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Design Job: Bresslergroup is seeking a Director of Design & User Research in Philadelphia

Core 77 - Thu, 2019-05-23 12:14

Are you passionate about design research and mentoring research teams? We're looking for a Director of Design & User Research to lead our passionate researchers and to guide clients in translating research into actionable insights for their products. SKILLS: Manage research initiatives; qualitative and quantitative research

See the full job details or check out all design jobs at Coroflot.

Here are the Best NYCxDesign Shows to Check Out This Weekend

Core 77 - Thu, 2019-05-23 12:14

Plot twist: Even though NYCxDesign is technically centered around ICFF, WantedDesign Manhattan and WantedDesign Brooklyn, we're here to tell you that there's plenty more to do and see during our favorite—but maybe we're biased—design week of the year. As you get ready to plan your inspiration-filled weekend, here is a list of exhibitions to consider including in your schedule:

Trueing at pas de calais

Housed in the minimal pas des calais Soho storefront is a lovely new lighting collection of sconces, pendant lights and floor lamps designed by Aiden Bowman and Josh Metersky of Trueing, a Brooklyn-based lighting studio. Their latest collection Cerine's focal point is the beautiful colored borosilicate glass chain that holds the lighting, which was produced by local laboratory glassmakers.

482 Broome St, New York

Visibility's "Under the Office"

To celebrate their 5th year as an established studio, Sina Sohrab and Joseph Guerra have organized an exhibition called "Under the Office", featuring their best work over the past half decade. The exhibit features finished products as well as prototypes, so it's a great show for anyone interested in gaining insight on designing within a small studio setting.

195 Chrystie St, New York

Furnishing Utopia 4.0: Drawing Upon Frameworks

This year, the beloved Furnishing Utopia show will exhibit hand-created 2D work that examines frameworks—both formal and conceptual—and how they influence design. From pencil sketches to shape collages, the exhibition aims to challenge visitors to think critically about and find harmony within structured systems.

251 Park Ave S, New York


During NYCxDesign, the Neoclassical Merchants Square Building in Tribeca sets the scene for the new Chamber lighting range by Workstead and the Relic collection by Calico Wallpaper. Arcade Bakery (designed by Workstead) also resides in the same building, so be sure to pop by for a snack while you're at it.

220 Church Street, New York


Year after year, JONALDUDD offers up one of the wackiest shows of the NYC x Design season, showcasing design works that bridge the gap between art and design. Their 2019 edition promises more of the same, with featured projects such as Matt Branham and Sophie Dannin's 'least functioning' object series and Space Jam themed furniture. Get weird this weekend at JONALDDUDD.

152 Lexington Ave, New York

Pas de Deux at Colony

Colony gave their designers free reign to showcase new design work with a fine art piece of their choosing. The goal of the show is to blur the line between curator and designer, and the result is an exhibition that not only showcases new work but carefully considers the context in which it lives in.

324 Canal St 2nd Floor, New York

frog's 50th Anniversary Exhibition

2019 marks frog's whopping 50th anniversary, and to celebrate, they organized an in-house retrospective exhibition that features some of their most iconic designed objects from 1969 to now. Take a chance this weekend to visit frog's offices and learn more about products you didn't even know they helped design, such as the first digital answering machine, the 1980 Mac SE computer, and Steve Job's infamous 1987 NeXT Cube.

55 Prospect St, Brooklyn


Photo by Luke Walker

There may not be too many NYCxDesign events going on in Greenpoint this year, but A/D/O makes up for the trek with two exciting exhibitions to check out within their space. "Urban Imprint" is an installation designed for A/D/O's outdoor courtyard that "reimagines the relationship between people and their built environment, allowing visitors to reshape their physical space and architecture as a result of their own movement"—aka, you really have to visit to experience its wonder.

The other exhibit to check out there is West Elm's Atitlán Project, which a collaboration between the furniture giant, design firm Roar + Rabbit and designer Diego Olivero to create a limited edition collection inspired by Pintando Santa Catarina Palopó, an architectural effort in Guatemala with a mission to paint 960 buildings with colorful patterns near Lake Atitlán.

29 Norman Ave, Brooklyn

Sound + Vision

Produced by American Design Club, this exhibition celebrates the fascinating crossover between sound and design. Following an open call for submissions, Sound + Vision includes an exhibition of products, a performance series and an engaging installation. Times Square is also home to many other exhibitions happening throughout Design Week, so be sure to wander around if you decide to brave the crowds.

Times Square Pedestrian Plaza

Sister City

If you're looking to grab drinks after hopping from exhibition to exhibition, we recommend checking out the rooftop bar at the new hotel Sister City for a classic view of the NYC skyline and a trippy AI-generated soundtrack that reacts to movement.

225 Bowery, New York

Isamu Noguchi Installation at Totokaelo

In collaboration with Totokaelo and Gray Magazine, a site specific installation of Isamu Noguchi's Akari light sculptures are on display at Totokaelo's SoHo store. If you didn't get the chance to make it to a similar exhibition at the Noguchi Museum earlier this year, now is your chance to experience a smaller version in Soho.

61 Crosby St, New York


Inside/Out aims to remedy the gap between the independent design community and the overlooked outdoor furniture space. The installation, put together in partnership between Sight Unseen and Wescover is open to guests and locals to interact directly with the designs outdoors.

Next Level

This show curated by designers features 35 participants in a 9,000 square foot space, and features everything from paper lamps to dining tables. Head over to the exhibition for a moody vibe and lots of inspiration.

718 Broadway, New York

For more NYCxDesign scheduling inspiration, be sure to check out our handy NYCxDesign Map!

Little Printer Lives Again: Nord Projects Brings the Long-lost IoT Classic Back to Life

Core 77 - Thu, 2019-05-23 12:14

It was back in 2012 that design and technology luminaries Berg released Little Printer onto the world—the charming, connected mini-printer that could do all manner of useful and/or whimsical things from receiving messages and ticker-tape news updates, to churning our your daily agenda and bringing your digital to-do list into the physical realm. Somewhat ahead of its time, the trailblazing IoT device was met with much adulation from the creative and technophile communities—no trend report or mood board at the time being complete without it.

When Berg sadly shut up shop in 2014, and the lights went off on their cloud servers, Little Printers across the globe simply ground to a halt. Ever since the little guys have mostly sat idle, forgotten in drawers or retired to lives as ornaments, their stoic smiles and neatly parted fringe undoubtedly masking the pain of their untimely obsolescence.

Five years on, however, there is good news for Little Printers (and their owners) everywhere. A group of talented Litter Printer enthusiasts have apparently been collaborating for years to rebuild the server under an open-source license. With both the products cloud bridge hacked and the server-side software created by the open source community, London-based design invention studio Nord Projects have brought all the hard work together by rebuilding the user experience—bring the little fellas back to life with a new user-friendly platform along with slick supporting app.

Whilst being true to much of the design stylings of the original and rebuilding most of the classic features, Nord Projects seem to have refreshed the look and added in some fun little updates including a free-hand doodle feature and the ability to use iOS Share sheets.

Perhaps most notably, Nord Projects' new platform suggests a new sharing model that will make any resuscitated Little Printers instantly more sociable than their former selves. By giving each Little Printer a new 'device key'—a unique URL that grants access to message a specific printer—device owners can now invite contacts to send them all sorts of printed nonsense. You can also print out a QR code to give visiting guests instant access. For those concerned that this new system sounds like it could leave your precious Little Printer open to abuse, the system cleverly allows for an unlimited number of device keys and the ability to revoke a key (if it has spread to those it was not intended for, for example) at any time.

On top of being a fun little project that Little Printer owners might appreciate, the death and subsequent resurrection of Little Printers tells an interesting tale about the state of connected products. In an article accompanying the launch of their new platform Nord Projects reflects on the difficulties of keeping connected devices alive for the long-run and the importance of designing for with the death of servers in mind. As the authors point out, connected products are beholden to a fundamental problem—the devices are typically bought with a single upfront cost, but the cloud component that supports their use cost money to run. The team points to a few ideas for increasing the resilience of connected hardware, including designing to open standards and open-sourcing the product's backend—they themselves having done the latter with their own device, Tingbot, in the wake of the Little Printers demise.

If you have a Little Printer you want to bring back from the dead, they guys at Nord Projects have pulled together this thorough and easy-to-follow guide to hacking the hardware and joining their new platform. Be warned, however, this is not for the faint-hearted looking for instant gratification—there will be some getting hands dirty with circuit boards...

And some cryptic code to deal with...

2.3 Type screen /yourdevicepath 115200 8N1 (substituting in the correct device path for your computer): E.g. screen /dev/cu.SLAB_USBtoUART 115200 8NzAnd

If you simply want to read more about the design of the new platform or the work of the open source community on the technology front, go take a look at the Nord Projects page here.

Potassium And Oxygen Make A Low-Cost Battery

Design News - Thu, 2019-05-23 05:00

A new battery design using low cost potassium and oxygen from the air is showing promise, according to a recent news release from The Ohio State University. Although lithium ion batteries have become the standard for everything from cell phones, to electric vehicles (EVs), to power grid support for renewable energy, the high cost of the raw materials used to make the cells and the availability of those materials is becoming a concern. Researchers around the globe are looking for a way to make viable electrical energy storage devices out of cheaper and more plentiful materials.

Paul Gilmore and Vishnu-Baba Sundaresan are two researchers from The Ohio State University who are researching the possibilities of lower cost batteries using potassium and oxygen electrochemical reactions. (Image source: The Ohio State University)

First Developed in 2013

The OSU work centered on the construction of the battery’s cathode, which stores the energy produced by a chemical reaction in a metal-oxygen or metal-air battery. Potassium-oxygen batteries were invented in 2013 when a team of researchers from Ohio State, led by chemistry professor Yiying Wu, showed that, “the batteries could be more efficient than lithium-oxygen batteries while simultaneously storing about twice the energy as existing lithium-ion batteries.” But, as with so many new battery chemistries, potassium-oxygen batteries had problems with the number of times that they could be charged and discharged. The battery degraded with each charge, never lasting longer than five or 10 charging cycles—far away from the cycle-life needed to make the battery a cost-effective solution for storing electrical power.

It was determined that the degradation happened because oxygen “crept” into the battery’s anode—the negative electrode of the battery. The oxygen caused the anode to break down so that the battery could no longer supply a charge.

To counter the effect, Paul Gilmore, a doctoral candidate at OSU, began incorporating polymers into the cathode to see they could protect the anode from oxygen. The key, Gilmore said, was finding a way to bring oxygen into the battery—necessary for it to work—without allowing oxygen to seep into the anode.

Like Human Lungs

According to the OSU release, “This design works a bit like human lungs: Air comes in to the battery through a fibrous carbon layer, then meets a second layer that is slightly less porous and finally ends at a third layer, which is barely porous at all. That third layer, made of the conducting polymer, allows potassium ions to travel throughout the cathode, but restricts molecular oxygen from getting to the anode. The design means that the battery can be charged at least 125 times—giving potassium-oxygen batteries more than 12 times the longevity they previously had with low-cost electrolytes.”

Vishnu-Baba Sundaresan, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at OSU is quick to point out that this work, while promising, will still require more research before it is viable for practical battery development. Gilmore noted that, “Oxygen batteries have higher energy density, which means they can improve the range of electric vehicles and battery life of portable electronics, for example, though other challenges must be overcome before potassium-oxygen batteries are viable for these applications.”


Made From Economical Materials

Nonetheless, there is real interest in creating much lower cost batteries that use more readily available materials. Lithium-oxygen batteries—another possible energy storage solution can be expensive, and most designs use scarce resources, including cobalt. According to OSU, the lithium-ion batteries that power many electric cars cost around $100 per kilowatt hour at the materials level. The researchers estimated that this potassium-oxygen battery will cost about $44 per kilowatt hour.

 “If you want to go to an all-renewable option for the power grid, you need economical energy storage devices that can store excess power and give that power back out when you don’t have the source ready or working,” said Sundaresan. “Technology like this is key, because it is cheap, it doesn’t use any exotic materials, and it can be made anywhere and promote the local economy.”

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.


Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!


Expanding IoT Results in Increased Security Breaches

Design News - Thu, 2019-05-23 04:00

With the proliferation of IoT devices and networks that extend connectivity beyond the plant walls, it’s not surprising that companies are experiencing data breaches. What is surprising is that reported data breaches have grown from 15% of companies using IoT in 2017 to 26% today. And that doesn’t count the companies that don’t know they’ve been breached.

A Ponemon Institute study on cybersecurity risk for third-part deployments reveals growing risks of data breaches. (Image source: Ponemon Institute.

A Ponemon Institute report conducted by The Santa Fe GroupThe Third Annual Study on Third Party IoT Risk: Companies Don’t Know What They Don’t Know – reveals a dramatic increase in IoT-related data breaches specifically due to unsecured IoT devices or applications. In the two years since 2017, the number of breaches nearly doubled. The results might actually be greater because most organizations are not aware of every unsecure IoT device or application from third party vendors.

More alarmingly, organizations surveyed have no centralized accountability to address or manage IoT risks. Fewer than half of company board members approve programs intended to reduce third party risk and only 21% of board members are highly engaged in security practices and understand third party and cybersecurity risks in general. More than 80% of respondents believe their data will be breached in the next 24 months.

A Wide Range of New Attacks

The attacks on IoT connectivity are varied in nature, from old-style hacking to sophisticated organizational breaches. “Certainly, we’re seeing more ransomware related attacks, but we’re also seeing an increase in nation-state – or quasi-nation state – attacks,” Charlie Miller, senior advisor at The Santa Fe Group, told Design News. “Other studies also show an increase in the number of data breaches. I’m not certain if the increase is due to greater regulatory scrutiny, heightened internal privacy awareness, or if it’s simply an increased number of attackers using IoT as the least secure way in.”

The study also tracked how companies are responding to security issues. Miller noted a difference in the response to attacks by companies that deployed their own IoT system versus companies that used a vendor to deploy IoT. “We are seeing contradictory evidence from two recent studies,” said Miller. “A recent study on IoT systems that were not deployed by third-party vendors suggests a more positive picture, while the Third Party Risk Benchmarking Survey showed some slippage in terms of the percentage of companies with incident response and recovery plans in place.”

Who’s in Charge of Cybersecurity?

The IoT study reveals that 67% of companies have incident response plans that cover security breaches, but only 33% include contingencies for security breaches that specially result from an IoT security incident. “We know from other research that risk related internal communications and education are not where we want them to be broadly,” said Miller. “Since IoT is an emerging area of risk, organizations have largely not integrated IoT risks into existing risk education programs.”

Not surprisingly, companies that emphasize risk mitigation were best prepared to deal with IoT breaches. ”There is evidence to suggest that organizations with strong risk cultures are more likely to develop effective IoT risk education programs more quickly,” said Miller. “If you examine the energy and effort it has taken to inform individuals about the risk associated with email and phishing related attacks, it suggests that IoT education efforts should be more challenging.”        


The report indicates that 32%  respondents could not identify one person responsible for security. If one person isn’t identified as responsible for security, does that mean nobody is responsible?  “Only 32% of companies have one individual in charge of security. That’s not a good number. It indicates a failure in risk governance,” said Miller. “Larger organizations often have single points of responsibility within multiple affiliates. That’s effective. When you don’t have one person responsible for collecting and maintaining data, that’s a surefire recipe for failure.”

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

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!


Design Job: Shred the Gnar as an Associate Designer at Burton Snowboards in Burlington, VT

Core 77 - Wed, 2019-05-22 12:04

We are looking for an Associate Designer, a Designer, & a Sr. Designer to join our Softgoods Product Team in Burlington, VT. Our Design Team is responsible for assisting all aspects of design for the multi-season apparel line and providing support to the design team. Help

See the full job details or check out all design jobs at Coroflot.

Currently Crowdfunding: A Futuristic Backpack, a New Way to Tell Time, and More

Core 77 - Wed, 2019-05-22 12:04

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:

The designers behind the Tessel Jet Pack grew up building stealth jets and spaceships, and they were drawn to that aesthetic when they created the tessellated paneling on their backpack. Just futuristic-looking enough, the latest version of the backpack is made of more durable materials and features upgraded zippers and padded shoulder straps.

This apartment-friendly countertop dryer uses vacuum pressure to dry your clothes in only 15 minutes.

Morrama has made a sleek brush and bowl set to complement the minimalist Angle Razor that they successfully crowdfunded last year. The handle of the bowl doubles as a resting place for the brush, allowing it to drip dry.

British designers James Clark and Iliana Pavlova have developed a color-based wall clock that may just change the way you look at time.

An invaluable tool for architecture and engineering students, Mola is a cool model kit made of magnetic elements so you can easily assemble a wide range of structures and easily visualize how they work in real life.

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.

frog Turns 50 and Celebrates with a Delightfully Nerdy Exhibition During NYCxDesign

Core 77 - Wed, 2019-05-22 12:04

Happy 50th birthday frog! To celebrate, the iconic design firm is currently hosting a retrospective at their Brooklyn office as part of NYCxDesign. The exhibition celebrates the vast amount of work that frog has been a part of over the years, displayed in the form of physical products, framed advertisements and even interactive AR displays. In the above slideshow, view some of the products we were most excited to nerd out over, from original Mac computers to a futuristic dishwasher.

For those who are in in town for NYCxDesign, we recommend taking a trip over to frog's office to experience this taste of design history in person. And if you need help planning the rest of your NYCxDesign experience, be sure to check out our handy NYCxDesign Map.

Oh, and we can't leave out one of our favorite displays at the frog show—the below miniature model inside of a 1980 Mac SE computer:

Cleo Laptop for Vadem Clio, 1998A convertible computer that served as a predecessor for current laptops and tablets.Cleo Laptop for Vadem Clio, 1998The retractable arm allows the screen to swivel up to become a laptop and down to become a tablet.Dual Stereo for Dual Electronics, 1994-1996frog designed a complete user experience for Dual Electronics, who needed to reinvent themselves for the digital age.Dual Stereo for Dual Electronics, 1994-1996The Dual Stereo features a panel that can be removed and turned into a remote control.51K Audio Concept for Wega, 1978An all-in-one turntable, cassette tape player and radio tuner that set the stage for Wega being acquired by Sony soon after.51K Audio Concept for WEGA, 1978So. Many. Dials.NeXT Cube for NeXT, 1987When Steve Jobs left Apple to found NeXT, he partnered with frog to create the infamous NeXT Cube, a "smart station" for the higher education market.NeXT Cube for NeXT, 1987The Cube didn't exactly take off in the market, but it offered something new in a sea of boring beige computers.NeXT Cube for NeXT, 1987Hey, at least the company's focus on design carried over into Jobs' future work with Apple.Digital Answering Machine for AT&T, 1990The first digital machine produced by AT&T.View the full gallery here

California Battles Trump on Stalled Fuel Efficiency Rules

Design News - Wed, 2019-05-22 05:00

Frustrated by Washington, the State of California may be considering a ban on vehicles with internal combustion engines.

Or maybe not.

The question of whether it is or isn’t came to a head last week, after the state’s chief air quality regulator balked at mentioning the ban in a speech, even though it was apparently called for in her draft remarks obtained by Bloomberg news.

Instead of floating the possibility of a specific ban, Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), listed “extreme” air pollution countermeasures, including “fees, taxes and bans on certain types of vehicles.” She also added that “these are not things that most of us think are the right way to go.”

Nichols did not, however, specifically call for a ban on gas-burning vehicles, even though it was scripted into her “draft remarks,” the agency told Design News.

Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, said that extreme measures are not the way “that most of most of us think are the right way to go.” (Image source: CARB)

Still, the lingering possibility of such a comment added to the turmoil that now surrounds the Trump Administration’s effort to roll back the 2012 goals set forth by the Obama White House. California regulators are concerned, not only that the Trump plan would harm the state’s air quality, but that it would eliminate the legal waiver that allows states like California to set their own more stringent standards.

Automakers, meanwhile, are increasingly concerned that the Trump proposal, which has reached no resolution, is hindering their ability to lay plans for the future.

“Anything that constrains their markets is going to stress the automakers,” Brett Smith of the Center for Automotive Research told Design News. “They can’t make predictions for 2030; they don’t know what technologies will be viable. And equally important, they don’t know what technologies customers will want.”

Court Battle Looming?

California is critically important to all auto manufacturers that sell in the US because its regulations determine how many hybrids and electric vehicles they need to build and sell. Moreover, California leads an 18-state coalition that represents 140 million people, or about 40% of the US car market. The coalition wants the national programs created by the Obama Administration to remain intact. Those programs called for a set of standards for greenhouse gas emissions and fuel efficiency – most notably a 54.5-mpg corporate average for every automaker by 2025.

Trump’s White House wants to slow that down, freezing fuel economy goals at 37 mpg in 2021. But it has failed to reach a conclusion in its effort.

“If nothing happens, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration won’t have a 2021 fuel economy standard,” Smith said. “Theoretically, they’ve already passed the statutory time for setting that standard. And that alone stresses the auto industry.”

The stress, however, may even be greater for Californians. That state sees its air quality -- believed to be the worst in the country -- as a major threat to public health. And it faces economic penalties, including loss of federal road improvement funds, if it fails to clean up its dirty air.

To combat those problems, California wants to set its own, more stringent fuel economy standards. But if the Trump Administration is successful in eliminating the legal waiver that allows California to do that, that avenue would be lost.

Last year, California fought back by filing suit against the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), contending that the EPA acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in attempting to roll back the earlier regulations. “You can’t just, like some tinhorn dictator, say that I’m tearing up a rule that was built on two years of building up evidence,” former-governor Jerry Brown said at the time.

Still, the legal battle, which could end at the US Supreme Court, stands as an unknown for California. “In the last two or three years, it has become a more conservative (Supreme) Court,” Smith said. “And that worries California.”

Mary Nichols’ comments last week may be an effort by California to take the offensive in the ongoing battle, Smith said. “Speeches like this indicate that they are deeply concerned, and that they feel they have to take a stand,” he told us.


A spokesman for CARB said Nichols’ speech wasn’t meant as a threat. “The point of the meeting was to get the word out to Californians on what’s at stake with the Trump plan,” wrote David Clegern of CARB in an e-mail to Design News.

Either way, it’s a sign that the concern over the matter is growing, and that everyone involved wants resolution, Smith said. “No one knows what’s going to happen,” he told us. “We’re in uncharted waters here.”

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

North America's Premier Battery Conference.
Join our in-depth conference program with 70+ technical sessions in eight tracks covering topics from new battery technologies and chemistries to BMS and thermal management. 
The Battery Show. Sept. 10-12, 2019, in Novi, MI. Register for the event, hosted by Design News’ parent company Informa.

These 4 Industries Are Leading the Way in Robotics Adoption

Design News - Wed, 2019-05-22 04:00
(Image source: fotomek/Adobe Stock)

In late 2013, a significant event changed the state of the entire robotics industry. That was when Google opened up its robotics division and acquired a series of robotics companies, including Boston Dynamics (the two companies have since parted ways).

“Every investor started looking at robotics and thinking if Google is doing this huge investment there is something going on,” Fady Saad, co-founder of MassRobotics, a Boston-based non-profit devoted to escalating and incubating robotics technologies, said. And though Google's larger robotics strategy is still somewhat of a mystery, Saad said the founding of Google's robotics division, “triggered a whole chain reaction around robotics.”

Since then there has been a boom in popularity of robots in applications ranging from collaborative robots in the industrial space, to retail, and even home-use robots.

Speaking at the 2019 Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) in Boston, Saad identified four key verticals that have demonstrated a solid adoption of robotics and have been leading the way in the advancement and proliferation of robotics technology:

1.)Advanced Manufacturing

It should come as little surprise that the advanced manufacturing space is leading the way in robotics. “It's very easy for manufacturing companies to continue to adopt more robotics because they were already utilizing automation,” Saad said. He also cited growing use of collaborative robots (or cobots) as well as the emergence of metal 3D printing as key drivers behind advanced manufacturing's continued leadership in robotics.

2.)Logistics and Supply Chain

For better or worse, “there are some very interesting activities around automating warehouses and logistics,” Saad told the ESC audience. Arguably the best-known of the companies in this space is Kiva Systems, a maker of automated robots for warehouses. Kiva was eventually acquired by Amazon and its machines now make up the entirety of the robotic workforce in Amazon's fulfillment centers.

Saad said Amazon's acquisition of Kiva however left a void in the warehouse robotics space. “No other companies can use Kiva because it's part of Amazon,” he said. As such a number of companies including Locus Robotics, Fetch Robotics, and Vecna have sprung up in recent years to offer alternative solutions to a wider selection of customers.


3.) Construction

Though construction is not the most obvious choice as a leading vertical for robotics, Saad said the industry has seen a lot of activity. “It's interesting because construction has not been disrupted in many years. And it's an industry experiencing labor shortage,” he said. “There's no way we can fill the [labor] gap without robotics.”

Autonomous heavy trucks, autonomous forklifts, and the use of drones to capture data about construction sites are already helping to fill in some of these gaps.

Saad also noted a more fantastical reason to expect construction to continue to lead in robotics adoption – space travel. “The other thing that will drive robotics in construction is construction in outer space,” he said. “Although this might sound sci-fi, NASA and other private space companies have been working on this for a long time. NASA has a startup competition around building structures on the moon using local materials and robots. And investment in these sorts of technologies will automatically impact construction on Earth.”

4.) Healthcare

The medical device industry has probably undergone one of the most drastic shifts in terms of introducing robotics. The most notable example is the da Vinci surgical robot. But robots have been introduced into healthcare for a variety of other purposes, including telepresence, patient monitoring, and hospital logistics.

“I personally believe medical and surgical robots will scale a lot, Saad said, “Companies that have been focused on a specific surgery have a high likelihood to be successful, attract funding, and grow.”

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

North America's Premier Battery Conference.
Join our in-depth conference program with 70+ technical sessions in eight tracks covering topics from new battery technologies and chemistries to BMS and thermal management. 
The Battery Show. Sept. 10-12, 2019, in Novi, MI. Register for the event, hosted by Design News’ parent company Informa.

A Test Drive, and the Design Story Behind Range Rover's Most Unusual Vehicle

Core 77 - Tue, 2019-05-21 10:46

SoHo is one of New York City's most pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods--and paradoxically, the best place in Manhattan to see every car design on Earth. On Lafayette, bland rideshare Toyotas share lanes with Teslas. On West Broadway's restaurant row, delivery trucks are wedged in with Lamborghinis, Ferraris, the odd Bugatti. The streets in between are the parking lot of the upper middle class, awash with everything else--primarily crossover SUVs of German and Japanese heritage, so numerous and similar that they are rendered bland.

Unless you're on West Broadway, it takes a lot for a car to catch your eye there. But on my daily dog walks through SoHo, sometime around 2011 or 2012 I started seeing an unusual dark grey vehicle regularly parked on Greene, sometimes Mercer. It looked like a small Range Rover that had had its roof squashed by some prankster giant.

First generation Evoque, By Vauxford - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

A longer look revealed that the designers had not only slanted the roof very intentionally, but even leaned into it by adding a steadily ascending beltline to magnify the effect, suggesting a vanishing point. It could not be mistaken for any other vehicle.

I hated it. The car always caught my eye, and its lines were clean enough but the roofline didn't make any sense to me, from a functionality standpoint; it turned the rear window into little more than a slit. It did, however, remind me of an early design gig I had doing sneaker concepts for a major manufacturer. The brief the Design Director gave was: "Draw me something that the kids will notice from across the street." This car certainly fulfilled that.

I learned the car was in fact a Range Rover, a new model called the Evoque. I regarded it as a curiosity, a novelty that wouldn't sell well.

I was wrong, as it turns out. And because I did not know the context of the car at the time, I completely missed the design lessons contained within it: Why it looks the way it does, and what it would go on to accomplish for its parent company. To date the car has sold--largely on the strength of its design--roughly 800,000 units, from a company that could not have dreamed of those numbers when the design was first conceived.

The Context

The proper Range Rover is a full-size SUV that has evolved over the decades from a utilitarian vehicle to a luxury one. It's been a steady performer for parent company Jaguar Land Rover; in 2011 it had annual worldwide sales of 29,626--not GM or Ford figures, but certainly respectable for a challenger brand that's a fraction of the size. After a 2012 redesign, sales began to climb, and by 2015 had more than doubled the 2011 figure, coming to 60,226. These are fairly staggering sales numbers for a car with a price that can stretch into six figures.

2019 Range Rover

As good as both those sales and growth figures are, that price tag will confer a ceiling at some point. It's true that each year sees more people becoming millionaires--last year another 238,000 people reached that category in the U.S. alone, according to Investopedia--but the far larger market is obviously those of us in the middle class. In order for the company to grow, JLR needed an entry-level vehicle in the Range Rover line, something an average Joe could actually afford. And with more people moving to cities, a vehicle that could easily be maneuvered through traffic and parked in tight spaces would be a plus.

To fulfill this mandate, in 2008 Land Rover (the company at the time had yet to be stabled with Jaguar) unveiled the LRX concept, designed by Gerry McGovern, at the North American International Auto Show:

LRX Concept, 2008

The response was positive from not only show attendees, but more critically, both dealerships and the all-important press. "Gerry McGovern's first effort since becoming design director of Land Rover is this LRX concept and it's a stylistic home run," wrote Car & Driver at the time. "the LRX is an SUV coupe concept in a size that is both both sensible and practical."

"Don't let its macho-sport exterior fool you—McGovern refers to the LRX as Land Rover's Mini Cooper or Audi TT. As fans of the Range Rover Sport that came from now-retired designer Geoff Upex, we embrace this mini-ute as well."

Motor Trend was similarly effusive, referring to it as "The beautifully detailed and artfully proportioned LRX" and confirming JLR's confidence in the concept and subsequent production plans. "It will be a bold step for the company, and a bold step for the brand," said Chris Marchand (then Land Rover's North America Sales and Marketing head, now Executive Vice President of Operations).

The UK's Car Magazine explained the point of the design: "Here is Land Rover's riposte to the anti-SUV brigade: the long-awaited baby Landy – a hybrid 4x4 so small it shares a footprint with a Ford Focus," they wrote. "This is a car for people who deride the unnecessary heft of large SUVs, but want to retain the visual presence of 4x4s. It's Land Rover lite."

LRX Concept, 2008

LRX Concept, 2008

As Marchand told Motor Trend, "This vehicle will be a segment changer…. It will set us up for the future."

Marchand turned out to be right. The production version of the LRX--which remained incredibly faithful to the concept, due to care on McGovern's part during the design process--was dubbed the Evoque, and it debuted in 2011 with annual worldwide sales of 22,710. Close to the Range Rover's 29,626, in other words.

However, the Evoque had debuted mid-year in 2011. In 2012, the Evoque's first full year of production, annual sales jumped to a whopping 108,598 units. The following year it was 124,292. In 2014 it hit 125,364, before calming down to roughly 110,000 a year for the next three years.

2014 Evoque HSE

Then came 2018. A bad year for Land Rover, with a looming Brexit and global trade tensions impacting consumer confidence, a shift away from using diesel fuel in Europe (84% of Euro-market JLR vehicles are sold with diesel powertrains, according to Automotive News) and a rapid cooling of the highly-profitable Chinese market. On top of that, with the announcement of a new Evoque, would-be buyers were waiting for it rather than helping dealerships clear current inventory. "Sales of Land Rover models [in 2018] fell by 6.9% as market conditions in China and Europe and the run-out of the current Evoque held back performance," the company wrote.

Even still, by the end of 2018 JLR had sold a staggering 777,182 Evoques since launch; by press time, the number has undoubtedly topped 800,000. "Evoque has been the superstar sales success over the past eight years for Range Rover," says Richard Agnew, Land Rover's Director of Global Brand Communications. And incredibly, the Evoque had accomplished these sales figures without receiving a redesign in its first eight years of production.

So Why Redesign the Evoque Now?

As evinced by the launch of their highly-capable, all-electric I-Pace last year, JLR is making a massive shift towards electric. Having a more sustainable power source is not only environmentally responsible, but makes good business sense as both Europe and China's CO2 targets are being toughened up. It would also make the company less vulnerable to shifts in diesel demand. Thus they've set the ambitious goal to offer, by 2020, all new Jaguar Land Rover vehicles with the option for electric powertrains.

From an engineering standpoint, the Evoque required new architecture to accommodate an electric powerplant. Some car brands would take this opportunity to completely overhaul the design, but that isn't JLR and McGovern's way. "There's this preoccupation in the automotive industry that ever time you do a new car, it has to be completely different. Why?" McGovern says. "When it comes to a new vehicle that we haven't produced before, that's our opportunity to be radical. But if you've got something that's established, that people love, [I'd rather] refine it. Look at the evolution of the 911, it's a very good example. Or the evolution of the Range Rover. That is our approach.

"The Evoque is incredibly successful for us, [with nearly] 800,000 vehicles sold," McGovern continues. "A vehicle that truly did resonate with consumers, and it is the first Land Rover ever that did sell predominantly on its design." The challenge, then, was to maintain the design elements that made the Evoque a hit while still producing something new.

McGovern and his team's redesign is thus a meticulous refinement of the first generation. The goal, in McGovern's words, was for folks to see it and say "'That is unmistakably an Evoque,' and in the second sentence, 'but it's the new one.'"

"You can tell it's the new one because of how clean it is," McGovern says. "The reductive nature, the levels of precision. In the details of the car there's a sense of order and discipline, every line is doing a job even if it is just to create a beautiful aesthetic.

"The car overall, give or take a few mil, is virtually the same size [as its predecessor] but it is subtly different: We've made the proportion even better than on the original by increasing the wheelbase slightly. We've given it bigger wheels to optimize that proportion, and the increase in the wheel base helps in terms of the rear package, you get slightly better ingress/egress and it gives you a better stance."

Because the vehicle (at first glance) looks so similar to the previous generation, one might suspect that the development team's workload was light. But in actuality, as JLR Chief Engineer Peter Bingham points out, "Within the body structure, the metalwork of the vehicle, the only pieces that carry over from the old car are the door hinges." Everything else is all-new. Most importantly, it's now capable of housing an electric powertrain, but "we didn't want to do that at the expense of the customer," Bingham explains, "so the batteries are underneath the floor of the car," creating space.

As one bonus of the rejiggered structure, more trunk space was gained. And on the ride quality front, the new cast-aluminum front subframe and shock towers increase stiffness, to better absorb impacts. The new engineering improvements also serve the design directly: "By increasing strength in those areas, that's allowed us to fit 21" wheels for the first time to Evoque," Bingham says. "That gives the car a great stance and the proportions that it has."

Fine, So 800,000 Customers Disagreed With Your Correspondent About the Roof

During the press event, I was of course waiting for McGovern to address the divisive design element that first irked me, the plunging roofline and rising beltline. McGovern reveals that he did indeed encounter resistance, but doubled down on his commitment to it during the design process: "I can remember having heated battles on the first Evoque, where people tried to get me to lift the roof--'We need to see'--Nope, because that's it's character, and sometimes to get character you have to compromise. Some people actually look better with a scar on their face, it gives them more character."

For their part, JLR's engineering team came up with a technological solution that removed the key UX criticism for the roofline. And what they developed became "my favorite feature," McGovern says. "When you look at it, falling roof, rising beltline, visual robustness and that little window in the back that you can't bloody see anything out of, we kept it. But these geniuses [the engineering group] found a way of being able to see much better out of the back. We call it ClearSight." Bingham and his group's ClearSight Rear View Mirror doubles as a camera-fed monitor, eliminating blind spots to provide a wide and completely unobstructed view, even if you've got passengers or cargo in the back. (Note: GM has a similar feature, which I recently demonstrated in the GMC Sierra review; GM and JLR's systems were developed independently).

Normal mirror view

ClearSight view

Animal-Free Alternatives to Leather

JLR's sustainability drive manifests not only in their electric initiative, but also in the materials science they're availing themselves of for the interior. While leather seats go hand-in-hand with luxury vehicles, one issue is that you have to kill some cows for the material. And while traditionalists can still order leather in the Evoque, the company is also offering animal-free alternatives using high-tech fabrics from natural and sustainable sources. One is a blend of wool and suedecloth that actually incorporates recycled plastic bottles; the other comes from natural fibers. Both are tested for stain- and abrasion-resistance, with the intention of rivaling or surpassing leather.

"I think in time, this will become the norm," McGovern says. "We're now seeing more and more people want [material alternatives with] non-animal by-products, and I think there's some beautiful materials that have the quality and the durability that leathers do. I'm not saying it's going to replace leather, but I think we're going to see more of that."

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

So what do all of these improvements mean for the all-important user experience of the car? To find out, Core77 joined a team of automotive journalists on a series of spirited test drives from Athens to the Peloponnesian peninsula and back. Over the course of the drives we covered every type of terrain, from paved highway to rocky off-road, from logging-style, gravel pathways freshly cut into mountainsides--terrifyingly, often without guardrails at perilous hairpins--to dirt-track farm roads best suited to the sure-footed goats that inhabited them.


The interior of the Evoque is almost shockingly modernist. The luxury feel comes not from a bunch of gaudy, glossy surfaces, but rather from the minimalism. If it didn't actually turn on when you pressed the Start button, you'd think it was the interior of a concept car, a buck for a sci-fi movie. There are wide, unbroken stretches of material, a marked lack of clutter, and a series of well-crafted surfaces that appear to have been slaved over. When you look closely at any of the transitions in the dash, the controls or the seating, you see what reads as high-tech craftsmanship.

My personal automotive experience is primarily with Japanese, German and American cars. The Evoque's interior does not read as either of those things; and having next to no experience with British cars I can't say if the interior is English, JLR, or McGovernish. But it is something I hadn't seen before.

Driving Performance

The engine performance is obviously going to vary depending on whether you choose the base turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder, or the variant of that engine with the 48-volt torque infill system (electric launch, essentially), or a hybrid- or all-electric version. Our test cars were fitted with the second variant on that list and the car was sufficiently peppy for spirited driving. (If the electric powerplants JLR eventually provides are anything like the ones in the I-Pace we previously tested, it will likely be "sufficiently Holy Shit for spirited driving.")


Maneuvering the car at slow speeds on crowded streets, and fitting it through tight spots, was easy; this would be a fantastic city car. At highway speeds the car handles well and feels like a larger car, meaning there is none of the unpleasant, jittery characteristics you may have experienced in, say, a budget compact rental car. It feels stable, well-planted and easy to control. The cabin is also surprisingly quiet. Overall, it feels and handles like a sporty luxury car.

One thing I didn't care for, is the lack of a feature that admittedly no luxury buyer desires these days, which is a manual transmission. I am biased; I hate automatics. In spirited driving through corners, the nine-speed automatic transmission often downshifted when I didn't want it to, and I don't like being surprised by gear changes. It's possible that if I owned the car long-term I'd master the automatic transmission's shift points with better throttle control on my part, but this was a short-term test.

Your correspondent is terrified of heights but yes, the route called for us to drive over this thing. It was a long way down.


During the first leg of our drive, when we were on paved roads, I saw this as the perfect city car; the suspension handles well on the highway, but is also well suited to swallow the bumpy cobblestones of SoHo, where I'd first seen one, and I figured that would be as far as it went.

As for the wilder portions of the routes, let me say: The Evoque was so ridiculously competent off-road, that it was almost confusing. The car's sure-footedness and overall offroad prowess was completely unexpected in what visually reads as a car designed for urban environments.

When we were navigating the decidedly un-urban, steep, unpaved, gravel-surfaced, twisty mountain roads with sheer drop-offs and no guardrails, the car's stability, predictability and 4WD inspired confidence. I saw more than a few of the other automotive journalists tackling these roads significantly faster than I'd be comfortable doing, so I'm gathering they found the same.

But it was after taking the car truly off-road that most impressed me. The route called for us to traverse a rocky riverbed, the type of obstacle that in a lesser car would have you reaching for your cell phone rather than the gear selector. But the Evoque crawled smoothly up and down the rocky terrain, confidently and relentlessly. At the low speeds required, the engine had more than enough torque to get us up and over improbably large rocks. And while we journalists were allowed to ford shallow bits of water, Bingham reveals that "the car can run through 600 millimeters or nearly two feet of water, which is deeper even than we used to advise for the old Defender."

The Evoque's ground clearance is 8.3 inches, comparable to a Subaru Outback. While that's not quite enough to tackle Defender-level rock climbs, the Evoque's 4WD system, along with well-considered angles of approach (25 degrees) and departure (30.6 degrees), mean you can put the car into situations I'd never dream of with most cars this size.

What most surprised me was the versatility; this car is undoubtedly aimed at the luxury market, so I wasn't expecting the off-road chops. "Under all of this it's still a Land Rover," Bingham said to us after the drive, "and as you found today, that means it's best-in-class off road."

I did wonder: Would any urbanite purchase the Evoque with the intent of truly letting it do its thing off-road, out in the wild? With a car this well-engineered it would be a crying shame not to. If I was stuck out in the rugged wilderness and with the keys to nothing but a nearby Evoque, I'd be glad I had one; I just can't imagine the situation that would put me there. I suppose that's a question for JLR's marketers to answer.


At a starting price of $42,500, the Evoque provides a strong-performing and relatively affordable entrée into the world of Range Rover. If the previous version performed half as well as the one we journalists drove, the car's high sales figures are no surprise. It's got the attention to design, it's got the attention to engineering, it's got the luxury.

The vehicle's versatility is astonishing. The car is well-suited and sized for the city, comfortable and zippy on two-lanes or the highway, and almost absurdly capable off-road; it's designed as if targeted towards a city dweller who doesn't want to get stuck after they flee into the wilderness to dodge an upcoming zombie apocalypse.

On top of that, the clean, minimalist design, along with the fit-and-finish, make it feel like a much more expensive car.

The Design Takeaway

McGovern took a bold risk with the design of the Evoque, doubling down in the face of resistance to see his vision through. Land Rover wisely backed him and as you've learned above, it paid off with numbers on the verge of shocking. What we didn't get to discuss much here are McGovern's design philosophies and disciplined approach to creating the Land Rover lineup. On this front, we'll have some excerpts from a chat with him coming up next.

This Ethereal Raincoat is Made Out of Algae-Based Plastic

Core 77 - Tue, 2019-05-21 10:46

While there's a lot of public discourse about where plastics go, not much attention is typically paid to where they come from. For interdisciplinary designer Charlotte McCurdy, who began researching the chemical processes of material production during her graduate studies at RISD, our focus on waste reduction and biodegradability is more of a "band-aid solution" that misses the larger connection between common plastics and climate change.

Most plastics today are made from fossil fuels, which are formed from the carbon-rich remains of prehistoric marine plants and algae that thrived on "ancient sunlight," as McCurdy puts it. Thinking about these materials as ancient sunlight raised a question for McCurdy: What would happen if we made them out of "present-tense sunlight"?

"If our materials were the product of photosynthesis happening now, not only could we reduce our dependence on ancient carbon, we could store our current carbon in our materials," she explains. "We have guilt about consumption. We've told each other that the moral thing to do is to reduce our consumption. Well, how's that going?" Instead of the endless guilt trips, McCurdy sees a better path forward through the development of materials that are actively helping combat climate change by metabolizing atmospheric carbon, such as plant matter.

"I envision a future where the buildings that shelter us and the shirts on our backs have a desirable impact on the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere and where individuals have re-engaged with the issue of climate change because they can touch it."

Her first experiments led her to develop a carbon-negative, algae-based plastic, which she was able to use to create a functional, ethereal raincoat that is now on display during Nature—the Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial. McCurdy's work draws on cutting-edge breakthroughs that are happening in the fields of biotechnology and catalytic chemistry, and as such much of her development process remains difficult to access. For the next part of her project, McCurdy, now a member of NEW INC, will be working on a book that sheds light on these breakthroughs and the companies and people who are innovating in the carbon-negative space.

"Last year solar electricity crossed the threshold of being cost competitive with conventional fuels after 60 years of research and development. We are at the very beginning of an analogous journey for materials innovation, but need the same kind of values-driven public support that buoyed solar to get these technologies to scale," she explains. "We're on the edge of a revolution but we don't yet have the vocabulary for it."

"After Ancient Sunlight" is on view as part of "Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial" through January 20, 2020.

Reader Submitted: A Floating Cutlery Set Designed for Good Hygiene

Core 77 - Tue, 2019-05-21 10:46

FLYDE (danish: "to flow") is a floating cutlery set consisting of a fork, a knife and a spoon. On many cutlery sets, the parts that are meant to touch the food as well as your mouth are often in contact with the table's surface. The idea of FLYDE is that the functional parts do not touch the table and remain hygienic. The asymmetric Design of the Fork and the Spoon evolved from the dynamic silhouette of the knife to create a consistent look of the set.

View the full project here

Design Job: Standard Issue is Seeking a Project Manager in Brooklyn, NY

Core 77 - Tue, 2019-05-21 10:46

Standard Issue is looking for a new project manager to join our growing team! We are a small design firm in Brooklyn working on graphic, branding, product and interior design projects. The Project Manager role will have you working closely with the partners and designers to provide clients with an outstanding experience.

View the full design job here

Better Batteries for Soldiers

Design News - Tue, 2019-05-21 05:00

The modern soldier goes into battle carrying anywhere from 120 to 200 pounds of gear and equipment. Aside from weapons, ammunition, and body armor, a US Army infantryman carries up to 20 pounds of batteries. The batteries power everything from night vision to radios, as well as newer technologies using smartphones, tablets, and GPS. The electrical power requirement today is approximately 12 watts, and this is expected to double by 2025.

While innovations such as wearable supercapacitors are being considered, researchers at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command's Army Research Laboratory (ARL), and the University of Maryland have recently demonstrated a higher capacity battery technology with the development of a new cathode chemistry. A higher capacity battery could provide more electrical energy while weighing the same as the batteries carried by today’s soldiers.

A new battery chemistry developed by the US Army opens the possibility to significantly increase the lithium-ion battery energy density while preserving safety due to the aqueous nature of the electrolyte. (Image source: ARL)

Water-Based Batteries

Completely free of transition metal and delivering unprecedented high capacity by reversibly storing Li-ion at high potential (~4.2 V), the finding opens a possibility to significantly increase the lithium-ion battery energy density while preserving safety due to the aqueous nature of the electrolyte, said Dr. Kang Xu, an ARL fellow and senior research chemist.

In contrast to non-aqueous lithium-ion batteries, aqueous Li-ion batteries are nonflammable and do not pose any significant risks of explosion, because of the water-based nature of their electrolyte. This is an advantage on the battlefield. "Such a high energy, safe and potentially flexible new battery will likely give the Soldiers what they need on the battlefield: reliable high energy source with robust tolerance against abuse," said XU in an ARL news release. "It is expected to significantly enhance the mobility and lethality of the Soldier while unburdening logistics requirements."

The new cathode builds upon their previous discoveries of the intrinsically safe "water-in-salt electrolytes (WiSE)" and the technique to stabilize graphite anodes in WiSE. The development of the novel cathode chemistry further extends available energy for aqueous batteries to a previously unachievable level.

According to the news release, “Leveraging the reversible halogen conversion and intercalation in a graphite structure enabled by a super-concentrated aqueous electrolyte, the authors demonstrated the full aqueous Li-ion batteries with excellent cycling stability and a projected energy density of 460 Wh/Kg (total mass of cathode and anode), which is comparable or even higher than state-of-the-art Li-ion batteries using transition metal oxide cathodes and flammable non-aqueous electrolytes.”

"This new cathode chemistry happens to be operating ideally in our previously-developed 'water-in-salt' aqueous electrolyte in Science in 2015, which makes it even more unique—it combines both high energy density of non-aqueous systems and high safety of aqueous systems," said Chongyin Yang, an assistant research scientist in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at College Park.


Cautiously Promising Results

The researchers tested the concept with a button cell configuration that is typically used in research labs. Therefore care must be taken in interpreting these findings—results from button cells don’t always scale up to usable batteries.  More research is needed to scale it up into a practical large-scale battery, Kang said.

"The energy output of water-based battery reported in this work is comparable to ones based on flammable organic liquids other than water, but is much safer," said researcher Chunsheng Wang, R.F. and F.R. Wright Distinguished Chair Professor in UMD's Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering and Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. "It gets about 25% extra the energy density of an ordinary cell phone battery. The new cathode is able to hold, per gram, 240 milliamps for an hour of operation, whereas the kind widely used cathode in cell phones, laptops, and tools (LiCoO2), provides only 120-140 milliamps each hour per gram."

Prior experiments with aqueous electrolyte lithium batteries have shown problems with short cycle life—ranging from 50-100 charge and discharge cycles. The ARL team has already exhibited a life of 150 reversible cycles and expects that to continue to improve with more research.

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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Lessons After the Failure of Anki Robotics

Design News - Tue, 2019-05-21 04:00
Anki's Vector (above) was created using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 212 , an SoC originally designed for mobile devices like smartphones. Vector was built (Image source: Anki Robotics) 

Anki Robotics, the company behind the popular consumer social robot Cozmo, and its successor, Vector, was shuttered and laid off its entire staff in late April. But while the company is no longer shipping products, the lessons learned from creating a consumer robot from a smartphone SoC are still valuable to any embedded engineer or developer.

Daniel Casner, a robotics systems engineer, and former senior hardware engineer at Anki, took the stage at the 2019 Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) in Boston to talk about the development of the company's flagship robots and the takeaways that can be gained for robotics and IoT developers.

Define What a Consumer Robot Is

Casner told the ESC audience that, first and foremost, Anki's strategy was to look at consumer robots as products in and of themselves and not platforms. “A lot of companies say they've created a consumer robot, but what they're really doing is releasing a platform and relying on third parties to create the worthwhile content,” he said. “People use the iPhone as as an example of why platforms are great. But remember when it was first realized there was no App Store. It relied entirely on a set of built-in apps.”

At the end of the day Casner said, as buzzword-y as it sounds, robots are IoT devices – albeit ones with more moving parts and interactions with the real world than others. For anyone that thinks otherwise, Casner argued there are quite a few similarities between robots and what are thought of as typical IoT devices: Both are spending a ton of time processing sensor data; they're network-connected devices; they're largely headless (having no direct user interface like a touchscreen) and largely unattended; they have a power envelope that differs from a typical smartphone; and they occupy a low-volume market relative to mobile.

Beware of Smartphone Assumptions

While many chip vendors are beginning to open up IoT divisions to service these smaller markets with chips usually reserved toward mobile products, Casner said there are pitfalls and challenge for developers looking to leverage smartphone SoCs, particularly with robotics.

Smartphone SoCs come with packed-in assumptions that Casner noted can lead robotics engineers into trouble:

First, “they assume there will be a display connected to a display peripheral and that activity revolves around user interaction,” he said. However, robots like Cozmo and Vector have no direct user interaction, and instead rely on voice control or commands from an external controller (in Anki's case it was the user's smartphone).

Thermal dissipation was another issue that was a larger problem than anticipated, particularly with the more high-powered Vector robot, Casner said. “Mobile SoC's assume they can be pressed against the back of a screen and the screen will dissipate heat,” he said. Without a screen there's nothing to account for the extra heat.

Mobile SoCs are also geared more toward low duty cycles – you wake the device up to handle a command, it handles it, then goes back to sleep. Robots on the other hand, often need to always be on and monitoring.

Tied into this, Casner said are assumptions around the sensors connected to mobile SoCs. Many mobile SoC's only support two cameras, for example (one for the front of the phone, and one for the back). Robotics needs more. Vector uses four cameras, for instance.

In the smartphone SoC world, sensors are for user interaction, taking better pictures, and a few health and fitness applications, Casner said.

There are also challenges around the user and content security model to overcome. “If you want to encrypt the disk [on a smartphone] you can rely on user to enter a password,” Casner said. “But you can't do that with a headless, unattended device – you're not going to enter a password on your thermostat every time your power goes off.” He also noted that TrustZone is a form of DRM, more concerned with the security of content than anything else. “If you're not watching Netflix on your robot it's not helping,” he said.


Choose Your Operating System Wisely

Casner joked to the audience that he and the Anki teamed “tried every operating system so you don't have to.” Anki eventually settled on Embedded (Yocto) Linux for its robots, but getting there involved a lot of trial and error to find the right OS to fit its needs.

He outlined the pros and cons of several popular options for IoT devices and consumer robots:


“Smartphones run Android and Soc's are made for Android,” Casner said. Silicon vendors put Android first and QA testing is done on Android.

But Android hasn't been very successful outside of smartphones (anyone remember the Ouya gaming console?). Even products like tablets and TVs haven't been able to successfully or satisfactorily implement Android. “[Android] has never caught on in a big way... it's pretty much just for cellphones,” Casner said.

Android also works on a interactivity-based power model that may not be suitable for most robots. The OS also has comparatively low reliability and relies on the user to fix errors such as a lost WiFi signal. And since the OS is designed very much around the roughly two-year lifecycle of cellphones, there's no need for its developers to tackle certain issues that could be critical in robotics applications.

Android is also all about apps, which flies in the face of Anki's “robot as a product” ethos.

Android Things

Android Things is the IoT adapation of Android. But Casner said it was “not mature enough when we tried it.

“[Android Things] is still fundamentally headed – even if you're using it to build a headless devices it's still rendering the Android logo on a screen all the time in the background.”

While the OS is intended for companies that want to built hardware but not write a lot of software, Anki ultimately decided Android Things was too much overhead and not enough payoff. “And additionally, to make it work we needed support from the vendor that just wasn't there,” Casner said.


Brillo is the OS developed for Google's OnHub router (“Another product too early for its time,” Casner said). Brillo was a pre-Android Things attempt to make an IoT Os out of Android. But in doing so Casner said they threw the baby out with the bath water.

“ What they ended up with was a Linux OS with a really weird C/C++-based user space that no one really knows how to program for.” Brillo ended up with a huge learning curve and was never officially released.

Firefox OS, SilkOS, and Chromium OS

Other options like Firefox OS and SilkOS lacked support or were officially discontinued (support from the open-source community not withstanding). And while the Anki team was able to use Chromium OS as a reference for building other mechanisms, the actual Chromium OS library, libchrome, proved to be too large to fit on their devices. “Unless you're building a Chromebook, Chromium is probably too heavy for you,” Casner said.

Anki eventually found its solution in Embedded (Yocto) Linux, a Linux build intended for headless and unattended devices. Yocto has also been gaining traction among the IoT groups of silicon vendors. Casner said the Anki team found Yocto to have an easier learning curve than Android, was more practically open source than Android, and it was built around the idea of replaceable pieces.

A video from Anki outilnes some of the hardware specs of Vector.

Embrace Mobile SoCs...And Their Challenges

Casner was optimistic however that future robotics developers won't have to go through many of the same pain points as Anki. “The ecosystem is changing,” he said. “We started down this path two years ago and a lot has changed in that time. Silicon vendors are targeting IoT and edge computing more and more. [IoT] doesn't have the volume mobile has, but vendors think it's going to and they're starting up IoT business units.”

Those same vendors are also starting to realize Android is not appropriate for IoT and are adding embedded Linux support into their SoCs, he added. “There's starting to be a few targeted IoT chips, but it's not a priority for R&D, and there's nothing specifically for robotics.”

Given that, Casner believes mobile chips will still probably be a cheaper option for developers simply because the volume of mobile drives the price down. He recommends engineers go for mobile over purpose-built, even when dealing with sensors.

He also advises repurposing peripherals. He cited the GPU as a prime example. In a smartphone the GPU is there for games and 3D textures, but it a robot it can be leveraged for artificial intelligence computing applications.

All said, Casner believes the best way to deal with these challenges is to accept them and be prepared. An unattended devices is even harder than a headless one, and a robot combines the two. How do you handle errors, diagnostics, and reporting, for example,z on a device with no user interface that has to function on it's own? “Embedded software is hard,” Casner said. “Most likely if you're designing a robot or IoT device nobody is solving your problem...you have to think outside of the box.”

For more on Anki Robotics read our feature article that delves furhter into the development of its Vector and Cozmo robots.

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

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This Hotel Lobby Features the Sweet Sounds of Microsoft's Custom Vision API

Core 77 - Mon, 2019-05-20 09:45

Sister City, a new hotel in NYC designed by Atelier Ace, is quickly becoming known for their efficiently sized yet lavishly decorated rooms, which feature Italian cherry-wood accents, custom terrazzo vanities, and beloved furnishings like Noguchi lamps. But the sounds that greet visitors when entering the lobby might not sound familiar. Instead of hitting play on an elevator music playlist on Spotify, the hotel instead relinquished the metaphorical aux cord to Microsoft's Custom Vision API.

The generative lobby soundtrack was created in collaboration between Microsoft's AI system and experimental musician Julianna Barwick. Barwick created a composition based on movements captured by a camera atop Sister City's roof, such as pigeons or airplanes passing by, sunrise, sunset and rain. Microsoft's AI has been trained to ID various objects or incidents and match them with specific loops and sounds composed by Barwick. It is an ever-evolving audio experience that reacts to its active urban surroundings, or as Barwick describes, "infinite and evergreen."

Keeping with the evolutionary theme of the first soundtrack, Sister City has decided to keep partnering with Microsoft to develop ongoing collaborations with musicians for future lobby scores. During NYCxDesign, we recommend visiting the space to grab a drink and listen to the sweet sounds of AI-interpreted music.

The First 3D-Printed Neighborhood Will Be Built This Summer

Core 77 - Mon, 2019-05-20 09:45

In partnership with Austin–based construction technologies company ICON, and nonprofit New Story, Yves Béhar has revealed plans to build the world's first 3D-printed community this summer in a yet-to-be-disclosed, semi-rural location in Latin America. The ambitious project plans to provide homes for over 50 families.

Images of ICON's proof of concept home in Austin (courtesy of ICON)

The project adapted ICON's $4,000 3D-printed home—which debuted during SXSW in 2018—through a variety of community workshops. "As we spoke to the community members, we realized that a single house design doesn't respond to the needs and expectations. This led us to design a system that allows for different programs, climate factors, and growth for families and spaces," noted Béhar. The community is said to be comprised mainly of farmers and palm weavers of varying ages, who often live in multigenerational homes and typically on less than $200 per month.

The designs feature outdoor kitchens and space for residents to keep chickens and gardens. Inside, an open living space with a clerestory is a response to the tropical climate and designed to maximize ventilation. 3D-printing allows for lots of built-in elements such as counters in the kitchen and bathroom, seating, shelves and ledges in the walls and embedded structural hooks for closets, storage, and clotheslines. Each lot is 1,300 square feet, while the living space adds up to approximately 600 square feet.

"We've created options and areas for customization that families can choose from to help them personalize their homes, feel a sense of ownership, community, and security," Béhar added. One such tweak would be adding a tint to the concrete to allow for different color walls and a diverse feel once the community is complete. "The design and technology also allow the home to adapt to the local environmental conditions such as climate and seismic activity with simple enhancements to the base structure, by incorporating additional reinforcement into the wall cavities and using the walls themselves to resist lateral movement."

Working off of their prototype in Austin, ICON developed the portable printer that will build the homes out of local concrete. The device is engineered to work in remote areas that may lack access to water, power, and labor infrastructure. Once things get off the ground, they're expected to move quickly—each home can be printed in just 24 hours with nearly zero waste.

What are Elastomers, and How Can They Improve Your Manufacturing Process?

Core 77 - Mon, 2019-05-20 09:45
Elastomers: what you need to know

With 3D printing came a revolution in manufacturing and industrial design, underpinned by dramatic developments in printing materials. One material that has provided proved material innovation is the elastomer, which gives users the ability to 3D print flexible parts to meet their prototyping needs.

What is elastomer?

The name elastomer comes from the term 'elastic polymer'. An elastomer is a rubbery material composed of long chainlike molecules—polymers. Elastomer is often used interchangeably with the word 'rubber' because both are similarly flexible and elastic. The key difference between elastomers and rigid polymers, though, is resilience. A rigid polymer will yield, deform, or even break if forced to stretch, bend, or compress. By contrast, an elastomer will simply stretch or compress before returning to its original shape.

How does elastomer work?

When we take a microscope to an elastomer, we can see it's made up of various crosslinks between the polymer chains. These links tell the material how much to stretch before going back to their original form.

Under normal conditions, the long molecules of the elastomer are coiled in an irregular configuration. But when the molecules are stretched, they straighten in the direction the force is being applied. When the elastomer is released, the molecules return to their original configuration straight away. This gives the material a flexible but rigid quality, allowing it to be used in a host of different ways.

What is elastomer used for?

Elastomers are all around us—the global elastomer raw material market is worth over $20 billion. And there are more than 20 different types of elastomer, including natural and synthetic varieties.

Almost half of that market is accounted for in the transportation industry. A further 14% is wheels and tires for various uses, followed by 9% in both construction and, perhaps surprisingly, footwear. That gives you a glimpse into how prevalent this material could be in your day-to-day life.

A few objects that elastomers can help manufacture include:

• Belts

• Balloons

• Floor mats

• Gloves

• Hoses and tubes

• Pencil erasers

• Rubber bands

• Seals and gaskets

• Toothbrushes

What is the best type of elastomer for 3D printing?

Elastomers are already widely used across different industries and manufacturing techniques, and they are developing all the time. One of the latest improvements is Stratasys' durable elastomer TPU 92A—a thermoplastic polyurethane with a shore value of 92A.

TPU is renowned for high elongation, superior toughness, and extreme durability. This makes TPU 92A ideal for 3D printing, working equally well across functional or ergonomic prototyping, and end-use parts.

What is 'shore value'?

Shore value is a way of describing a material's hardness or softness, ranging from rubber bands to tire treads, shoe heels and all the way to rubber casters. Around that point on the scale is where TPU 92A sits.

Parts in this range have outstanding tear resistance, fatigue resistance, memory, and recovery compared to softer shore elastomers. This makes TPU 92A especially suited to prototyping high functioning, durable elastomeric parts.

Over 30,000 hours of testing have helped create 3D printing materials that outperform expectations

Is shore value the only factor to consider?

Not quite. Material is important—and TPU 29A has tested well against the competition, ranking two times better in key properties such as size, hardness, elongation, tensile strength, and tear strength.

However, the material alone does not give you the complete picture: you will need to be equally careful in selecting a printer that makes the most of your elastomer material.

Many low-cost 3D printers can print versions of flexible materials, however they rarely do so efficiently or accurately. And forget support removal; it's a complex and hands on process. To get the complete picture, you need to interrogate performance of the printed part, the printer's ability to produce large and complex parts, and the overall cost per part once labor and accuracy have been considered.

The freedom to go large and complex

The most common complaint about systems that print elastomers is a toss-up between small build volume or slow print speeds—it can take a long time to print even the smallest and simplest of parts.

With TPU 92A and a F123 Series Stratasys printer—F170, F270 or F370 models —you can create large parts and overhangs and incorporate cavities and complex geometries. Best of all, you can do it accurately and repeatably.

The mark of a good quality printer is its ability to retain the best properties of the elastomer material in the final part. How will your part perform as it is stretched and compressed? In tests, elastomer parts produced using Stratasys printers elongate to 500%; the nearest competitor failed at 350%.

FDM TPU 92A eliminates expensive and time-consuming molding or casting methods to produce elastomer parts

Considering cost per part

It seems natural that a cheaper material would lead to a lower total cost per part. However, the reality is a little more complex, especially when it comes to removing supports that hold the material in place.

Removing supports by hand is intricate, labor-intensive work, and it sometimes results in a damaged part. It can take up to an hour to remove a simple part by hand, which means additional labor costs of around $50. For a complex part, that rises to $65.

Stratasys' printers have soluble support—which means you don't need to spend that time and money removing the support. The support simply dissolves to release your printed part, which can reduce labor costs by up to 76%—saving you money on every single part.

Elastomer: the future of design

3D printing should free you from design constraints, not add restrictions. With TPU 29A and Stratasys' printers, you can reduce your prototype-to-production cycle and print more complex parts, more reliably—all for a lower total cost-per-part. This is a new world of design freedom.

Find out more about Stratasys TPU 92A here.

Reader Submitted: A Student-Designed Urban Instrument Takes Over Times Square During NYCxDesign

Core 77 - Mon, 2019-05-20 09:45

Project Hurrah! is an urban musical instrument designed by Karol Murlak, Danielle Begnaud, Kasia Michnowska, and Marzena Krupa. This playful and interactive installation is a celebration of the hundredth anniversary of diplomatic relations between Poland and the United States.
The installation takes the form of a large-scale xylophone composed of stainless steel vertical tubes. When tapped consecutively with a drumstick, the tubes play the Polish birthday and anniversary song, Sto Lat. Users don't need to have any previous musical knowledge to experience the joy of playing music. The tune, known to every Pole and some Americans, recalls universal themes of fun, friendship, and love.

Credit: Guillermo Hernandez MartinezCredit: Guillermo Hernandez MartinezCredit: Guillermo Hernandez MartinezCredit: Guillermo Hernandez MartinezCredit: Guillermo Hernandez MartinezCredit: Guillermo Hernandez MartinezCredit: Guillermo Hernandez MartinezCredit: Guillermo Hernandez MartinezCredit: Guillermo Hernandez MartinezCredit: Guillermo Hernandez MartinezView the full project here