Tag Archives: Nancy Owano

2013: women, science, gender, and sex

2013 seems to have been quite the year for discussions about women, gender, and sex (scandals) in the world of science. In Canada, we had the Council of Canadian Academies assessment: Strengthening Canada’s Research Capacity: The Gender Dimension; The Expert Panel on Women in University Research, (my commentary was in these February 22, 2013 postings titled: Science, women and gender in Canada (part 1 of 2) and Science, women and gender in Canada (part 2 of 2, respectively). Elsewhere, there was a special issue (March 7, 2013) of Nature magazine which had this to say on the issue’s home page,

Women in Science

Science remains institutionally sexist. Despite some progress, women scientists are still paid less, promoted less frequently, win fewer grants and are more likely to leave research than similarly qualified men. This special issue of Nature takes a hard look at the gender gap — from bench to boardroom — and at what is being done to close it.

Shaunacy Ferro in a March 10, 2013 posting on the Popular Science website added to the discussion (Note: A link has been removed)

… Why, even as the demand for STEM education rises, do only a fifth of the physics Ph.Ds awarded in the U.S. go to women, as a new New York Times magazine story asks?

Written by Eileen Pollack, who was one of the first women to graduate from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1978, this story is a deeply personal one. Though she graduated with honors after having written a thesis that, years later, her advisor would call “exceptional,” no one–not even that same advisor–encouraged her to go on to a post-graduate career in science.

At that point, it seemed like more than the usual number of articles relative to most years but not enough to excite comment, that is, until the sexual harassment scandals of October 2013.  The best timeline I’ve seen for these scandals was written by the folks at ‘talk science to me’ in an Oct. 21, 2013 posting by Amanda. I offered an abbreviated version along with a more extensive commentary in my Oct. 18, 2013 posting and there was this Oct. 22, 2013 posting by Connie St. Louis for the Guardian science blogs which includes an earlier Twitter altercation in the UK science communication community along with the .scandals in North America. Jobs were lost and many people were deeply distressed by the discovery that one of the main proponents of science and social media, Bora Zivkovic  (Scientific American editor responsible for that magazine’s blog network, founder of Science Online, and tireless of promoter of many, many science writers and communicators) had stumbled badly by committing acts  construed as sexual harassment by several women.

In the end, the scandals provoked a lot of discussion about sexism, sexual harassment, and gender bias in the sciences but whether anything will change remains to be seen. While these discussions have taken on a familiar pattern of decrying male sexism; it should be noted that women, too, can be just as sexist as any man. In my Sept. 24, 2012 posting about some research into women, science, and remuneration, I noted this,

Nancy Owano’s Sept. 21, 2012 phy.org article on a study about gender bias (early publication Sept. 17, 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) describes a situation that can be summed up with this saying ‘we women eat our own’.

The Yale University researchers developed applications for a supposed position in a science faculty and had faculty members assess the applicants’ paper submissions.  From Owano’s article,

Applications were all identical except for the male names and female names. Even though the male and female name applications were identical in competencies, the female student was less likely to be hired, being viewed as less competent and desirable as a new-hire.

Results further showed the faculty members chose higher starting salaries and more career mentoring for applicants with male names.

Interestingly, it made no difference on hiring decisions as to whether the faculty member was male or female. Bias was just as likely to occur at the hands of a female as well as male faculty member.

I tracked down the paper (which is open access), Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students by Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, John F. Dovidio, Victoria L. Bescroll, Mark J. Graham, and Jo Handelsman and found some figures in a table which I can’t reproduce here but suggest the saying ‘we women eat their own’ isn’t far off the mark. In it, you’ll see that while women faculty members will offer less to both genders, they offer significantly less to female applicants.

For a male applicant, here’s the salary offer,

Male Faculty               Female Faculty

30,520.82                    29, 333.33

 

For a female applicant, here’s the salary offer,

Male Faculty               Female Faculty

27,111.11                    25,000.00

To sum this up, the men offered approximately $3000 (9.25%) less to female applicants while the women offered approximately $4000 (14.6%) less. It’s uncomfortable to admit that women may be just as much or even more at fault as men where gender bias is concerned. However, it is necessary if the situation is ever going to change.

As for the two women involved in the sex scandals, both as whistle blowers, The Urban Scientist, DN Lee continues to write on her blog on the Scientific American (SA) website (her incident involved a posting she wrote about a sexist and racist incident with an editor from Biology Online [who subsequently lost their job] that was removed by the SA editors and, eventually, reinstated) while Monica Byrne continues to write on her personal blog although I don’t know if she has done any science writing since she blew the whistle on Bora. You may want to read Byrne’s account of events here

I think we (men and women) are obliged to take good look at sexism around us and within us and if you still have any doubts about the prevalence of sexism and gender bias against women, take a look at Sydney Brownstone’s Oct. 22, 2013 article for Fast Company,

These ads for U.N. Women show what happens if you type things like “women need to” into Google. The autocomplete function will suggest ways to fill in the blank based on common search terms such as “know their place” and “shut up.”

A quick, unscientific study of men-based searches comes up with very different Autocomplete suggestions. Type in “men need to,” and you’ll get “feel needed,” “grow up,” or “ejaculate.” Type in “men shouldn’t,” and you might get, “wear flip flops.”

Those searches were made in March 2013.

SpiderSense and wearable computers

Nancy Owano in her Feb. 23, 2013 article for phys.org, Wearable display meets blindfold test for sensing danger, features a project (SpiderSense) from the University of Illinois at Chicago that will be presented at the Augmented Human ’13 conference to be held March 7 – 8, 2013 in Stuttgart, Germany,

The researchers behind SpiderSense define it as a wearable device that projects the wearer’s near environment on the skin. The suit gives the user a special directional awareness of surrounding objects. They have explored a scenario where multiple sites over the body, rather than just hands, are fitted with transducers. These transducers relay information about the wearer’s environment into tactile sensations.

Modules are distributed across the suit to give the wearer as near to 360-degree ultrasound coverage as possible. The system modules can scan the environment; they are controlled through a Controller Box. The box carries the power source, the electronics and the system logic. The modules and the Controller Box are connected by means of ten pin ribbon cables. The researchers said that, in the future, this could be replaced by a wireless Bluetooth connection.

You can find out more about SpiderSense from its presentation webpage on the University of Illinois at Chicago Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) website,

Sensing the environment through SpiderSense     

authors: Mateevitsi,V., Haggadone, B., Leigh, J., Kunzer, B., Kenyon, R.V.

Augmented Human ’13, 4th International Conference in Cooperation with ACM SIGCHI, Stuttgart, Germany

Recent scientific advances allow the use of technology to expand the number of forms of energy that can be perceived by humans. Smart sensors can detect hazards that human sensors are unable to perceive, for example radiation. This fusing of technology to human’s forms of perception enables exciting new ways of perceiving the world around us. In this paper we describe the design of SpiderSense, a wearable device that projects the wearer’s near environment on the skin and allows for directional awareness of objects around him. The millions of sensory receptors that cover the skin presents opportunities for conveying alerts and messages. We discuss the challenges and considerations of designing similar wearable devices.

Victor Mateevisti wearing SpiderSense image provided by L. Long, EVL

Victor Mateevisti wearing SpiderSense
image provided by L. Long, EVL

A Feb. 22, 2013 article by Hal Hodson for New Scientist inspired Owano who acknowledges that to be the case in her end notes,

Mateevitsi [Victor Mateevitsi] tested the suit out on students, getting them to stand outside on campus, blindfolded, and “feel” for approaching attackers. Each wearer had ninja cardboard throwing stars to use whenever they sensed someone approaching them. “Ninety five per cent of the time they were able to sense someone approaching and throw the star at them,” says Mateevitsi.

The SpiderSense presentation is scheduled for March 7, 2013 at the Augmented Human ’13 conference or as it’s also known, the 4th International Conference in Cooperation with ACM SIGCHI (Association for Computing Machinery, Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction). The team, as per Hal Hodson’s article,  hopes to start human trials of SpiderSense with visually impaired individuals.

A brainwave computer controller named Muse

Toronto-based (Canada) company, InteraXon has just presented a portable brainwave controller at the ParisLeWeb 2012 meeting according to a Dec. 5, 2012 article by Nancy Owano for phys.org,

A Canadian company is talking about having a window, aka computer screen, into your mind. Another of the many ways to put it—they believe your computer can be so into you. And vice-versa. InteraXon, a Canadian company, is focused on making a business out of mind-control technology via a headband device, and they are planning to launch this as a $199 brainwave computer controller called Muse. The company is running an Indiegogo campaign to obtain needed funds. Muse is a Bluetooth-connected headset with four electroencephalography sensors, communicating with the person’s computer via the Bluetooth connection.

Here’s more about the technology from InteraXon’s How It Works webpage,

Your brain generates electrical patterns that resonate outside your head, which accumulate into brainwaves detectable by an Electroencephalograph (EEG). The EEG can’t read your thoughts, just your brain’s overall pattern of activity, like how relaxed or alert you are. With practice you can learn to manipulate your brainwave pattern, like flexing a muscle you’ve never used before.

InteraXon’s interface works by turning brainwaves into binary (ones and zeros). We’re like interpreters fluent in the language of the mind: our system analyses the frequency of your brainwaves and then translates them into a control signal for the computer to understand.

Just like a button or switch can activate whatever it’s connected to, your translated brainwaves can now control anything electric. InteraXon designers and engineers make the experience so seamless, the connected technology seems like an extension of your own body.

It would be nice to have found a little more technical detail.

InteraXon is currently featuring its work at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver (Canada) as an example of past work,

When visitors arrive at Bright Ideas, InteraXon’s thought-controlled computing experience custom designed and built for the 2010 Olympics, they are lead to their own pod. In front of each pod is a large projection screen as well as a small training screen. Once seated, a trained host hands them a headset that will measure their brain’s electrical signals.

With help from the host, the participants learn to deliberately alter their brainwaves. By focusing or relaxing their mind, they learn to change the display on their training screen; music and seat vibrations provide immediate feedback to speed the learning process to five minutes or less. Now they are ready for the main event.

Thoughts are turned into light patterns instantaneously as their brain’s digital signal is beamed over the Rocky Mountains, across vast prairies all the way to three major Ontario icons – a distance of 3000 km.

This project – a first at this grand scale – allows each participant to experience a very personal connection with these massive Ontario landmarks, and with every Canadian watching the lightshow, whether online, or in-person.

As for Muse, InteraXon’s latest project, the company has a campaign on Indiegogo to raise money. Here’s the video on the campaign website,

They seem very excited about it all, don’t they? The question that arises is whether or not you actually need a device to let you know when you’re concentrating or when your thoughts are wandering.  Apparently, the answer is yes. The campaign has raised over $240,000 (they asked for $150,000) and it’s open until Dec. 7, 2012.  If you go today, you will find that in addition to the other pledge inducements there’s a special ParisLeWeb $149 pledge for one day only (Dec. 5, 2012). Here’s where you go.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Spark radio programme featured an interview (either in Nov. or Dec. 2012) with Ariel Garten, Chief Executive Office of InteraXon discussing her company’s work. You can find podcast no. 197 here (it is approximately 55 mins. and there are other interviews bundled with Garten’s). Thanks to Richard Boyer for the tip about the Spark interview.

I have mentioned brain-computer interfaces previously. There’s the Brain-controlled robotic arm means drinking coffee by yourself for the first time in 15 years May 17, 2012 posting and the Advertising for the 21st Century: B-Reel, ‘storytelling’, and mind control Oct. 6, 2011 posting amongst others.

NBD Nano startup company and the Namib desert beetle

In 2001, Andrew Parker and Chris Lawrence published an article in Nature magazine about work which has inspired a US startup company in 2012 to develop a water bottle that fills itself up with water by drawing moisture from the air. Parker’s and Lawrence’s article was titled Water capture by a desert beetle. Here’s the abstract (over 10 years later the article is still behind a paywall),

Some beetles in the Namib Desert collect drinking water from fog-laden wind on their backs1. We show here that these large droplets form by virtue of the insect’s bumpy surface, which consists of alternating hydrophobic, wax-coated and hydrophilic, non-waxy regions. The design of this fog-collecting structure can be reproduced cheaply on a commercial scale and may find application in water-trapping tent and building coverings, for example, or in water condensers and engines.

Some five years later, there was a June 15, 2006 news item on phys.org about the development of a new material based on the Namib desert beetle,

When that fog rolls in, the Namib Desert beetle is ready with a moisture-collection system exquisitely adapted to its desert habitat. Inspired by this dime-sized beetle, MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] researchers have produced a new material that can capture and control tiny amounts of water.

The material combines a superhydrophobic (water-repelling) surface with superhydrophilic (water-attracting) bumps that trap water droplets and control water flow. The work was published in the online version of Nano Letters on Tuesday, May 2 [2006] {behind a paywall}.

Potential applications for the new material include harvesting water, making a lab on a chip (for diagnostics and DNA screening) and creating microfluidic devices and cooling devices, according to lead researchers Robert Cohen, the St. Laurent Professor of Chemical Engineering, and Michael Rubner, the TDK Professor of Polymer Materials Science and Engineering.

The MIT June 14, 2006 news release by Anne Trafton, which originated the news item about the new material, indicates there was some military interest,

The U.S. military has also expressed interest in using the material as a self-decontaminating surface that could channel and collect harmful substances.

The researchers got their inspiration after reading a 2001 article in Nature describing the Namib Desert beetle’s moisture-collection strategy. Scientists had already learned to copy the water-repellent lotus leaf, and the desert beetle shell seemed like another good candidate for “bio-mimicry.”

When fog blows horizontally across the surface of the beetle’s back, tiny water droplets, 15 to 20 microns, or millionths of a meter, in diameter, start to accumulate on top of bumps on its back.

The bumps, which attract water, are surrounded by waxy water-repelling channels. “That allows small amounts of moisture in the air to start to collect on the tops of the hydrophilic bumps, and it grows into bigger and bigger droplets,” Rubner said. “When it gets large, it overcomes the pinning force that holds it and rolls down into the beetle’s mouth for a fresh drink of water.”

To create a material with the same abilities, the researchers manipulated two characteristics — roughness and nanoporosity (spongelike capability on a nanometer, or billionths of a meter, scale).

By repeatedly dipping glass or plastic substrates into solutions of charged polymer chains dissolved in water, the researchers can control the surface texture of the material. Each time the substrate is dipped into solution, another layer of charged polymer coats the surface, adding texture and making the material more porous. Silica nanoparticles are then added to create an even rougher texture that helps trap water droplets.

The material is then coated with a Teflon-like substance, making it superhydrophobic. Once that water-repellent layer is laid down, layers of charged polymers and nanoparticles can be added in certain areas, using a properly formulated water/alcohol solvent mixture, thereby creating a superhydrophilic pattern. The researchers can manipulate the technique to create any kind of pattern they want.

The research is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation.

I’m not sure what happened with the military interest or the group working out of MIT in 2006 but on Nov. 23, 2012, BBC News online featured an article about a US startup company, NBD Nano, which aims to bring a self-filling water bottle based on Namib desert beetle to market,

NBD Nano, which consists of four recent university graduates and was formed in May, looked at the Namib Desert beetle that lives in a region that gets about half an inch of rainfall per year.

Using a similar approach, the firm wants to cover the surface of a bottle with hydrophilic (water-attracting) and hydrophobic (water-repellent) materials.

The work is still in its early stages, but it is the latest example of researchers looking at nature to find inspiration for sustainable technology.

“It was important to apply [biomimicry] to our design and we have developed a proof of concept and [are] currently creating our first fully-functional prototype,” Miguel Galvez, a co-founder, told the BBC.

“We think our initial prototype will collect anywhere from half a litre of water to three litres per hour, depending on local environments.”

According to the Nov. 25, 2012 article by Nancy Owano for phys.org, the company is at the prototype stage now,

NBD Nano plans to enter the worldwide marketplace between 2014 and 2015.

You can find out more about NBD Nano here.

Uncomfortable truths; favouring males a gender bias practiced by male and female scientists

Nancy Owano’s Sept. 21, 2012 phy.org article on a study about gender bias (early publication Sept. 17, 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) describes a situation that can be summed up with this saying ‘we women eat our own’.

The Yale University researchers developed applications for a supposed position in a science faculty and had faculty members assess the applicants’ paper submissions.  From Owano’s article,

Applications were all identical except for the male names and female names. Even though the male and female name applications were identical in competencies, the female student was less likely to be hired, being viewed as less competent and desirable as a new-hire.

Results further showed the faculty members chose higher starting salaries and more career mentoring for applicants with male names.

Interestingly, it made no difference on hiring decisions as to whether the faculty member was male or female. Bias was just as likely to occur at the hands of a female as well as male faculty member.

I tracked down the paper (which is open access), Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students by Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, John F. Dovidio, Victoria L. Bescroll, Mark J. Graham, and Jo Handelsman and found some figures in a table which I can’t reproduce here but suggest the saying ‘we women eat their own’ isn’t far off the mark. In it, you’ll see that while women faculty members will offer less to both genders, they offer significantly less to female applicants.

For a male applicant, here’s the salary offer,

Male Faculty               Female Faculty

30,520.82                    29, 333.33

 

For a female applicant, here’s the salary offer,

Male Faculty               Female Faculty

27,111.11                    25,000.00

To sum this up, the men offered approximately $3000 (9.25%) less to female applicants while the women offered approximately $4000 (14.6%) less. It’s uncomfortable to admit that women may be just as much or even more at fault as men where gender bias is concerned. However, it is necessary if the situation is ever going to change.

The Sept. 24, 2012 news release from Yale University features a quote from the lead author (Note: I have removed a link),

Yale University researchers asked 127 scientists to review a job application of identically qualified male and female students and found that the faculty members – both men and women – consistently scored a male candidate higher on a number of criteria such as competency and were more likely to hire the male. The result came as no surprise to Jo Handelsman, professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology (MCDB), a leading microbiologist, and national expert on science education. She is the lead author of the study scheduled to be published the week of Sept. 24 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Whenever I give a talk that mentions past findings of implicit gender bias in hiring, inevitably a scientist will say that can’t happen in our labs because we are trained to be objective. I had hoped that they were right,” said Handelsman, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor.

So Handelsman and Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, a postdoctoral associate in MCDB and psychology, as well as colleagues in social psychology decided to test whether this bias among researchers might help explain why fewer women than men have careers in science. They provided about 200 academic researchers with an application from a senior undergraduate student ostensibly applying for a job as lab manager. The faculty participants all received the same application, which was randomly assigned a male or female name. The faculty were asked to judge the applicants’ competency, how much they should be paid, and whether or not they would be willing to mentor the student.

In the end, scientists responded no differently than other groups tested for bias. Both men and women science faculty were more likely to hire the male, ranked him higher in competency, and were willing to pay him $4000 more than the woman. [emphasis mine] They were also more willing to provide mentoring to the male than to the female candidate.

I highlighted the sentence in the excerpt since the portion about the salary difference somewhat contradicts my own reading of the information in the study. If you are female, you will still be offered less money by male faculty but the percentage (9% less) is an improvement over the 14% differential offered by female faculty.  I do appreciate that these numbers have been crunched together and there will be individual differences, as well as, outliers but this finding certainly confirms ‘folk wisdom’ and points to the difficulty of facing uncomfortable truths for even the researchers and their sponsoring institutions.

ETA Sept. 25, 2012: There have been some comments about the research and the methodology on Uta Frith’s Science&shopping website:

Research on gender bias

Comments by David Attwell on Moss-Racusin et al. ‘Science faculty’s subtle gender biases’

Comments on comments by Virginia Valian

Comments on comments by Dorothy Bishop

H/T to Jenny Rohn for the information about Uta Frith’s coverage of the issue which I found in Rohn’s Sept. 25, 2012 posting about women, science, and bias (she mentions this recent research from Yale but in the context of other research and broader issues of gender bias in the sciences) for the Guardian science blogs.

ETA Sept. 26, 2012: The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s As It Happens radio show features an interview with Corinne A. Moss-Racusin about the paper in their Sept. 25, 2012 broadcast. Click here and scroll down to the Sept. 25, 2012 entry and keep scrolling until you see the speaker icon and Listen, click on Listen and the popup menu will appear. Scroll down to part 3 and click again (it’s the second interview). There’s also a Sept. 25, 2012 podcast in the left column of today’s front page screen of As It Happens, which I did not test.

Material changes

A few items have caught my attention lately and the easiest way to categorize them is with the term, ‘materials’.  First, a June 7, 2012 article by Jane Wakefield about fashion and technology on the BBC News website that features a designer, Suzanne Lee, who grows clothing. I’m glad to see Lee is still active (I first mentioned her work with bacteria and green tea in a July 13, 2010 posting). From Wakefield’s 2012 article,

“I had a conversation with a biologist who raised the idea of growing a garment in a laboratory,” she [Biocouture designer, Suzanne Lee] told the BBC.

In her workshop in London, she is doing just that.

Using a recipe of green tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast she is able to ‘grow’ a material which she describes as a kind of “vegetable leather”.

The material takes about two weeks to grow and can then be folded around a mould – she has made a dress from a traditional tailor’s model but handbags and furniture are also possibilities.

Bio-biker image courtesy of Bio Couture (http://www.biocouture.co.uk/)

Designer Suzanne Lee’s website is http://www.biocouture.co.uk

Wakefield’s article goes on to discuss technologies being integrated into design,

While computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) is not a new technology, it has rarely been used in the fashion world before but French fashion designer Julien Fournié wants to change that.

Mr Fournié began working in fashion industry under Jean-Paul Gaultier but these days he is more likely to be found hanging out with engineers than with fashionistas.

He has teamed up with engineers at Dassault Systèmes, a French software company which more usually creates 3D designs for the car and aerospace industries.

Recently Mr Fournié has been experimenting with making clothes from neoprene, a type of rubber.

It is a difficult material to work with and Mr Fournié’s seamstresses suggested that the only way to stitch it would be to use glue.

“To my mind a glued dress wasn’t very sexy,” he said.

So he handed the problem over to the engineers.

“They found the right pressure for the needle so it didn’t break the material,” he said.

Wakefield discusses more of Fournié’s work as well as a ‘magic mirror’ being developed by the FashionLab at Dassault Systèmes,

“A store may have a magic mirror with a personal avatar that can use your exact body measurements to show you how new clothes would look on you,” explained Jerome Bergeret, director of FashionLab.

There is more in the Wakefield including the ‘future of fashion shopping’.

Still on the material theme but in a completely different category, flat screens that are tactile. From the June 6, 2012 news item by Nancy Owano on the physorg.com website,

Why settle for flat? That is the question highlighted on the home page of Tactus Technology, which does not want device users to settle for any of today’s tactile limitations on flatscreen devices. The Fremont, California-based company has figured out how to put physical buttons on a display when we want them and no buttons when we don’t. Tactus has announced its tactile user interface for touchscreen devices that are real, physical buttons that can rise up from the touchscreen surface on demand.

The customizable buttons can appear in a range of shapes and configurations. Buttons may run across the display, or in another collection of round buttons to represent a gamepad for playing games. “We are a user interface technology where people can take our technology and create whatever kind of interface they want,” said Nate Saaal, VP business development. He said it could be any shape or construct on the surface.

Lakshmi Sandhana also wrote about Tactus and its new keyboard in a June 6, 2012 article for Fast Company,

The idea of a deformable touchscreen surface came to Craig Ciesla, CEO of Tactus, way back in 2007, when he found himself using his BlackBerry instead of the newly released iPhone because of its keyboard. …

“I realized that this question could be answered by using microfluidics,” Ciesla says. Their design calls for a thin transparent cover layer with some very special properties to be laid on top of a touchscreen display. Made of glass or plastic, the 1mm-thick slightly elastic layer has numerous micro-channels filled with a non-toxic fluid. Increasing fluid pressure with the aid of a small internal controller causes transparent physical buttons to grow out of the surface of the layer in less than a second. Once formed, you can feel the buttons, rest your fingers or type on them, just like a mechanical keyboard. “When you don’t want the buttons, you reduce the fluid pressure, draw the fluid out and the buttons recede back to their original flat state.” (No messy cleanup–the minimal amount of fluid is all contained within the device.) “You’re left with a surface where you don’t see anything,” Ciesla explains.

The company, Tactus Technology Inc.,  does have a product video,

It’s a little bit on the dramatic side, I think their professional voiceover actor could have a future career  as a Rod Serling (Twilight Zone) sound alike. Regardless, I do like the idea of a product than can function as a flat screen and as a screen with buttons.

My last item is about an emotion-recognition phone. Kit Eaton who writes for Fast Company on a pretty regular basis posted a June 7, 2012 article about systems that recognize your emotions (Note: I have removed links from the excerpt),

Nunance [sic], which makes PC voice recognition systems and the tech that powers Apple’s famous Siri digital PA, have revealed their next tech is voice recognition in cars and for TVs. But the firm also wants to add more than voice recognition in an attempt to build a real-life KITT–it wants to add emotion detection so its system can tell how you’re feeling while you gab away. …

Nuance’s chief of marketing Peter Mahoney spoke to the Boston Globe last week about the future of the company’s tech, and noted that in a driving environment emotion detection could be a vital tool. For example, if your car thinks you sound stressed, it may SMS your office to say you’re late or even automatically suggest another route that avoids traffic. (Or how about a voice-controlled Ford system that starts playing you, say, Enya to calm the nerves.) Soon enough, you may deviate from your existing “shortest route” algorithms, while being whisked to parts of the city you never otherwise visit. Along the way, you might discover a more pleasant route to the office, or a new place to buy coffee.

But Nuance says it has far bigger plans to make your emotional input valuable: It’s looking into ways to monetize its voice systems, including your emotional input, to directly recommend services and venues to you.

There are more details and a video demonstrating Nuance’s Dragon Drive product in Eaton’s article. As for me, I’m not excited about decreasing my personal agency in an attempt to sell me yet more products and services. But perhaps I’m being overly pessimistic.

Since my weekend is about to start and these items got me to thinking about materials, it seems only right that I end this posting with,


It takes about one minute before the singing starts but it’s worth the wait. Happy weekend!

Folding screens at University of Toronto and EPD (electronic paper display) with LG

University of Toronto researchers recently announced a breakthrough with regard to organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) and flexible screens. From the March 29, 2012 news item by Allyson Rowley on physorg.com,

Michael Helander and Zhibin Wang, PhD candidates in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, are members of a research team that has developed the world’s most efficient organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) on flexible plastic. Good news for manufacturers and consumers alike, the discovery means a less costly, more efficient and environmentally friendly way to build brighter flat-panel displays on a thinner, more durable and flexible surface.

The students had been cleaning sheets of indium tin oxide – a material used in all flat-panel displays – when they noticed that devices built using their cleaned sheets had become much more efficient than expected, using less energy to achieve much higher brightness. After some investigation, they determined that this greater efficiency was the result of molecules of chlorine picked up from their cleaning solvent. With this surprising discovery, the two students engineered a prototype for a new kind of OLED device, which is both simpler in construction and more efficient.

According to Rowley’s University of Toronto March 26, 2012 news release,

Over time, though, OLED devices became more complex – the original two layers of molecules became many layers, which raised manufacturing costs and failure rates.

“Basically, we went back to the original idea – and started again,” said Wang. The team’s findings were published, and in December, Helander and Wang, together with Lu [ Professor Zheng-Hong Lu.who supervises both Helander and Wang] and another U of T grad student, launched OTI Lumionics, a startup that will take the next steps toward commercializing the technology.

While OTI Lumionics is taking its next steps, the company, LG Display based in Korea has announced production of a plastic electronic paper display (EPD). From the March 30, 2012 news item by Nancy Owano on physorg.com,

LG Display has set the production clock ticking for a plastic EPD (electronic paper display) product which in turn is expected to set e-book marketability fast-forward. In an announcement Thursday, Korea-based LG Display, which manufactures thin film transistor liquid crystal display, said it has already started up mass production of EPD for e-books.

Amar Toor’s March 29, 2012 item for engadget features the company’s news release, as well as, this detail,

The plan going forward is to supply the display to ODMs [original design manufacturer] in China, in the hopes of bringing final products to Europe by “the beginning of next month.” [May 2012?]

Apparently, the screen resolution is 1024 x 768 and it has a range of 40 degrees when bent from the centre.

‘Genius’ gamers develop mind-controlled skateboard

Chaotic Moon Labs, developer of the mind-controlled skateboard ‘Board of Imagination’, is a mobile games company where they continually inform you that they are geniuses/smarter than you are/etc. Clearly not a shy group of people nor believers of the ‘underpromise and overdeliver’ philosophy of business. They have recently announced (from a Feb. 26, 2012 news item by Nancy Owano on physorg.com) their latest project,

The Board of Imagination is a skateboard that carries the same Samsung tablet with Windows 8 and the same 800 watt electric motor as the earlier skateboard [Board of Awesomeness], but now sports a headset. With it, the board will read the rider’s mind and will move anywhere the rider imagines.

The skateboard can translate brain waves into action such that the user visualizes a point off in the distance and thinks about the speed in which to travel to get there. The skateboard does the rest.

This reminds me of B-Reel’s (a European advertising company) mind control project with toy racing cars (mentioned in my Oct. 6, 2011 posting) although this time it’s a much larger device. Here’s the YouTube-posted video produced by Chaotic Moon Labs,

I wonder if this Board of Imagination is going to be shown at the upcoming SXSW (South by SouthWest) shows which run from March 9 – 18, 2012 in Austin, Texas where this company (Chaotic Moon, the lab is their R&D [research and development] group) is located, according to Owano’s article.

An EPOC headset from Emotiv is being used as the mind reading device which somehow translates your brain waves into commands that your skateboard obeys. Emotiv and its sister company, Emotiv Lifesciences, by the way, were founded by Tan Le who gave a talk about her company and her work at TEDxWomen. The video is here, I’ve not had time to watch it yet. So if you get there before I do, please let me know what you think.

 

Making sounds with gestures

It’s kind of haptic; it’s kind of gestural; and it’s all about the sound, Mogees. Here’s the video,

Mogees – Gesture recognition with contact-microphones from bruno zamborlin on Vimeo.

In case what you’ve just seen interests you, here are some more details from the Jan. 5, 2012 article by Nancy Owano for physorg.com,

 The Mogees is a project that stems from the department of computing at Goldsmiths, University of London, where researcher Bruno Zamborlin collaborates with a team at IRCAM [Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique] in Paris to experiment with new methods for “gestural interaction” in coming up with novel ways of making sounds. … The video shows the use of a contact microphone and audio processing software to construct a gesture-recognizing touch interface from assorted surfaces—a tree trunk, a balloon, a glass panel at a bus stage, and an inflated balloon. Also, different gestures control different sounds.

As to how that microphone and audio processing software work, here’s an explanation from Sebastian Anthony’s Jan. 4, 2012 article for ExtremeTech,

First of all, that little silver nugget — which seems to utilize some kind of suction cup — contains multiple microphones to create a stereo image of the sounds it hears. Second, that black cable connects to a PC of some kind; probably a laptop, considering the guy plays music on a tree and a bus shelter. On the PC, the vibrations of your fingers tapping on the surface are analyzed and converted into gestures, and then MaxMSP — a visual programming language for creating music and other multimedia experiences — turns the gestures into sounds.

You can get more information about Bruno Zamborlin at his website and you can find more about Mogees here at Goldsmith’s. I highly recommend reading the two articles mentioned.