Could Maker Spaces help with urgent hospital equipment?

When Maker Spaces became popular, the idea was to help average people improvise technology with simple material. Where are the Maker Spaces now?

The good news, is they have taken the challenge, as you can see here.  From face shields to cloth masks, and even automated ventilators. These specs are for a face shield using a 3D printed visor. (From Columbia University librarians.) But I would imagine that off-the-shelf plexi-glass would do. The University of Arizona  Dept of Health Science has a similar project.

Could you help? Why not start with making cloth face masks for the family, and neighbors? The patterns are here as PDF downloads. The Center for Disease Control also has a step-by-step tutorial.

Looking ahead, I hope one of the lessons from Covid-19 and the new normal would include the ability to rapidly mobilize citizens to come to the aid of over stressed hospital systems. While we are all isolating, at least we could keep our hands busy.

Meanwhile, mask brokers and fraudulent middlemen have been trying to capitalize on the lack of preparedness.

Future engineers name the new Mars Rover

Sometime in July this year NASA will launch the 2020 Mission to Mars.

While the countdown has begun, the naming of the rover has been in the hands of students from K-12 in the US. Hundreds of names were submitted, and among them the finalists are “Endurance,” “Promise.” “Tenacity,” “Perseverance,” “Clarity,” “Endurance,” “Courage,” “Vision” and “Fortitude.” Many reflect the previous Rovers, Opportunity, Spirit, and “Curiosity.” Students were asked to support their  name with an essay. I loved some of the rationale  presented. For instance,  this:

Fortitude: “Defined as: courage in difficulties or misfortune, this reflects how space travel is challenging for our planet. “

Nunnehi: This rover needs a name I see! Well here is my proposal: Nunnehi ; this word is in the Cherokee language it means traveler. The Cherokee were some of the first settlers in North America. The Cherokee were travelers. They would be amazed at the fact that we are going to mars!  

(Unfortunately, Nunnehi is not one of the semi-finalists.)

My vote goes for this one:

Perseverance. Curiosity. Insight. Spirit. Opportunity. If you think about it, all of these names of past mars rovers are qualities we possess as humans. We are always curious, and seek opportunity. We have the spirit and insight to explore the moon, mars, and beyond. But, if rovers are to be the qualities of us as a race, we missed the most important thing. Perseverance. We as humans evolved as creatures who could learn to adapt to any situation, no matter how harsh. 

The 2020 rover will collect rock samples and send it back to Earth via a robotics system and an ascent rocket. Quite an ambitious mission! Perfect back-story for anyone teaching or following robotics, space science or rocketry, or STEAM.

Might robots might fix satellites (and not replace us?)

Satellites do need tech support now and then, but whom are you gonna call when a large metal and glass object hurtling through space needs a repairman?

One group of scientists believes it could deploy a robot to fix a broken antenna or a weakened panel. Ou Ma, a professor at the University of Cincinnati professor believes his group could develop robots –basically robotic satellites– that can be deployed to dock with a satellites and perform the necessary tasks. The details are here.

I found the story interesting because sending robots into space isn’t something new. But sending robots on ‘work’ related missions, rather than for mere exploration, might be an area that attracts funding. Robotics is often seen as dangerous, unnecessary, or too expensive.

In a related development, speaking of work, researchers at ASU are looking at how robots could augment, rather than replace workers in certain jobs. This story, in this month’s Thrive Magazine, looks at the human impact of robotics. There’s obviously an AI component to this. “What we can do instead is design our AI systems, our robots, in a way that will help people to come on board,” says Siddharth Srivastava, at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society

This is the topic, this week that I brought up at my robotics club meeting at Benjamin Franklin High School

What the Mars Rover Opportunity taught us

15 years, covering 28 miles on Mars, the Mars Rover Opportunity came to the end of its mission this week. Basically it lost contact with Earth last June; NASA had to finally call it Mission Accomplished. The gutsy little Rover was part of a tag team (Opportunity landed on Jan. 24, 2004, Spirit had arrived a few weeks earlier.)

Gutsy doesn’t even start to describe the robot that refused to quit. Here’s how Jet propulsion Lab described it in a few bullet points.

  • Set a one-day Mars driving record March 20, 2005, when it traveled 721 feet (220 meters).
  • Returned more than 217,000 images, including 15 360-degree color panoramas.
  • Exposed the surfaces of 52 rocks to reveal fresh mineral surfaces for analysis and cleared 72 additional targets with a brush to prepare them for inspection with spectrometers and a microscopic imager.
  • Found hematite, a mineral that forms in water, at its landing site.
  • Discovered strong indications at Endeavour Crater of the action of ancient water similar to the drinkable water of a pond or lake on Earth.

Opportunity and it’s cohorts explored the theory that Mars could be (or support) a “habitable environment” Its longevity, and ability to literally dust off its problems showed future explorers that this is possible. It’s very landing inspired future landing innovations to distant planets, while its photographing of blueberry-like rocks gave researchers back on Earth an idea of what hematite means to us.

This spunky robot also has a delightful design. For a few years I would borrow a wheel of (a replica of) its sister bot, Spirit, from the Mars lab at ASU, and display it in my class. It definitely inspired me to take robotics more seriously.

Robots that could run farms? Should bots do that?

Have you seen this concept video? Robots that perform farming. It’s disturbing to say the least, to think that the field of robotics is being applied to areas we never used to anticipate. No longer ‘programmed’ robots, these are machines that learn and apply what we now call machine learning, to the environment they are placed in. For instance could a robot learn about —and work in consort with — other devices on the so-called farm. (It’s actually a greenhouse.).

To put it in context, if robots could shuttle between products on a shelves in an Amazon warehouse, this is just an extension of that – an industrial application. We are at the starting blocks of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, so these upheavals – technological, economic, environmental, social etc— are just beginning to show up. I’ve been critical of the rush to apply AI into everything, holding out some optimism that these players and industries might still need some humans, while replacing others.

It has been featured in Wired, and CNBC.

Also there’s another video worth watching.

Could MIT reinvent itself with an ‘ethical’ approach to AI?

Just in time, as the field of AI ramps up. (Also by some coincidence, a week after the cover story in LMD.)

MIT has just announced it will add a new college, the Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, dedicated to world-changing breakthroughs in AI, and their ethical application. The college will “reorient MIT” to add 50 new faculty positions, and give  students in every discipline an opportunity to develop and apply AI and computing technologies.

The term ‘ethical’ keeps popping up these days in relation to Artificial Intelligence. MIT expands on this, saying it will “examine the anticipated outcomes of advances in AI and machine learning, and to shape policies around the ethics of AI.” As I have mentioned elsewhere, most experts (from Elon Musk, to Bill Gates to Berners-Lee aside) agree that we are just at the tadpole stage of the life-cycle of AI.

However, some, such as sci-fi writer, Isaac Asimov and even Stephen Hawking have had concerns. Hawking, for instance remarked that “we all have a role to play in ensuring that we and the next generation have the determination to engage with science … and create a better world for the whole human race.” MIT seems to be the first large institution to take up this mantle, and in the process, redefine and re-invent its role in education.

Entrepreneurship program begins Sept 24th. It’s Free!


This is a 5-week program for undergrad students – would be entrepreneurs! Conducted by ASU and Chandler-Gilbert Community College.

Students learn how to come up with entrepreneurial skills that could solve community issues. They will learn the art of pitching the idea, and using technology to solve these problems.

They will also have access to the Cisco Innovation Challenge ($5,000,
$3,000 and $2,000 awards) that could help them launch or grow their project.

There are no GPA requirements and best of all, the 5-week program is free!

More details could be found here.


When humans shut down Robots

I found this demo quite creepy, but intriguing. It was a video created by a team at the Navy Research Lab in 2011 but is relevant today. A test to figure out how AI could be used to improve “sensor-based” activity between humans and robots.

It’s a plot twist with echoes of “2001 Space Odyssey” in which ‘HAL’ turns off the human life support system, and the human later returns the favor by shutting off the mainframe.

The human here shuts down the robots, Octavia and George – just in case the robot rebellion is pending! The robot uses what is called a ‘multi bio-metrics classifier’ for facial recognition. Maybe I’ve been reading too much of Isaac Asimov lately, so this is quite chilling.

Inside the Classical Education model. Latin, robotics, and…podcasting

In our middle-school years at St. Peter’s College, Latin was a subject. We didn’t know why we had to study a ‘dead language’ or how it fit alongside biology and geometry. But it later transpired when the seeds of a classical language began to sprout. Our love for theater (whether it was Oliver Twist, or Hamlet), our appetite for reading, debating, linguistics, and history could be traced back to learning what seemed like tedious (read: boring) declensions and the likes.

This school year I joined a classical High School, and now see the internal architecture of a classical education. The three-part structure of ‘grammar, rhetoric, and dialectics’ is just the start. Music and the fine arts, science and athletics are key elements. And of course technology.

A few months ago in teaching communication to my college level students, we looked at how rhetoric mattered; the underpinning of public speaking, ‘Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.’ So I was delighted to see how my High School’s monthly themes are structured on classical Roman virtues such as Gravitas, Humanitas, and Comitas.

You’re probably wondering what does this do for learning, and students’ character? I can only say this. After a month of teaching with this model in place (teaching computers and tech, mind you!), students come to class eager and prepped to learn; respectful, inquisitive, thoughtful.  This week, looking at inventors and inventions we did thought experiments (a.k.a. Bell work) on social norms and expectations when Thomas Edison messed around with filaments and early audio. Next week they will see parallels with someone like Douglas Engelbart, the prolific Edison-like chap who gave us the mouse, among other things. They were philosophers in their own time, who embodied, and fit, the classical model.

At the end of the week two students approached me to sponsor clubs. One was a Robotics club, and the other was for Podcasting. I had to catch my breath – podcasting! What would 12-year olds want to do with podcasts? It comes down to the classical model which feeds the need for young people to engage in much, much more than Fortnite, or memes. If we only let them.