in the world. It exists at only 0.8” x 1.3” x 4.3” and weighs in at a mere 2.6 oz. in weight. It’s sleek design compliments the iPhone’s already slender figure. Built with durable material, aluminum, it should hold up under reasonable conditions. This little device is Apple MF certified, as well.
  • You record its images and videos on a TF card, with a memory of 64GB. You don’t save anything on your iPhone. This is such a great utility because users have the freedom of shooting without the fear of clogging up their phones.
  • There is a live-streaming capability. That means if you can’t be at a wedding, party, or get together, you can live stream the event directly through your phone. This feature on the Insta 360 gives users one more way to be close to the people they love and the events they enjoy.
  • The quality seems to be good for such a small device. The resolution is 3040 x 1520 for photos and 3040 x 1520 with 30 fps for videos. You can find more details and specifications about the Insta 360 on their website.
  • Users can share images and videos straight through social media platforms such as: Facebook, Twitter, etc. And while charged, it uses a 800 mAh battery. Theoretically, this means the battery could last up to 100 minutes of non-stop recording.

You can find more commonly asked questions (like these) in their FAQ section on their website. And now we have made our way to the cons.

  • The Insta 360 comes with a manual and a quick start guide (for those who are eager to use it ASAP). It also comes with a USB cable, a carrying pouch, and cardboard virtual reality glasses. The “glasses” have a space where you insert your phone and can watch the videos you have made. The idea appears futuristic, for sure. But, the execution seems a little flimsy. (How long will a cardboard box hold up and who wants to carry a bulky box in their bag?)
  • To operate, this device plugs into your phone upside down. This gives off the impression that it might take some going out of your way to use it. I have not read, yet, if you can still use your phone while the Insta 360 is plugged in, either.
  • It requires that you use 3 apps to help the Insta 360 function in a correct manner. The control app is the first (which does just that). The firmware app helps keeps the device running. And the video player app allows users to playback videos and panoramic video footage. Are three apps are a bit much when it comes to one tiny product? Maybe so, but that depends on the user’s opinion.

And then the biggest debate of all: the price. In the states, you can buy this product for $199.00 with free shipping on Amazon. Now, if you love making home movies, you are a YouTube filmer, an actual professional photographer, or enjoy videography as a hobby, $199.00 may seem like nothing because of how often you would use it. But, if you don’t take videos often or hardly ever, that purchase could be more daunting. It is up to you to decide whether the Insta 360’s pros outweigh the cons or if the price is worth the product.

Whatever the answer to those topics may be, it is certain that the Insta 360 will open the door to HD 360 degree cameras. And will make them more accessible than ever before.

 

 

Scientists Create an Incredible Cyborg Rose with Electrical Veins and Circuits

Scientists have combined biology, agriculture, and technology into a cohesive science to do the impossible. They have managed to construct a cyborg rose that has polymer veins running through it. This could be an evolutionary find that defines the whole field of crop growth and agriculture in a new way.

The concept of incorporating plants with computers and electric circuits can help scientists regulate and control the growth of plants, trees, and crops. This exceptional feat was made possible by Magnus Berggren and his team at the Linkoping University in Sweden. They started their research with the idea that the living tissue and veins inside a human body act as a conductive material to transfer neural messages to the brain.

This concept was then applied to a rose by plugging the rose with fuel cells that can power the plant to maintain its physiological properties by regulating the process of photosynthesis. This experiment has opened the doors to a completely new field of science, which will allow scientists to weave electrical circuits into plants and manipulate their growth and produce per capita.

However, this research was not completely uneventful. It was difficult at first to find a suitable conductive material for the plant’s flesh, which has to conduct electricity and be water soluble at the same time. The scientists faced many difficulties as most of the materials they used were toxic and caused the vascular system of the rose to clog while failing to adhere to the inner surface and xylem.

Linkoping Unversity
Linkoping Unversity

Finally, after much struggle, they found a polymer named PEDOT (poly 3, 4-ethylenedioxythiophene), which readily soaked into the rose and converted into a conductive solid gel. When the outer layer of the plant’s flesh was removed for evaluation, the scientists found a system of intricate wires winding through the stem of the rose. A postdoctoral researcher, Eleni Stavrinidou, took microscopic pictures of the electrical system inside the rose and said, “The performances, the shape of the wires, were just outstanding, unbelievable.”

The research team, after their success, is looking forward to manufacturing botanical circuits that will have the ability to record hormonal changes in plants. This biological circuitry will influence the physiological and growth properties of the plant, which is a better option than genetic modification.

One of the hurdles that the research team is now facing is the mortality rate of the polymer-embedded rose. Their goal is to keep the plant alive until it is completely flushed with the conductive gel. With this discovery, there will be a time, in a not so distant future, when we will be able to eradicate the woes of world hunger by producing food that is safe from GMOs and harmful chemicals.

According to Andrew Adamantzky, Director of Unconventional Computing Laboratory at the University of West of England, Bristol, UK, “In the very distant future – neither ourselves nor our kids will see this – we can grow vegetable computers in our gardens.”

Have Scientists at MIT Successfully Designed the Band Aid of the Future?

Scientists at MIT have managed to design a next generation, high-tech band aid that they are calling the “Band Aid of the Future.” It is a sticky band, constructed with a stretchable hydrogel substance, which incorporates temperature sensors, LED lights, and drug conveyance systems. The band aid is designed to respond to changes in body temperature that can drive the flow of medicine into the body through the delivery channels.

The LED lights on the band aid light up, as a warning signal, when the medicine is at a low level. Scientists at MIT claim that the rubber-like matter allows the band aid to be placed on any surface or body part as it is flexible and adaptable. Difficult areas like elbows, knees and other joints, which respond poorly to regular bandages, can be covered in this innovative hydrogel element, which is designed to keep the electronic chips intact while adapting to the skin.

The dressing is embedded with electronic devices, like conductive wires, LED light circuits, semiconductor chips, and temperature sensors. Xuanhe Zhao, the lead scientist on the study, said, “Electronics are usually hard and dry, but the human body is soft and wet. These two systems have drastically different properties. If you want to put electronics in close contact with the human body for applications such as health care monitoring and drug delivery, it is highly desirable to make the electronic devices soft and stretchable to fit the environment of the human body. That’s the motivation for stretchable hydrogel electronics.”

MIT
MIT

The next generation hydrogel substance was initially constructed to be fused with hard metal surfaces, like gold, aluminum, and silver. Although they are generally brittle and non-springy, the hydrogels used in these bandages are equipped with a titanium wire network, which enables the band to develop resilient, rubber-like properties. Due to the durability and strength of titanium wires, these bands can be stretched a number of times without causing damage to the internal structure or its electronic conductivity.

The production of constant conductivity allows the band aid to perform as a “smart dressing.” The temperature control and the medicine delivery channels remain unaffected, even when the dressing is stretched to its limits. The drug administration and the temperature variables can be monitored via an electronic circuit, and the team of scientists hopes that these properties can be utilized to treat burns successfully.

The long-term objective of this new innovation is to insert microscopic electronic delivery systems into the human body, such as drug delivery probes, neural probes, and glucose sensors. Zhao explained the numerous future applications of the reformed hydrogel band aid by saying, “The brain is a bowl of Jell-O. Currently, researchers are trying different soft materials to achieve long-term biocompatibility of neural devices. With collaborators, we are proposing to use robust hydrogel as an ideal material for neural devices, because the hydrogel can be designed to possess similar mechanical and physiological properties as the brain.”

World’s First ‘Solar Road’ is Generating More Power Than Expected

Just imagine if our roads could act as solar panels and are able to generate power for our houses as well as charge the electric vehicles that drive on them.

The Netherlands built the world’s first solar road in Krommenie, dubbed as SolaRoad, a year ago. It is an experimental bike path that functions as a giant solar panel. The results have surprised the designers, as over the past year the path has generated 70 kWh/m2 of energy, which is sufficient to power about three houses.

Here are some important features of the revolutionary SolaRoad:

  • SolaRoad path only covers 70 meters or about 230 feet.
  • The road is strong enough to support 12-ton fire trucks without any damage.
  • Solar Panels are placed between glass, silicon rubber, and concrete.
  • The road has skid-resistant glass and hence supports bicycles and vehicles as well as pedestrian traffic.
  • Electricity generated by this road is fed into the electricity grid.

Over 9800 kWh of energy was generated from 70 meters of space, so imagine the potential of this technology if adopted on a wider scale.

Looking at the success of this project, engineers foresee that many more cities around the world will adopt the idea and use existing roadways to gather cheap and sustainable energy.