Home | Feed aggregator

Feed aggregator

How You Can More Accurately Predict the Future of Design, Using Steve Jobs' "Lost Speech" from 1983 as an Example

Core 77 - 8 hours 20 min ago

I'm currently researching the potential of predicting the impact of future technologies. Hearing of this, a friend told me "You should listen to that 1983 Steve Jobs speech."

"About what?" I asked. Jobs gave a lot of speeches in the early 1980s, and I wondered how that would be helpful.

"The one where he predicted the iPad," he said.

Okay, he got my attention.

My friend was referring to what is known as the "Lost Steve Jobs speech." In 1983 Jobs delivered a talk to a group of designers at the International Design Conference in Aspen (IDCA). And this speech, at least in its entirety, was indeed "lost" until blogger Marcel Brown received a cassette tape titled, "The Future Is Not What it Used to Be" from a colleague John Celuch of Inland Design. Celuch attended the talk that day 36 years ago and possessed a recording of it. At a time when most of the world were unaware of computers, never mind owning one, Jobs laid out a vision that described the World Wide Web, the iPad, the App Store, Siri, even Google Street View.

Image via Marcel Brown's Life, Liberty, and Technology

Before diving into this, some context is necessary: At that time IBM and Apple were head-to-head competitors to have the most popular personal computer, and the Macintosh had not yet launched. The idea of networked computing in the home was far from mainstream; the Web as we know it was still seven years away. And yet the 28-year old Jobs already had a vision for the future that was eerily clear and in retrospect, accurate.

"Ultimately computers are going to be a tool for communication," is the strongest thread running through his Aspen talk. And Jobs predicted that the standards for using computers to communicate would continuously evolve. Recall this was long before any mainstream computer networking—or mass use of the Internet—and yet he described how email would transform the way we communicate. Jobs went beyond understanding that computing would transform knowledge sharing; he understood that it would become seamlessly entwined with human social behavior. He described distribution lists that would later become bulletin boards, signaling the future of social media. "They hooked a hundred computers together on a 'local area network,' which is just a cable that carries all this information back and forth. And, an interesting thing happened…there were 20 people, and they were interested in volleyball, so a volleyball distribution list evolved. And when a volleyball game was changed, you'd write a quick memo and send it to the volleyball distribution list. And then there was a Chinese food cooking list. And before long there were more lists than people. I think that's exactly what's going to happen. As we start to tie these things together they are going to facilitate communication and facilitate bringing people together and the special interests that they have."

The story of all technology revolves around three basic plots: Saving time, amplifying resources and optimizing exchange. These inspire the direction of progress and in understanding that, Jobs could see what he may have thought to be inevitable advancements. Even 36 years ago, Jobs' vision was to provide consumers with the ability to do pursue all three plots. And to accomplish that, he made computing easy for the masses through two key qualities: Mobility and clarity. Apple strove for small, lightweight and beautifully easy machines. As Jobs noted repeatedly in the Aspen talk: "The way we're running the company, the product design, the advertising, it all comes down to this: Let's make it simple. Really simple." (Some say the latter inspiration initially came from Jobs' night shift at Atari, where they had to make the game instructions super clear--for stoned college students.)

Though his audience was relatively small in Aspen, he pleaded for the designers in the room to think about the future—and turn their attention away from then-sexier design fields, and towards computers instead. "If you look at computers they look like garbage. All the great product designers are off designing automobiles or…buildings. But, hardly any of them are designing computers. By 1986 we're going to ship more computers than automobiles in this country," Jobs told them. "People are going to suck this stuff up and we have a shot to put a great object there…and if we don't, we're going to put another piece of junk object there."

He also spoke about fonts, as he so famously often did, and the importance of a user-friendly interface—knowing that the GUI was critical to engaging the masses. As Jobs' biographer Walter Isaacson wrote in Smithsonian Magazine, "In an era not known for great industrial designers, Jobs' partnerships with [founder of Frog Design] Hartmut Esslinger in the 1980s and then with Jony Ive starting in 1997 created an engineering and design aesthetic that set Apple apart from other technology companies and ultimately helped make it the most valuable company in the world."

Later in the talk Jobs literally outlined the vision for the iPad: "What we want to do is we want to put an incredibly great computer in a book that you can carry around with you and learn how to use in 20 minutes. And we really want to do it with a radio link in it so you don't have to hook up to anything and you're in communication with all of these databases and other computers…. One of these days…you'll be walking around Aspen and [retrieve your messages]." Jobs noted this was at that time impossible technically but that he would still work towards it. "So we had 3 options. One was to do nothing and as I mentioned, we're all pretty young and impatient so that was not a good option. The second one was to put a piece of garbage computer in a book and we can do that, but our competitors are doing that, so we don't need to do that. The third option was to design the computer that we want to put into the book eventually, even though we can't put it into the book now. And right now it fits in a bread box, and its $10,000 and it's called Lisa."

Related to mobility, Jobs recognized the inefficiency of delivering software on disks distributed through retailers and told his audience: "When you want to buy a piece of software…we'll send tones over the phone to transmit directly from computer to computer." This was the idea for the App Store, which in 2008 changed life for everyone—consumers and software developers—and put the iPhone into the realm of 'magical.' No one in 1983 might have believed we would have within the palm of our hand one device that we use to send instant messages, pay bills, monitor heart rates, make movies and even find love. The iPhone paved the way for the current mega trend of streaming. "Well we'll give you 30 seconds of this program for free, or we'll give you 5 screenshots, or we'll let you play with it for a day. And if you want to buy it, just type in your VISA number and you got it. I don't know how we're going to do it, but we need a [software] radio station," Jobs said.

Finally Jobs looked further out into uses for artificial intelligence, including one that I found particularly intriguing. "I think as we look toward the next 50 to 100 years, if we really can come up with these machines that can capture an underlying spirit or an underlying set of principles, or an underlying way of looking at the world so that then when the next Aristotle comes around…if he carries around one these machines with him his whole life and types in all this stuff, then maybe someday after the person's dead and gone we can ask this machine, 'Hey, what would Aristotle have said…what about this?' And that's really exciting to me."

We have a belief that technological progress and its impact are mostly unpredictable, and only clear in retrospect. But Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of Wired Magazine, wrote in his book The Inevitable that grand scale technologies are in fact predictable because they have an inherent direction. He uses the analogy of gravity. Imaginerain drops falling on a hill. Though we cannot predict the exact route of each droplet their general direction will inevitably be downward. Similarly, Kelly says, the Internet was inevitable, but Twitter was not. Or the phone was inevitable (due to electromagnetism), but the iPhone was not.

In other words, large technological advancements act as "nodes of progress" from which sparks of creative innovations flourish. Jobs was able to see the potential in the fundamental nodes such that he was able to take full advantage. The personal computer could certainly be seen as one of Kelly's inevitable technologies, but the Macintosh was not inevitable—it can be considered a creative innovation that allowed for a new way to do a valued thing: Beautiful and easy computing.

So how can you as designers spot and harness future opportunities? Taking inspiration from Jobs and Kelly, you can look for current "nodes of progress" that will unlock a flourish of creativity. Machine learning, for example, is still in a primitive state. Its inevitable direction, however, will be to enhance the inner workings of every industry. Through machine learning our car will be able recognize our face and auto-start, our homes will nudge us towards healthier habits, and half of our interactions with machines will use our voice. These are not far-off predictions, either; each of these advancements is likely to become commonplace in the next two to three years. This is just the infancy of the new age of artificial intelligence, so the time is ripe to understand the potential in machine learning and create your own innovative sparks.

Machine learning is just one example, of course. There are plenty of other nodes of progress out there, and forward-thinking designers can benefit by investigating and thinking about the ones that interest them.


Eileen Fisher on Making Sustainability a Joyful, Creative Pursuit

Core 77 - 8 hours 20 min ago

Since founding her eponymous fashion line in 1984, Eileen Fisher has been focused on bringing mindful consumption to the fashion industry. Her timeless, built-to-last approach to design is just one example of this—she's also led a range of sustainability initiatives like Vision 2020, the company's pledge to be using all organic cotton and linen by 2020, among other goals. Most recently, her famous buy-back program—through which customers can return lightly-used garments for store credit—has evolved into a more creative incarnation titled Waste No More, an interdisciplinary design studio dedicated to making artisanal textiles from post-consumer clothing.

Some of the recent work created through Waste No More was on view at Rosanna Orlandi during Salone del Mobile in Milan, in an exhibition curated by Lidewij Edelkoort and Philip Fimmano. The regenerative concept at the heart of Waste No More was interpreted into a white, sanctuary-like space meant to confront visitors with the reality of overconsumption while showcasing some of the decorative objects created by Fisher's team entirely from garments beyond repair.

"I love to solve problems, to me, that's where the creativity is."

"For many years, I thought natural fibers were sustainable, partly because they are biodegradable, but while there's a lot of good about natural fibers, there's also a lot of cost and pollution created during the process," Fisher told us as we visited the installation. "By 2010 we were only using about 15% eco-preferred materials and we just said, we're not moving fast enough, we have to make a serious commitment." Pretty soon after starting their buy-back program as a way of reducing the brand's footprint in landfills, they were faced with over three warehouses packed full of clothes. For a while, they had a team working on transforming the lightly used pieces into one-of-a-kind items and special collections, but as the number of items continued to rise they had to get more creative.

"Sigi [Ahl], who was my first employee, found this felt machine and started felting and we set up a little team and just decided that this idea has potential," Fisher says. The group—made up of artists, designers, and seamstresses—now has a dedicated studio in Irvington, New York where they use the felting process to transform garment waste into artistic wall hangings, acoustic panels, and a range of home goods. It doesn't matter how damaged a textile is when it arrives at the studio, the destruction is incorporated into the aesthetic and potential is found in every scrap.

Fisher hopes that people will look at the studio's work and realize that embracing sustainable practices can be fun and a source of unexpected creativity. "Where others see waste, we see possibility," she says. "I love to solve problems, to me, that's where the creativity is."

The company hopes that this can become a new model for the textile industry—one that leads away from unsustainable consumption and toward a future with much less waste. "People have told me that this business could be bigger than our core clothing line," Fisher noted. And that success comes from the support of an increasingly savvy clientele who are seeking brands that make sustainability a priority. "The shift is coming," Fisher says, optimistically. "I heard that last year, 66% more people searched for sustainable fashion than the year before. Isn't that crazy?"

How Neuroaesthetics Will Shape the Future of Design

Core 77 - 8 hours 20 min ago

Unexpectedly, one of the few installations at Milan Design Week that resonated past the thick, blurry Instagram lens wasn't created just by designers. Google's A Space for Being (in collaboration with Muuto and the Arts + Minds Lab at Johns Hopkins University) provoked deep thoughts about the future role of technology in intimate spaces like the home by bringing visitors into a world where their only requirement was to 'be'—no cell phones and no talking allowed.

Before entering the space, a colorful screen-less band was placed on the wrist to measure each individual's reactions, like heart rate and skin temperature. Upon entering, winding hallways led you through three separate rooms, each designed with different furniture (most by collaborator Muuto), textures, books, color schemes and even scents. At the end of the experience, the bands were collected and the data was interpreted by Google, revealing which of the three spaces the algorithm felt you were most 'at ease' in. For Google, this installation was less about designing the next best wearable and more about demonstrating the potential for this technology to influence the design process, whether it be conducting user research before designing a new appliance, or even redecorating a home based on what makes the owner feel most comfortable.

After experiencing A Space for Being ourselves, we sat down with Ivy Ross, VP of Hardware Design at Google, to learn more about the collaboration and to hear her thoughts on technology's role in the future:

When I initially read this installation would be about neuroaesthetics, I thought it would be depicting this scary sci-fi world, but I was shocked to see that it's quite the opposite.

I'm so glad that we surprised and delighted you! Last year when we showed up people said, "oh the tech giant showed up so unexpectedly human". Well yeah, because that's what we are. Us being here is about being a thought leader. We really want to share with everyone the way we think and how thoughtful we are when we design product.

So how did the idea for A Space for Being come about?

It all started last year when Muuto saw our installation here in Milan and said, "Oh my god, we love your aesthetic", and we said, "We love your aesthetic!" We had pictures of their dots up on our wall at the time. They brought up the idea of doing something together for this year, and I just didn't want to put our home products in their living room settings. That would be really boring.

Photo: Maremosso

Two years prior, I had been contacted by Susan [Magsamen] in the Arts + Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins. She told me that she runs the Arts + Mind Lab, and that they were studying something called neuroaesthetics. I didn't know what neuroaesthetics meant, so she explained to me that it's the study of the effect that aesthetics have on the brain and the body. I know the effects it has because I've been a designer and an artist my whole life, and we know that intuitively. But wow, if neuroscience can prove this, than that could be such a great support system for designers.

I also met Suchi Reddy of Reddymade Architecture a few years ago. She is designing a room in a hospital for kids who are coming out of comas to help knit back their brains each sense at a time. It's a beautiful project, so I put them in touch.

I called both of them and said, "Ladies, I have an idea. Can we actually put people through living situations?" I wanted it to be like real life, not some art project. We could make bands with sensors, and Johns Hopkins could help us make an algorithm. We decided to pick at the feeling of 'ease' because it's the opposite of stress, and right now I think there are a lot of stressed people in the world. We could've picked anything, right? I mean excitement is good, being relaxed is good... so we picked this phrase "at ease". We did a lot of research to find a phrase that everyone understands.

"Preference and taste are so individual. I want the world to go in a way where we're amplifying our own individuality, we're not trying to be like each other. We're celebrating who we are."

The idea was to show that we are in control of our environments. Everything affects us, and we have agency over that. I think we've gotten a bit flat lined as a society. Aesthetics isn't just making something look pretty, it's awakening all the senses. And we can do that through an appreciation of all of these different elements—sound, light, color, texture.

On that note, everything within the space and the user experience is so thoroughly executed, down to the data presented as a piece of art. This is, of course, something that appeals to designers because it's a beautiful presentation, but it also makes data more readable for people who aren't designers. Is this something you considered during the design process?

This is the greatest gift for all this hard work, that you get it. For designers that are here experiencing this, we want to support them and tell them that what they do matters. For people that aren't designers, we want to tell them that design matters. Everything you encounter matters. What you choose to surround yourself with matters.

Preference and taste are so individual. I want the world to go in a way where we're amplifying our own individuality—we're not trying to be like each other, and we're celebrating who we are. But in order to have any insight into who we are, we need to understand that who we've been and everything we'll become is a byproduct of what we have experienced.

The data presented at the end looked like a piece of art—the bigger, warm splotches represent spikes in excitement, while the thinner, cool splotches represent moments of zen. Photo: Maremosso

I love that people are telling me how surprised they are that the data is coming out as this beautiful art piece. The data is a series of numbers that feed into this system, but the truth is that the output in the infographics could look like anything. My team worked hard on devising how to use the spread of the ink and bursts of color to indicate one thing versus another.

This installation is obviously one scenario in which this type of data collection can be applied, but do you see other ways in which it could be useful?

Even in the Google School for Learning, we've started to think about what the right environments are for learning. There are certain neuroaesthetic things that actually encourage retention, memory and learning. So I think its just a matter of being aware. The research around this has been going on for 20 years, but only in the last three years has it come into the applied area—out of the science realm and into real world applications. This is pretty much the first exhibit that talks about it.

There are definitely implications in terms of applying this to homes. I don't want to see a world where we're all striving for the same chair or the same table. What's right for one person is not right for another. In different situations, I think this could amplify that. You think we're riding the elephant, we're controlling the elephant but the elephant is really controlling us, and the elephant is the subconscious. Are we saying we love a specific room because that is the room we believe is the prettiest or the one that we should like versus how our body actually feels in it. So in homes we should not get obsessed with it but just use it for a little bit of self knowledge.

Do you think being comfortable is more important than being surrounded by beautiful things?

Not necessarily. Some people equate being calm with being bored. And you know, being bored is a mental construct, but being calm is a physiology thing. What we are finding is healthy for our body is being in that calm state, where we're not excited or stressed all the time. But we live in a world where we're optimizing everything all the time.

Photo: Maremosso

I'm interested in this idea of finding those calm places beyond the spa where we can just be chilled out, so I particularly picked the home environment because it's an environment that you can control. So for me, I designed this modern tree house for myself. Anything could be going on at work, but when I come home to the trees, sit on my couch and look up at that forest—I can just feel it.

People say to me, "oh you have so much responsibility at work but you're so calm". I think it's because I've learned to know what works for me. There's all this pressure for us to meditate. It's about finding that calm at times, which you can do even just by listening to the right music and just being. We've asked you to not have your phones in [A Space for Being] because it should just be about being. For some people it's really hard to spend five minutes—it seems to be a real treat that we have to give ourselves permission to do. But it's really important that we do it. So A Space for Being is just a little exercise to remind you that you are in control of finding a peaceful environment.

When I first saw the bands, I was surprised to see that they are screen-less and don't send out notifications. They weren't bossing us around like we're used to. Is silent but helpful the next wave of wearable tech?

The band, which is currently not a commercial product, was done for this exhibition, but it does represent our philosophy that tech is able to amplify our humanity and that it can be here to help us. It's what we do with it that matters. This is a prime example of an indication that tech should give you information about yourself without being scary—just helpful.

Photo: Maremosso

It's just like Google Maps—how did we live without it? Before that you had to carry a thick Thomas Guide in the passenger seat. I don't know how we didn't get into more accidents because how did you even look up A9 on a grid while driving? Anyway, even though the band is just for this exhibition, we were very thoughtful with how and why we were doing it.

Oftentimes, technology acts as a way to disconnect from your emotional intelligence. What you're envisioning is instead a way of using tech to better understand yourself and what you need...

Absolutely. We have dug these pathways that thinking and feeling are two separate things. We think we're being smarter by operating from our neck up and always being in our heads, but we forget that the body is an incredible barometer.

Did you see the movie "Her"? It was such an impactful movie to me. It came out right before I took this job at Google. I remember thinking that it was an interesting example of where technology actually helped someone learn more about themselves than any shrink or anyone else seemed to be able to. Now I'm not suggesting that we walk around with an operating system like Samantha, but technology that is additive to your life instead of taking away humanity is the type of technology that my team and I are interested in.

Clever Tool Design, Bold Entrepreneurship: The Story of the American-Made LogOX

Core 77 - 8 hours 20 min ago

There's a reason that only a tiny proportion of the population successfully launches their own product design. In addition to correctly identifying user needs and getting the design right, you also have to nail the manufacturing, the marketing, the distribution network, the customer service. It takes design skills, patience, research, networking and a whole lot of hard work.

Meet the Roberts family. They're three members of that tiny proportion. We think you can learn a lot by reading their product development story, and how they managed to launch a must-have tool in the outdoor products segment. Their story starts, as many invention stories do, with a disaster.

An (Unexpected) End of a Career

An engineer by training, Jon Roberts was a problem solver. He'd started off in product development labs, and over the years he'd successfully solved enough problems to work his way up to Chief Operating Officer of a multinational industrial manufacturing firm. The hours were long, but life was good. He and his wife Lynne lived the way they wanted to, in a log home nestled on a 13-acre plot in the woods of Vermont.

But one Thursday in June of 2016, Jon ran into a problem with no apparent solution.

He and 17 other key employees were being laid off.

It didn't make any sense to him. Part of his prototyping methodology was to figure out what was working and do more of that, and to identify what wasn't working and get rid of that. And the division Jon headed up was working. "The company was struggling with some of its international divisions," he recalls, "but our U.S. division, under my direction, was doing well."

Nevertheless, the company brass had issued orders "for all divisions to lay off all personnel, at all levels, to achieve a total financial savings." Jon and the 17 others were wiped from the roster on that Thursday. By Friday, his office was empty, his things removed. His nearly 40-year career had been erased in the blink of an eye.

An Age-Old Problem

After recovering from the initial shock, Jon began looking for work. He figured that his skill set and experience--lab work, product development, finances, operations--would be valuable to a variety of companies. But ironically, the years it had taken him to gather that expertise were now working against him.

"I found it was next to impossible to find a job, despite working with head hunters and scouring the internet, looking for opportunities," Roberts remembers. "Age does matter. I had read about the problems people over 55 had trying to find a job. I can now say I was one of them." To keep his chin up, Jon repeated his favorite saying to himself, learned way back when in the lab: "Out of crisis comes opportunity." But he hadn't yet figured out what the opportunity was.

Jon broke the news to his wife of 31 years, Lynne, as they walked their two Boxers along the dirt road leading from their house: He was out of work. There would be no more money coming in. What would happen to them? Could they keep the property, would they have to sell the house? (While any homeowner is attached to their house, this one held special significance--Lynne had served as its general contractor, some 24 years earlier.) Then there was Mia and Callie, the two Boxers on the other end of the leashes; at nine years old and in failing health, Mia had recently racked up $6,000 in vet bills.

"We were already very stressed and overextended on finances," Lynne remembers.

Which made her reaction to Jon's termination all the more unexpected. "I saw it as a Godsend," she says. "Jon was getting up at 5am, driving an hour and a half each way through heavy city traffic, putting in stressful days, managing a large New England facility and five other plants, then coming home around 7:30, eating dinner and going to bed. Rinse and repeat the next day.

"The money was good," Lynne continues, "but our quality of life was not what I wanted for us. I wanted our lives to be more rewarding, independent, and fun."

All fine and good, but if no one would hire Jon, what were they going to do for income? Where was the opportunity hiding behind this crisis?

Back at the house, down in the basement, was Jon's small 12' x 14' workshop. Sitting on the workbench was an oddly-shaped contraption of metal parts. That object was a hobby, a compulsion of Jon's. And it was a money loser.

Birth of an Idea

Well before they'd built their log home, the Robertses had lived in the woods of New England. Local trees were a crucial source of heat during the brutal winters. For decades Jon had carried his Stihl into the woods to fell damaged Maple and Ash trees, then buck them up into 16-inch-long rounds. Those rounds then went onto a trailer for transport or directly onto the log splitter. After drying out in a stack for several seasons, the resultant splits would finally go into the woodstove, where they'd warm the whole family.

In the product development labs where Jon turned his Chemical Engineering degree into a career, he wore a white lab coat, protective goggles and chemical-resistant gloves; out in the woods he wore protective chaps, an orange Husqvarna helmet and suede gloves. But while the uniforms were different, Jon saw harvesting firewood the same way he saw product development, in that he instinctively analyzed the process to see what needed smoothing out.

At step 1, a well-maintained chainsaw did a fine job of felling the trees, and at step 2, bucking them into rounds.

Stock photo of log bucking by Rvannatta at the English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

At step 3, the splitter easily cleaved the rounds into firewood. But one glaring issue for Jon was between steps 2 and 3, which was picking the rounds up off of the forest floor, centralizing them, then hoisting each one up to the deck of the wood splitter, about 30 inches off of the ground.

A typical log splitter

"When you fell a 60-foot tree and block it up, you have a lot of 16" pieces--maybe 40 to 45 of them--to process," Jon explains. Some of these pieces might weigh 90 pounds or more. Jon, at 5'11" and 195 pounds, could manage lifting a single round without breaking a sweat; but multiplied by 45, it became far more bending and lifting than he'd like.

In an effort to make the task easier, Jon had gravitated towards using a pulp hook:

A pulp hook

This wicked-looking implement was moderately effective, but rather dangerous. In order for the hook to bite into a log that's lying on the ground, you must swing the tool into the log with considerable force, and your aim must be true. If your attention or your grip slipped, "it could be a really bad start to your day," Jon says. "Everybody talks about driving it into their shin from time to time."

Jon wasn't using the pulp hook because he thought it was the ideal tool for the job; he used it because it was slightly easier than bending over to pick each log up off of the ground. "You drive the pulp hook into the end of the log, and you can start picking up that end, and then you can slip your hand underneath it. So in the overall lifting process, it does make that portion go a bit smoother. You're not having to bend over quite as much."

However, "It's very inefficient," Lynne points out. "The point of the hook falls out a lot." On top of that was the danger: "It made me nervous to watch him use it," she adds.

One tool that didn't make Lynne nervous to see Jon use was a cant hook:

A cant hook

The cant hook is a timeworn and effective design that loggers use to roll logs over during the bucking process. If a log is lying on the forest floor, you cannot cut it all the way through with a chainsaw, or you risk the chainsaw bar getting stuck in the log, as the weight of the log forces the cut to close. (The way I describe this phenomenon to my urban friends: Imagine sitting down on the subway with two heavyset people on either side, and they both fall asleep and lean onto you.) Cutting entirely through the log would also risk the chain touching the dirt, which dulls the teeth instantly, and resharpening in the field is a time-consuming process. So instead the common practice is to cut slices partially through the log, then roll the log over to complete the cuts from the other side, freeing the rounds.

As logs can be quite heavy, the cant hook is designed to use both purchase and leverage to make rolling them over manageable. It engages with a log by means of a tooth that bites into the bark. Opposite the fixed tooth is a hinged, curved arm that terminates in a sharp hook, and once that swings down the tool provides bite on both sides. The user then has enough purchase to roll the log over.

One day Jon was using a cant hook and observing the design of it for the umpteenth time. "I was taking a break, sitting there and looking at it. And thinking 'This works nice, this is a real handy tool.' The way it's designed, it really does grab onto the log and help you roll it over."

The DIY Contraption

For more than 30 years of firewood harvesting, Jon had wished there was a better way than a pulp hook to lift log rounds. And as he was mentally praising the efficacy of the cant hook, he got an idea. He began experimentally using a cant hook to lift log rounds straight upwards, just to see what would happen.

A cant hook is not designed for this purpose and, predictably, failed to do it consistently. "I found that maybe 60% of the time, the log would slip out as you lifted it. Obviously, that kind of failure rate is not acceptable," he says. It would, however, successfully lift a log 40% of the time, and this intrigued Jon. He drew on his product development training to advance the idea: "If you can see that it will do it once, you have to figure out what the key to that is. It was failing 60 times out of 100, but there was 40 times that it was picking it up. So, how do we change this so that you get to 100%?"

Jon observed another problem, which was that the 40% of the time it successfully picked a log up, it was still no good as a means of carrying that log over to the splitter. That's because the handle is a just a straight rod, meaning that under load "it's not balanced at all, and the log it was carrying would tilt towards you. It was not user friendly for, say, walking through the woods with it because the log was swinging in towards your legs."

By tinkering, Jon discovered that solving the second problem magically solved the first. On weekends he was hacking the tool in his basement workshop, analyzing the tilting/unbalancing problem by adding an offset handle to the tool's shaft. This centered the carried log beneath the carrier's hand--and yielded an unforeseen benefit:

"By moving the handle away from the main body, creating this cantilever effect, I immediately found the tool would now use the weight of the log itself to lock the hook into it, holding it in place. Just changing that aspect of the design became a key turning point."

But as often happens in product development, these improvements yielded a new problem: The tool now picked up and held logs so securely that it didn't want to release them. Jon attacked this problem with the same patience, studying the hook to optimize its geometry.

After more tinkering, Jon had something that worked. It was crude-looking, Frankensteined together from parts of an existing cant hook, pieces of metal Jon had bent in a vise, and a hand-shaped wooden doodad that served as a junction for these unlikely parts. But the contraption would firmly grasp logs, then release them as desired with a flick of the wrist.

Jon with an early prototype

That problem solved, Jon began pushing the design further. He developed a removable handle extension that transformed the tool into a proper cant hook; the increased leverage of a longer handle allowed one to convert it from log carrier to log roller.

Current-day production version, cant hook mode

Current-day production version, cant hook mode

Taking it a step further, he then developed a removable T-bar that turned the tool into a timberjack, allowing the user to not only roll a log over, but elevate one end off of the ground in a fixed position.

Current-day production version, T-bar

Current-day production version in Timberjack mode

Current-day production version in Timberjack mode

These innovations tripled the tool's functionality, allowing the one object to take the place of three tools that anyone harvesting firewood might need. He had invented a forestry multi-tool, and it broke down to a compact size, making it easy to carry into the woods.

Jon had developed this iteration in 2014, with no idea that he'd be laid off in two years. It was a DIY aid, a hobby, a compulsion. And he was so pleased with its design that he wanted to create a more refined version. He brought drawings to a local machine shop to have it produced.

I asked Jon why, after having a workable if ugly self-built prototype, he bothered going to the trouble of having a machine shop create a refined one. "Because the original, crude prototype showed that it worked," he said, as if having one professionally fabricated was the next logical step. "My initial idea was that this would be a tool for myself," and it might as well be a proper one.

With his new, unnamed tool, Jon continued harvesting firewood, now at an accelerated rate. But more important than the greater efficiency was the simple fact that the work was now easier on the body. He didn't have to bend down to pick up logs, nor risk a vicious injury from the pulp hook.

Jon with current-day production version

Multiplying the Multi-Tool

While using the tool, "it occurred to me that if this is something that is very helpful to me," Jon says, "I'm sure it would be quite helpful to somebody else." As far as Jon knew, there was nothing like his tool on the market; you'd have to buy three separate tools, and carry them all into the woods, to achieve the same functionality.

Due to his product development experience, he instinctively checked if anyone else had developed a similar idea. "Because I was very familiar with going through the patenting process, I [figured I'd] take a look and see what prior rights might be available out there."

"I did quite a bit of research on it," Jon says, and after an exhaustive patent search process "couldn't find anything that was exactly what this is." His design was unique. It was useful. He reasoned that if they were in mass production they'd sell, and he applied for a patent on it. But as he was still employed at the time, he'd decided "I certainly wasn't going to manufacture it myself."

Instead Jon looked for a manufacturing partner. "[One approach is to] find somebody who is actually marketing towards the same customer base as your tool would fit," he says. Since he was using the tool to bring logs to a wood splitter, he figured others would too, so a company that made wood splitters would be a good candidate.

One such company Jon identified was Swisher Inc., a Missouri-based manufacturer of log splitters, zero-turn mowers, string trimmers and other nature-taming machines. They manufactured their products in America, an important factor for Jon. And by examining their product line-up, he saw that they possessed "good mechanical engineering expertise. They know how to deal with metal. They have good welding. They have laser cutting. They have, very importantly, powder coating capabilities."

Swisher's manufacturing facility

He reached out to them: Would they be willing to sign an NDA, to look at a new invention potentially relevant to their customers?

Their answer was yes. And "one day in late 2014," says Chris Connell, Swisher's Director of Operations, "I received a small package in the mail from Jon Roberts, with a product idea for a forestry logging tool." Connell evaluated Jon's design and found it "a very innovative tool, [it] turned three separate logging tools into one multifaceted tool."

All three functions

Swisher primarily manufactures power machinery, things with engines attached to them. I asked Chris why they decided to manufacture Jon's non-powered tool. "[We saw it as] an opportunity to expand our manufacturing away from our traditional product lines," Chris explains, "with a product that complimented market segments we were already serving. And it fit well within our manufacturing processes." Jon had identified his target well.

A Rocky Launch

By 2015 Swisher had agreed to produce the tool, but this was a partnership, not a licensing arrangement. In order to retain rights to the tool and see any potential profits, Jon and Lynne would have to have some skin in the game, meaning they'd fund the production costs.

2015 version of the LogOX, made from flat bar stock

The Robertses soon found themselves in a classic inventor's pickle, where you have a good product, a brilliant one even, that isn't selling at scale. A lot of money goes into getting a tool off of the ground, and there wasn't enough money coming in to recoup their investment.

The problem wasn't the design of the tool; the problem was that no one had heard of it. To spread the word Jon began driving around New England with the first version of the tool. "I mostly approached small shops that were servicing chainsaws. We felt that anyone who owns a chainsaw, log splitter or portable sawmill could benefit from using a LogOX (as the tool would come to be named). The reception by the shop owners, most of who had been in the business for many years, was extraordinarily encouraging." But it wasn't enough, and on top of that "it turned out that there were a number of unexpected manufacturing issues that threatened to drive the cost to a point that would make it impossible to market."

Jon worked with Swisher to refine the design and improve its manufacturability, switching from a flat handle that required bolting the attachments on, to using tubular stock and quick-change clevis pins. This brought the cost down while improving the user experience of the tool.

Clevis pins, faster to remove than bolts, and no wrench required

The Robertses had a lot riding on this redesign; by the end of 2015 Jon still had no income and they'd taken a loss on the tool, and he hoped the changes would reverse that.

In the meantime Jon continued using the tool himself, steadily putting up firewood for the next winter. I asked Jon and Lynne how much firewood they burn each year. "Between four and six cords," they said. [Editor's Note: A cord of wood is a stack that's four feet deep, four feet high and eight feet wide.] They'd been burning this amount for as long as they could remember. Firewood kept them warm as a newlywed couple, and later as a family, when their children were born. In fact, son Austin told me, some of his favorite memories from childhood were of being in the living room around their wood stove, warm despite the biting New England chill.

From ROTC to PsyOps

Staying warm was no longer a problem for Austin, aged 25, as he was doing foot patrols in Afghanistan's Kunduz province, where the temperature could top 130 degrees Fahrenheit. As a Fire Support Officer for the 10th Mountain Division's 1-87th Infantry*, Austin and his unit were clearing the Gortepa Valley of Taliban strongholds. He was a long way from Vermont, and instead of carrying the firewood he'd helped harvest as a boy, he was loaded up with "anywhere from 70 to 90 pounds of gear, once you factor in your body armor, assault pack, weapons, ammo, et cetera."

*[Editor's Note: "1-87th Infantry" means First Battalion, 87th Infantry. If you're curious to read more about what Austin's battalion experienced, the New York Times covered the 1-87th's yearlong action in Afghanistan in an article series called "A Year at War."]

This was in 2010-2011, and one of the incidents that had motivated Austin to join the Army in the first place had transpired roughly ten years earlier. On September 11th, 2001, a 16-year-old Austin was "sitting in my high school English class when the first plane hit the World Trade Center," he recounts. "My teacher, a Long Island native, turned on a small radio and we listened to the events unfold intently. By the middle of Geometry class, the second plane had hit the Towers, and it dawned on me and my classmates that we were now a nation at war. I felt determined to do my bit in responding to these attacks.

"My grandfather had fought in the army when Pearl Harbor happened, my great grandfather had fought in the Army during World War I, all the way back to the Civil War and the Revolution, my family's been in the Army during times of conflict and war. So that's what I decided to do. I saw it as my patriotic duty."

While he planned on the military being his career, he decided to go to college first, and earned a degree in Government and Military Science from Georgetown University. I asked him why the university pit-stop, when he could have signed up at 18?

"I was a scholarship ROTC cadet," he explains. "Studying modern military science was part of that. The 'Government' part of the degree was essentially political science, the idea being that I wanted a well-rounded liberal arts education, and to learn how government and political systems work.

"Especially in a counterinsurgency type of war like we found ourselves in [after 9/11], a lot of emphasis is placed on good governance, and being able to help our allies achieve good governance. If you look at what's being going on in Afghanistan, a big part of the push there is helping them with that. So I wanted to have a good background, a good understanding of that to set myself up for having a career in the army."

Austin Roberts in Afghanistan, 2010

After a year in Kunduz, "We were able to clean up that area and hand it back to the Afghans," Austin says. Over the next few years his career progressed with a series of promotions and training; he worked his way up to Battallion Targeting Officer, then Operations Planner, then Psychological Operations Officer, with postings in Qatar and Germany along the way. By 2015 Austin, who'd entered the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant and was now a Captain, was working at the State Department in Washington, D.C. as Liaison Officer.

But while he was happy with the work, something else was tugging at him. "I'd planned on serving a full career in the military, and I liked what I was doing," Austin says. "But I'd met my then-girlfriend, now wife, my senior year at Georgetown University. After I entered the Army we basically had an eight-year long distance relationship while I was deploying all over the place." His wife was now finishing up med school and soon to be assigned a three-year residency in a random part of the country. If that happened to be in D.C. and Austin retained his post there, no problem; but what were the odds of that?

In December of 2015, Austin's wife was matched to a hospital outside of Philadelphia. Austin realized no military posting would bring him to that region, so as 2016 unfolded he made a tough decision. "My service obligation would be finished at the end of 2016," he says. "I decided to move on and finally be co-located with my wife." He wasn't sure what he'd do for work, but he figured his military and planning experience could land him a job in consulting.

In June of 2016, Austin learned that Jon had been laid off. And like Lynne, "wasn't terribly worried about it," he says. "Jon is one of the most hardworking and competent people I've ever met in my life--and I've met some very high performance people in the military and working with senior level diplomats. I thought [his being laid off] was a weird anomaly, and I had no doubt that he was either going to find another job, or make one."

Taking a Bold Gamble

While Jon was trying to figure out how to re-enter the industrial world, Lynne, who was descended from a long line of lumberjacks in Maine, had an idea for swinging the family back towards forestry. "Jon, this is a fantastic tool," Lynne told him, after he'd experienced yet another job rejection. "We just need to get it out there. We need to do the marketing part of it."

"I give Lynne a lot of credit," Jon says. "She had a strong, strong vision, a feeling that the LogOX was something that we should focus on."

He had some reservations. "It was an unnerving and difficult decision to abandon the traditional job hunt and place all my efforts into developing a market for a new and unknown logging tool," Jon says. "Naturally, funneling money away from funds set aside for retirement to bootstrap a new enterprise was also a truly scary idea."

Coincidentally, that same summer that Jon was laid off, a package arrived at their house from Swisher. It was the latest iteration of Jon's redesign, still in prototype battleship grey. The timing couldn't have been more fortunate; if Lynne saw Jon's downsizing as a Godsend, this was clearly the second part of the divine delivery.

At Lynne's urging, that August they brought the tool to the Green Mountain Fair, an annual country fair in nearby Manchester. They set up a pop-up tent they'd purchased and rolled out a few log rounds to demonstrate how the tool worked. Many of the folks who saw and tried the tool responded with enthusiasm.

Two weeks later, the first production run of the redesign was ready, in the finished orange color:

Jon and Lynne brought them to more events. "After going to a number of fairs and trade shows and seeing how people were reacting to our new multitool, our confidence grew," say Jon.

However, he adds, "We were still operating in the red." The redesign was undoubtedly an improvement over the previous iteration, but as 2016 came to a close the Roberts had sunk more money into the tool than they'd received in profits. They simply weren't selling enough of them.

Smart Marketing

As 2017 began, Austin's military service was completed. He and his wife had another six months to go before they'd move to Pennsylvania for her residency, and Austin began looking for work. "I had interviewed with a couple of different consulting firms, was talking with others, and waiting for which opportunity I wanted," he says.

While still in the service, during his off-hours Austin had helped his folks set up their website. Now, with a half-year before he could fully commit to a new job, he had more free time, and began helping them out with the marketing.

I ask Austin if he had any background in commercial marketing; the answer was no. But interestingly enough, his military training gave him a leg up with this seemingly unrelated field. "As a Psychological Operations Officer," he explains, "part of what that job entails is strategic communications on policy issues. So I had a decent understanding of how the media works, how to create compelling narratives, how to reach out to various target audiences and be able to get a message across to them.

"Like with everything else, I threw myself into it," he continues. Just as he'd attended college before joining the Army, in order to better arm himself with knowledge, Austin studied the problem first. He read articles and books about marketing, studied online social media marketing techniques, followed startup companies to see what they were doing and how. "Before I knew it I was spending 90% of my time working on the LogOX," he says, "and 10% of the time hunting for another job."

As with the military, book learning will only get you so far, so Austin spent plenty of time in the field as well. "We [set up a booth at] various trade shows and homesteading shows, which was very useful. [You need to] figure out who your audience is, your ideal customer, where do they go, what do they read, what are they interested in, and try to interject yourself in that conversation.

"As a marketer, being at the shows is really invaluable. Meeting and talking to people helps with word of mouth. And getting comfortable with the details of demonstrating your product, so that when you're sitting behind a computer and writing sales copy, you're able to take the feedback that people gave you, realize what the frequently asked questions are, and tailor your message to something they would find interesting, that answers the questions that they have."

Austin's plan: "To figure out the most cost-effective way for us to get our product out there," he says. "We knew we had a great product and we knew it would sell, because we use it ourselves and realize how useful it is. We just had to get it out there to enough people so that they would also see the value of it."

Led by Lynne, at that point the Robertses decided to go whole hog. They formed an S Corp and trademarked the slogan "American Tools for Woodsmen," as well as the company name, LogOX. Jon would be product developer and Lynne, "who was driving much of the company vision, would have main control and be President," Jon says. They named the tool the LogOX (officially, the LogOX 3-in-1 Forestry MultiTool) in a nod to the days when "oxen were used as powerful animals in the harvesting of wood," Jon says. The company's mascot is a blue ox, in reference to Paul Bunyan's famous bovine sidekick, Babe.

Austin's role would be General Manager, and he'd tackle the marketing. "One of the primary reasons for bringing Austin on board and founding the company as it is today," says Jon, "was to help us with our sales and marketing outreach, both to potential customers and retailers, demonstrating how the LogOX can truly benefit them."

After studying the problem, Austin figured out how to execute his low-cost way to get both exposure and feedback on the LogOX. He identified popular YouTube channels run by homesteaders and outdoors-people and sent them a LogOX, strings-free. If they found the tool as useful as the Robertses did, Austin reasoned, they'd probably make a video about it; if they didn't like the tool, he could ask them what the company could do to improve its design. In the short term he'd be losing money by sending out free tools, but if the tool was as good as they thought it was, it would pay off in the long run.

"Marketing is all about creating demand," Jon tells me, "sales is about fulfilling it." As it turns out, Austin wound up doing such a good job with the former that it was the latter that came up short.

"We had spent the entire fall sowing those seeds, and after hitting the road and going to a bunch of different shows, review videos started popping up all over the place on YouTube," Austin says. "We had been growing our social media, and the day before Black Friday we actually sold out. We had to take it off of Amazon for about ten days until we got more products on board."

The Roberts at a UPS center in 2017, shipping out LogOX's for the holiday rush

"Financially," Jon says, "2017 ended in the black--barely--which we considered a huge success."

By 2018, momentum had formed. Much of the groundwork Austin had laid was producing exponential results; YouTube review videos--from people Austin hadn't even sent a tool to, but who had seen other videos of it and subsequently ordered one--began popping up like dandelions. Indeed, that's how I first learned of the tool.

Made in the USA

Last year I permanently abandoned my hometown of New York City to live on a farm down South. I quickly learned it's a very physical existence, and began absorbing a lot of material on YouTube to figure out the best ways to prosecute various farm tasks. The harvesting of firewood is a particularly labor-intensive one, and seemingly every channel I watched for labor-saving firewood harvesting tips featured a LogOX.

One video by Swedish Homestead struck me in particular. Simeon, the German host of the channel, was describing the LogOX and pointed out that "This is an American company and it's made in the U.S., which I really like. Right away when I opened the bag and I felt the stuff, I felt that it's really strong, powerful stuff."

Simeon demonstrating a LogOX on Swedish Homestead

That statement struck me because I'm used to hearing Americans rave about German tools, not the other way 'round. For roughly the first half of the 20th Century, American-made tools and products were tough to beat; but these days, even heritage American brands--names that your father or grandfather grew up with and trusted--often manufacture overseas, with poor or inconsistent quality. And nothing is worse, at least to me, than buying an American-branded tool and discovering it's a cheaply-made piece of crap.

But here was Simeon, one of the online leaders of the homesteader movement, a native of a country that makes great tools, complimenting the build quality of an American product.

The fact that the tool is American-made, and to a high standard, is important to the Robertses; indeed it's part of the company's ethos. "One of the cool things about starting and running your own company is that you can set your standards," Austin says. "Our slogan is 'American Tools for Woodsmen,' and our standards, for reasons of both quality control and to employ our fellow Americans, is to make a great product here in the 'States."

I ask the Robertses the question a lot of successful entrepreneurs have to grapple with: What if a big box brand approached them, offering to increase their distribution by a factor of 10, if they would lower the cost? Meaning that they would have to whittle down the Bill of Materials and/or manufacture overseas?

"We've already had people come to us and [offer that kind of deal]," Jon says. "But if you look at our reviews, you'll see that firstly, our customers appreciate that it's American made. Secondly, that it's beefy. There's a lot of workmanship in there. If you want to bring down the price, you're going to have to cheapen a lot of the way you're doing things."

"Which is a non-starter for us," Austin adds, "for two reasons. One is that we'd be lowering the quality of the product itself, and the other is [that a lower pricepoint would require] making it somewhere outside of the United States. So that's not going to happen."

And in fact, as of recently the LogOX actually is available for purchase at big boxes, albeit through their eCommerce sites. "In 2018 we more than tripled our sales from 2017," Jon says. "We started to create some real volume, and as of about six months ago, with our manufacturing partner we are now on the e-platforms for Lowe's, Home Depot, Tractor Supply. We're not inside the stores; it's a step-by-step process, where they said "Let's walk before we run. We like the concept of the tool, so let's bring it onto our eCommerce platform, see how it's working there, and then the next step is to put it onto the floor." It's worth noting here that the LogOXen carried by the big boxes is not a watered-down version, but the same tool you'd get from any LogOX distributor.

Quantifying Success

About four years ago I injured my back trying to move a 24,000 BTU air conditioner, and managed to cause permanent damage. That incident is one of my greatest regrets in life, and I urge all of you able-bodied to never try lifting something you cannot because you are afraid of looking weak in front of onlookers; the permanent, lifelong pain is not worth it. Here on the farm, if I am not careful in how I hoist 60-pound bags of concrete or even 50-pound bags of animal feed, I can easily reaggravate the injury, and spend the next few days lying to my wife when she asks if everything is okay. So when I saw the kind of lifting that is required to harvest firewood, which is a task I need to perform here, my heart sank.

The LogOX is one of those tools that makes an immediate difference. As soon as I tried it, I found that due to the carefully-considered geometry of the tool, it requires almost no effort to pick up a log round. The weight of the load is in line with the way that your arm naturally hangs from your shoulder. Loading rounds onto the bed of a pickup or the back of our farm Rover (I don't own a splitter) is rendered easy, compared to the purely manual alternative. It's one of those tools that is such a clear improvement over what came before, that you look forward to performing the task it was designed to ease.

In this case I bucked up a log that had rolled downhill. Using the LogOX to carry the rounds back up was easy

[Editor's note: Prior to writing this article, I requested a LogOX from the Robertses to test out. They sent one, free of charge. After evaluating the tool, I paid them for it in full, out of my own pocket (not Core77 money). I decided to write about this tool because I use it and value it highly.]

All--not some, all--of the YouTube reviews I watched on the LogOX mentioned how much easier it is on the back. But my experience, and the experience of the other users, is all anecdotal. The Robertses wanted to get some hard science on the ergonomic benefits, and they're now working with an engineering school to quantify it.

"It's one thing to have a lot of positive reviews from our customers saying that this is an ergonomic tool," Austin says. "It's another thing to gather scientific, empirical data that shows exactly what it does for you. We've partnered with Fairfield University's engineering department on a year-long process, which we're halfway through at the moment. We want to be able to show the ergonomic advantage we have in a way that's measurable and observable. We'll then put that together in an overall report that we have as a sourced university study."

The Future of the Company

LogOX is not going to be a single-tool company; Jon has already invented, and they're already selling, another gamechanging item with clear ergonomic improvements called the WoodOX Sling. (We briefly covered this object here, and will discuss it along with Jon's innovation process in a future article.) Furthermore, at press time Jon had secured a patent for a third object beyond that, details of which are still under wraps.

And the LogOX itself may evolve. For one thing, the Fairfield University collaboration is meant to highlight ways to optimize and improve the tool. Secondly, the existing extension handle is designed in such a way that a purpose-built hook can be attached to it, turning the extension into a standalone pickaroon (a tool for moving log rounds at a distance).

That attachment point "opens up a whole wide world of different types of attachments and things that we could put onto that," says Austin, mentioning that they're doing R&D in that area now.

In the meantime, Jon will keep inventing, Austin will keep marketing, and Lynne will continue doing outreach. As one example of her patience yielding a payoff: Back in 2016, when they'd first hit the trade show circuit, Jon & Lynne had met an executive who worked for a tree service company. She liked the LogOX, and she and Lynne had kept in touch. That woman turned out to be Kathleen Gorman, who started her own company, Diverse Supply Solutions, in 2018. Gorman's company is now, in 2019, a LogOX distributor.

The larger example of Lynne's vision paying off is, of course, that she suggested they commit to Jon's invention in the first place. She's a lot busier now than before LogOX, but doesn't seem to mind: "While we're working practically 24/7--customers always marvel that we respond to them very quickly, even at night and on weekends--every morning I look forward to walking upstairs to my office and fielding calls and emails from our customers," Lynne says. "A common theme, and frankly the most rewarding part of those conversations, is hearing about the different ways the LogOX has made a big improvement in their lives. We'll hear from somebody who has just had back surgery, or is 86 years old, and finds the LogOX helpful."

"Transitioning out of the active duty military can be a difficult process for any Veteran," says Austin, reflecting on his decision to go all-in and co-found the company. "Going from a regimented lifestyle with clear benchmarks for career success and relative financial security to the roller coaster ride that is entrepreneurship, is particularly challenging, especially when also supporting a family. However, I've found the forestry industry and homesteading community to be full of great, hardworking people, and being able to provide them with a useful tool like the LogOX has been tremendously fulfilling, making the entire process worthwhile."

Jon, Lynne and Austin Roberts

"Starting a business is every bit as difficult as you hear it is," Jon says, "but the independence is worth every ounce of energy, especially when the business starts to grow and become increasingly successful." And, of course, there's little chance Jon will ever worry about being downsized again.

Jon with an early prototype alongside the current-day production version



Design Job: Clean Up Your Career! Newell Brands is Seeking an Industrial Designer in Huntersville, NC

Core 77 - 8 hours 20 min ago

This Industrial Designer will conceptualize and develop new products that improve the lives of our customers. In this role you will be involved in all aspects of Industrial Design. Collaborating closely with cross-functional teams to create customer experiences for the next generation of products.

View the full design job here

adidas Unveils Zero Waste Plan, Starting with 100% Recyclable Sneakers

Core 77 - 8 hours 20 min ago

Before we get into the details of adidas' heady new footwear release, let's give it some context: over the past few years, adidas has led three main initiatives—Parley, Futurecraft and Speedfactory. Through a partnership with Parley, adidas' line of footwear and apparel made primarily from recycled ocean plastic signified a shift towards environmental awareness for the brand. Before Parley works with a company to produce product, they require a pledge from the company, essentially stating their actionable plan to implement less plastic into their production process. The Parley initiative paid off for adidas: the collaboration resulted in a product that is in the hands of consumers today, and it positioned adidas as a fast fashion company who at least cared about the environment enough to try.

Then there are Speedfactory and Futurecraft, which both focus more on customization and innovation with industrial processes. "Speedfactories" are actual facilities (the first was in Germany) that focus on streamlining the process of customization and creating unique product based on the individual consumer's needs. Futurecraft is the company's all encompassing label for innovative projects, most notably producing the Futurecraft 4Ds, a runner with a liquid 3D printed midsole designed in partnership with Carbon. The goal with Futurecraft 4D was also customization, as the 3D printing process is able to yield personalized midsoles with specific density placement based on the individual user's need.


Parley, Speedfactory and Futurecraft were kept separate with a little overlap here and there, but adidas just announced a new product and business strategy under the Futurecraft umbrella that appears to combine important elements from all three initiatives.

Futurecraft.loop is an approach to designing shoes that are made to be remade by using only one material (100% reusable TPU) and no glue. The TPU is treated in a variety of ways to create a full shoe, including being spun into yarn, knitted, molded and clean-fused to a BOOST midsole. The process employs the use of SPEEDFACTORY technology, which combines the sustainable effort with the quick manufacturing of special models.

After the shoes are worn to death, they are meant to be returned to adidas where they are washed, ground up into pellets and melted into material to create a new pair of shoes. The process yields zero waste, and no material is ever thrown away.


Instead of releasing yet another sneaker, adidas is releasing an entire system, which we're curious to see put in place—hopefully sometime in 2021. adidas has already proven their ability to innovate in the material space and manufacture customized products at a relatively high speed, so now comes the real challenge: pulling knowledge from their past efforts to implement a true closed loop, zero waste system as part of their business model. Their proposed system also involves empowering consumers to return used shoes to be reused and remade into the next pair. How will this process be communicated and designed? Will consumers care enough to put in the effort of returning old shoes? Only time will tell, but for now 200 testers will have their hands on a beta pair to help adidas run through a simulation of what the future of the company could look like.

Currently Crowdfunding: A Better Screwdriver, a Vertical Garden That Will Actually Fit in Your Space and More

Core 77 - 8 hours 20 min ago

Brought to you by MAKO Design + Invent, North America's leading design firm for taking your product idea from a sketch on a napkin to store shelves. Download Mako's Invention Guide for free here.

Navigating the world of crowdfunding can be overwhelming, to put it lightly. Which projects are worth backing? Where's the filter to weed out the hundreds of useless smart devices? To make the process less frustrating, we scour the various online crowdfunding platforms to put together a weekly roundup of our favorite campaigns for your viewing (and spending!) pleasure. Go ahead, free your disposable income:

By now there are plenty of indoor gardening systems to choose from, but this one sets itself apart with a super small footprint (it'll only take up 2.5 square feet of floor space) and a fully automated hydroponic system so even brown thumbs can enjoy the benefits of gardening.

A spinner wheel on the handle of this upgraded screwdriver system maximizes torque so you can get your projects done with less effort.

Here's a waterproof, lightweight cushion that you can throw on any seat to immediately transform it into an ergonomic one. It's designed to keep your back straight, shoulders up and ensure that your body achieves its natural S-Curve.

Can a lamp remind us of the value of energy? The DINA lamp seeks to do just that—you'll have to insert a coin to get it to work. But this is just a gentle reminder: the amount you put in won't impact how long you can keep the light on. To turn it off, you just pull the wooden nob and the coin will fall into the wooden base, where you can retrieve it at any time.

The Narwal robot mop and vacuum will clean your floors then go to its nifty dock where it will clean itself before it goes back out there and does it again!

Do you need help designing, developing, patenting, manufacturing, and/or selling YOUR product idea? MAKO Design + Invent is a one-stop-shop specifically for inventors / startups / small businesses. Click HERE for a free confidential product consultation.

Is Arthur Mamou-Mani's COS Installation in Milan a Nod to the Future of Architecture?

Core 77 - 8 hours 20 min ago

For eight years, fashion brand COS has used the occasion of Salone del Mobile to flex a more conceptual creative muscle, curating memorable experiences such as Studio Swine's 2017 smoke bubble-filled installation and an all-white ethereal, escape dreamt up by Snarkitecture in 2015.

COS Creative Director Karin Gustafsson (left) and architect Arthur Mamou-Mani (right)

This year, they returned to Milan in collaboration with London-based architect Arthur Mamou-Mani to create Conifera, a structure that doesn't just speak to creativity, but also to conservation and innovation. Housed in Palazzo Isimbardi—a building that dates back to the 16th century— the installation is built to figuratively bring you from the old world into the new. The latticed, 3D-printed architectural structure that wraps around the front and back of the palazzo is not only almost fully recyclable, it also currently stands as the largest 3D Printed PLA structure in the world.

"I find it exciting that it's still accessible to break records [in 3D printing]," noted Mamou-Mani, "it's really exciting to know that technology is going at such a speed that enables really interesting environmental designs". Mamou-Mani's motivation, however, was not just about record-breaking, but also discovering how 3D printing might just be able to improve on the physics of architecture. The Conifera installation is constructed out of about 2 million structural elements, and built using a custom algorithm that promises the most minimal amount of material that could take the maximum amount of tension. "The project is interesting in that it's minimizing the amount of materials to a point that it's almost a [structural and weight equivalent to] foam."

"I find this idea exciting, that architecture can not necessarily be finite, but it can kind of undo itself."

Only having a two month window to print the installation presented the team with another challenge to overcome: creating something structurally sound that can also be printed absurdly fast. When asked how they tackled such a feat, Mamou-Mani added that there are many factors to consider to get it right: "It's quite holistic. It's an understanding of the material behavior, the temperatures, the speed, the elasticity...all these parameters we bring in the computer and then use a tool that allows us to integrate all these things together." The parametric design, partly designed by the algorithm, is what allowed for minimal material with maximum structural quality. A not so easy feat, "but I love mission impossible," said Mamou-Mani.

The pieces were made out of a combination of PLA and wood, making it virtually wasteless (given the right composting conditions)—and this, he hopes, has implications for the future of architecture. "Concrete is responsible for about 8% of [humanity's] carbon footprint. It's the second most used substance after water. And steel has a large footprint as well. So together, construction is the number one factor for our carbon footprint," Mamou-Mani explained. "This needs to change, and I think architects need to know that."

So how does Mamou-Mani imagine the future of architecture? "My dream is to have a giant version of this assemble and disassemble a building according to economic conditions. If it's going well, it grows. If it doesn't go well, it shrinks. I find this idea exciting, that architecture can not necessarily be finite, but it can kind of undo itself. I think that's probably the biggest revolution that could happen to architecture, that it's not necessarily permanent and we can let go of this idea." Perhaps a tall order today, Conifera still proves a solid point of what could be.

Design Job: TEAGUE is Seeking a Communication Design Director in Everett, WA

Core 77 - 8 hours 20 min ago

The Communication Design Manager is responsible for driving exceptional graphic design work in collaboration with a world-class design team. This position oversees and contributes to work across a spectrum of projects, including branding, signage, environmental graphics, video, and print. S/he leads the team in developing new opportunities with clients and

View the full design job here

5 Milan Design Week Trends Designers Should Actually Care About

Core 77 - 8 hours 20 min ago

Milan Design Week came to a close this past Sunday, and after a week of visiting installations, interviewing designers and experiencing extreme visual stimulation, we're finally able to take a moment to ruminate over and make sense of what we experienced. While Salone has traditionally been about furniture and homeware design, we noticed a clear shift in interest towards experimenting with technology, understanding the designer's responsibility when it comes to protecting our planet and creating moments of experience around classic furniture. Below is a breakdown of five distinct trends we noticed during our trip, including examples of projects that illustrate a shift in focus for the design industry as a whole:

Imagining a Seamless Future Between Design and Tech

Large companies and independent designers alike explored ways in which tech has the potential to infiltrate our lives in more productive ways than just an AI relentlessly commanding us to stand up and sit down.

Google's A Space for Being TKTK

On the corporate scale, Google imagined a future where tech interprets the environments we desire based on our physical reactions to various spaces and products. Visitors to A Space for Being wandered through a series three rooms, each designed with different furniture, books, textures, lighting and even scents. While interacting with each room as they pleased, a screen-less wearable band silently collected the visitor's data based on subtle reactions, like skin temperature and heart rate. At the end of the experience, the bands were collected and the data interpreted, revealing which of the three spaces the algorithm felt you were most at ease in. The point was less about wearables and more about how this type of tech could have an influence on the design process at all scales, whether it be conducting user research before designing a new chair or even redecorating your own home based on what makes you most comfortable.

Raising Robotic Natives by Phillip Schmitt, seen at Broken Nature

The Triennale di Milano's Broken Nature exhibition examined the relationship between tech and design at an even more future-gazing level, featuring individual projects that look toward the future of human interactions with technology. Raising Robotic Natives by Phillip Schmitt is a designed system of robots, books and soft goods meant to raise the next generation with robots similar to how Gen Z was raised with technology. After being socialized with robots from an early age, "robotic natives" would have a completely different outlook on the importance of and place for robots in everyday life, thus creating potential for new, unimagined developments and interactions between humans and tech.

The result of such examples demonstrated a future that not only distances technology from the cold, distant, sci-fi cliches of yesterday, instead showing how tech can be used as a way to better understand ourselves.

"Handcrafted" by Technology

This year, we noticed less of a focus on handmade design and more of an excitement around the new possibilities surrounding generative design and machine-made processes—especially when it came to machine-made furniture that appeared to be handmade. Perhaps it's because people have stopped associating luxury furniture with handmade items or because companies want to keep churning out as many products as possible—either way, tech appears to be the future of the luxury furniture industry in a big way.

Autodesk x Philippe Starck x Kartell A.I chair

Autodesk, Kartell and Philippe Starck unveiled a prime example of generative design with their A.I chair. "Kartell, Autodesk and I asked artificial intelligence a question," said Starck. "Artificial intelligence, do you know how we can rest our bodies using the least amount of material?" The result is a fluid chair co-designed by human and artificial intelligence through literal conversation. Starck noted a few learning points along the way, including the software's need to learn terms and processes as it worked, but the project shows potential for a new design process, one in which humans and technology are able to collaborate in a surprising new way.

Maruni Hiroshima Chiar

You might recognize Maruni's Hiroshima chair—that's because it's not new. Instead of focusing solely on new product for this year's Salone del Mobile, the Japanese furniture brand decided to highlight a chair that's been on the market since 2008. The chair itself is timeless—if you were unaware of Maruni you'd easily think it were a new piece at the fair. But what sets it apart from many chairs at Salone is that while the shape and wood material appear to be easy to work with by hand, it's actually impossible to make by hand and requires the use of special robots to manufacture. This also decreases manufacturing time, which can't be a bad thing for Maruni.

Responsible Design

Many designers during this Milan Design Week examined sustainability with a wider scope than materials explorations, examining entire product cycles that we need to either break or nurture for the betterment of our planet.

Freitag's Uninfluencer installation

Freitag's "Uninfluencer" installation at Ventura Centrale focused on the individual, holding visitors accountable for their own 'design sins'. Mimicking the Catholic tradition of atoning for your sins, "Uninfluencer" led the visitor through a series of tasks, prompting each sinner to recognize their wrongdoings, confess in a design confessional and ultimately ask for forgiveness. Whether struggling with an unhealthy Amazon Prime addiction or past designs that harm the environment, designers and consumers were encouraged to forgive themselves and take actionable steps towards improving their habits in the future.

Fairphone 2 at Broken Nature

We also noticed a few projects that focused on repairs as a means of sustainability and longevity for a specific product. Fairphone 2 is a modular cellphone designed to be assembled, disassembled and repaired as needed. The phone aims to address the ethical implications of the 'designed to break' model the phone industry follows today, in addition to impossible working conditions, unlawfully minded materials and more. Fairphone 2 is currently on the market today and is on display at Broken Nature in Milan.

Still Running by Marta Sternberg

Repairs were also on students' minds this year—Still Running by Royal College of Art student Marta Sternberg is a redesign of the classic iron that can be disassembled, repaired and then reassembled. The project rethinks home appliances that are often considered deemed disposable as durable objects that can be passed down from one generation to the next.

Confusing Corporate Presence

Upon arriving in Milan, we noticed something big that we hadn't experienced at Milan Design Week in such high quantity before: large corporations, such as Yamaha and Sony started infiltrating the city with installations aimed towards navigating the future of design and tech. Even Juul had a booth at Ventura Futures.

On one hand, the presence of industry giants in a fair environment traditionally meant for furniture and conceptual design ideas speaks to the ever-growing importance of design in the public and private spheres of business and commerce, but it does leave us with questions. Are these companies using Milan Design Week as a way to connect with the design community? Are they using their power to explore design solutions to the world's problems? Or is Salone evolving into an effective way for companies to spend their marketing budget? Only time and the next few design weeks will show how this will affect the shape of Milan Design Week and the industry as a whole.

Sony's Affinity in Autonomy installation

Sony's Affinity in Autonomy installation hinted at building an emotional connection between humans and robots in a vague way. Visitors were led through a series of five interactions, all of which touched on different roles AI plays in the design process.

The Lexus Design Award Pavilion

Lexus has been unveiling their Lexus Design Award winner during Milan Design Week for years and has found a sweet spot between marketing and connecting with the design community. This year, half of their pavilion was dedicated to showing the work of the Lexus Design Award finalists (an awards program that helps fund the design research of up and coming designers), and the other half was dedicated to a light and robot installation that showed off some of the car company's latest innovations.

Instagram vs. Anti-Instagram Experiences

When an entire city is taken over by designers in 2019, you better believe Instagrammable moments are tucked away in every grand Milanese palace. While we do mourn the days when things were less about capturing phone content and more about experiencing moments off-screen, we are happy to say that the graphic installations and colorful spaces seen at Milan Design Week far surpassed "Instagram museums" like the Ice Cream Museum and Rosé Mansion here in NYC.

Vitra's booth at Salone del Mobile

We just talked a bit about corporate presence, which definitely had something to do with the surge in social media marketing throughout Milan (hello money to blow). But we also noticed photo-worthy moments popping up at Salone del Mobile, which typically maintains more of a trade show vibe. Companies definitely went bigger and bolder with their booth displays, creating full blown installations meant to be photographed and shared. An apparent example is Vitra, who combined their furniture and homewares with art pieces to create four different environments, representative of four different personalities.

Benjamin Hubert x Cosentino's Raytrace Installation

On the other end of the mobile content spectrum, there were designers and brands who made a conscious effort to encourage people to put their phones away and live in the moment. Google's A Space for Being installation, which we mentioned above, didn't allow any mobile phone use in the space, and Benjamin Hubert and Cosentino's Raytrace installation purposefully used massive blank shapes, dark lighting and materials like Dekton that are difficult to photograph using a phone.

Reader Submitted: Nook's Design Elevates the Classic Indoor Playground

Core 77 - 8 hours 20 min ago

Nook, a new children's play and learning space in Ballston, VA, reimagines the "family-friendly" destination as a curated, gallery-like experience, filled with thoughtfully designed furniture and multi-sensory installations. No rainbows needed.

This is the third venue to open for the nascent modern family brand, and the most ambitious design and programming effort to date. The project was designed by Mickus Projects, who also fabricated and installed several of feature millwork pieces.

Much of the retail world is defined by how fast they can move: on move-in, on building out a store, on moving merchandise, on shipping goods to you overnight. For Nook we took the opposite approach. We took things slow, spending nearly two years on programming, research, design, iterations, prototyping, fabricating, assembling, installing and styling. The amount of attention we put into every detail is meant to translate into the quality and intention that parents will have with their kids when they come to experience Nook.

We have invested heavily in the process, labor, research and design, resulting in something so beautiful and minimal, wrapping around you and your child. We like to think of it as small-batch design, or single-origin design...a space designed with play in mind.


View the full project here

Design Job: Turn Up the Volume: Bose is Seeking a UX Creative Lead in Framingham, MA

Core 77 - 8 hours 20 min ago

We’re looking for a passionate Creative Lead to join our User Experience team and focus on defining compelling hardware product experiences in our Consumer Electronics Division. Someone who’s excited to bring concepts from advanced development to fruition across our various physical product forms. Someone who has a desire to drive

View the full design job here

The 2019 Milan Design Week Shows that Demonstrated a New Direction for the Industry

Core 77 - 8 hours 20 min ago

There was something new in the air at this year's Milan Design Week festivities. Was it that there was just so much more to see? Was it the grandiosity of the installations, between retail giants at Salone in Rho Fiera to the previously more underground events such as Ventura Centrale and showroom events? We're still trying to put our finger on it.

What was made abundantly clear is that Salone is no longer just a furniture fair; it's a global event that reins in the most obscure of studios to tech giants like Google.

What always tends to surprise us about Salone is that despite it's inherently commercial nature and new tech-giant presence, it still manages to show us a number of experimental exhibitions that speak to the wonder of design and not just to commercial value. Despite it's much larger scale in the year 2019, Milan Design Week managed to provide a number of sights that dropped jaws while also engaging a sense of responsibility in the design world, asking the community for more than just a collection of nice chairs. Included here is a selection of just a few of our favorite exhibitions and projects that we experienced during this year's design week.

COS InstallationAn all-encompassing installation dreamed up by architect Arthur Mamou-Mani, who created the largest 3D printed PLA structure in the world for this 2019 Salone collaboration with minimal fashion brand COS.COS InstallationThe larger than life installation was located in the courtyard of the 16th century Palazzo Isimbardi, which provided a historical contrast to the 3D printed structure.Lexus Design Award PavilionIn addition to an exhibition explaining the finalist and winning projects form this year's Lexus design Award (Algorithmic Lace by Lisa Marks took first place), Lexus' massive pavilion featured a robotic and light installation by Japanese art and technology design firm Rhizomatiks.Photo credit: Core77Still / LifeCalico Wallpaper and Ladies & Gentlemen Studio truly created a calming oasis that we took pleasure in visiting after a long day at the fair.Photo credit: Core77Still / LifeThe pieces created by Ladies & Gentlemen and Mud Australia were complemented by oversized flowers and striking gradient wallpaper from Calico, which enhanced the still live vignettes and gave the pieces a strong voice.Photo credit: Core77Nendo x Wonderglass: The Shape of GravityThis year for Salone, Wonderglass teamed up with Japanese studio nendo to create Melt, a collection of glass casted furniture made by bending molten glass sheets onto steel forms and then melting the sheets together into furniture forms.Photo credit: Core77Nendo x Wonderglass: The Shape of GravityWonderglass is a London based brand that pairs modern designers with traditional craftspeople to create contemporary design pieces. Nendo principal Oki Sato was matched with master glass craftsmen in Venice to create this collection.Photo credit: Core77Stone IslandStone Island's high energy installation abstractly walked visitors through the design process of their Nylon Metal material process. Projections on the floor and hanging prototype jackets mirrored the beginning stages on the left with the finishing stages where the garment is dyed on the right.Photo credit: Core77Benjamin Hubert x CosentinoHubert created an aqueous feel using glass chandeliers that were formulated in CAD thanks to a randomized algorithm that helped like mimic the refraction of water. One of the refreshing parts of this installation was its truly experiential feel (i.e. it felt much less like a Instagram trap and more like a getaway from the Salone madness).Photo credit: David ZanardiBenjamin Hubert x CosentinoBenjamin Hubert of LAYER's collaboration with materials company Cosentino at Ventura Centrale was an architectural exploration demonstrating what the material Dekton could do. "We used reflection, refraction, and light to show the material in a more architectural setting," Hubert told Core77, "and one of the things that's interesting about the process, when they produce the material they remove all of the water. We thought it would be a nice, kind of poetic moment to bring the water back".Photo credit: David ZanardiView the full gallery here

Reader Submitted: An Organizer Designed for Business Travel that Keeps Clothes Wrinkle-Free and Electronics Safe

Core 77 - 8 hours 20 min ago

Do you ever wish for a business trip where you don't have to worry about the condition of your shirts and the existence of a proper hotel iron? IAMRUNBOX initially developed their garment bags as a solution for commuters to keep their shirts wrinkle free on the go. Along the way, they realized how the simple and optimal way of packing made it ideal for business travelers too. For three years the garment bags have been tested and loved by active people all over the world. Now it's time to give it a little upgrade.

IAMRUNBOX is now launching the Origami Organizer. Specially designed for travelers who want to look their best wherever they go. These packing organizers keep your shirts neat, clean and wrinkle-free and look smart when you arrive with the lightweight hard shell garment bag.

View the full project here

Design Job: Get Your Portfolio Ready—Ammunition is Seeking an Industrial Design Intern in San Francisco, CA

Core 77 - 8 hours 20 min ago

Ammunition is an international design group providing services in product design, brand strategy and identity, UX design, graphic design, and packaging. While Ammunition’s strengths are diverse across design disciplines, our real expertise is to redefine markets by using design to create new business territory, and to communicate and connect with

View the full design job here

Editorial: Thoughts of An Engineer On Earth Day

Design News - 13 hours 8 min ago

Today is Earth Day. Over a billion people in 192 countries are taking part. It’s the largest civic-focused day of action in the world. It is a day when human beings commit to earth-friendly acts, to making more sustainable choices, to reducing their carbon footprint, to conserving energy and resources, and to collaborate on environmental projects to protect us and the environment to create a healthy, more sustainable future. Earth Day is an activity in which engineers should be especially engaged.

The first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, saw more than 20 million Americans demonstrating for a healthier planet (Image source: NYC Department of Records)

In The Beginning

The first Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970. Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin, having seen the damage created in 1969 by a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, decided to raise the public’s consciousness about air and water pollution and move the discussion into the national political agenda.

Senator Nelson, a Democrat, persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, to serve as his co-chair and recruited Denis Hayes from Harvard as national coordinator. On the first Earth Day, 20 million Americans took to the streets to demonstrate for a healthier and more sustainable environment. Suddenly, caring for the planet became a priority and by the end of that year, the first Earth Day had led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. “It was a gamble,” Gaylord recalled, “but it worked.” Imagine if we could move so quickly today?

Are We The Enemy?

When you consider the major global problems facing humanity—among them climate change, species extinction, biodiversity loss, air and water pollution, and an accumulation of plastic waste that is now threatening human survival—it’s easy to point a finger at the engineers whose job it has been to ensure the progress of our civilization. How could they not have recognized the impact of problems resulting from carbon dioxide emissions, the cumulative effects of synthetic chemicals into the biosphere, or the dangers of a seemingly innocuous plastic grocery bag?

No competent engineer starts out to build a system that is unsustainable and wasteful, and often the pitfalls don’t become apparent until it is too late. As Duke University engineering professor and prolific author Henry Petroski said, “Many new technologies come with a promise to change the world, but the world refuses to cooperate.”

Can We Be The Change?

In the almost 50 years since the first Earth Day, engineers have been on the forefront of cleaning the air and water. We have developed viable wind and solar alternatives to fossil fuels. We are developing battery technologies that are revolutionizing everything from personal electronics to electric cars and transportation. Working on the cutting edge of science and technology, engineers have been pushing boundaries in medicine, food security, communications, and exploration that serve to better the human condition.

Though not each invention is a success, and, inevitably, some can be spectacular failures, incremental improvements provide starting points for the next generation of engineers.  As Professor Petroski said, “Although engineers want always to make everything better, they cannot make anything perfect. This basic characteristic flaw of the products of the profession's practitioners is what drives change and makes achievement a process rather than simply a goal.”

If you are an engineer or are studying to be one, it is time to embrace Earth Day and what it stands for. Engineering is a profession that requires great ethical and moral courage to do what is right, not just for the company or the bottom line, but for society, humanity, and the environment. If what you are working on isn’t sustainable, be creative, re-direct, and make it so. If your product or process harms the planet or its inhabitants, find a better solution that allows all of us a chance to carry on. It is time that engineers take the lead: we are some of the smartest people on the planet, and we must apply our skills and talents to better the tiny blue planet on which we live.

Senior Editor Kevin Clemens has been writing about energy, automotive, and transportation topics for more than 30 years. He has masters degrees in Materials Engineering and Environmental Education and a doctorate degree in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in aerodynamics. He has set several world land speed records on electric motorcycles that he built in his workshop.

 

ESC BOSTON IS BACK!
REGISTER TODAY!

The nation's largest embedded systems conference is back with a new education program tailored to the needs of today's embedded systems professionals, connecting you to hundreds of software developers, hardware engineers, start-up visionaries, and industry pros across the space. Be inspired through hands-on training and education across five conference tracks. Plus, take part in technical tutorials delivered by top embedded systems professionals. Click here to register today!

 

Flex Fuels and Hybrid Electrification Will Change Heavy Trucks

Design News - 18 hours 33 min ago

Heavy duty trucks present some significant air-quality and pollution problems. Their diesel engine exhaust contains a mixture of gases and solid particles and the solid particles, known as diesel particulate matter or diesel PM, have been linked to a variety of health and breathing problems, particularly in densely populated areas. Diesel engines also account for a significant portion of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions (primarily CO2), adding to problems associated with global climate change. Some progress has been made to trap the particulate matter produced by diesel engines to improve air quality, but little has been done so far to reduce their climate-change-inducing exhaust emissions.

Moving Away From Diesels

“We’ve been working for a number of years on ways to make engines for cars and trucks cleaner and more efficient, and we’ve been particularly interested in what you can do with spark ignition [as opposed to the compression ignition used in diesels], because it’s intrinsically much cleaner,” said Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Energy Initiative and Plasma Fusion and Science Center research scientist Daniel Cohn. Chon has been researching a variety of fuels and the use of hybrid spark ignition-electric technology in heavy trucks—his research is presented in an MIT news release. In the MIT release it is noted that, “Compared to a diesel engine vehicle, a gasoline-powered vehicle produces only a tenth as much nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution, a major component of air pollution.”

A flex-fuel engine configuration for a heavy truck that allows it to run on gasoline, ethanol, methanol, or blends of these, would have the potential to emit far less greenhouse gas than pure gasoline engines do, according to the news release. Cohn notes that the incremental cost for the fuel flexibility is very small. If run on pure methanol or ethanol derived from renewable sources such as agricultural waste or municipal trash, the net greenhouse gas emissions could even be zero. “It’s a way of making use of a low-greenhouse-gas fuel” when it’s available, “but always having the option of running it with gasoline” to ensure maximum flexibility, Cohn says.

Tesla has a battery-electric heavy truck under development, however MIT researchers indicate that an interim step using an alcohol-fueled electric hybrid drivetrain may be important when moving away from diesel engines and to full battery electrics. (Image source: Tesla)

A Gradual Transition to Batteries

While the ultimate goal would be to power trucks entirely with batteries, the researchers say, this flex-fuel hybrid option could provide a way for such trucks to gain early entry into the marketplace by overcoming concerns about limited range, cost, or the need for excessive battery weight to achieve longer range. Cohn said, “We think that’s going to be very challenging, because of the cost and weight of the batteries.”  Cohn and his researchers estimate to reach the range of a current diesel engine truck would require somewhere between 10 and 15 tons of batteries “That’s a significant fraction of the payload” such a truck could otherwise carry, Cohn said. “Batteries are great, but let’s be realistic about what they can provide,” he said.

“We think that the way to enable the use of electricity in these vehicles is with a plug-in hybrid,” Cohn said. The engine has been under development for years. It is a highly efficient, flexible-fuel gasoline engine that would, “weigh far less, be more fuel-efficient, and produce a tenth as much air pollution as the best of today’s diesel-powered vehicles,” according to the MIT release. The combination of a hybrid drive and flex-fuel engine is “a way to enable the introduction of electric drive into the heavy truck sector, by making it possible to meet range and cost requirements, and doing it in a way that’s clean,” Cohn said.

RELATED ARTICLES:

Knowing What is Needed

Cohn and MIT research engineer Leslie Bromberg, “did a detailed analysis of both the engineering and the economics of what would be needed to develop such an engine to meet the needs of existing truck operators. In order to match the efficiency of diesels, a mix of alcohol with the gasoline, or even pure alcohol, can be used, and this can be processed using renewable energy sources, they found.” The MIT release also noted that, “Detailed computer modeling of a whole range of desired engine characteristics, combined with screening of the results using an artificial intelligence system, yielded clear indications of the most promising pathways and showed that such substitutions are indeed practically and financially feasible.”

The relative cost of diesel fuel has gone up and the cost advantages of diesels for heavy trucking no longer prevail. “Over time, gas engines have become more and more efficient, and they have an inherent advantage in producing less air pollution,” said Bromberg.

“We think there’s a significant rationale for trucking companies to go to gasoline or flexible fuel,” Cohn says. “The engines are cheaper, exhaust treatment systems are cheaper, and it’s a way to ensure that they can meet the expected regulations. And combining that with electric propulsion in a hybrid system, given an ever-cleaner electric grid, can further reduce emissions and pollution from the trucking sector.”

The combination of flex-fuel and hybrid electrification allows them to address two major challenges at once. “We don’t know which is going to be stronger, the desire to reduce greenhouse gases, or the desire to reduce air pollution. In the U.S., climate change may be the bigger push, while in India and China air pollution may be more urgent, but this technology has value for both challenges,” said Cohn.

Senior Editor Kevin Clemens has been writing about energy, automotive, and transportation topics for more than 30 years. He has masters degrees in Materials Engineering and Environmental Education and a doctorate degree in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in aerodynamics. He has set several world land speed records on electric motorcycles that he built in his workshop.

 

ESC BOSTON IS BACK!
REGISTER TODAY!

The nation's largest embedded systems conference is back with a new education program tailored to the needs of today's embedded systems professionals, connecting you to hundreds of software developers, hardware engineers, start-up visionaries, and industry pros across the space. Be inspired through hands-on training and education across five conference tracks. Plus, take part in technical tutorials delivered by top embedded systems professionals. Click here to register today!

 

NXP Doubles Down on Automotive Radar with China Partnership

Design News - 19 hours 3 min ago

NXP Semiconductors N.V. is accelerating its move into automotive radar by partnering with a supplier that could cement its foothold in the Chinese market, while helping with development of so-called “imaging radar.”

NXP said last week that the strategic collaboration between it and Hawkeye Technology Co., Ltd. is both a business and a technology play. The collaboration could open the door for the Dutch chipmaker to play a bigger role in China, where the growth rate of automotive radar is approximately twice that of the rest of the world. But at the same time, it gives the company access to research in advanced forms of radar that could one day compete directly with the LiDar systems used on today’s autonomous test vehicles.

“At NXP, it’s our ambition to get as close to LiDar as possible with significantly lower system costs,” Steffen Spannagel, general manager of product line ADAS for NXP, told Design News.

As part of the strategic collaboration, NXP invested an undisclosed sum in Hawkeye Technology, which will build radar sensor modules using front-end transceivers and microcontroller chips from NXP. Hawkeye will combine the NXP reference designs with its own antennas, radar software, and radar firmware. It will then provide those modules mostly to the Chinese automotive market, where the compounded annual growth rate of radar is about 40%, or about twice that of the rest of the world.

Radar chipsets from NXP Semiconductors will be paired with antennas, software, and firmware from Hawkeye Technology for the Chinese auto market. (Image source: NXP Semiconductors N.V.)

The collaboration could be significant because Hawkeye has deep expertise in 77-GHz radar, which is increasingly being used in advanced automotive applications, such as emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. Those more advanced systems are different from the 24-GHz systems employed in less technically-intensive applications, such as blind spot detection.

NXP said that the move to the more advanced systems is largely responsible for the huge growth rate in automotive radar. Whereas today’s production vehicles typically use between one and three radar sensors for Level 1 and Level 2 ADAS, future vehicles may employ as many as 6-10 radar chips on Level 4 and Level 5 vehicles. Moreover, such vehicles will also need more powerful processing to go with the radar chips.

“You’ll have more cars with radar, each car with more sensors, and within each sensor, you’ll need more ICs to get better performance,” Spannagel said.

The collaboration between NXP and Hawkeye could also have other, more far-reaching benefits, Spannagel said. Hawkeye is closely linked with Southeast University in Nanjing, which is considered a leading radar research center. That association could be a key in helping both companies to develop so-called “imaging radar.”

Imaging radar, which operates in the 77-GHz range, is expected to offer advantages over other autonomous car sensors, such as optical- and ultrasonic-based systems, as well as LiDar, in some cases. Imaging radar can potentially recognize objects in the roadway, such as a bike, a person, or a semi-truck. It can also see through bad weather conditions – rain, fog, or snow – in a way that even LiDar can’t do. The technology, however, is not yet fully developed for automotive applications.

RELATED ARTICLES:

Many Tier One suppliers and a few chipmakers, including Analog Devices, Inc., are said to be working on imaging radar technology. Most believe that it would be at most one-fifth the cost of LiDar, but they’re not sure whether it would serve as a complement to, or as a replacement for, LiDar. Today, OEMs building autonomous cars typically use LiDar on their test vehicles.

NXP said it is setting its sights high for the developing technology. “We have the ambition to improve radar so much that we preferably would not need LiDar,” Spannagel said. “Whether that view would be shared by each and every automotive OEM, we don’t know.”

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 35 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.

Japan and Israel Tech Experts Join Forces to Create AI Products

Design News - 19 hours 33 min ago

Japanese and Israeli technology expertise have merged in a new company blended from innovators in each country. Musashi Seimitsu Corporation, a Japan-based Honda Motor Corporation affiliate, has formed Musashi AI, a consortium, in collaboration with Israeli technology expert Ran Poliakine, founder of Poliakine Innovation and SixEye Interactive.

The Musashi Automatic Inspection System was displayed at the AI Expo in Tokyo last month. (Source: Musashi AI)

The goal of the Musashi AI consortium is to bring Industry 4.0 technology into reality in a matter of months rather than the industry’s common prediction of years. The new consortium aims to convene top technological minds from both countries in artificial intelligence, software engineering, hardware engineering, mathematics, and physics in order to produce Industry 4.0 tools. Musashi AI debuted two new products, an automated inspection system and a self-driving forklift, at the AI Expo in Tokyo last month.

A Blend of Two Tech Traditions

The idea for the consortium came about when Poliakine visited Musashi. “I was quite amazed to see how a company like Musashi is getting ready for Industry 4.0. I told Musashi about what is going on with Israel technology, especially in software, AI for security, ecommerce, and medical, and they saw that we could work well together,” Ran Poliakine told Design News. “We realized that much of the expertise we have in Israel can be useful to solve some big technology issues in industry.”

Poliakine then began looking at ways Israeli technology could be useful in building out Industry 4.0 concepts. “We put team together to look at Industry 4.0 in the production line,” said Poliakine. “We saw there is a lot of common technology that we have developed for other verticals that may be useful on the production floor. We took that view and came up with two cool ideas.”

Automatic Inspection System

One of the two “cool” ideas is the automatic inspection system (AIS). Based on artificial intelligence and newly developed optics, the AIS is able to replace people in quality control positions. “The quality issue is very important. Most of the parts in industry are getting inspected by humans. They’re very good at looking at parts to see if they are defective, and machines haven’t been able to do that,” said Poliakine. “The AI of the past could only imitate what a human can do. That has changed. Now the ability of machines to do the inspections effectively is a huge contribution. Now we can divert the human inspectors to a less boring and more useful part of production.”

The inspection system brings together the robotics and sensors that can manipulate the parts and gain data. The data can then examined to ferret out defects. “We designed an architecture that can do the job,” said Poliakine. “Robotic arms put the parts in the chamber. In the chamber, we have sensors and a brain with edge computing to figure out whether or not the parts are defective.”

Fully Self-Driving Automated Forklift

The fully self-driving automated forklift (FAF) is the other “cool” idea. The FAF navigates on its own, performing a variety of functions that previously required human interaction. The vehicle offers efficiency and meets safety standards aimed at preventing injuries to work staff on the warehouse floor.

“The FAF delivers supplies from one place to another. Eighty to 90% of the production floor has humans driving things from place to place,” said Poliakine. “Instead, we utilize the technology from the self-driving industry to move the materials. We use the AI brain to move the materials like an air-traffic controller. The system manages the traffic among multiple self-driven vehicles on the factory floor.”

Beyond the Auto Industry

While the AIS and FAF were developed with an automotive plant in mind, Poliakine noted that the technology can be applied to other uses in a wide range of industries. “The two products that came from the blended technology will be sold to industry as a whole, not just in automotive,” said Poliakine. “This technology can replace labor-intensive work by humans anywhere there is a production line, whether it’s automotive or pharmaceutical.”

RELATED ARTICLES:

Poliakine explained that Japan and Israel have recently started sharing a wide range of technology. “During the past 24 months, Japan and Israel have experienced real cooperation and collaboration in technology,” said Poliakine. “We in Israel believe we have a lot to offer in AI and software. In Japan they have an amazing legacy in technology and culture, and now they’re ready to take the next step.”

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

ESC BOSTON IS BACK!
REGISTER TODAY!

The nation's largest embedded systems conference is back with a new education program tailored to the needs of today's embedded systems professionals, connecting you to hundreds of software developers, hardware engineers, start-up visionaries, and industry pros across the space. Be inspired through hands-on training and education across five conference tracks. Plus, take part in technical tutorials delivered by top embedded systems professionals. Click here to register today!

 

Design Job: Get Your Gear On! - Orvis is Seeking a Designer in Vermont!

Core 77 - Sun, 2019-04-21 14:20

For more than 160 years the Orvis name has stood for a passion for the outdoors and customer satisfaction. Orvis is seeking a Designer for Technical Outdoor Apparel to join our team and ensure flawless execution of product and design vision from concept through completion by creating and executing compelling design concepts

View the full design job here