(CNN) — As smartphones bleed into all parts of our life, a common New Year’s resolution for 2015 will be to cut down on phone usage and be more present in the moment.
It’s harder than it sounds.
Know why you look
Some people can easily turn off or ignore their phones. But many have the urge to compulsively “just check,” no matter what conversations and activities are going on around them.
That’s because each notification, like and communication is a stimulant that acts as a pleasure hit to the brain, according to Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist and author of “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age.” It creates an instant sense of excitement and being needed.
The irresistible urge to look at a smartphone screen also can stem from a fear of missing out and compulsive and addictive behaviors.
If you lie and say you’re checking your phone for work when you’re not, or wake up in the middle of the night and have the urge to look at your smartphone, it might be time to cut back.
Agree on ground rules
Phone checking is contagious. One person picks up their device, then everyone else in the room takes it as a cue to check theirs.
At home, this makes it hard for one person to change their behavior without the help of their family. It’s easy to justify scanning Twitter when everyone else around you has already tuned out.
Come up with an understanding of how you’re allowed to use technology at home. Set aside specific times for smartphones, such as everyone can check for 15 minutes after dinner. Create screen-free zones in your home, by designating rooms where nobody is allowed to check their smartphones or tablets.
Start with the bedroom, where fewer glowing screens can improve your sleep and maybe your love life. Buy an old-fashioned alarm clock and leave the phone in another room, or just have a ban on phones for one hour before bed.
Listen to your kids
Parents are increasingly absorbed in their smartphones while with their kids, whether it’s at the playground, in a restaurant or at home. Steiner-Adair says she often sees children who are frustrated and fatigued from trying to get their parents’ attention.
“At a certain point, children feel like being at the park and pushing me on the swing must not be that much fun to you because you’re talking to somebody else,” she said.
Look for cues from kids that you’re too absorbed in your devices. Younger children might throw away or hide a phone, or throw tantrums to get attention. Older kids might tell you directly or withdraw into their own devices.
There is the argument that smartphones allow us to be more flexible about when and where we work, allowing for more time physically spend with families. But always being just semi-present can have a negative impact on kids.
“Kids often feel like you’re not really here, you’re not paying attention,” says Steiner-Adair.
Replace the phone time with something real
Levi Felix is the founder of Digital Detox, which arranges retreats where people pay to hand over their screens and spend time in nature, talking face-to-face with people, and reconnecting with the real world.
He suggests replacing the times you’re checking your phone with real-world experiences. Take a step back and ask yourself why you reach for your phone. Are you looking for a connection or are in search of a community? Does the constant archiving of your life stem out of a fear of dying? Or is it just boredom?
Make a list of things you want to accomplish and keep that piece of paper on you. When you feel the urge to check creeping in, take out the paper instead of your phone.
Instead of automatically Instagraming or tweeting about a good experience, try something more analog.
“Document it in different ways that ingrain you more in the experience, like drawing or writing about it,” said Felix.
Use technology to limit technology
Many phones already have built-in tools that can help you create boundaries.
First, turn off notifications. Use filters to make any necessary exemptions so that your boss or grandmother can always get through. Use away messages to let people know you won’t be responding to their emails. Set expectations about when you are working and stick to them.
Parental controls are a great way to self-discipline. Set timers for yourself, turn off access to distracting apps during certain hours.
There’s even an app called Moment for tracking your phone usage like calories. Perhaps a little reality check about how much you pick up your device will help motivate you to put it away.
Learn to be bored and uncomfortable
One casualty of smartphones is quiet time. The brain needs a break from constant input and stimulation to rest.
“If you feel anxious or bored and you turn to a screen every time you’ve got free time, that’s a sign you’ve lost some essential ways of being with yourself,” said Steiner-Adair.
Devices can also be a quick escape from an awkward in a social situation or a way to avoid interacting with someone when you’re mad or upset.
Instead of disappearing in a device, force yourself to spend time in the messy, mind-numbingly dull, or unpleasant real-world situations around you. It might give you something good to tweet about.
(CNN) — When we imagine the robots of the future, they often look and move like humans, standing up on two legs and using a pair of arms to grab and move objects. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is working on a different kind of robot for disaster response that’s designed to move like an ape.
Headless but covered with seven cameras that act as “eyes,” the RobotSimian has four identical limbs that do double duty as arms and legs. Together, they ably move the robot across rough terrain and rubble but can also pick up and manipulate objects. It has wheels it can coast on if the surface is smooth enough.
The RoboSimian is JPL’s final entry into the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a 27-month-long competition among some of the world’s top robotic talent to create an emergency response robot. In situations such as a nuclear disaster, one of these robots could go into environments too dangerous for human rescue workers and execute simple tasks such as lifting debris off survivors or turning off a valve.
In June, RoboSimian and up to 18 other finalists will have to make their way through an obstacle course that simulates eight common scenarios. Each robot will attempt to drive a car, move across rubble, use a tool and climb stairs, all without a human controlling it. DARPA says the final competitors should be as competent as a 2-year-old child. The winning team will receive a $ 2 million prize.
JPL used leftover parts from RoboSimian to create another robot called Surrogate. The more traditional upright robot has a flexible spine, head and two arms. While better at manipulating objects, Surrogate ran on tracks and wasn’t as adept at traversing the complicated terrain that is common in a disaster. After considering both candidates, the team decided to take RoboSimian to the finals.
One trade-off is that RoboSiman is slower than many other competitors. JPL’s team is working with the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Caltech to increase the robot’s walking speed.
“It is intentionally the tortoise relative to the other hares in the competition. We feel that a very stable and deliberate approach suites our technical strengths and provides a model for one vital element of the ‘ecosystem’ of robots that we expect to be deployed to disaster scenarios in the future,” said JPL’s Brett Kennedy, who is supervisor of the Robotic Vehicles and Manipulators Group.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is most known for designing robotics for space exploration, such as the Mars rovers. But the DARPA competition was an opportunity for the JPL group to take its existing robotics research and compare approaches directly to other talented teams.
NASA also has a long history of taking technology developed for space exploration and using it here on Earth.
RoboSimian software was influenced by programs used to control the Mars rovers. In both cases, the system is designed to let the robots work as autonomously as possible when communication with a human operator is dropped. Spotty communications are common in disaster scenarios (and on Mars).
The team has thought hard about all aspects of RoboSimian’s design, even making sure it has the right look.
“We included industrial designers in the team in an effort to create a robot that looked professional rather than either threatening or overly cute,” said Kennedy. “Basically, we wanted the perceptual equivalent of a St. Bernard.”
While JPL is focused on perfecting the ape-like design for Earth-bound applications for now, this is just one stop in the circular life of NASA technology.
“We intend to spin the technologies developed for the terrestrial RoboSimian back out to applications in space,” said Kennedy.
“These tasks include assembly and maintenance of orbital structures; exploration of low-gravity bodies like asteroids, comets, and moons; exploration of caves and cliffs on Mars or our moon; and even preconstruction of habitats wherever humans care to venture in the solar system.”
Editor’s note: Tomorrow Transformed explores innovative approaches and opportunities available in business and society through technology.
(CNN) — Imagine a blimp city floating 30 miles above the scorching surface of Venus — a home for a team of astronauts studying one of the solar system’s most inhospitable planets.
NASA is currently doing just that; floating a concept that could one day see a 30-day manned mission to Earth’s closest planetary neighbor.
Eventually, the mission could involve a permanent human presence suspended above the planet.
NASA’s floating ‘habitat’ above Venus?
Also known as the morning star, and named after the goddess of love and beauty because it shone the brightest of the five planets known to ancient astronomers, Venus is a hot, sulphurous, hellish place whose surface has more volcanoes than any other planet in the solar system.
With a mean temperature of 462 degrees Celsius (863 degrees Fahrenheit), an atmospheric pressure 92 times greater than Earth’s and a cloud layer of sulphuric acid, even probes to Venus have lasted little more than two hours. Its surface is hot enough to melt lead and its atmospheric pressure is the equivalent of diving a mile underwater.
But above this cauldron of carbon dioxide at an altitude of 50km (30 miles) scientists say the conditions are as close to Earth’s as you’ll find anywhere in the solar system.
The gravity at this altitude is only slightly lower than that of Earth, its atmospheric pressure is similar and the aerospace provides enough protection from solar radiation to make it no more dangerous than taking a trip to Canada.
Known at NASA as HAVOC – High Altitude Venus Operational Concept – engineers and scientists at the Systems Analysis and Concepts Directorate at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, have been working on a preliminary feasibility study on how robots and humans could make a Venus mission a reality.
“The atmosphere of Venus is an exciting destination for both further scientific study and future human exploration,” said aerospace engineer Christopher A. Jones of the Space Mission Analysis Branch.
“One concept is a lighter-than-air vehicle that could carry either a host of instruments and probes, or a habitat and ascent vehicle for a crew of two astronauts to explore Venus for up to a month.”
He said the study showed the mission would require less time to complete than crewed missions to other planets and could even be a practice run for a Mars mission.
Closer to Earth
Venus has the advantage of being much closer to Earth. Its minimum distance to Earth is 38 million kilometers, compared with 54.6 million to Mars.
“The kind of multi-decade mission that we believe could succeed would be an evolutionary program for the exploration of Venus, with focus on the mission architecture and vehicle concept for a 30-day crewed mission into Venus’s atmosphere,” he said.
At the heart of the concept is the logistically difficult task of sending a spacecraft into the atmosphere of Venus without landing it.
The HAVOC model involves placing the astronauts inside an ‘aeroshell’ that would enter the atmosphere at 4,500 miles per hour.
Decelerating during its descent to just 450 meters per second and then deploying a parachute, the shell would fall away to reveal a folded airship. Robotic arms would unfurl the blimp which would be inflated with helium to allow the airship to float 30 miles above the planet’s fiery surface.
Jones said the key technical challenges for the mission include performing the “aerocapture” maneuvers at Venus and Earth (the process of entering the orbit of both planets), inserting and inflating the airships, and protecting the solar panels and structure from the sulphuric acid in the atmosphere.
“With advances in technology and further refinement of the concept, missions to the Venusian atmosphere can expand humanity’s future in space,” he said.
Ultimately, NASA could seek a permanent manned presence in Venus’s atmosphere.
Suspended in a gondola beneath the airships, astronauts would not have to contend with the physical challenges of zero gravity, where weightlessness causes muscles to wither and bones to demineralize.
And at a mere 167 degrees Fahrenheit (75 degrees Celsius) — just 30 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth — even current technology has the ability to contend with everything that Venus could throw at the mission.
Even so, HAVOC is envisioned as a multi-phase campaign and robotic missions would have to be sent to test technologies and better understand the atmosphere.
While NASA has no current plans to fund the concept, the Langley-based team continues its work with the hope the space agency could make the plan come to fruition within several decades.
“Eventually, a short duration human mission would allow us to gain experience having humans live at another world, with the hope that it would someday be possible to live in the atmosphere permanently,” Jones said.
Read more from Tomorrow Transformed:
A screen grab from the Sendy app shows what the courier tracking system looks like.
Gamsole’s Traffic Jam game for Windows phones. The Nigerian startup is the poster child for African game developers — their games have been downloaded nine million times globally since launch.
Editor’s note: Nigerian new media entrepreneur Loy Okezie is the Founder and Chief Editorial Officer of Techloy.com, a leading source of technology news, opinion and analysis.
Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) — 2014 has been another amazing year for startups in Africa.
More and more entrepreneurs turned their attention to building businesses that can solve the continent’s problems and provide services it has long awaited.
Enterprises emerged to fix problems in payments, traffic and talent, while more entrepreneurs raised more money from investors than ever before.
Here, in no particular order are 10 of the most exciting young companies of the year.
The list includes the startups I consider to have the most potential, to be the most viable — not necessarily the most popular or hyped.
In a nutshell: Uber-style motorbike delivery service.
What’s unique: Africa has delivery services and courier services but never before Uber-style so you can track exactly where the deliver rider is via your phone app.
Sending packages is usually expensive and difficult in big, congested African cities like Nairobi and Lagos. Many people use motorbikes to get to work to avoid getting stuck in traffic, so using motorbikes for deliveries is a smart, cheap, local solution.
Future moves: Sendy is in a very strong position because e-commerce is growing and at some point those kinds of sites could integrate with companies like Sendy. It could also potentially be acquired by a foreign company, perhaps Amazon, if they decide to expand to Kenya or South Africa and want to invest in a delivery service that understands the terrain.
Where: Kenya, East Africa region
In a nutshell: Pay-as-you-go cloud computing
What’s unique: This is nothing new internationally, but the cloud computing space in Kenya is nascent. Angani are coming into the market trying to make prices affordable. What makes it cool is that you pay for what you use. You choose a plan and go.
Future moves: It may be difficult for Angani to scale in a short time, given that all of their competitors in this new and growing market are established players. It remains to be seen whether their tactic of driving competition with low prices will attract enough customers.
In a nutshell: Mobile payments without internet
What’s unique: Their offering — mobile payments over mobile networks — is unique. It’s something that hasn’t been done before. Making mobile payments over the internet can often be an issue in Africa, so Irofit are leveraging more widespread mobile networks.
Future moves: They launched very recently, and no one has used the app yet. But Irofit raised $ 600,000 in just six months earlier this year, showing that there are big players who think the startup has real potential.
Where: South Africa
In a nutshell: Invite-only social platform for business
What’s unique: A business platform for companies to help their employees to more effectively communicate. Staff can use the platform to collaborate on projects, set up meetings, instant message, share files and more.
Future moves: Wyzetalk has been around since 2011, but they have built the company steadily, winning round after round of funding, which shows they must be doing something right. It is currently used by companies from a variety of industries including travel and tourism, tech and food and drink. They have a very solid model and are likely to keep growing.
Where: Nigeria, Global
In a nutshell: Gaming company
What’s unique: Celebrated as the biggest success story of any African game developers, this startup has been developing games in the Windows phone market for a couple of years. Gamsole was incubated in the 88mph accelerator and since then their games have seen 9 million downloads globally.
Future moves: Gamsole recently received an innovation grant from Microsoft and are looking for new talent with a recently launched competition for illustrators and designers that offers $ 4,000 to the winner. They are also yet to launch a global smash hit game.
Where: South Africa
In a nutshell: Make payments via your mobile phone
What’s unique: A service, not dissimilar to Apple Pay, which allows people to make payments with their mobile phone by simply taking a photo of a QR code and punching in the amount they want to pay.
Future moves: Less than a year after launch, the system was being used by 12,000 small businesses. There is huge potential for this service: There is an appetite for convenience in payments and there is an opportunity to leverage on Africa being mobile first. They have the potential to expand into other markets and maybe even compete with Apple Pay and Google Wallet.
In a nutshell: Delivering smarter using big data
What’s unique: This startup is all about using big data and analytics to help companies in Africa’s emerging e-commerce sector manage inventory and deliver more efficiently. Delivery Science offer to completely manage a company’s logistics from what’s in the warehouse to innovative ideas like verification codes for deliveries to ensure the right person gets a package.
Future moves: The company was started this year by a team who have successfully launched other startups and who are knowledgeable in delivery and logistics. They have the right idea and the knowledge to serve the market in Nigeria.
In a nutshell: Out-of-the-box payroll management application.
What’s unique: Right now, many companies in Ghana still use spreadsheets to organize employee pay. Paysail offers an all-in-one service that comes with Ghanian tax codes programmed in to make company accountants’ jobs easier.
Future moves: It’s a new idea. It’s different. Most of the companies — like this one — that are incubated in the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology in Ghana try to reach other markets. Right now, no one is doing anything like this in next-door Nigeria, which means the Paysail application has opportunity to offer an incredible change.
Where: Nigeria, pan-Africa
In a nutshell: Training graduates as developers, matching them with employers
What’s unique: Andela is focused on helping employers from all over the world find talent from Africa. They take it a step further by identifying raw talent and paying them to learn to become developers, then matching them with global employers looking for talent. The company currently has a local office in Nigeria and a company in the United States.
Future moves: This company’s approach is very smart. In Africa there is a desperate need for talent — we don’t have enough developers, let alone quality developers, because universities don’t qualify graduates in technologies for the future. There is also a huge market globally, so this company has a massive opportunity.
Where: Kenya, all of Africa.
In a nutshell: A self-powered, mobile WiFi device.
What’s unique: BRCK is a blackbox described by its makers as “a backup generator for the internet,” with the aim of solving Africa’s connectivity issues. In Africa, there are power outages on a daily basis so getting online and staying online anywhere and anytime in these parts as well as other parts of the world requires a device that can seamlessly switch between multiple networks to provide access, even in remote areas. That’s where BRCK comes in.
Future moves: This product is quite ingenious. The potential impact and scale of this company is the reason it closed a $ 1.2 million seed funding round, after initially raising $ 172,000 in a Kickstarter campaign last year. BRCK has the potential to provide internet connectivity to rural areas across the world, where Internet access can be unstable.
(CNN) — Google’s new driverless-car prototype is downright hugable.
The company unveiled its latest self-driving vehicle on Monday, and it looks like a cartoon koala crossed with a smart car wearing a fez.
Unlike the mock-up car Google first shared in May, this version is fully functional. It even has real headlights. The round, white and gray car is designed without permanent driving tools like a gas pedal or wheel. However, to comply with California state law, there are still removable, temporary controls for the required “safety driver” — a real person who needs to be in the car and ready to take over in an emergency. The goal is to eventually remove any interior controls so that passengers can take a nap or knit while the car does all the work.
Google’s self-driving car team will continue to test the vehicle on a private track in California, where it works its way around traffic lights and mock construction zones. Google has said it’s interested in launching a pilot program for the cars in the coming years.
When the tech company first started experimenting with self-driving technology, it modified existing cars, like a Toyota, Audi and Lexus, by adding multiple cameras and sensors and an onboard computer. Now Google has moved on to making its own car from scratch. The car’s dome-like shape is optimal for giving sensors the widest field of view.
A car could help put people’s minds at ease about the controversial technology. Before self-driving cars can start ferrying us to work, companies need figure out ethical issues (does it hit a deer or crash into the median?), improve basic driving functions, and work with governments on legislation to allow driverless cars on all roads.
Google is just one of many companies developing driverless car technology. Universities and major auto manufacturers such as BMW and Mercedes are working on similar vehicles. Google hopes to have its version on the road by the end of the decade.
(CNN) — The podcast “Serial” is wrapping up its first season on Thursday as a bona fide success.
Since its debut in the fall, the podcast has captured the attention of millions of listeners as it unraveled the story of a young woman’s murder in Baltimore in 1999. According to CNN Money, it’s become so popular that it’s even giving other podcasts a boost.
Just how much of an impact has “Serial” had on popular culture? Let’s take a look at the numbers:
12 – Weekly episodes in Season 1 of “Serial.”
January 13, 1999 – The date of Baltimore, Maryland, area high school student Hae Min Lee’s murder.
2 – Number of trials. The first ended in a mistrial. The second ended in Adnan Syed’s conviction in 2000.
Life plus 30 years – Syed’s sentence.
4 – Number of potential suspects discussed by the podcast.
20 – Percentage of respondents to Buzzfeed’s unscientific “Definitive ‘Serial’ Obsessive Poll” who feel unsure as to whether Syed is guilty or not.
7 – Percent who think he is guilty.
21 minutes – Time frame during which the prosecutors alleged Syed was able to drive from Woodlawn High School to the neighborhood Best Buy, where Hae was strangled. During episode five, host Sarah Koenig and her producer, Dana, attempt to recreate the drive in that time, and make it.
5 million – “Serial” is the fastest podcast ever to reach 5 million downloads, according to Apple.
1.26 million – The average number of times each episode of “Serial” has been downloaded.
1 – Podcasts created to discuss the “Serial” podcast: Slate.com has the “Slate Serial Spoiler Special.”
39 million – Americans who have listened to a podcast in the past month, from a report by Edison Research.
About 28,000 – Members of a subreddit on Reddit.com for talking about the case.
$ 25,000 – Amount some subredditors want to raise for a scholarship fund in Hae Min Lee’s name.
8 – Students from the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law who are helping with the podcast by researching and investigating leads.
At least 1,275 – Retweets of a joke made by Best Buy on Twitter about “Serial.” “We have everything you need – Unless you need a payphone.” This references a lengthy discussion of testimony about calls purportedly made from a pay phone in the parking lot of the Best Buy store. However, the existence of the pay phone back in 1999 is disputed. The tweet was later deleted and replaced with an apology from Best Buy.
(CNN) — Kepler is still on the beat.
The NASA spacecraft, which is designed to seek out other worlds but hit a snag when parts failed last year, found another planet thanks to some nifty repurposing by the space agency and its partners, NASA confirmed Thursday.
The recently found world is named HIP 116454b and has a diameter 2.5 times the size of Earth’s, said NASA in a press release. That would make it smaller than Neptune, the next-largest planet in our solar system.
HIP 116454b orbits its star, which is in the direction of the constellation Pisces, in nine days and is too close to support life as we know it, the agency added. It’s 180 light-years away.
But it adds another tidbit to our knowledge of the universe — something scientists didn’t think was possible when a part of the craft broke down last year.
“Last summer, the possibility of a scientifically productive mission for Kepler after its reaction wheel failure in its extended mission was not part of the conversation,” said Paul Hertz, NASA’s astrophysics division director, in a statement.
But scientists and engineers came up with a new strategy that uses pressure from sunlight to take the place of the failed reaction wheel, which helps point the spacecraft in the right direction. Kepler is now free to continue its mission, called K2 by NASA.
“K2 is uniquely positioned to dramatically refine our understanding of these alien worlds and further define the boundary between rocky worlds like Earth and ice giants like Neptune,” said Kepler/K2 project scientist Steve Howell in NASA’s press release.
Let the hunt continue.
Editor’s note: Tomorrow Transformed explores innovative approaches and opportunities available in business and society through technology.
(WIRED) — The design studio Nervous System has created a novel process that allows a 3-D printed dress to move and sway like real fabric. The bespoke software behind it, called Kinematics, combines origami techniques with novel approaches to 3-D printing, pushing the technology’s limits.
After two days of printing at Shapeways, a dusty boulder of plastic emerges from an industrial-sized 3-D printer. Technicians remove excess dust like archeologists in search of a long-buried garment. The plastic parts are cleaned and dyed, resulting in a little black (or white) dress made from tiny, interlocking bricks of plastic.
No Gimmicks for this Gown
Designer Jessica Rosenkrantz made sure the gown was more than mere gimmickry. Buttons, cleverly modelled into the triangles make it easy to don and doff. Unlike other 3-D printed clothing that feels like a suit of armour, the long dress flows and moves as the model strides and twirls.
Comfort was a key concern. Rosenkrantz wore 3-D printed jewellery for weeks at a time in an attempt to catch design features that chafe. She built her wardrobe piece by piece, starting with a bracelet, then a belt, and finally a bodice before moving on to a dress. Rosenkrantz brought an old-school tailor’s approach to the project, but was happy to leverage modern technology. For example, 3-D scans of the model’s body ensured a perfect fit. She worked with Shapeways to optimise the print quality and aesthetics. As a result, her garment and its Github repository recently were acquired by the Museum of Modern Art.
Making It Work
Nervous System originally developed the Kinematics concept as part of a project for Google. The goal was to help add bit of cool to a pavilion promoting Android phones. Nervous System figured out how to print bracelets on MakerBots by reducing dimensional designs to flat pieces of plastic that could be printed in under an hour and folded like origami. Google was pleased with the promotion, but Nervous System believed the concept could be used to make garments. “We’d done some simulations and made some animations showing that we could do it hypothetically,” says Rosenkrantz.
These hypothetical simulations precipitated a software engineering effort one year in the making. Scaling up from a wrist-worn wearables to cocktail dress posed a particular challenge. The hinges linking the triangles must be small enough to let the fabric flow, but robust enough to avoid a wardrobe malfunction.
These mechanical challenges were exacerbated by limitations in 3-D printing technology. Pieces made with the technology have a grain, like wood, and certain orientations create stronger parts. The solution was to revamp the software. “We were able to do so much design-wise without ever printing anything,” says Rosenkrantz. “We knew not only exactly what the final piece would look like but also how it would behave.” Simulating folds was slow and inaccurate at first. Test prints of belts with 77 hinges worked beautifully, but scaling up to the 700 or more needed to create a dress repeatedly broke the software. Physics engines were tossed aside like fabric swatches.
Originally, the simulator would fold the clothes down into a ball. “Sort of like you are wadding clothes up to toss in you hamper,” says Rosenkrantz. “It looked cool but it wasn’t the most efficient way to get the volume of our designs down.” So Rosenkrantz and partner Jesse Louis-Rosenberg developed a collision-based simulator that replicates how one might fold clothes to put them in a drawer.
The project pushed design, fashion, and fabrication in surprising ways. “To 3-D print structures in this crazy compressed form and have them unfold; that almost sounds like science fiction,” says Rosenkrantz. “Frankly, when you work on something complex like this in a completely digital world for so long, the biggest surprise is that it actually works as intended, from the compressing to the fit, draping, and movement.”
Printing also required special development. Nervous System needed to develop new tools to load its software. “We’ve been working with Nervous and our community over the years to push the machines to their limits,” says Carine Carmy of Shapeways. “From how densely we can pack the trays so you can print 1,000 products at once versus just one, to how long you need to run them so we can produce products more quickly, to how precise and detailed the prints can be so that you can design with micron precision.”
Ready to Wear?
Next up for Nervous System is improving the speed and adding new mechanisms and structures that will allow simulating different materials — think of a stout tweed versus a gossamer silk. Ultimately, the team thinks can be expanded for other applications like Skylar Tibbits Hyperform project.
At $ 3,000 a pop, Nervous System isn’t quite ready to commercialise its wearable wares. “That is a very high number although perhaps considerably lower than the price of most other 3-D printed garments,” she says. “We’re hoping to bring the price down before we start selling clothing.”
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Editor’s note: Smart Business explores the ways companies are thinking smart to thrive in our digitized world.
(CNN) — How did you wake yourself up this morning? Perhaps through a morning run, or hitting the yoga mat. Some favor good old caffeine, or new-age nutritional supplements.
Tom Rice, a London-based film producer in his late 20s, has a new routine. It includes a little fish oil, a shot of espresso, and 800mg of the cognitive-enhancement drug Piracetam.
“It enables you to think quicker and feel sharper,” says Rice. “Although I’ve only started recently so it’s hard to quantify the full effects.”
Rice has held a longstanding interest in nootropics — substances that improve brain function — as a means of enhancing his performance in a demanding business that requires tireless application.
“I have previously taken Modafinil (also known as Provigil) and found it incredibly useful when I really need to focus… when I have a lot of practical stuff to do, like writing emails and reading scripts.”
Retailer brings back ‘Made in America’
The producer emphasizes the value of healthy sleep and balanced diet, but through research and networking, has also developed an open attitude to cognitive enhancement.
Designer dresses that you can rent
“I don’t want to be on the frontier trying designer drugs but there are interesting developments that are worth keeping tabs on. Piracetam has been around since the 1970s, and from reading the accounts and the research, I felt the risk was negligible.
“I’m not desperate to find solutions to the problems I’m facing, but at the same time I’d love to find something that makes me function more effectively if it has a track record showing it is safe and effective.”
A growing trend
Rice’s approach is very far from unusual. “Smart drugs” that first entered the market in the mid-20th century, often through army experiments to keep fighters alert, have now reached saturation point in education, the start-up scene and many of the most demanding industries.
Studies have shown improved memory and focus, while establishing few negative side effects. In the US and much of Europe, nootropics are typically available only through prescription, but enthusiasts find willing suppliers from overseas.
Dave Asprey, a former Silicon Valley entrepreneur and now CEO of The Bulletproof Executive, producing cognitive enhancement substances, says that use is now commonplace at the highest levels of business.
“When I meet people through work who run companies have many zeroes in their bank accounts, it’s uncommon that they don’t have a baggie full of supplements. They say ‘this is what I take for my brain.'”
This represents progress based on improved understanding of biology and brain function, Asprey believes.
“Intelligent people want to control their own biology. We understand neural pathways better so we can create custom supplements that help the brain work better, and improve energy so that tasks that required drudgery don’t seem so hard…Cognitive burdens can become effortless.”
“There is great evidence that natural and pharmaceutical supplements can increase energy, and measurably change your ability to focus and relax.”
The CEO cites “entrepreneurs and disruptive innovators” as demographics that have been quick to adopt and benefit from cognitive enhancement, as well as people over 50 that want to retain their mental sharpness.
Challenge to business culture
The growing spread of these substances create conundrums for business and employers.
“Where can you draw the line between Red Bull, six cups of coffee and a prescription drug that keeps you more alert,” says Michael Schrage of the MIT Center for Digital Business, who has studied the phenomenon. “You can’t draw the line meaningfully – some organizations have cultures where it is expected that employees go the extra mile to finish an all-nighter. “
“If you work at a company with espresso machines all over the place I don’t think your boss will be surprised if you have prescription for an amphetamine.”
Schrage associates the spread of such substances with “high performance industries” such as trading, investment banking, journalism and software development. He views them as within a holistic field of performance enhancement that includes big data analytics, traditional nutrition and behavior — anything for an edge.
“For the companies it’s a question of culture — do they care more about the person or performance? Some company managers care, some don’t. Some only care about the quality of work and anything else is your (the employee’s) issue.”
Schrage adds that given the global race between businesses, it would be a risk for US companies to crack down on substances that competitors abroad could benefit from.
Risks and rewards
Neuroscientist and leading cognitive enhancement expert Professor Barbara Sahakian of the University of Cambridge feel there is value in the field, albeit tempered with uncertainty.
“I’m keen for government to look at this closely because some of them could be useful. Modafinil is licensed in the US for shift work because it keeps people awake and can help prevent accidents.”
“Modafinil seems more effective and efficient with lower side effects than caffeine, and there has been a lot of discussion about the safety of young people drinking a lot of Red Bull…if people are going to enhance themselves to stay awake longer it would be better to have safe methodologies.”
Sahakian would like to see further studies into the long term effects of Modafinil and other substances on healthy users, which could enable it to become more accessible, rather than the current supply route typically from unregulated international suppliers that may use dubious ingredients.
The professor’s studies with impaired users have found that Modafinil does improve cognitive function, in areas such as memory retention and task-related motivation. Initial follow-ups with healthy volunteers have shown similarly encouraging results.
Results also showed suitability is heightened for certain roles: “We found it improved the ability to start down one pathway but then find a new solution, which is particularly relevant to entrepreneurs.”
In addition to further safety tests, Sahakian believes ethical issues must be taken into account.
“There could be concerns about coercion. If these drugs are normalized within a company, would everyone be expected to take them?”
Yet a landmark British academy report into the effect of enhancement in the workplace addressed the question from the perspective of equality — whether all employees would have fair access to the drugs and their potential benefits.
As the smart pills continue to cut a swathe through the working world, it is no longer possible to ignore them.