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Carla Diana on Embracing the Challenge of Creating a World for Both Humans and Robots

Core 77 - Sun, 2019-03-24 21:03

In many ways, the technological future is upon us, but do we really know what it will look like? Designer, author, and educator Carla Diana is working at the intersection of industrial and interaction design to explore the impact of future technologies through hands-on experiments.

"Whereas designers typically use form, color, and materials to make an object express some human element...we're entering a time when sound, light, and movement are equally important parts of the creative palette," she notes in her seminal article Talking, Walking Objects which appeared on the cover of The New York Times Sunday Review in January 2013. Emphasizing the need for designers to take stock of the emotional value of robotics as much as any other product attribute, Diana's research aims to uncover new ways of making our everyday objects come to life.

Diana was recently appointed to create the 4D Design program at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, which will open its doors to the first class of students this Fall. Steeped in Cranbrook's history of experimental design, "the department explores the myriad ways that the physical world around us has become infused with an undercurrent of flowing data, turning everyday experiences into connected, feedback-driven interactions that are transforming every aspect of culture and society," according to their website.

A Cranbrook alumna herself (she also holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Cooper Union), Diana spent her early career as a Senior Design Technologist at frog design and designer for Karim Rashid. She went on to work with Smart Design for many years, where she founded the Smart Interaction Lab. In addition to her own studio work, she is an ongoing collaborator with the Socially Intelligent Machines Lab at the University of Texas, Austin.

Diana writes and lectures frequently on the social impact of robotics and emerging technology. She spoke at the first Core77 conference back in 2014, right after publishing LEO the Maker Prince, the world's first children's book on 3D printing. She currently cohosts the Robopsych Podcast, a biweekly discussion of design and human-robot interaction, and is coauthor of a forthcoming book on smart object design to be published by Harvard Business Review Press.

We recently caught up with the designer to learn more about her upcoming program at Cranbrook, how we can make sentient objects feel more human, and her vision for the "sweet spot" of robotics in the future:

Core77: Your new program is 4D Design. What is the fourth D, and why is it important?

Carla Diana: The fourth D is time. The program is focused on exploring critical questions about the world around us through creative applications of emerging technology. It includes everything from augmented reality to applied robotics and 3D printing, and the essence of it is around products and experiences that are responsive. The common thread is that all of these things will have the ability to change over time through intrinsic behaviors such as light patterns, sound, motion, and other dynamic displays. This is more important than ever as so much of our world is influenced by data flowing through it. We see it directly in the important role we give our mobile devices, but we can easily extrapolate to a future where this data flow is frankly present everywhere, from interactive spaces to wearable devices to networked autonomous vehicles.

"We need designers to better understand the implications of this future through tangible artifact and scenarios explorations." 

Diana led the shell design of POLI, a social robot platform currently under development at the University of Texas, Austin in the Socially Intelligent Machines Lab run by Dr. Andrea Thomaz. It features camera recognition, a mobile base and a Kinova arm for object manipulation. Its body combines plastic shells with a soft neoprene body covering.

How did your design work and experiences influence your curriculum planning?

I have always been passionate about making the physical world around us interactive in some way. In my studio, I specialize in creative design for social robots. Earlier in my career, at Smart Design, I led very interdisciplinary teams that developed interactive products such as home appliances, medical equipment, and robotic vacuums. It was a thrill to bring together experts in engineering, industrial design, communication design and strategy to work on a product concept, and it also felt like these types of projects demanded a new kind of discipline that didn't exist yet.

When I branched out on my own with my studio, I also decided to take what I'd learned and create courses that synthesized all the seemingly disparate skills that need to come together to work on these kinds of products including storytelling, coding, projected images and displays, electronics prototyping and robotics. I launched the Smart Objects course at SVA, which has always been jointly run by the Interaction Design and Products of Design programs, and I also brought this course and others to UPenn and Parsons. The 4D Design department at Cranbrook is a chance to expand the philosophy of those courses into an entire program.

Diana's studio led the design of Moxi, a healthcare service robot developed by Diligent Robotics to autonomously complete tasks in hospital environments, allowing nurses to focus on patient care.

What makes this program different from other product design or robotics programs?

The key difference between 4D Design at Cranbrook and most programs in Product Design is our focus on interactivity and the creative application of technology. And we're different from most Interaction Design programs in that our projects will be based on object qualities, taking a holistic view of form, light, sound, and motion; many interaction programs have more of a focus on screen and app-based solutions whereas we will emphasize prototyping in the physical world. We will embrace applied robotics but are quite different from robotics programs in that we are at the epicenter of art and design, with a studio-based model. We will place value on the overall concept of projects, looking at how well they relate to the context in which they operate, placing high importance on societal and cultural relevance.

We will also be highly influenced by the other departments at Cranbrook such as Sculpture, Metalsmithing, Ceramics, and Fiber. For example, a student wishing to explore interactive textiles and wearable computing can draw on Cranbrook's rich history in textiles, going back to Loja Saarinen's historical design work. And a key difference between Cranbrook and most other programs is that we have no traditional classes, so instead of everyone having to meet preset benchmarks that may lose relevance over time, they will set individual goals based on their own career trajectories, diving deeper into the particular tools and methods that apply to their work rather than trying to cover everything in that short two year period.

Can you tell us more about the 4D Design Catalysts?

4D Design Catalysts are internationally recognized experts in the area of design and/or technology who will have an ongoing relationship with the program. They will work directly with students through lectures and workshops in active engagements that will take a variety of forms such as charrette challenges with specific design prompts, one-on-one critiques, studio tours, and targeted research projects. I'll be continually curating a list of Catalysts to represent a spectrum of current ideas and contribute to the collective voice of the program.

So far we have folks like Rob Walker, who will do a workshop with students to coach them on developing a point of view, and Bruce Sterling who will share his cyberpunk wisdom. Brendan Dawes has already come through campus to set the tone with his playful and experimental work in data expression. Joshua Walton is a Cranbrook alum and expert in augmented, virtual and mixed reality and works with James Tichenor to provide groundbreaking workshops. We've also got Nervous System to inspire us with their pioneering work in algorithmic form and digital fabrication. The innovation firms Tomorrow Lab and Jared Ficklin from Argo Design will provide a glimpse of product design solutions and business savvy. Emilie Baltz will encourage us to explore ways to engage the senses, and Zach Lieberman will look at poetic computation. We also have Matt Jones on board who has been part of many seminal experiments in tangible interaction and is now part of Google AI.

You've had a lot of experience designing and researching robotics. How did you originally get interested in robotics?

I think it all started when I was in high school and took part in a summer program that was run by a professor at NYU's Courant Institute. His name was Henry Mullish, and he was awarded a grant to teach computer programming to tenth graders. We started by learning how to encode punch cards and worked our way up to learning the syntax for five different computer languages, along with complex techniques such as sorting algorithms. I spent six weeks of that summer in a windowless basement surrounded by geeky kids like me and I loved every minute of it.

Since then, I always loved the magic of code, but I was also driven to make things. It was during my time in the 3D Design program at Cranbrook (yes, I'm an alumna!) that a light bulb went off in my mind as I realized that the physical and digital would soon become intertwined and decided to focus my career on exploring that vision.

The aim with Simon's shell design was to strike a balance between machine/appliance-like aesthetics and friendly, human-like characteristics. The robot also needed to appear youthful, suggesting a creature that is in a mode of continuous learning and observation.

Robotics entered my life quite a few years later when I was teaching at Georgia Tech in 2007. A professor named Andrea Thomaz was building a research lab to study how we might interact with computing devices in a natural way, using gesture and language instead of having to content with intermediary tools such as a mouse and a keyboard. She understood the importance of design and was looking for a creative partner to be part of the core team for a new robotics platform she was developing to study robot social interactions, so I jumped at the chance to join her team. The result was a robot named Simon that laid the groundwork for important research in human-machine interaction, and we have continued to work together on many robot projects over the past ten years.

The second evolution of Simon is Curi, named after Marie Curie and a reference to the word "curious." It has more refined facial features and, unlike the stationary Simon, Curi is mounted on a mobile platform.

A lot of your robotics work involves figuring out how to make them communicate in ways that people can relate to. We seem to be making slow progress in this regard, as opposed to leaps in sensors, processing speed, connectivity, and more. How do we make robots and other sentient objects more human?

I think one of our hangups in this regard is the fascination with making things literally mimic human behaviors, like text and speech. Instead, we can glean a lot about meaningful product design by exploring abstraction and striving for more poetic expressions of messages through light, sound, and motion. We have a tendency to be burdened by the history of devices, so it's hard to break us away from the devices we're accustomed to, like the mouse and the keyboard.

"From a business and marketing point of view, we get misled by the temptation to compete through improved specs and 'feature creep' when the real breakthroughs will come from understanding social mores and figuring out how to make products socially appropriate."

For example, the Amazon Echo has some lovely nuances, like the light that indicates the direction of the person it's currently listening to. But then it can go even further, like letting us understand and control when it's actively listening. Right now it's more like a spy that doesn't truly let us know what it's up to.

This is a topic that I'm squarely focused on right now as I'm co-writing a book with design research expert Dr. Wendy Ju on the social aspects product design for Harvard Business Review Press.

What sort of technology intersections are you most excited for your students to explore in the next few years?

Robotics in everyday objects, mixed reality, cyborg stuff (prosthetics and body augmentation), truth, wisdom, and privacy.

When users approach the Smart Coat Rack, it greets them current and upcoming temperatures as well as conditions such as rain, wind, and snow so users know what they'll need to face the day. A circular rack at its base balances the form with a space to keep umbrellas.

We noticed a lot of "companion robots" at CES—relatively simple objects that respond in cute ways and make you feel good. These sorts of robots seem effective, even helpful. Houskeeper robots, automatic breadmakers, laundry folding machines are large, complex, expensive, and seem to be WAY over engineered responses to 'problems' that ultimately don't work well. What is the sweet spot for robotics right now, and in the next few years?

I think the sweet spot will be in distilling robotic behaviors to only those behaviors that are meaningful in relation to the time and place they're in.

"Right now there are many new products that try to be what I call 'everything machines,' with multiple functions, tackling many contexts and offering all kinds of connected data feeds. My experience as a product designer has shown that successful products emerge from a focus on real and specific needs."

The Clever Coat Rack project is about this. It's made of wood, with embedded electronics. It has a full internet connection but instead of offering Twitter feeds and email alerts it just gives you the information you need at that moment when you're walking out the door: the current temperature, the day's high and low, and significant upcoming weather conditions. It offers what's needed to make a split-second decision about which coat to grab and whether or not you need an umbrella, but doesn't burden the moment with other interactions or decisions.

Some of the new Amazon housewares are starting to point that way, as well as products like the Jaxjox Smart Kettlebell that can track activity and offer relevant connected content. The Casper Glow lamp, for example, is a lovely product that captures the poetry and simplicity that I'm talking about, being designed with a focus on helping sleep through subtle changes in the glow it emits. It can be programmed as well as networked with other lamps. It's not trying to be a lamp for every purpose—all design decisions were in service to the sleep context.

Our Favorite Winners from iF DESIGN AWARD Night 2019 in Munich

Core 77 - Sun, 2019-03-24 21:03

Last week, we headed to Munich to celebrate the 66 gold winners of the iF DESIGN AWARD 2019 at the striking BMW Welt. Part of Munich's Creative Business Week, the iF DESIGN AWARD welcomed a total of 6,375 contributions from 50 countries within the categories of Product Design, Communication Design, Packaging Design, Service Design, Architecture, Interior Architecture and Professional Concept.

After party at the BMW Welt

Each year, iF puts together an annual exhibition in Hamburg where many of the award-winning products can be viewed in person. Walking through halls of vacuums and refrigerators in a gallery setting was rather humorous, but similar to MoMA's current exhibition, "The Value of Good Design", the iF DESIGN AWARDS takes a strong stance that good design encompasses products that positively impact and improve our lives on an everyday basis: and that such objects should be celebrated.

iF Design Awards Exhibition in Hamburg

The iF DESIGN AWARD tends to recognize everyday designs, such as lighting and home appliances. The concepts they do choose to award are ones that aren't too far off from reality. We noticed that (as opposed to last year), this year's winners were more technology-focused, all aiming to create a more seamless, tech-integrated life for humans.

Below we selected a few of our favorite 2019 iF DESIGN AWARD gold winners that we learned about while in Munich:


One of the more conceptual winners, the IONITY electric vehicle charging system is a unique collaboration between BMW, Daimler, Ford, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche. The charging device aims to address long distance travel for electric vehicle drivers with its capacity of up to 350 KW and quick charging speeds.

Wireless Audio VL Series (VL5 and VL3)

There's nothin' wrong with a little nostalgia! Samsung's Wireless Audio VL Series combines the modern box shape we've all become accustomed to with old school dials reminiscent of radio dials.

Card Phone KY-01L

This business card-sized phone designed by NTT DOCOMO offers an alternative mobile phone option for when you don't want to carry your sensitive data around with you—so basically a work phone. The device features a power-saving e-paper display (think Nook or Kindle) and a simple, easy to navigate display.

LUMI 2.0

Computer = ...Lamp? This friendly desk lamp designed by Compal Experience Design doubles as a computer with the ability to project educational VR and AR experiences without a screen. "With powerful object recognition abilities, family members can interact through interesting AR games. Then, rotate Lumi 2.0's head against the wall to project fun color doodles or any other child-friendly, mixed-reality content for immersive learning experiences."


The Balanced kitchen knife set designed by Paul Cohen Design allows you to adjust the balance and weight of each knife individually with a magnetic weight. The patented adjustable balance weight ensures a firm and comfortable grip—positioning the weight forward allows for firm chopping, while moving it to the rear balances the knife for precision cutting.

Nest Thermostat E

Thermostat E is a promising evolution of the classic Nest Thermostat. It simply lets you change the temperature from anywhere using the Nest app or by voice command with your Google Home Assistant. No boiler access is needed—you can install it yourself using your previous thermostat wires and then place the Nest Thermostat E wherever you like.


Beside is a portable indoor/outdoor air conditioner with a minimalist flair. Designed by Daikin Industries, Beside features an ultra-small compressor and a new radiator layout, allowing the device to be portable and flexible. Most air conditioners are comprised of two parts, but Beside has everything in one.

Projector Molded Pulp Packaging

BenQ has simplified and reduced their electronic product packaging with this box that both cushions and protects—without the use of any glue or additional protective padding. Even without these extra wasteful materials, the molded pulp packaging passed drop and crash tests. The non-composite molded pulp materials are also very easy to recycle.


T.um is a technology museum designed and run by SK Telecom, SouthKorea's largest telecommunication operator. The museum's goal is to highlight and inform visitors of technology's affect on society at large. The clean, futuristic space was brought to life in a collaboration between designers, neurologists and futurologists and offers an interactive experience on multiple levels , including AR experiences.

Volvo Concept Wheel Loader ZEUX

If you think this concept autonomous wheel loader looks like an adult LEGO set, you're not too far off: Volvo and LEGO actually combined their skillsets to bring this bad boy to life. According to Volvo, "Multi-disciplinary teams from Volvo Construction Equipment and LEGO Technic joined forces with a focus group of children in a comprehensive design process. The result is not only an inspiring LEGO Technic play set, but a revolutionary concept for the sustainable construction machines of tomorrow." Needless to say, the future of construction looks epic.

The BMW Vision iNEXT

BMW's Vision iNEXT concept is a highly automated, emission-free, and fully connected vehicle that boasts the size and proportions of a regular car. The vehicle can be automated if desired but easily switches over to full human control. Our favorite feature is the the jacquard-like textile upholstery inside the car that BMW has made "smart". When drawing certain patterns on the seat with their finger, users are able to complete basic tasks like switching between songs.

Endoscopy Department Transformation

This redesign by Philips goes beyond a clean, sleek update to include a full, streamlined patient experience design. A seamless workflow, patient flow, and service delivery strategy was co-designed with staff and supported by an updated spatial environment design.

Dongziguan Affordable Housing

The project is a new village for relocated farmers built on the southern Yangtze River near Hangzhou, China. Buildings are organized in the traditional Chinese courtyard style, bringing cultural familiarity and respect to a new development that promises opportunity for rural revival.

Learn more about the iF DESIGN AWARDS here and how you can apply for the 2020 awards cycle cycle here.

Design Job: Knoll is Seeking a 3D Digital Media Designer in New York City

Core 77 - Sun, 2019-03-24 21:03

Knoll is a constellation of design-driven brands and people, working together with our clients to create inspired modern interiors. Our internationally recognized portfolio includes furniture, textiles, leathers, accessories, and architectural and acoustical elements brands. These brands - Knoll Office, KnollStudio, KnollTextiles, KnollExtra, Spinneybeck | FilzFelt,

View the full design job here

Swarovski is Challenging Designers to Innovate with Their Crystals in Lighting, Home Decor & Architecture

Core 77 - Sun, 2019-03-24 21:03

Swarovski (along with MASS Beverly, a luxury interior designer showroom) has launched a competition calling designers to incorporate their crystals into one of three categories: Lighting, Home Decor and Architectural Surface. Swarovski is encouraging designers to get creative, looking at Swarovski's long history in crystals, their full assortment of crystals in varying shapes and colors, as well as push boundaries by using mixed materials.

Infinite Aura lighting by IDEO and Swarovski

The competition was announced as support for Swarovski's new exhibition at MASS Beverly, called The Brilliance of Design. The exhibition celebrates Swarovski's explorations in lighting, architecture and interior designs and is curated by lauded designer, Mary Ta, co-founder of MASS Beverly. Particularly spotlighted is the brand's Crystal Palace lighting; Swarovski Professional Architecture, Lighting and Interior Solutions; and Atelier Swarovski's home décor and jewelry collections.

Swarovski seems to have a particular interest in supporting the design community over the past few years, as they've introduced competitions like Designers of the Future and collaborated with renowned design brands like nendo and IDEO. Brilliance of Design seems to be a continuation of this interest, as they are inviting designer of all disciplines to participate.

Softpond by nendo for Atelier Swarovski Home

For this particular competition, all designs must comprise of 50% Swarovski crystals. One winner will be chosen from each category and each will receive $5,000 of crystals to be used for future projects and will be showcased at the MASS Beverly. Judges include Nadja Swarovski, Member of the Executive Board, Swarovski Crystal Business, Mary Ta and Lars Hypko, co-founders, MASS Beverly, Yves Behar, founder and CEO of Fuseproject and Swarovski collaborator and Edie Cohen, deputy editor, Interior Design magazine. The final deadline for the competition is March 29, so there's just a few days left to submit your work. Crystal seems like a very limiting material, given its lack of flexibility, so we're curious to see how designers across all fields choose to address this design challenge.

Currently Crowdfunding: A Speaker Made of Plastic Waste, a Portable Bike E-Motor, and More

Core 77 - Sun, 2019-03-24 21:03

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:

Each Gomi speaker is made out of 100 plastic bags (or other flexible plastics) then hand-marbled to create a one-of-a-kind statement object. The portable speaker comes with an 18-hour battery.

MEZONE's wireless earbuds have an 8-hour playtime but snap them into their wireless charging case and you'll get an additional 72 hours!

It may sound like science fiction, but PlatoWork uses well-known neurostimulation technology called tDCS to optimize the natural activity in your brain and boost performance. It works in four modes—learn, concentrate, create, and rethink—to help you tackle a range of tasks.

If the only thing keeping you from biking to work is the fear of showing up sweaty for your morning meeting—CLIP will have your back. Attach the portable e-motor to your bike when you need a little boost getting over that hill and you'll arrive effortlessly.

This minimalist pen—available in polished titanium or stainless steel—features an addictive bolt-action mechanism and comes with a detachable pocket clip.

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.

Design Job: Apple Inc is Seeking a CAD Sculptor/Digital 3D Modeler in Cupertino, CA

Core 77 - Sun, 2019-03-24 21:03

Apple is looking for candidates with a strong interest and aptitude in digital 3D modeling for the Industrial Design group’s CAD sculpting team. Description The CAD sculptor creates high-quality digital 3D surface models used in the industrial design and product development process. Responsibilities

View the full design job here

A Look at Six Car Design Specialties, Part 1: The Stylist

Core 77 - Sun, 2019-03-24 21:03
"Just imagine being able to take a thousand different bits of metal; and if you fit them all together in a certain way, and then if you feed them a little oil and petrol; and if you press a little switch; suddenly those bits of metal will all come to life. And they will purr and hum and roar. They will make the wheels of a motor-car go whizzing round at fantastic speeds…."

That quote is from Roald Dahl's book Danny, the Champion of the World, where the young car-nut protagonist recounts his father's description of engines as "sheer magic."

A car engine is indeed a miraculous thing. So is the team of human beings that, like those thousand different bits of metal, must all fit together in order to create the car that surrounds the engine.

At the Acura Design Studio we were granted an in-depth look at how all of the different design departments contributed to the creation of their winning RDX. For the design student that's thinking about pursuing Transportation Design, this series should be an indispensable read. And if you're a fan of car design or industrial design, you'll enjoy this look at how an impossibly complicated multi-year design process all plays out.

We'll start with Randall Smock, the designer Acura tasked with translating the Precision Concept's spirit into the new RDX. As mentioned in the first article in this series, Smock would use the Precision as the "North Star" to navigate towards the final design.

Core77: Can you describe your position?

Randall Smock: I'm the exterior design leader for the RDX. I've been with Acura for 18 years and had the chance to work on a bunch of stuff, but my biggest project so far is the RDX.

What led you down the path of becoming a car designer?

Growing up in Arizona, I was always around cars. My father was a wholesale dealer, so he'd buy and sell cars constantly. It seemed like every day he'd pick me up from school in a different car. So I was really exposed to a lot of different types of designs and different brands.

More importantly, over time I could see how cars changed--although they were considered the same model. For example, I'd see a Corvette, and walk around it--"Okay, this is a Corvette"--and three or four years later, see the new model and ask "Why is it still a Corvette even though it's changed?" So I learned about this idea of DNA in styling.

And then you decided to study car design?

I actually didn't know that there was such a thing as car design. I knew that there was engineering, but not the idea of car styling.

When I was a sophomore in high school, we had to write a letter to a major company for an English class assignment. I wrote to GM and said, "Hey, I like Corvettes. I like cars. I like to draw…."

They actually replied back to me, with a lot of information--but most importantly, a list of schools that offered industrial design and specifically transportation design. That led me to ArtCenter College of Design here in Pasadena.

So being in Arizona, it was a quick flight to L.A. I came out with my mom. We saw the student gallery and I saw quarter-scale models. I saw hand drawn renderings and my mind snapped. I said, "This is it. This what I'm going to do. This is me, I can tell." So I had to finish high school, obviously, and went to junior college a little bit, and then made the switch to L.A. to go to ArtCenter.

Both ArtCenter and the Acura Design Studio are in Los Angeles. To what extent does the locale influence your work?

We're very accustomed to seeing premium cars and high-end sports cars every day here, and that's really inspirational--but it also gives you a craving, where you think "Okay, I've seen it. What else? What's next?" So it kind of drives your creativity.

What was your assignment with the RDX?

We were given the challenge to take the Precision Concept and apply it to an SUV--a daunting task, because the Precision Concept is a sports sedan and the RDX is an SUV; very different proportions. So we had to dig deep and identify that DNA that I was talking about, and fortunately the Precision Concept has very solid DNA.

During the RDX design process, the full-size mock-up of the Precision Concept was kept in the studio for all of the designers to refer to.

We wanted to think of this as a "sports sedan utility vehicle." So "SSUV" was an internal tagline that we used for it. We wanted to keep the sweeping cabin, keep the cross-contour surfacing from the Precision Concept. But to apply those things to an SUV, you have to have a really solid foundation. So that means the design has to be wheel- and fender-centric. All of the sculpting needs to sit very well on the wheels to make it look capable.

Smock's Precision-based rendering for the RDX.

Smock's Precision-based rendering for the RDX.

This mock-up [we're standing in front of] is what we would use later in the process. After we worked out all the feasibility numbers, we would build this, show our executives and say, "This is what we can make. We're ready to go if you can approve this." And they did, obviously.

This is the full-size mockup Smock refers to in the paragraph above. In person, it is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.

[Editor's note: At this point Smock takes us around the mock-up, pointing out details and explaining the design decisions. Below, we'll insert photos of a production model and attempt to use images that correspond with Smock's talk.]

This is our achievement of taking the Precision Concept and applying it to an SUV platform. Starting with the prominent "diamond pentagon" grille. We had released [the grille] to the public already in the MDX, mid-cycle, but this time we could design the whole car with this in mind.

You can see the car really grows from this grill, whether it's the lines in the hood going from the corners, or the way that the jewel-eye headlights sweep and take your eyes from the center to across the car.

The daytime running light actually sets right on the fender to accentuate the stance.

Everything's a connecting device taking you around the car, and that leads you [around the side of the body] into this dance of lines, that cross-contouring that we were talking about.

Here's the fender line appearing and disappearing, the strong character line of the body side bisecting it, and then going above the rear fender. So everything's planted on the wheels.

Just like on the front with the headlights, the taillights nestle very well between these character lines and continue that motion around, and this kind of leads us to what we're calling the "dragon tail" taillight.

Early on in the development we actually didn't have this [design for the taillight], we were trying to be very avant garde with it and [have the light end abruptly], but it kind of disrupted the flow and we wanted to keep that motion going. So we brought the taillight across, onto the lid. We made a literal point, a dragon tail shape, to be that final exclamation to the statement that started from the front of the car.

We're all very proud of this, and it's doing very well [sales-wise]. We were confident with the design, and now the sales are proving the public loves it. I love it, I just got one a week ago in the white A-spec [trim]. It feels great to have been a part of it--but also to own it and experience it.

What role does manufacturability play in the design process? Do practical concerns force you into compromises?

The idea is that we want to take that [awareness of manufacturability] and design that into it, rather than recklessly designing something so super sleek that there's no chance it's going to get made. It's about pushing those limits: "How far can we push this, but still have everything be doable?

We do come into challenges, but we fight, we push. At one point we needed to heighten the bumper beam [for safety reasons] in the front fascia. It took a while to do that [and maintain the design], but we were persistent, we said, "We've got to keep this aggressive sculpted front end." We made it work.

Can you talk about how materials can influence design choices or options?

Sure, it depends on the materials you're using, of course, steel versus aluminum, and obviously plastics open up a lot of opportunities. For example, this is a completely resin tailgate, so we could make this whole thing in one piece. Usually you'll see a lot of cars where, in the back here, they'll have some kind of chrome trim or there's an extra line in here, because it's half-plastic and half-metal [necessitating a seam or cover-up]. This is all one piece of plastic so we can eliminate that, keep it really clean, more like the back end of an NSX. We wanted that performance car feeling and to get all of that sculpting. We couldn't get some of these radiuses if was steel.

Do you have a say in where the cut lines (the lines where the panels meet) go?

Absolutely. On the clay model, we actually tape on where we want the lines to go. We'll make that proposal to our engineers and they'll come back and say, "Well, you know there's a limit to how big the bumper is, so it can't be up to here," for example. And so we work within some limits, but it's definitely our say as to where we want these. We try to design them in and there's a reason [this cut line here] turns on that character line on the fender, rather than just mindlessly blasting straight through.

Let's say the line was here instead--

[Smock traces an imaginary line on the fender with his finger]

--then you'd have less plastic [in one piece], but then you'd have more metal [on the adjoining piece], and then what complications or challenges does that open up? It's a collaboration with the engineers, but in the end the designers make that proposal, and then we have a chance to tune them.

Not everything in a sketch or rendering can make it to production. What's the most challenging aspect of that?

Just the getting to grips with reality. What I find, though, in the production cars that I have worked on, I honestly feel that the car gets better as it settles into feasibility, and when they start to give us those limitations, it just looks more real.

This is the best the car has looked. We started off with [all kinds of] models and mock-ups, and I think this one still looks better. There's a lot of sculpting going on here for a very usable amount of internal space, and I have nothing to complain about on this one. I don't feel we compromised on anything, and we completely got the proportion that we want.

What was your favorite part of the project?

I enjoyed the whole process, honestly. As we kept going, it just got better and better and better. Sometimes if you do too much of an exaggerated theme early on you're going to lose something, but again, we started with such a strong base [in the Precision Concept] all we had to do was map that onto these proportions. The whole thing was the best part.

Up Next: After the Exterior Designer's rendering is green-lit, it goes to the next phase of design, clay modeling. Stay tuned!

Dror Benshetrit is Joining We Company as Co-Founder of New Smart Cities Initiative

Core 77 - Sun, 2019-03-24 21:03

After recently expanding into co-living with WeLive and education with WeGrow, the We Company—formerly known as WeWork—has announced it will also be launching a smart cities program, led by former Waze executive Di-Ann Eisnor and designer, futurist and 2018 Core77 Design Awards Jury Captain Dror Benshetrit.

Together the two will "build a team of engineers, architects, data scientists, and biologists who will work to fuse nature, design, technology, and community in our cities in order to measurably improve the lives of citizens," Benshetrit told us in an email announcement. This work will be a natural extension of the ideas-driven projects he's pursued with Studio Dror over the years, which include the design of an island in Turkey, a masterplan of the first self-driving car neighborhood in Canada, an art installation that recreates the feeling of standing on the moon, and a new lightbulb concept.

Studio Dror's 2012 Havvada Island in Turkey

Studio Dror's proposal for Holland Park in New York City

This news comes just a few months after Benshetrit launched a new practice, SUPERNATURE Labs, with a focus on creating structures that collaborate with nature. "One of the biggest problems that I see in architecture today is the fact that it's either urban or natural," he explained in an interview last year. "What we set out to do with this practice is to work on new ways architectural systems can incorporate soil and nature within them and allow for people and vegetation." To find these new ways of living together with nature, the practice seeks to act as a catalyzing agent. Benshetrit envisions local teams of people forming Supernature Labs around the world and bringing together their local and collective knowledge to address problems of globalization and climate change in our cities.

Studio Dror's Montreal Dome on île Sainte-Héléne

Studio Dror's proposal for Parque de la Innovación in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Since launching in 2010, We has collected an enormous amount of data on how people work and live and has been using that information to shape more than 600 co-working spaces. Not only has the company recently expanded into co-living spaces, schools, and wellness centers, in the past two years it has also acquired an extensive portfolio of software companies. In 2017, We bought Meetup, a platform for getting groups together—and along with it over 18-years worth of data. In 2018 We acquired Teem, a workplace analytics company that measures how workers use conference rooms and already this year it acquired Euclid, a startup that maps how people move through physical spaces.

The $47 billion company will use the spatial data and tools drawn from these acquisitions as it strives to develop a smart city. As others have noted, We occupies an interesting space to tackle this project: a technology-driven real estate company ready to bring together design, construction, data, security, and customer experience expertise to achieve its vision of connecting cities and people.

It will be interesting to see how Benshetrit pushes this agenda through his more holistic approach. "Creativity has tremendous power of solving the world's biggest problems," he notes. But "a lot of time we're looking more at data and analyzing data and studying a certain pattern; sometimes those are not necessarily the only places to look at."

Meet Anton Lorenz, the Man Who Brought Tubular Steel Furniture and Reclining Chairs to the Masses

Core 77 - Sun, 2019-03-24 21:03

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus this year, Vitra Design Museum is highlighting the work of a lesser-known yet key figure, the entrepreneur and designer Anton Lorenz who helped bring the promise of tubular steel furniture to life. The exhibition at Vitra Schaudepot in Weil am Rhein, Germany, titled "Anton Lorenz: From Avant-Garde to Industry," looks at Lorenz's legacy as the man behind the Bauhaus' "machined aesthetic." It traces his career, following him from Germany to the United States where he deployed his interest in ergonomics to develop some of the most popular reclining chairs in American furniture design history.

Anton Lorenz on a chair with a pillar made from glass (experiment), 1938/39

Lorenz was born in Budapest in 1891 and was teaching history and geography in a secondary school by 1913. Further details about his early life are unclear. He married an opera singer and they moved to Germany after she received a job in Leipzig, where he continued his teaching career. Somehow, he entered the lock manufacturing business and they relocated to Berlin in the early 1920s.

Smoking area in the day room of Anton Lorenz's Berlin apartment, 1932

Cover of the Standardmo¨bel catalogue, 1927

In Berlin, Lorenz met fellow Hungarians and architects Marcel Breuer and Kalman Lengyel, who were both associated with the Bauhaus in Dessau. In 1925, Marcel Breuer became the first designer to construct furniture out of tubular steel and he joined forces with Lengyel to found the manufacturing firm Standard Möbel in 1927 as a way of developing his tubular steel designs. Before long, Lorenz became the manager at Standard Möbel where he used his business savvy to aggressively pursue patents and establish a network of rights of use for the new tubular steel furniture. He went on to do the same for Desta and Thonet and began to dominate the growing industry.

Photo from a test series at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute for Labor Physiology , Dortmund, 1938

Alongside this work, he showed a keen interest in ergonomic design, an area that was gaining popularity at that time. In the early 1930s, architect Hans Luckhardt was developing a slatted wooden chaise longue that allowed users to go from a slight to a full reclining position, and Lorenz funded extensive research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute (now Max Planck) to support the design. To determine the precise angles of the body's relaxed position, he had subjects sit in tanks of salt water and photographed their legs. Luckhardt's final design went on to become the popular Siesta Medizinal for Thonet, a version of which was used in German military hospitals.

Look what Barcalo has done for TV viewers..., brochure by Barcalo, not dated

The chair a man can call his own... brochure by Futorian on the Stratolounger, 1967

Stratolounger 6100, (demonstration model with plexiglass relaxing position), ca. 1960

In 1939, Lorenz emigrated to the United States and established a now ubiquitous furniture typology: the adjustable recliner, a beloved centerpiece in living rooms across the country. In the USA, Lorenz again collaborated with many companies and profited from the increasing interest in comfortable, informal furniture that reflected the growing presence of television and aspirations toward leisure. He developed his own design, the BarcaLounger, in 1940, which became one of the most successful products in the history of American furniture design, and later partnered with Chicago upholsterer Morris Futorian to create the Stratolounger.

Model for the visualization of the mechanism of a moving chair, fabricated on the occasion of a lawsuit Lorenz versus Berkline, 1963

The new exhibition is the first to take a deeper look at Lorenz's vast career, which has mostly been mired in some well-known court cases and copyright scandals. Vitra Design Museum acquired the archives of Lorenz's estate in 1989 and now, for the first time, the museum is presenting important documents from this collection alongside furniture designs by Marcel Breuer, Mart Stam, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as well as pieces by Lorenz himself, to show a behind-the-scenes look at how he adapted Bauhaus designs to have broad appeal.

"He lived for his wife and his chairs," Lorenz's lawyer once said.

"It becomes clear that the breakthrough of modern furniture did not solely result from ingenious designs," note the exhibition curators. "Equally important were companies, legal cases, patents, manufacturing methods – and innovators like Anton Lorenz, who merged all of these aspects to bring the ideas of the avant-garde to as many people as possible."

"Anton Lorenz: From Avant-Garde to Industry" is on view through May 19, 2019.

Design Job: Standard International is Seeking a Design Development Manager in New York, NY

Core 77 - Sun, 2019-03-24 21:03

Responsible for supporting the Design Department in creating space planning studies, plan layouts and design drawings, design briefs, design presentations and 3D studies as needed. Instrumental in supporting team in all project management tasks. Job Duties: Responsible for assisting the Design Department

View the full design job here

For Brooke Davis, Craftsmanship is Where CNC Meets Handwork 

Core 77 - Sun, 2019-03-24 21:03

Texas-based designer Brooke Davis continues to "push the boundary of CNC as a tool" with her latest designs, including a quilted nightstand with a perfectly plush tufted surface made out of wood.

Davis brings her background in fine art to her design practice and uses digital tools to push the forms she can achieve and impart a sculptural feel. Her process involves sculpting in clay, digitally modeling in the computer, and prototyping with a CNC machine until the design is finalized. While the CNC plays a big part in the production process, Davis always finishes her work by hand, often sanding for up to 100 hours to get the right feel.

"To me, furniture is a great conduit for exploration, as you can quickly meet the functional requirements of a piece and move on to the more exciting challenges of what the object looks and feels like," she says. "I find a lot of inspiration in the human figure, automotive styling, and nature and using subtle influences to create forms that are meant to be felt."

Davis's newest pieces, the Pilo nightstand and Flicka chair will be shown at WantedDesign in May, after having previously participated in their Launch Pad program.

Behind the Scenes at the Acura Design Studio

Core 77 - Sun, 2019-03-24 21:03

This is a story about how Acura lost their way, then refocused on design to successfully reinvigorate the brand.

If you're a designer, a car fan or simply someone who follows the sector, we think you'll enjoy and/or learn from this look at what's been going on, behind the scenes, over at the Acura Design Studio. Roughly four years ago the company started making some major changes and now, with the recent release of the new RDX, have had their renewed focus on design validated by some startling sales numbers.

A full-size mockup of the RDX at the Acura Design Studio in Torrance, California

"What we've got going now," says longtime Acura designer and now VP/GM Jon Ikeda, "we know it works."

Back Story: A Rise and Fall (Warning: Boring Business Stuff Ahead)

When Acura introduced the RDX in 2006, they entered an uncrowded market segment: The entry-level, midsize luxury "crossover" SUV. The only real competitor was BMW's X3, which had dominated the segment for years, but which had begun a steady sales decline.

2006 Acura RDX

The RDX overtook the X3 within three years, even as the 2008 recession began gutting the car market. RDX sales increased each year following that, but there was no time to rest, as Audi's Q5 and Volvo's XC60 had jumped into the game.

By 2013 and 2014 the RDX had beat them all, leading the segment in sales. But in 2015, Audi's Q5 pulled just ahead. The following year, the news was worse: Lexus' NX, an even newer competitor than the Q5, was now in the lead.

More troubling was that Acura, as a brand, was starting to lose some of its luster. Three of the automaker's six offerings were sedans, a form factor that customers had begun abandoning. The company had taken a sales hit, as all car companies had, during the 2008-2010 recession; but while most of their competitors had bounced back to pre-recession sales figures, Acura had not.

What Went Wrong?

Parent company Honda's sales figures had bounced back after the recession. Because the two companies share mechanicals, Acura's malaise did not appear to be engineering-based. If a finger was going to be pointed, likely targets would be Design, or Sales & Marketing. The former was either not designing cars that people wanted to buy, or the latter was not doing a good enough job telling the stories of these cars to the target market.

So which was it? Car publications rarely criticize precise elements of marketing, but design criticism always flows freely. The design of Acura's interiors seemed to draw particular fire; here's Car & Driver in 2015 commenting on Acura's TLX, the mid-sized luxury sedan that debuted the previous year: "The instrument panel's small, pixelated information screen already looks dated…Acura's two-tiered center displays are busy, redundant, and distracting in use."

Here's Road & Track on the same: "The multiple interfaces
render the entire infotainment system confusing, made worse by illogical menus, inscrutable controls, and redundant displays. We suspect you'll get used to it over time, but the system is overly distracting and just a pain to use."

They were even more unsparing with the exterior design: "The TLX's styling is less love-it-or-hate-it and more…adequate…. The car comes across as rather bland.

"As usual, Acura excels at making a very good car, but doesn't deliver a slam-dunk on the desirability scale…. The one thing this car needs more than anything else is some gotta-have-it factor. And a name badge that won't confuse its customers."

That last sentence refers to Acura's controversial "beak" grille shown below:

It had begun appearing on cars across the brand in 2009, and a vocal subset of Acura fanatics hated it. One particularly brutal thread circa 2012 on the r/cars/ subReddit was titled "If Acura wants to succeed, they need to fire the lead designer who introduced this god forsaken design theme for the front/rear of their cars...aka the beak." The tone was rather shrill:

"WHY don't they realize that they offer AMAZING tech for the price but they are just so damn ugly and bland on the outside that everyone just moves to Audi, Infiniti, and even Cadillac now?"

Even local newspapers in Ohio, where Honda/Acura have four factories, were worried about an Acura decline, which would impact the local economy. In 2016 the Columbus Dispatch had an article called "Acura hopes design changes boost sluggish sales", writing:

"Analysts say Acura's main problem is that its sport-utility vehicle sales have not risen nearly enough to counterbalance the drop for sedans. This is on top of the long-running criticism of the luxury brand -- that it does not have a clear-enough identity.

"'Acura has always struggled with its brand, what it stands for,' said Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst for AutoTrader.com."

The paper asked Acura PR Manager Matt Sloustcher to comment. "Of course, we're never content with things," said Sloustcher, adding:

"This is a long-term game. Over the past year, we've put into place long-term, fundamental building blocks."

So what were those building blocks? On a trip to the Acura Design Studio, we got to find out. Some of these remedial steps were to be expected, but others were surprising. We'll start with one of the surprises, which involves longtime Acura designer Jon Ikeda.

Ikeda was instrumental in many of the brand's successes. And he was known not only for his design skills, but for having opinions--and not being afraid to share them, particularly in defense of the design department.

Jon Ikeda

The Outspoken Designer

The meeting wasn't going well. In a conference room, Jon Ikeda and a group of his fellow designers are sitting across from a group of executives, most of them "engine guys" who came up through the ranks from the engineering side. And they're ripping into Ikeda's team. We don't like this; we don't like that; the wheels are no good; forget this color, why isn't this blue?

"Maybe we should get a head designer from outside," one executive suggests.

Ikeda absorbs the insult and doesn't fire back right away, but waits in the pocket. Eventually the talk turns, as he knew it would, to where horsepower and fuel economy could be improved.

"Maybe we should get some engines from outside," he suggests.

The execs go silent.

To the other designers, it's as if Ikeda did this:


There wasn't much doubt that Jon Ikeda, California kid and car nut, would become a car designer. It was just a question of where he would work. When he graduated from ArtCenter in 1989, job options were clear-cut, and all in Detroit: "You worked for the Big Three," he remembers. "Depending on where you ranked in the class, you either worked for the big guy, the middle guy or the third guy."

Following an earlier internship, Ikeda had lined up a coveted job with General Motors. "Everything was locked and loaded," he remembers. But 1989 was a weird year, for at least two reasons: One, the bestselling car that year wasn't from Detroit. For the first time in U.S. history, the award went to the Honda Accord, a Japanese car. (Ikeda didn't know that at the time; 1989 sales figures wouldn't be tallied until '90.)

The second weird thing: Dave Marek, his hotshot classmate and buddy from ArtCenter, who had graduated two years earlier and had the talent to land a job wherever he wanted, was now working at Honda. "I couldn't understand it," Ikeda says.

Marek's last name might as well have been pronounced with a "ve" after the first two letters. "He was always pushing the action," Ikeda remembers. "He was this great guy with a huge persona and he did things really differently." Even so, Ikeda was puzzled: Why would Marek go to Japan when he could've gone to Detroit?

The answer was in an experimental facility in Tokyo's Ginza district. Marek had been lured by a new type of studio Honda had launched there, called Wave. Prior to Wave, Honda's design process was bewildering to ArtCenter guys like Marek and Ikeda: "They find the one guy that draws the best, and he teaches everybody to draw the exact same way. 'Same is good,' that was the culture."

The Wave Studio was meant to break that culture by, well, making some waves. Marek could only do so many cannonballs into the design pool by himself, so made some phone calls to L.A. for backup. "I knew every student at ArtCenter," Marek recalls, "so I picked four guys, and Jon was the top. His work was so cool, he was so opinionated, and he loved racing." (Honda had been heavily involved in Formula One since the 1960s.)

Ikeda already had the GM job in hand, but Marek persisted. "Just gimme one month over here, before you go to General Motors," he urged.

Ikeda figured a month over there couldn't hurt, and cleared it with GM first. "Yeah, go, go, go," Ikeda remembers them saying. "See what they're doing over there." GM probably figured they'd get some free intel on what Honda was up to, if they just waited 30 days for Ikeda to return.

Instead, 30 days turned into 30 years. Ikeda never left Honda.

Wave Hello

He didn't think he'd stay. Initially Ikeda found the Wave Studio "a special place, but I still wasn't convinced." Plus Tokyo was very expensive to live in, and Ikeda had a ton of school debt he wanted to clear up. As his 30 days were drawing to a close, Ikeda's bags were packed.

Honda, however, had seen enough of Ikeda's skills to know they didn't want to lose him. "You don't want to work anywhere else," the company told him, "you want to work here." The Jedi mind trick didn't work.

Then Honda figured out how to get to him. "The week I was supposed to leave, there happened to be a Formula One event," Ikeda remembers. "They gave me a ticket, so I went to the race.

"I'm there, and I'm watching [Ayrton] Senna and [Alain] Prost from the corner of the pits, and the Honda guys put a bright red team jacket around my shoulders. And then they ran the cars.

Formula One fans: A young Jon Ikeda happened to witness the historic Race 15 of the 1989 Formula One World Championship, where Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost battled it out in McLarens powered by Honda V-10s. A record-breaking 20 different manufacturers were competing. Prost ended up winning the 1989 Driver's Championship, while Honda-powered McLaren won the Constructor's Championship. With 10 first-place finishes in 16 races, it wasn't even close--McLaren-Honda had 141 points, whereas 2nd-place finisher Williams-Renault had just 77.

"And I realized, at that point, why teenage girls used to faint at Beatles concerts. You get all teary-eyed, you don't understand why, but you have to sit down.

"Right at that moment, the Honda guys hand me the papers: 'Sign right here, my friend.' I signed the papers."

"The Human Embodiment of Acura"

Ikeda spent the next six years in Japan, working on the award-winning Honda FSX show car, as well as the Acura RL, the brand's flagship luxury sedan and successor to the Acura Legend.

1991 Honda FSX concept

In '95 he was relocated to Honda R&D Americas in L.A., where he steadily worked his way up to Chief Designer and Division Director. Still split between brands, he served as the design lead for both the 2001 Honda Civic Coupe and the 2004 Acura TL, the brand's bestselling car to date.

In 2004, Ikeda's focus was narrowed to just Acura. In 2005, Honda canceled the NSX, a blow to the Acura brand. Ikeda didn't take it lying down and in 2006, pushed hard for the company to grant Acura a standalone design facility, which he likens to a sibling finally getting his own bedroom. The brass acquiesced and the Acura Design Studio came into existence in 2007, under Ikeda's leadership. (And at 49,500 square feet, it's quite the bedroom.)

Acura Design Studio, ground floor

Ikeda oversaw the Acura Advanced Sports Car Concept that debuted that year, allowing a young but talented designer named Patrick Lukasak to run with it. "So here's this kid just two years out of design school," Ikeda told Automobile Magazine, "and he comes up with this sketch and we're looking at it, and we decide this has all the stuff we're talking about. So we put [him together with master clay modeler Billy Yex] and let them do their thing." (Stay tuned for coverage on how Acura's stylists and clay modelers work together to develop concepts.)

Acura's Advanced Sports Car Concept, 2007

Acura's Advanced Sports Car Concept, 2007

Acura's Advanced Sports Car Concept, 2007

The Advanced Sports Car Concept was expected to manifest as the resurrected NSX. Sadly, the recession hit the following year, and the second coming of the NSX was shelved.

When the economy began to recover and the NSX re-entered internal discussions several years later, "Ikeda was instrumental in naming Michelle Christensen as the exterior designer of the upcoming NSX," Automotive News reported. Christensen became the first female designer in history to pen a supercar.

2016 NSX and exterior designer Michelle Christensen

2016 NSX

2016 NSX

Ikeda didn't cut Lukasak and Christensen in because he was doing them a favor; he did it because they had the talent. This was a management hallmark of both Ikeda and Marek, and it apparently trickled down from their career-long experiences with the company. (Marek had risen through the ranks since '87 and was promoted to Acura Executive Creative Director in 2014.) "Honda has embraced me, and not tried to make me something else," Marek said in an interview with Canada's Wheels. "If you work hard and you do good work, you grow up in the company. Then you permeate it back to the people who work for you. You trust them and let them do what they do.

"I don't want to hire a bunch of people and tell them what to do. I want them to create what they want to create, and I will guide them. Otherwise, every car would be mine, and what's the point of that?"

Designing cars is a complicated business, and even star designers aren't any good, in Marek and Ikeda's eyes, unless they can form a constellation. Ikeda reinforced to his team that they needed to rely on each other. "As we tell any kid that walks into the studio, you're only as good as the modeler who makes it," he told Automobile. "And we tell the modeler that you're only as good as the guy who makes the data off your skin. And we tell the skin guy that you're only as good as the fabricator who makes the car off your skin data. Everyone understands in our studio, that there's not a lot of me, mine, I."

Many years earlier a Formula-One-stirred Ikeda, his brand new team jacket smelling of exhaust fumes, had signed employment papers with Honda. Roughly 26 years later, Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer told Automotive News: "You could argue Ikeda's the human embodiment of Acura."

Even so, in 2015 Ikeda's "not a lot of me, mine, I" commitment was about to be put to the test. At the time, the company brass was beginning to put some of those long-term building blocks that Sloutscher had mentioned into place. One of them would throw Ikeda for a loop.

The Phone Call

Honda had a lot of enlightened principles when it came to design management. But as with any organization, conflict is inevitable. Sometimes there's "an internal strife that you go through, to get to something great," Marek says, just after telling us the anecdote about Ikeda suggesting outside engines. Ikeda "wasn't afraid to be a loud voice."

Marek says those things with admiration. Ikeda's contributions to the brand were incalculable, and when he'd pipe up during meetings, it wasn't to create dissent; it was to defend design, and specifically Acura within its parent company's massive umbrella. "We are a product-based company. We make a lot of things, from lawnmowers to jets," Ikeda says. "Part of that is Acura. But, as all things start to become equal, it becomes more and more important for the brand to stand up: What do you stand for?

"This is critical," he continues. "Even if you're Apple, you don't come up with the iPhone every day, and you know others could start making things that are very similar. So what do you stand for?"

One of Ikeda's key gripes was the disconnect between design and marketing. His team would work hard on something for years, sweating every last design detail, only to see the resultant product mis-marketed at the end, presented as something else. "When we make something, I know what we're doing in design. I know what the designers are trying to do. But by the time it comes out, sometimes on the selling end, there's this disconnect, where the marketing doesn't represent what we were trying to do."

"To a designer or engineer that's working on these products for four or five years, that's your kid. You raise this kid, then time comes to hand the kid off to the sales guy--'Please take care of my kid, please represent him the way we raised him.' Then all of a sudden, they dress him up in another pair of clothes and send him off to do something different, and you're like 'What are you doing?' And now the kid's lost."

"That's what I started complaining about," Ikeda says, "probably too loudly."

The result: One day in 2015, Ikeda got an ominous phone call. An assistant informed him that the CEO wanted to talk to him. And not at the Design Center, but over at Studio 8, where Sales and Marketing was based.

This was irregular. Ikeda asked what all of this was about. No one knew. "You better go talk to them," his boss at R&D said.

Studio 8

At the appointed day and time, Ikeda reported for the meeting.

"Basically, they felt the brand was at a loss, and they were making some changes," Ikeda says. The brass knew he had issues with the sales and marketing side. They also knew he was passionate about the brand. So they presented him with a way to reconcile these things, for the betterment of the company.

In Ikeda's words, here's the gist of what he was told:

"Think you can do better with Sales and Marketing? Then come over and do it."

Ikeda was being promoted--out of design. His new job title would be Acura Vice President and General Manager. That encompassed sales, marketing, service, dealer relations, all fields he had no experience with.

He was stunned. "I've done no sales," he pointed out. "I don't know any of this stuff."

"Don't worry, we'll put people in place to help you with all of that," the company told him. "We need you to refocus the brand."

If Ikeda wasn't crazy about leaving design behind, he couldn't fail to see that it would be beneficial to inject consistency, from a designer's standpoint, into the long process of creating a car and getting a customer behind the steering wheel. Ikeda spoke design. He was design. He knew what the other designers wanted to do. With him in charge of the business end, there would be no danger that a designer's original intent would become diluted or misrepresented by marketers that didn't speak design. It was a personal sacrifice that he couldn't deny would benefit the brand and, at the end of the day, be better for his fellow designers.

"And if things aren't working, and you've got to think your way out of it," Ikeda reasoned, "you're probably better off getting creative people involved."

Ikeda moved his things to his new office at Studio 8.

Acura's Precision Concept: "The North Star"

Acura's Precision Concept, 2016

Meanwhile, Marek and his team were shoring things up on the design side. The mission was "returning Acura to its roots as Precision Crafted Performance," says Marek, invoking the company slogan. "And design is critical to that. We recognized the need to infuse more emotion into our designs."

The Christensen-penned NSX revamp debuted in 2016, checking the emotive-design box. (If you haven't seen the car in person, we recommend making it a point--2D doesn't do it justice. Walk around the car, study it up close. It's stunning.) Acura had their halo car back. But this was just one of the building blocks in the company's strategy, not the end goal.

A six-figure supercar would lure curious masses into the dealership, and several hundred hotshots would buy them each year, no problem; but what Acura ultimately needed was five-figure cars that five figures worth of people would drive home from the dealership in. And these five-figure cars needed to share DNA with the NSX in order to make the sales feasible.

Replicating that DNA would take time, but Marek and his team knew how they'd get started. "The Precision Concept," he explains, "is our North Star. We aim at this."

Revealed the same year as the new NSX, Acura's Precision Concept, also penned by Christensen, was a socks-knocker that debuted at the Detroit Auto Show.

The Precision Concept

The Precision Concept

The Precision Concept

The Precision Concept

It was bold. It was emotive. It was surprising. And the press' reaction to it, illustrating the common perception of Acura at the time, was a remarkably consistent series of backhanded compliments.

- "Acura has been struggling to keep up with Lexus and Infiniti," said Top Speed. "The fact that [Acura's lineup consists of] rather bland corporate design, limited body styles, and a couple of engines didn't help either. But, that may change soon, as the brand just previewed its next design language with a bold looking concept car at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show."

- "If you've been concerned about where Acura was headed, you're not alone. The company has struggled lately," wrote Road & Track. "Part of it has had to do with some unfortunate styling decisions that have been made…. The Precision Concept is what Acura hopes will change all of that."

- "A bold step," wrote Car and Driver, "for a brand teetering on irrelevancy."

Perhaps Acura's designers absorbed the insults, as Ikeda did at that meeting, and waited for their chance to fire off a comeback. One with four wheels.

Back to the Grille Again

Here's the older "beak" grille that had drawn such ire from fans:

Here's the new "diamond pentagon" grille on the Precision Concept:

This should be a transportation design school lesson. While there are myriad minor changes, the major gestural change, which was rotating those two outer lines in towards the center, pulling the headlights with it, completely changes the expression. And gone is the faux-metal, silver plastic band. Instead the emblem floats over a grille made up of dark diamonds radiating outwards from the center. In person the effect is cool, like you're looking at the corner of an anechoic chamber.

Diamond pentagon grille on a 2019 RDX

As a first practical step, the Precision's new grille design was subsequently facelifted into all of the cars in Acura's line-up. (This yielded forum posts from Acura fans like this one: "Hi guys, I have a 2016 ILX with the company's shield grille and was wondering if the new 2019 diamond pentagon grille is a direct fit. Any help would be most appreciated.")

Diamond pentagon grille across the line-up

The grille swap was a positive step forward, but admittedly a minor one. What Acura needed, and wanted, was to produce a full vehicle, from the ground up, that lived up to the promise of the Precision Concept.

Building Blocks Lined Up with Precision

The Precision wasn't a mere design study. "That's not the role of this vehicle," Marek explains. "It's not just a show car. It's also internal PR. This concept sets the direction for the future of our design. [It exists so that] internally, everyone understands and supports the direction."

The Precision Concept

The Precision Concept

Moving forward, every concept sketch, every clay model, every spline would be held up against the Precision Concept. If it aligned, thumbs-up, keep it going; if it didn't, pull out a fresh sheet of paper, put the clay back in the oven, go to File and click New.

Every once in a while you'll see a movie where the city it's set in--usually New York or Los Angeles--is said to be its own character within that movie. Similarly Acura's Design Studio, as much as the individual designers inhabiting it, played a role in what happened next.

"So we have three studios [under Honda's umbrella] in southern California: The Honda Studio; an advanced design studio in downtown L.A.; and us, the Acura Design Studio, where you're standing," Marek says. "We're the only studio in California that has every aspect of design. In this building we do product planning, we do concept, we figure out who the customer is, we do styling.

"We do development all the way through; once [the brass] commits we don't toss the sketches over the wall and say 'build that.' Instead we literally follow the car through every step, staying involved through the physical development, feasibility, working with engineers, everything."

Given the L.A. location, the studio also has access to the best students and graduates from Ikeda and Marek's nearby alma mater, ArtCenter. "We've got a lot of people from a lot of great schools," Marek says, "but ArtCenter is where most of our designers hail from."

And now we see what the building blocks that Sloutscher mentioned to the Ohio newspaper were:

- The Acura Design Studio, led by Marek, is staffed with top talent and has the facilities to develop a car from start-to-finish.- Ikeda, a designer, is in charge of Acura's business end. Design has their full support.- The NSX serves as the halo, building brand awareness and getting people to the dealerships.- The Precision Concept has provided the direction for a new line of vehicles.

Now all they needed to do was execute. The first Acura model scheduled for a re-boot was the RDX, Acura's well-selling but beleaguered-by-competition crossover. The stakes were high. If they screwed this up, they'd lose market share in what had become one of their most important segments.

For the next several years, Acura's designers hunkered down to create an all-new RDX. And for the first time, it would be decoupled from Honda's CR-V platform; the RDX would be its own vehicle.

The car design process has multiple steps, which are all too involved to cover in this article; we'll look at them in detail with the next series of entries, debuting later this week. In the meanwhile, let's look at what Acura's designers emerged from the studio with.

The Redesigned RDX

Marek and his team had done it. Transposing DNA from a sports sedan onto an SUV form factor is not an easy task, but if we look at these shots below, comparing the Precision Concept to the RDX, we can see the spirit and gestures that the design team successfully replicated:

Despite the difference in proportions between the two vehicles, the spirit, the emotion, the character lines are all there. One of the most daring risks the designers took, and in my opinion pulled off, was the C/D pillar on the RDX, preserving the gesture of the Precision's fastback while still providing the proper roof of an SUV. And enough of the cross-contouring from the Precision was ported to the RDX that, if you were blindfolded and running your hands over scale clay models of the two, I believe your fingers would instantly recognize the similarities--and indeed might have a little trouble telling them apart.

That's just my opinion. But what did the automotive press have to say? Here's Road & Track commenting on the redesign:

"The new Acura RDX nails it.

"Behold the exterior. Prismatic, angular, and sleek, the RDX is a handsome, sometimes striking SUV—tidy like a Nakamichi receiver and as Japanese as a Gundam robot. It's not self-consciously restrained like rivals from the Continent. Even the handsome Volvo XC60 looks uneventful by comparison."

"The all-new 2019 [RDX] may be made from the perfect recipe," wrote Automobile Magazine, "to stand out from the rest of the luxury CUV segment. Our tester, in A-Spec trim and deep Performance Red Pearl is a sharp looker to defy the sameness of its rivals….

"The interior design continued the exterior's crisp and sporty lines. Fit and finish was impeccable and the ergonomics were just right."

Ikeda and his team had done it, too. As soon as it hit the market, the RDX posted startling debut figures, beating every other vehicle in its class. As The Drive reported, italics theirs: "The 2019 RDX— the vanguard of a new generation of Acura models—has exploded out of the gate. In June, its opening month in showrooms, the new RDX outsold every compact luxury SUV in America, its 7,292 sales smoking even the Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, with its 6,608 units moved. The RDX also enjoyed the best sales month of any Acura SUV in history, and the most buyers for any Acura model since the TL sedan in April 2006."

Ikeda may not like charts and graphs, but he probably loved this one.

Competition in this segment is fierce, and from month-to-month the top sales crown changed hands several times after June. But by the end of 2018, the RDX had racked up annual sales figures of 63,580, versus 51,295 in 2017, and about the same for the previous two years. This appreciable increase of 12,285 units was in spite of the fact that the car had been launched mid-year; had it debuted in January of 2018, the figures would likely have been even higher.

We'll have to wait until 2019 is through to see how a full year of sales with the new model will turn out; but in February of 2019, the most recent month for which complete sales statistics were available at press time, the RDX had again topped the segment.

Acura had the hit that they needed and wanted. The building blocks had been Spocked into place, and the design team had Kirked their way to a design-affirming victory. This wasn't an easy process but, as Ikeda said up top, Acura can be confident that what they've got going now, works.


What does Acura got going now? At the Acura Design Studio, we took a look at the six design departments all responsible for the redesigned RDX. Here's Part 1: The Stylist.

Design Job: Ready for Some Fun? Areaware is Seeking a Packaging Designer in Brooklyn, NY

Core 77 - Sun, 2019-03-24 21:03

As Graphic Designer for Areaware, you will report directly to the Art Director. Your job is to create visual assets for all our packaging and communication channels that clearly communicate the Areaware point-of-view. The ideal candidate is versatile, driven,

View the full design job here

The Joys and Despairs of Visiting MoMA's "The Value of Good Design" Exhibit

Core 77 - Sun, 2019-03-24 21:03

Since its inception, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has asked "What is good design and how can it enhance everyday life?" Made from a variety of materials—textiles, wood, plastics, leather, metals, glass, etc.—using then-innovative technology, 100-plus featured objects within MoMA's 2019 "The Value of Good Design" exhibit highlight the guiding design principles which shaped the tastes of worldwide consumers across generations.

Showcasing a global perspective, from a Brazilian bowl chair to a Japanese poster for a Mitsubishi sewing machine to a mass-market Italian Fiat Cinquecento to a Soviet-era East German Werra camera to an American shrimp cleaner and a propaganda film, MoMA selected pieces featured in past "Good Design" exhibits that demonstrated design's ability to reflect nations' respective and shared social and aesthetic values.

Passing Arthur Young's bulbous 1945 Bell-47D1 Helicopter (technically not included in the Good Design exhibit, though with it's plastic bubble made of just one piece, it should be) and instantly encountering Dante Giacosa's Fiat 500f city car, entering MoMA's "The Value of Good Design" feels monumental. Upon closer inspection, the exhibit design had minimal flow, inconvenient physical pausing points for videos or projections, few object descriptions, etc. Perhaps that will be something they will consider in their museum overhaul?

That is not to say the exhibit design lacked high points. Standing in the middle of that space, surrounded by pieces—vacuums, furniture, pamphlets, tools, posters, tapestries, and more—whose design principles embody why I chose to pursue industrial design, filled me with joy.

"Since undefinable emotional factors as well as judgment play a part in what one likes, good design will always be different things to different people." — Betty Pepis, The New York Times, 1951

I was instantly reminded of my first year studying industrial design at the Rhode Island School of Design, facing assignments that filled me a mix of dread for and paranoia about my inevitable future of designing and creating enough plastic trash to occupy my own personal landfill. I was about to transfer, either out of my major or out of design school all together. Then, as a major requirement, I took Matthew Bird's class, The History of Industrial Design. Learning about the history of manmade things, about the manufacturing, material developments, and timelines that allowed the objects, furniture, and buildings surrounding me to be built in the first place was perhaps the most fascinating part of my undergraduate education. Deeply thankful for those lessons, I stayed.

But what about people who don't have that background? That education? That privilege? With many objects resembling those lining the shelves of Salvation Armies and Goodwills everywhere, and with most labels citing only the designer, object name, manufacturer, distributor, and years, how do visitors assign and understand the value of what's before them?

Without knowledge of and consequent passion for the "Tupperware Seal," borosilicate glass, furniture systems, and other niche industrial design history, visitors do not know what makes these pieces—pails, rakes, fishing rods, glasses, vacuums, shrimp cleaners, brooms, and other everyday objects—worthy of a museum pedestal. "I have never seen any useful object that could not have been done in innumerable ways, shapes and contours equally well-suited to its purpose," declared Eva Zeisel in 1946, according to the exhibit's rotating screen of "good design" quotes. In omitting information regarding the noteworthy aspects of a particular design, the institution leaves the viewer, unaware of the design's contexts, of which shapes and contours made the object museum-worthy. What responsibility does the museum—an educational resource—have to actually educate, to provide context and information?

"I have never seen any useful object that could not have been done in innumerable ways, shapes and contours equally well-suited to its purpose." —Eva Zeisel, designer, 1946

The exhibit's Good Design Lab, hidden behind a wall on the exhibit's far edge, serves as an opportunity for visitors to interact with some of the show's pieces.

MoMA aims for the exhibit to raise “questions about what Good Design might mean today, and whether values from mid-century can be translated and redefined for a 21st-century audience.” With that, I anticipated the exhibition to identify how and through what objects and experiences midcentury design principles are still relevant today. Yet, questions regarding what “good design” means today aren’t posed directly in the exhibit. At the most, it is clear what good design was. Perhaps for MoMA, a promotional powerhouse, “good design” in this instance aligns with objects they sell in their gift shops, as they invite visitors to explore “how, through its design stores, MoMA continues to incubate new products and ideas in an international marketplace.”

Despite the legitimate merits of looking back to past examples of good design as demonstrated in "The Value of Good Design", to encourage the purchase of these products today feels like promotion of the middle-upper class mass consumerism that is destroying the planet. I look forward to a museum exhibition that explores beyond the mass consumption paradigm, offering potential solutions and examples of what iconic, “good design” can look like in 2019 and beyond.

"The Value of Good Design" is on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City until June 15, 2019.

A Perfect Explanation of the Ideal Relationship Between Designers and Engineers

Core 77 - Sun, 2019-03-24 21:03

Quick question: How many executives do you know that can do renderings?

ArtCenter graduate Jon Ikeda is one of those rare designers that have risen through the ranks to become a high-level executive. As Vice President and General Manager of Acura, Ikeda brings 30 years of Honda/Acura experience--primarily from the design side--to the table. This gives him a perspective that few Veeps and C-suiters possess, and in our upcoming Acura story, we'll show you how that benefits the company. Not to mention the company's designers.

But first, a teaser. While visiting the Acura Design Studio in Torrance, California, we pulled Ikeda's coat for quotes, and are glad we did; during a casual chat he revealed a rather insightful take on the ideal relationship between car designers and car engineers. Let's just say that Ikeda's mission is to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and civilizations, and to boldly go where (few) designers have gone before.

Core77: You've been in this game for a while. How has automotive design changed in the past 30 years?

Jon Ikeda: Back in the day, we [car designers] didn't have all the information. No internet, we didn't do as much benchmarking, we didn't have all the analytics to cloud what we wanted to do. See, too much information is not good either, because then you'll try to analyze your way into a solution, instead of doing what your heart tells you. And we need to be true to self.

How would you define being true to self, in an auto design context?

With my group, I always talk about it in the context of Star Trek. The two guys that drive that show are Kirk and Spock. I've always identified designers as Kirk, and engineers as Spock.

We're an engineering company, so there's a lot of Spocks around. We live on the Vulcan planet. And we designers, we're so insulated that we always say, "They don't get it, they don't understand what we're trying to do here." That's because we don't understand their language. We have to learn it so we can discuss things with them.

We've gotta talk about it with the engineers--and even the bean counters. The bean counters and engineers have something in common, which is numbers. They love to talk to each other with graphs and charts. They have those language skills that they can logic their way into, and they can talk to each other.

But with designers, it's all gut feel, intuition. "How do you know this is right?" --"Because it looks cool."

So here's the thing: If you try to do a show like Star Trek with only Kirk, you'd fly the Enterprise into the sun in episode three because you had a gut feeling about something. And you won't have a franchise. But if you did it all with just a bunch of Spocks, it would be the most boring show on Earth. It would never go anywhere. Just before they go exploring, some meteor shows up and now they have to do a bunch of recalculations for safety. Nobody would watch it.

So you have to balance your Kirks and Spocks. You have to respect each other and figure out what's best. Anytime I'd go over this with our engineers, they'd all say "Yes, we have to work together." And once you get full agreement, this is what I always drop on them:

"Never forget who the Captain is."

You always have to go with your heart. At some point, there's not going to be enough data, so what does your heart tell you? That's what really rules design at the end.

So we talk about Kirk and Spock all the time on my team. If I have plenty of time to think something out, I'll say "We can Spock this thing for a while and see what happens."

But if we have no time, I'm like "We're Kirking it. We're Kirking this thing right now. I'm feeling this. You feeling this? Okay--let's go."


Want to read more? Click here for the full story of Acura's design turnaround.

Cell Phones Are Filled With Valuable Materials

Design News - Fri, 2019-03-22 05:00

It seems like just about everybody on the planet has a cell phone. Last year more than 1.4 billion were produced. Aside from communications, they have become one of the major ways that we get our news, pay our bills, and entertain ourselves. According to the Consumer Electronics Association, cell phones have a life-expectancy of 4.7 years.

Because cell phones are replaced every five years, recycling needs to be an important part of mobile communication manufacturing. But, what materials make up a cell phone and are they valuable? To answer that question, researchers at the University of Plymouth, in the U.K., came up with an interesting way to determine what’s inside a cell phone.

A variety of different materials are used to make up a cell phone—some of them are very valuable. (Image source: University of Plymouth)

Put it in a Blender

To analyze the materials, Dr. Arjan Dijkstra and Dr. Colin Wilkins, geologists from the University’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, put a cell phone in a blender and reduced it to dust. They then took the blended phone and mixed it at almost 500°C with a powerful oxidizer, sodium peroxide. They were able to do a detailed analysis of the resulting solution in acid to determine what chemicals were present in the cell phone.

As expected, abundant materials such as iron, aluminum, chromium, and silicon made up the majority of the cell phone construction. For example, the results showed the phone used in the tests contained 33g of iron, 13g of silicon and 7g of chromium, as well as smaller quantities of other abundant substances.

The Valuable Stuff

These abundant materials are of little value for recycling. However, the cell phone also contained a number of critical elements. These included 900mg of tungsten and 70mg of cobalt and molybdenum, as well as 160mg of the rare earth element neodymium and 30mg of praseodymium.

"There are also rare elements such as neodymium, praseodymium, gadolinium and dysprosium, not to mention quantities of gold, silver and other high value elements. All of these need to be mined by extracting high value ores, which is putting a significant strain on the planet,” said Dijkstra in a university news release.

The phone contained 90mg of silver and 36mg of gold. This means that concentration-wise, a phone has 100 times more gold than a mineral resource geologists would call ‘high-grade’. To create just one phone you would need to mine 7kg of high-grade gold ore. In other words, “mining” cell phones for gold should be more profitable than operating a gold mine.


Being Responsible

Beyond the economic advantages of recycling the materials in a cell phone, there are also socially responsible reasons to do so. “Mining can be part of the solution to the world’s problems. But we are now in a climate where people are becoming more socially responsible and interested in the contents of what they are purchasing. Partly on the back of this, several of the major mobile phone companies have committed to upping their recycling rates. It is a positive sign that the throwaway society we have lived in for decades is changing, and we hope this project will encourage more people to ask questions about their own behaviors,” said Wilkins.

The sourcing of certain materials used in cell phones and other electronics, such as cobalt that comes from a conflict region, should also be recycled instead of winding up in a landfill.

The University of Plymouth researchers worked in tandem with Devon-based animation company Real World Visuals to produce a short and fun video which demonstrates the amount and variety of the Earth’s resources used each year in global mobile phone production. Antony Turner, CEO at Real World Visuals, said, “We have enjoyed collaborating with Arjan and Colin to find a way to bring this research alive and make it accessible to the wider public. I now view the phone in my pocket not just as a window on the world but also as a store of precious metals. I wonder where these metals have come from and whether they will be re-used after the phone is discarded.”

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.



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Nvidia Brings AI to Makers with the Jetson Nano

Design News - Fri, 2019-03-22 04:30
The Jetson Nano Development Kit (right) and module (left) are designed to provide AI computing at a price point attractive to makers and DIY enthusiasts. (Image source: Nvidia)

The latest addition to Nvidia's Jetson family of AI computing platforms is cozying into a space normally occupied by Raspberry Pi and Arduino. But where the most popular single-board computers struggle to bring AI and machine learning applications to the edge, Nvidia's new Jetson Nano promises to do just that, without the need for clever workarounds.

“Jetson Nano makes AI more accessible to everyone — and is supported by the same underlying architecture and software that powers our nation’s supercomputers,” Deepu Talla, vice president and general manager of Autonomous Machines at NVIDIA, said during an announcement at Nvidia's 2019 GPU Technology Conference (GTC). “Bringing AI to the maker movement opens up a whole new world of innovation, inspiring people to create the next big thing.”

Nvidia hopes makers and enthusiasts will embrace the $99 Jetson Nano developer kit in creating projects such as robots, drones, smart devices, and more. According to the company, the Nano platform supports high-resolution sensors and can process sensor inputs in parallel. It can also run multiple neural networks on each sensor streams and supports most of the most popular AI frameworks available today including TensorFlow, PyTorch, Caffe, and MXNet.

What this means for makers is being able to create devices that can handle multiple machine learning tasks such as computer vision and natural language processing, all on a single, compact computer.


For companies looking to build end-use edge computing systems Nvidia is also planning to release a $129 version of the Jetson Nano as well. Nvidia says the Jetson Nano module will help companies reduce development time and achieve a faster time-to-market by reducing the time spent in hardware design, testing, and validation. It will also address size, power, cost, and compute density challenges inherent in developing AI-focused and smart devices.

The Nano module measures 70mm x 45mm, according to company specs, and consists of a 128-core GPU, quad-core Arm A57 CPU, 4 GB of 64-bit LPDDR4 memory, and 16GB of built-in flash storage. It offers gigabit ethernet connectivity, camera inputs, and can support video at up to 4K resolution at 60 frames per second. It comes ready with full Linux operating system support as well. All in, Nvidia says the computer is capable of delivering 472 GFLOPs of performance and consumes only 5-10 watts of power.

The Jetson Developer kit comes in slightly larger at 100mm x 80mm and relies on a microSD card for storage. However it has four USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 Micro-B ports for connecting peripherals and other devices. It also offers the same computing power, memory, and video capabilities.

Earlier generation of the Jetson have been implemented into powerful applications such as drones. And the company offers similar dedicated AI computing platforms for autonomous vehicles. With this latest addition, it's become clear that Nvidia is aiming to become a go-to provider of AI computing platforms for projects at all levels from DIY all the way up to heavy industrial.

The NVIDIA Jetson Nano Developer Kit currently available. The Jetson Nano module will begin shipping in June.

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at  Design News covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics.


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Spider Silk for Robotic Muscle Actuation

Design News - Fri, 2019-03-22 04:00

Spider silk is already recognized as one of the strongest materials known to man comparable to its lightweight. Now researchers at MIT have discovered that another quality of the material—its resilient fibers that also have a property that make them well-suited to another potential use as a new robotic actuator or muscle.

A team led by MIT Professor Markus Buehler, head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, discovered what he called a “new phenomenon” in which the fibers of spider silk shrink in response to changes in moisture, which is called supercontraction. Moreover, the threads not only contract, but also twist at the same time, which provides a strong torsional force, Buehler said in an MIT news release.

Scanning electron microscope images show filaments of spider dragline silk. Researchers at MIT discovered a new characteristic of this material—one of the strongest for its light weight found in nature—that could be put to use in robotic muscles or actuators. (Image source: MIT)

Discovered By Accident

Researchers discovered this characteristic quite by accident while studying the influence of humidity on spider dragline silk by suspending a weight from the silk to create a pendulum, then enclosing it in a chamber with controlled relative humidity inside, said research collaborator Dabiao Liu, an associate professor at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China.

“When we increased the humidity, the pendulum started to rotate,” he said. “It was out of our expectation. It really shocked me.” Researchers tested other materials, including human hair, to see if they had the same type of reaction to humidity, but found that they didn’t find similar twisting motions, Liu said.

Without a clear answer as to why spider silk reacts this way, the team surmised that the supercontraction in response to moisture might be a way to make sure a spider’s web is pulled tight in response to something like morning dew to protect it from damage. This also might ensure the web’s response to vibration when prey becomes caught is not compromised, researchers said.


Robotics Possibilities

Because of the ability to control the contraction due to humidity, the team realized the material and its newly discovered characteristic could be “very interesting for the robotics community,” Buehler said.

Because “it’s very precise in how you can control these motions by controlling the humidity,” the material and its functionality could be used as novel way of controlling certain kinds of sensors or devices, he said. Researchers published a paper on their findings in the journal Science Advances.

Upon further investigation into what they observed, researchers discovered that the protein fiber of which spider dragline silk is made has two types of proteins—MaSp1 and MaSp2—that can explain the movement when exposed to humidity.

Water molecules interact with proline, a protein building block found within MaSp3, disrupting its hydrogen bonds in an asymmetrical way that causes the rotation. The rotation only goes in one direction, and it takes place at a threshold of about 70 percent relative humidity, Buehler said.

“The protein has a rotational symmetry built in,” he said. And through its torsional force, it makes possible “a whole new class of materials,” including potential polymers that might be developed to replicate the behavior, Buehler added.

In addition to being used to develop artificial robotic muscles or new types of actuators, researchers believe their findings also could be applied to the development of precise sensors for humidity as well as other new inventions, they said.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.



Design Job: Hungry for a Career Change? Uber Eats is Seeking a Sr Product Designer in Toronto

Core 77 - Thu, 2019-03-21 19:02

About the team Uber Eats is looking for great design thinkers and problem solvers for a brand new team that will transform how people get their groceries. As a Product Designer on the grocery team, you’ll take on tough interaction and service design challenges, and you’ll work on big

View the full design job here

A New Game That Aims to Change How Kids Learn About Periods

Core 77 - Thu, 2019-03-21 19:02

We've got a new game for game night, and it's likely not at all what you're expecting— introducing The Period Game. This Kickstarter campaign (which recently ended, but now features a link for pre-order) aims to revolutionize how teach children about periods, turning a topic that is uncomfortable for many into an interactive game that makes learning about periods approachable. The game is based on the menstrual cycle and includes all of the challenges that young women may go through as they learn about their periods and how their bodies will react.

The board has four different spaces, each representing a different week in the roughly four weeks in the menstrual cycle, and includes an assortment of the symptoms associated with phases of the cycle.

Yes, the centerpiece of this game board is meant to represent the female reproductive system and yes, we think it's great. To move forward in the game, you'll twist one of the ovaries and a colored marble is released which indicates your next move. Got a red marble? You've got your period. Clear? Move forward one space and play a card. Purple? You leaked, go to the nurse's office and miss your turn.

A variety of cards will teach you about the different forms of leak protection and what PMS might be and how to deal with the symptoms.

Learning about reproductive health may be uncomfortable at times, but it is a crucial step in normalizing the body's biological processes and realizing it isn't the end of the world if you do leak during your period. Another thoughtful way this game is breaking stigmas is that it isn't just for women! The Period Game is designed to be an educational tool for all to normalize periods and the challenges that women face every cycle.

The Period Game Kickstarter campaign ended above their goal at $39, 412, now making it available for pre-order to be delivered by early next year.