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Design Job: Don't Sleep on This Opportunity! Astro Studios Is Seeking a Senior Graphic Designer in San Francisco, Ca

Core 77 - Sun, 2019-03-17 15:27

Our goal at ASTRO as a design studio is to bridge the gap that exists between people culture and technology by designing meaningful products, brands and experiences that improve the human experience. Rooted in design empowerment, User Experience is the fabric that knits together our multidisciplinary practice. We collaborate with

View the full design job here

At SXSW, New Dutch Wave Presents an Optimistic View of the Future

Core 77 - Sun, 2019-03-17 15:27

For the third year in a row, a selection of top Dutch designers are representing the Netherlands at SXSW in Austin. New Dutch Wave brings together six cross-disciplinary innovators who are thinking through some of the world's biggest issues and presenting new ways forward. They all seem to ask the question: "If not now then when?" The selected designers (including our very own Dave Hakkens) were chosen based on the following criteria: impact, innovation, experiment, and originality. Some, like Hakkens, will be expanding on existing projects, while others will debut new work at SXSW. Read on to find out more about three of the projects.

Urban Safety Kit by Bas Timmer

Bas Timmer was inspired to create the Sheltersuit—a coat that doubles as a sleeping bag—after his friend's father was turned away from a maxed-out shelter and ended up dying of hypothermia on the streets. He used sleeping bags gathered from the aftermath of music festivals to create the first samples and launched Sheltersuit in 2014. Since then, Timmer has distributed 5,100 coats to refugees and homeless people around the world and picked up the Dutch Design Award in 2017 and the German Design Award in 2018.

In addition to being wind and water-proof, the Sheltersuit is insulated and comes with a hood, an integrated scarf, and large pockets. The bottom portion zips on and off to give the wearer mobility and a seamless transition between the coat's two functions. The suit also comes with a backpack that can be used to store the coat/sleeping bag as needed.

At SXSW, Timmer is introducing the latest evolution of his project: an Urban Safety Kit comprising the tools one would need to ensure their safety on the street: access to medical help, protection from violence, and connectivity. With support from various industry and research partners, Timmer has developed a prototype that embeds smart technology to tackle these issues. He's added sensors that pick up heart rate and body temperature and emit alarms if hypothermia is detected, as well as a proximity alert sensor that will react if a person is robbed, or worse. Timmer also integrated solar panels into his latest design which will allow wearers to charge their devices and remain connected to society.

Precious Plastic by Dave Hakkens

You're probably already familiar with Dave Hakkens' long-term project Precious Plastics. A few years ago the Dutch designer and Core77 contributor decided to take a grass-roots approach to the complicated process of large-scale recycling and developed simplified, DIY versions of industrial recycling machines that anyone could replicate. Maker spaces, workshops, and designers around the world have used the open-source instructions to build their own tools, recycle plastic and manufacture new plastic products on their own.

Fundamentally a project about social engagement, Hakkens continues his movement at SXSW in a workshop developed alongside Andre Amaro. Together with 25 students from Texas University, they will pick up plastic waste around Austin's Waller Creek and immediately turn it into various one-of-a-kind products that will be available for sale.

KozieWe and KozieMe by Tom Kortbeek and Roos Meerman

The KozieWe is an interactive wall tapestry that reacts to motion and allows users to generate their own musical compositions. When you touch the wall, you'll hear an instrument playing. If another person starts interacting with it, another instrument will be heard, and so on. Tapping into research that shows a link between music, sound, and the recovery of memory, KozieWe has been used to help dementia patients living at home and in care facilities. The sounds can be personalized to better suit individuals. For example, a soundtrack of forest sounds might help a nature lover reconnect with those memories.

Whereas the KozieWe was designed to foster connections between multiple people, Kortbeek and Meerman's latest design, the KozieMe, is more intimate. Inspired by research into multi-sensory environments, the design is a simple plush pillow with built-in speakers that are activated by touch. Highly intuitive, it has an SD card slot so it can be customized with personal messages.

March 12 is Dutch Design Day at SXSW and participating designers will host a full day of events, including lectures and performances.

Reader Submitted: What if Google Assistants Used More than Voice to Communicate?

Core 77 - Sun, 2019-03-17 15:27

Conventional smart speakers work with voice and allow a conversation with the user. However, Those products have limitations since they are only using voice to communicate and exchange information.

Our idea of 'visible artificial intelligence' takes a step further into shaping our relationship with products that surrounds us. It uses Google's artificial intelligence, speech recognition and space recognition technology.

Google Visual Assistant is a new 'AI projector' concept that combines sound and visual information to create new possibilities.

View the full project here

Tesla's New Model Y Is More Like a Car Than SUV

Design News - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:11

With a low center of gravity and a low drag coefficient, the Model Y will be more car-like than many existing SUVs. (Image source: Tesla, Inc.)

Tesla, Inc. CEO Elon Musk showed off the next piece of his plan to bring electric vehicles to the mainstream, unveiling the Model Y battery-powered crossover at the company’s design center in Hawthorne, California.

The Model Y, essentially a taller hatchback version of the Model 3 sedan, is considered by many to be an important step for Tesla because it provides the larger form factor desired by broader swath of today’s consumers. “It has the functionality of an SUV but it will ride like a sports car,” Musk told a cheering audience of enthusiasts on Thursday. “This thing will be really tight in corners. We expect it will be the safest mid-sized SUV in the world.”

Musk suggested the vehicle would have a low center of gravity, unusual among sport utility vehicles, which typically ride high. He also claimed it would have an extremely low drag coefficient of 0.23, enabling it to slip through the wind with greater efficiency.

During a brief on-stage appearance, Musk explained that a version of the Model Y with a 300-mile all-electric range would reach the market in fall of 2020, and a shorter-range version (230 miles) would arrive in spring of 2021. The long-range version would start at $47,000, while the shorter-range would have a $39,000 price tag, he said.

Referring to the company’s product portfolio designations, which will now contain an S, 3, X, and Y, Musk told supporters, “We are bringing sexy back, quite literally.”

Industry analysts were careful in their praise of the vehicle. “This could be their most profitable model, particularly if Tesla doesn’t fall into the traps it fell into with earlier models,” Mike Ramsey, senior director and analyst for Gartner, Inc., told Design News. “It doesn’t appear to be overly complex. And the deadlines for production, while not totally realistic, are not completely bonkers the way they were for the Model 3.”

The Tesla Model 3, which is now the country’s biggest-selling electric car, was plagued by numerous delays before it finally creeped into production in July, 2017.

Given the current consumer desire for SUVs and pickup trucks, the Model Y is taking a sensible direction, noted Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst for Navigant Research. “In retrospect, this is the vehicle Tesla should have built first, before the Model 3,” Abuelsamid told us.

The Model Y most likely would go head to head with European electric SUVs, such as the Jaguar I-Pace and the Audi e-Tron Sportback, which is expected to hit the market later this year. But it is smaller and more car-like than some of the conventional gasoline-based SUVs, such as the Toyota RAV4 or the Honda CR-V, analysts said.


The question now is where Tesla will build the Model Y. Musk suggested in January that it would be produced in the company’s Gigafactory near Reno, NV. But the Gigafactory to date has been set up only for production of batteries and drive units. As a result, Tesla would need to install a body shop, paint shop, and other types of transfer lines. Such facilities could run into the billions of dollars, which might be difficult for Tesla to raise in its current state.

In that sense, the Model Y may depend heavily on the success of the Model 3, which has posted lower sales in the first quarter of 2019, Abuelsamid said. “If demand for the Model 3 stays low, then Tesla will struggle to reach profitability and positive cash flow,” he told us. “And that would make it harder for them to build the Model Y.”

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.


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

'Meta-Crystals' Make Materials Tougher and Lighter

Design News - Fri, 2019-03-15 07:00

A group of UK-based researchers has found a way to create more damage-tolerant architected materials by mimicking the more irregular microscale crystalline structure in strong metal alloys. The breakthrough could give way to materials with entirely new properties such as greater strength, lighter weight, and resistance to damage from material stress.

In materials science, mimicking nature in the form of architected materials can often yield improved results such as more strength and lighter weights. Typical architected materials are constructed from “unit cells” that are arranged so they all have the same orientation, like a grid with repeating nodes and struts (similar to the arrangement of a metallic single crystal: the nodes in the lattice are equivalent to the atoms in the single crystal, and the struts are equivalent to the atomic bonds).

Lightweight and damage-tolerant materials inspired by crystal structures for a low-carbon future. (Source: Dr. Minh-Son Pham, Imperial College London)

While this type of single-crystal material is ideal for high-temperature applications, it’s not so good for resisting mechanical stress. When the material is overloaded, localized bands of high stress can occur (“shear bands”) that result in highly localized deformations of the material in the form of cracks, ultimately leading to a collapse.

The team’s research report, “Damage-Tolerant Architected Materials Inspired by Crystal Microstructure,” was published in the January 7, 2019 edition of the journal Nature.

Mimicking the Crystal Microstructures of Metal

The crystal lattices of metal alloys are unique structures. At the atomic level, they consist of unit cells of the same type and orientation, but housed in many domains, each of which contains a lattice orientation that’s different from the orientation of nearby domains (unlike in single crystal arrangements). Researchers from the Department of Materials at Imperial College London and the University of Sheffield have found a way to mimic the crystal microstructure of metals and alloys on a macroscopic scale by constructing a lattice unit cell that consists of an ordered arrangement of nodes connected by struts.

Using a computer-aided design package, the team was then able to 3D print the “meta-crystal” material, resulting in samples more resistant to cracking and bending than typical materials, but also stronger and lighter. The team found that it could increase the strength of the meta-crystals by reducing the size of each grain-like lattice region within the structure. The materials could also be created in a way that directs damage along specific, predetermined structural paths to minimize and halt damage.

“We’re aiming for high strength and lightweight materials and an ability to control damage in a desired manner, and even direct damage to a specific location we want it to be, then arrest the damage by some mechanical mechanisms,” Dr. Minh-Son Pham, assistant professor in the department of materials at Imperial College London, told Design News.

The technique could be used to create parts and components of multi-functional materials with desired properties that could, for example, decrease the weight and increase the fuel efficiency of vehicles without sacrificing safety, or orthopedic devices that eliminate the stress-shielding problem and enable better rehealing of bones. Other applications could include artificial hips, sports helmets, better crumple zone in vehicles, fan blades in aeroengines or turbine blades.

Crystal Lattice Architecture Strengthens Materials Many Times Over

For the purpose of the research, the team created samples using fused deposition modelling, vat-polymerization and powder-bed fusion. To date, the researchers have printed three types of polymers, as well as metals including 316L steel and Ti6Al4V. In principle, printed lattices can be created with a wide variety of materials, including tungsten, nickel alloys and even bio-materials. Essentially, if it’s printable, the crystal lattice approach can be used on it to increase the strength of architected materials many times over. Dr. Pham told Design News that it’s not only about an increase in strength, but also to control any damage to a part by tailoring the lattice orientation.

“The “orderness” (lattices) varies from domain to domain; but within a domain, the lattice orientation is uniform, or poly-oriented. We are developing a computational platform to achieve the optimal strength for poly-oriented lattices,” said Dr. Pham.

For now, the technique is a promising way to create complex and customized components that don’t need to be produced in mass, but have high added value, such as medical devices or expensive parts for aircraft. The team also believes the new approach to creating crystalline metallic alloys will lead to new experimental and computational research to improve understanding of the possibilities afforded by varying both the intrinsic microstructure and the designed mesostructure of meta-crystals.

“This approach will offer a unique way to realize the full potential of 3D printing,” said Dr. Pham.


Going forward, the researchers hope to use the technique to develop a new class of materials that are lightweight, mechanically robust, and smart. 

Tracey Schelmetic graduated from Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. and began her long career as a technology and science writer and editor at Appleton & Lange. Later, as the editorial director of telecom trade journal Customer Interaction Solutions (today Customer magazine), she became a well-recognized voice in the contact center industry. Today, she is a freelance writer specializing in manufacturing and technology, telecommunications, and enterprise software.


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

Design Job: Chill Out: YETI Coolers is Seeking a Senior Industrial Designer in Austin, TX

Core 77 - Thu, 2019-03-14 14:04

At YETI, we believe that time spent outdoors matters more than ever and our gear can make that time extraordinary. When you work here, you’ll have the opportunity to create exceptional, meaningful work and problem solve with innovative team members by your side. Together, you’ll help our customers get the

View the full design job here

Celebrate International Women's Day with Our 'Designing Women' Series

Core 77 - Thu, 2019-03-14 14:04

Without resorting to Google, how many 20th-century female industrial designers can you name? We're hoping that most of our readers have no trouble thinking of Ray Eames, Florence Knoll, Eileen Gray, Charlotte Perriand, Eva Zeisel and perhaps a few others. But we're guessing that very few of you came up with more than six or seven names total. Not that we did a lot better ourselves—the unfortunate truth is that women designers' contributions to the field just haven't gotten much exposure and cele

View the full content here

Reader Submitted: A Floating Tea Infuser that Gives Your Tea Bags a Second Life

Core 77 - Thu, 2019-03-14 14:04

Fill the Lippa with your favorite tea leaves and let it float in your cup. When your tea is ready, just lift Lippa from your cup and turn it upside down on the table. Lippa catches the drips. When you want a second brew, just re-fill your cup with hot water and re-insert the tea infuser. No more wasted leaves and tea bags.

View the full project here

Pi Day: Google Employee Breaks Calculation Record – and Other Pi Stories

Design News - Thu, 2019-03-14 13:45

The Pi symbol is represented in a mosaic outside the Mathematics Building at the Technical University of Berlin. (Source: Technical University of Berlin)

Today Google announced that its employee, Emma Haruka Iwao, has calculated Pi out to 31.4 trillion. The Guinness World Records certified Iwao’s calculation on Wednesday. The record makes her the third woman to set a world record for calculating Pi. The previous world record was set by Peter Trueb in 2016 with 24.6 trillion.

Emma Haruka Iwao, a Japan-based developer advocate with Google, set a world record for the longest calculation of Pi, reaching more than 31 trillion decimal places. (Source: Google)

Welcome to Pi Day. March 14 – or 3/14 – signifies Pi, which is the mathematical constant that bears out the relationship between a circle’s circumference and it diameter. It is also called Archimedes Constant. Pi is an irrational number, never settling into a repeating pattern.

The symbol for Pi comes from the lowercase Greek letter that is the first letter of the Greek word perimetros, meaning circumference.

The Roots of Pi Day

1988 is the earliest known official or large-scale celebration of Pi Day. The event was organized by Larry Shaw at the San Francisco Exploratorium where Shaw worked as a physicist. Shaw, the Exploratorium staff, and a few Pi fans, marched around one of its circular spaces while consuming fruit pies. The Exploratorium continues to hold Pi Day celebrations each year on March 14.

On March 12, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution (111 H. Res. 224) that recognizes March 14, 2009 as National Pi Day.

There is also a Pi Approximation Day is observed on July 22 (22/7 in the day/month format), since the fraction ​22⁄7 is a common approximation of π, which is accurate to two decimal places and dates from Archimedes.

Interestingly, March 14 is also the birthday of Albert Einstein. Many tech universities – including Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Princeton – hold celebrations to honor both Pi and Einstein. The main feature of the celebrations – of course – is the consumption if pie.

Odd Facts about Pi

According to the Guinness World Records, the record for the most digits of Pi memorized goes to Rajveer Meena of Vellore, India, who recited 70,000 decimal places of Pi on March 21, 2015. Previously, Chao Lu of China held the record set in 2005 for reciting Pi from memory to 67,890 places.

The Great Pyramid at Giza seems to approximate Pi. The vertical height of the pyramid has the same relationship to the perimeter of its base as the radius of a circle has to its circumference.

During the O.J. Simpson trial, defense attorney Robert Blasier questioned an FBI agent about the actual value of Pi. He was trying to discredit the agent based on the agent’s faulty understanding of Pi.

And finally, what do you get if you divide the circumference of a jack-o'-lantern by its diameter? Pumpkin Pi.


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.


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

Study: Partnerships Will be Key to Autonomous Vehicle Development

Design News - Thu, 2019-03-14 08:00

A new study names Waymo, GM, and Ford as the top companies in autonomous car development, citing partnerships as a key reason for their early success.

The Automated Driving Vehicles Leaderboard from Navigant Research contends that partnerships will be important going forward, given the long-term commitment needed to put self-driving technology on public roads. “With the exception of Tesla, automakers are recognizing that it’s going to take longer than they thought to get this technology really robust and widely deployed,” noted Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst and leader of the Navigant study. “The development costs are high and the near-term returns are going to be lower than what they expected two or three years ago. So they’re trying to figure out, ‘How can we spread out our costs and get more scale while we make sure this technology is going to work?’”

Waymo, GM Cruise and Ford Autonomous Vehicles were named one, two, and three in Navigant’s autonomous vehicle study. (Image source: Navigant Research)

The study cited Waymo LLC (formerly known as the Google self-driving car project) as the autonomous vehicle leader, based on technical strategy and execution. It named GM Cruise and Ford Autonomous Vehicles as second and third, respectively. Other high scorers were Aptiv, Intel-Mobileye, Volkswagen Group, and Daimler-Bosch.

The leaderboard ranks companies on ten different automated driving criteria. Those include strategic vision, go-to-market planning, technology, production strategy, sales and marketing, product capability, product quality, product portfolio, staying power, and partnerships.

This year, the importance of partnerships became more evident, as manufacturers continued to forge bonds with competitors and suppliers. The study credited Waymo for teaming with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Jaguar Land Rover, as well as with Walmart, Avis, and others. Similarly, it cited GM for its acquisition of Cruise Automation and for its partnerships with Softbank, Honda, and DoorDash. It also gave Ford high marks for teaming with Argo AI, Lyft, and Postmates, as well as for entering talks of a possible partnership with Volkswagen.

Companies with weaker partner bonds, such as Tesla, Inc. and Apple, landed farther down in the study’s rankings.

A Long Road Ahead

Abuelsamid told Design News that many of the biggest players are now coming to a realization that the self-driving task will be more complex than was earlier thought. The concept of a completely autonomous, SAE Level 5 vehicle, able to drive anywhere under any conditions, is now being seen as a longer-term project, he said. “It’s proving to be problematic to get these things to operate reliably, for example, in poor weather conditions or outside urban areas,” he told us.

Abuelsamid added that the near-term scenario being discussed more often now is a Level 4 vehicle that operates in a “geo-fenced” area, and only under prescribed weather conditions. Level 5 cars that can go anywhere, anytime, are now being considered by many automakers in terms of a 2030 timeframe, or even later.

That viewpoint contrasts sharply with those expressed by automakers only a few years ago. Many predicted Level 5 cars would emerge in 2025, or even earlier. As recently as a few weeks ago, Tesla CEO Elon Musk predicted that his company would produce a completely autonomous car in 2020.

Partnerships would benefit automakers if those longer development schedules come to pass, Abuelsamid said. They would not only help manufacturers spread costs, they would aid in technology development, he told us. Increasingly, he said, automakers are realizing they will need multiple computers and multiple software stacks to compete with each other and check each other’s work.

“If one algorithm is not recognizing a person standing on the curb, and another one is recognizing it, then you know there’s an issue that has to be addressed,” he said. “Partnerships allow them to combine what they’re doing, without having to develop a separate software stack to run against the primary one.”


Abuelsamid said that in addition to Waymo, GM and Ford, many other contenders are now developing such partnerships. He cited Toyota’s partnership with Uber, Aptiv’s with NuTonomy, Intel’s with BMW and Fiat Chrysler, and Daimler’s with Bosch.

Still, all of the top 20 manufacturers on the Navigant list have developed formidable technology, Abuelsamid said. He noted that there are now more than 100 manufacturers creating autonomous vehicle systems worldwide, and more than 50 in California alone. “Just to be on the list shows some potential,” he said.  

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.


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

3 Challenges Collaborative Robots Need to Overcome

Design News - Thu, 2019-03-14 07:00

Over the past few years, the world of small robots has expanded considerably. Robots have become affordable for smaller manufacturers. The result is that robots are getting incorporated into the production space with human workers. This is raising safety issues. Standards are getting developed to ensure the safety of workers who interact with robots – or cobots – that are now outside traditional robot cages.

The collaborative robot market will grow, which will fuel a need for workers who can build, train, and maintain these machines. (Image source: TUV Rheinland)

We’re also seeing robots getting connected in industrial IoT. That results in robots interacting with plant machinery and sending data that indicates the operation health of the robot. This connectivity prompts new needs for cybersecurity. Start-ups entering this new world of robotics need to ensure their products are designed with safety and security functionality.

Design News caught up with Ryan Braman, test engineering manager at TUV Rheinland, to find out what he expects to see in the world of robots during 2019.

1.) Robot Safety Regulations

Braman noted that in order to succeed, robot startups must consider regulations from the start of the design process so that they meet safety regulations. Neglecting this can result in failure when the company goes to market.

Ryan Braman: We see a lot of startups focusing on small problems and trying to create solutions, such as a very specific robot that can mow your lawn, or a robot that has a specific end effector. The larger companies won’t invest a lot of resources and time into these specialized robots. Small startups, however, try to build a company around it. Their focus is often to get a product out the door as soon as possible. That can mean that safety and compliance isn’t considered on the front end. When they try to add it to the backend, it can be a painful process.

2,) Cybersecurity for the Connected Robot

Braman expects to see further adoption of IoT technology in industrial settings. This is driven by the need to integrate existing machines with the robots. This increased interconnectivity will raise concerns about safety and cybersecurity.

Braman: We are seeing more and more IoT in production. We’re seen interconnected machines where one machine says, “Hey I’m done,” and the robot picks up the product or assembly and takes it to the next station. That offers improved efficiency. We’re also seeing robots connecting to a central database with maintenance data in order to minimize downtime. Companies are exploring this IoT, dipping their toe in the water. That connectivity is going to become more common over the next few years, and an understanding of cybersecurity will need to be part of that growth.

3.) Staffing to Run the Robots

According to Braman, collaborative robot companies will grow, and companies deploying robots will need people to build, train, and maintain these machines.

Braman: There is a labor shift going on. We’ve seen it before over the course of history. A huge shift in the industrial revolution moved workers from stitching shirts to running the machines that stich the shirts. It changes the type of work people do. It shifts from workers doing a dangerous job to workers doing a more technical job. We’ll need more programmers and workers who can figure out how to integrate robots into the workspace.


A New Standard for Mobile Robots

The Robot Industries Association (RIA) is in the process of developing the new standard, ANSI/RIA R15.08, which is designed to address industrial mobile robot safety. Braman expects to see additional progress in creating robot safety standards for industrial IoT and cybersecurity as well this year.

Braman: ANSI/RIA R15.08 is on the way and should be released mid-2019. We’ve been working with the RIA on this for some years. The industry decided to merge mobile standards and robot standards. The robot can move to different tasks, driving around a facility without being guided on a path. The robots are now designed to move in the most efficient way without running into anybody or anything. The original standards for mobile robots didn’t take this type of movement into account. So, the new standard addresses robot navigation to make sure the machine doesn’t hit people or objects. It addresses issues such as making sure the base knows where the robot arm is at all times.

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.


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


Researchers Have Taught Robots Self Awareness of Their Own Bodies

Design News - Wed, 2019-03-13 20:00

Columbia Engineering's robot learns what it is, with zero prior knowledge of physics, geometry, or motor dynamics. After a period of "babbling," and within about a day of intensive computing, the robot creates a self-simulation, which it can then use to contemplate and adapt to different situations, handling new tasks as well as detecting and repairing damage in its body. (Source: Robert Kwiatkowski/Columbia Engineering) 

What if a robot had the ability to become kinematically self-aware, in essence, developing its own model, based on observation and analysis of its own characteristics?

Researchers at Columbia University have developed a process in which a robot "can auto-generate its own self model," that will accurately simulate its forward kinematics, which can be run at any point in time to update and essentially calibrate the robot as it experiences wear, damage, or reconfiguration – thereby allowing an autonomous robotic control system to achieve the highest accuracy and performance. The same self model can then be used to learn additional tasks.

For robots designed to perform critical tasks, it is essential to have an accurate kinematic model describing the robot's mechanical characteristics. This will allow the controller to project response times, inertial behavior, overshoot, and other characteristics that could potentially lead the robot's response to diverge from an issued command, and compensate for them.

The robotic arm in multiple poses as it was collecting data through random motion. (Image source: Robert Kwiatkowski/Columbia Engineering)

This requirement presents several challenges: First, as robotic mechanisms get more complex, the ability to produce a mathematically accurate model becomes more difficult. This is especially true for soft robotics, which tend to exhibit highly non-linear behavior. Second, once in service, robots can change, either through wear or damage, or simply experience different types of loads while in operation. Finally, the user may choose to reconfigure the robot to perform a different function from the one it was originally deployed for. In each of these cases, the kinematic model embedded in the controller may fail to achieve satisfactory result if not updated.

According to Robert Kwiatkowski, a doctoral student involved in the Columbia University research, a type of "self-aware robot," capable of overcoming these challenges was demonstrated in their laboratory. The team conducted the experiments using a four-degree-of freedom articulated robotic arm. The robot moved randomly through 1,000 trajectories collecting state data at 100 points along each one. The state data was derived from positional encoders on the motor and the end effector and was then fed, along with the corresponding commands, into a deep learning neural network. “Other sensing technology, such as indoor GPS would have likely worked just as well,” according to Kwiatkowski.


One point that Kwiatkowski emphasized was that this model had no prior knowledge of the robot's shape, size, or other characteristics, nor, for that matter, did it know anything about the laws of physics.

Initially, the models were very inaccurate. "The robot had no clue what it was, or how its joints were connected." But after 34 hours of training the model become consistent with the physical robot to within about four centimeters.

This self-learned model was then installed into a robot and was able to perform pick-and-place operations with a 100% rate in a closed-loop test. In an open loop test, which Kwiatkowski said is equivalent to picking up objects with your eyes closed (a task even difficult for humans), it achieved 44% success.

Overall, the robot achieved an error rate comparable to the robot's own re-installed operating system. The self-modeling capability makes the robot far more autonomous,Kwiatkowski said. To further demonstrate this, the researchers replaced one of the robotic linkages with one having different characteristics (weight, stiffness, and shape) and the system updated its model and continued to perform as expected.

This type of capability could be extremely useful for an autonomous vehicle that could continuously update its state model in response to changes due to wear, variable internal loads, and driving conditions.

Clearly more work is required to achieve a model that can converge in seconds rather than hours. From here, the research will to proceed to look into more complex systems.

RP Siegel, PE, has a master's degree in mechanical engineering and worked for 20 years in R&D at Xerox Corp. An inventor with 50 patents and now a full-time writer, RP finds his primary interest at the intersection of technology and society. His work has appeared in multiple consumer and industry outlets, and he also co-authored the eco-thriller  Vapor Trails.


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

By Eliminating a Major CAD Drawback, SimSolid Gives Designers New Opportunities for Workflow

Core 77 - Wed, 2019-03-13 13:25

We've just learned about a fantastic CAD tool—one that works with whatever CAD package you have—that will be a game-changer in the industrial design space. Altair's SimSolid is a simulation plug-in (also available as a stand-alone app) that completely eliminates meshing, that tedious process of simplifying geometry for Finite Element Analysis (FEA). By running SimSolid over your CAD model, you can do simulations nearly instantly—on your original geometry, with no clean-up required.

I know what you're thinking: "Isn't that FEA stuff for engineers? I'm a designer, why should I care about this?" To answer that, let's explain what has been the traditional FEA process up until now, then show you how SimSolid's new advantages would make a difference in your design workflow.

SimSolid is structural analysis software developed specifically for design engineers, enabling the analysis of fully-featured CAD assemblies in minutes without meshing. Traditional FEA: Useful, But Often Difficult to Use

Finite Element Analysis, or FEA, has become a crucial step in the CAD process. The more simulations you can do, the less prototypes you have to build, saving you both time and money. The problem is that no CAD program is sophisticated enough to run simulations on original CAD geometry, particularly with complicated assemblies, and requires the dreaded meshing step.

So traditionally, you'd design something and draw it up in CAD. It then goes over to an analyst or CAE department, where your CAD geometry is converted into a mesh so that simulations can be run on it. This geometry conversion is time-consuming and a bit of a black art: Should we run a coarse mesh for greater speed, and sacrifice accuracy? Or should we run a finer mesh for accuracy, waiting hours or even days for the computer to produce it?

Another problem with meshing is that it plays havoc with CAD geometry, creating extra busywork and providing opportunities for error. Often lost in translation during the meshing process are crucial connections, gaps and overlaps. Mating parts that you slaved over no longer line up precisely. Designs with small features, both thick and thin parts and/or irregular transitions all provide headaches that must be hunted down and re-worked. To save time, a common trick is to break your assembly into parts and analyze them separately. This introduces the opportunity for errors that can cost end users even more time down the road.

According to the website of one major CAD manufacturer, "Meshing a model is an integral step in performing any simulation. There's no getting around it—it has to be done." Well, with the arrival of SimSolid, that's no longer true.

SimSolid Simplifies FEA, Making it Easy for Designers to Use

SimSolid can run analyses nearly instantly—on your original CAD geometry. There's no meshing required; you pull your CAD file in and it's ready to go within seconds. You don't need to be an analyst with a background in mesh voodoo. You, the designer, can run simulations to figure out if your concept is even viable before kicking it over to ME.

SimSolid eliminates geometry simplification and meshing, the two most time-consuming and expertise-extensive tasks done in traditional FEA.

And if you're a designer working without the benefit of a dedicated engineering department—let's say you're a design entrepreneur or part of a small team crafting low-tech objects for a crowdfunding campaign—the utility of SimSolid should be obvious. Where is the clamp for your new bike light design most liable to break? Will your design for a cantilevered monitor stand support the 21.5 pounds of a 27" iMac Pro? Is the wall thickness for your object appropriate for the application? Are two mounting bolts enough, or do you need four?

A complex machined part with more than 100 small holes. It's time-consuming to mesh and solve this using traditional FEA. SimSolid does it in seconds.

To be able to see these results in seconds to minutes—rather than hours or days—can let you know, early on, if you're barking up the right design tree. And as you refine the design, having the ability to definitively see whether you're over- or under-engineering an object can give you a more accurate idea of BOM and eliminate that "Hey Kickstarter backers, sorry, but we screwed up" update down the line.

For a designer working within an organization that does have access to a dedicated engineering branch, SimSolid can provide an entirely new workflow. Even if ME ultimately needs to sign off after doing their own analysis, you can learn if your initial designs are viable well before knocking on their door. And by being able to spot problems early, you can tackle them with design proposals that hew more closely to your original vision, rather than you designing a unicorn and the engineers coming back with a rhinoceros.

Without having to ask the engineers, you can quickly find out exactly where this stepladder's liable to break if overloaded. That gives you the power to foresee problems and tackle them with design first.

"SimSolid a very empowering piece of software for those users who were locked out of a part of the process; now they can participate," says co-developer Ken Welch. "Let's say you're an industrial designer, and you realize 'I can run a structural simulation right now, without having to wait.' Well, now you can ask a question, and answer it yourself.

"That allows you to develop your designs faster, because now you can use simulation as an integral part of the design process. When you have performance insights available to you early on in the design process, that opens up the possibility for new workflows that were simply not possible in the past."

You can use SimSolid to quickly check where the stress points are on this pull-up bar, and how they change depending on which of the three handle sets are pulled on.

"And you can explore more. Not just with simple parts, as with most other FEA systems; with SimSolid you can look at full assemblies and very complex geometries."

Video Demonstrations

The following videos can give you a better idea of what SimSolid can do for you.

An Introduction to SimSolid

In this first video Warren Dias, Altair's Director of Global Business Developmen, explains the benefits of the software. This is the video you show to your manager:

Demonstration #1: Modal Analysis

Here you can see not only the multitude of CAD formats supported, but just how fast it is to pull a complicated part into SimSolid and run a quick modal analysis:

Demonstration #2: Comparing Multiple Design Variants

In this second demo, Dias r?uns a linear static analysis on two models, showing you how easy it is to compare them directly:

Demonstration #3: Performing a Non-Linear Static Analysis

In the third demo a non-linear static analysis is run, revealing separating contacts with as much ease as the first two demos:

As you can see, results are nearly instantaneous; that little flashing green bar at the bottom left of the screen seems to finish impossibly quickly. I noticed the same during demonstrations given to us by Welch, and I asked him what kind of high-powered hardware the program required.

"I'm just running it on a laptop," he explained. "A lot of people see the demos and think 'I need to run this on a supercomputer in the cloud, right? Or buy a really expensive GPU?' But no, I'm running this on a standard-core i7 laptop, and it runs great."

In short, SimSolid is fast, accurate, and doesn't require extra computing. It opens up a world of possibilities to designers working within today's fast-paced timelines, removing a barrier between ID and ME that seemed intractable. "Analysis never really had the impact it could," Welch says, "because it just couldn't work at the speed of design."

Well, now it can.

To confirm it yourself, you can try SimSolid for free. Altair has also launched a social media promotion where SimSolid users can post a simulation for a chance to win weekly cash prizes. 

"Post your SimSolid simulation results to social media throughout the months of March and April 2019," the company writes, "and every week, five people will be selected to win $50 Visa Gift Cards. The best model at the end of the promotion will win a $1000 grand prize." 

Click here for details on how to enter.

Where Play is Work and Work is Play: Highlights from the 2019 International Toy Fair

Core 77 - Wed, 2019-03-13 13:25

At first, it's peculiar to see adults, usually in corporate attire, modeling and demonstrating children's toys, playing. But at this (mostly) kid-free event, business is play and play is business. A trade-only convention and the largest toy fair in the Western Hemisphere, New York City's Toy Fair is an exclusive gathering of over 30,000 attendees to view the 150,000 products marketed by 1,000 exhibitors. Filling all 447,000 net square ft of space in the city's massive Javits Center, the Toy Fair attracts international brands, designers, and inventors hoping to get their products picked up by US retailers, distributors, importers, wholesalers, and sales representatives.

While major brands like Mattel, Melissa & Doug, Ty, HABA, LEGO, and the like, are the first brands visitors notice due to their enormous booths, it's incredible to see them alongside so many smaller brands, all with the same goal: to get their products noticed. In a sea full of thousands, it's hard to stand out. From drawing robots and augmented reality toys to tools for designers to new twists on classic ideas, the Toy Fair has a lot to offer. Check out the gallery to see our selection of 2019 toys and brands that caught our attention—a difficult feat in what felt like the world's largest toy store.

A trade-only convention and the largest toy fair in the Western Hemisphere, Toy Fair is an exclusive five-day long gathering of over 30,000 attendees to view the 150,000 products filling 447,000 square ft of space in the New York City's Javits Center.Celebrating Barbie's sixtieth birthday this year, Mattel hung a banner with a quote from Barbie's creator, Ruth Handler: "My whole philosophy of Barbie was that, through the doll, the little girl could be anything that she wanted to be." With continued releases of dolls that represent a more inclusive variety of appearances, abilities, and careers, Mattel is stepping closer to reaching Handler's mission.Recognizing the self limiting "Dream Gap" many young girls endure, Mattel is working to help girls imagine their options and possibilities with Barbie dolls that are news anchors, firefighters, astronauts, farmers, pilots, athletes, engineers, and even politicians.A manufacturer of plush toy resembling cells, microbes, and viruses, GIANTmicrobes' stuffed toys can introduce science to children at an early age. Used in homes and classrooms, across universities and health agencies, GIANTmicrobes relies on humor to help customers approach serious topics and start conversations.A hit in high school sex-ed classes, around college campuses, and adorning doctor's offices across the country, GIANTmicrobes is selling a different kind of sex toy. Their Tainted Love collection seeks to help people broach conversations and learn about sexually transmitted infections.While a noticeable shift away from screens in young children's toys reflects recommended screen time limits, Pai Technology embraces screens. Turning screen time into a play time, PaiBotz combine construction, creativity, and coding to teach children as young a four years-old the basics of coding robotics.PaiBotz include 150 physical building blocks and thirty augmented reality puzzles that teach coding basics. With premade designs and the opportunity for children to create their own, PaiBotz respond to instructions that children code through the free app to make their bots move, drum, dance, make sounds, and light up.Born from parents' vision to build PVC marshmallow guns as birthday party favors, Marshmallow Fun Company grew to include multiple gun styles and prints, upheld a marshmallow-only policy by discontinuing their foam pellets, and even expanded into marshmallow archery. Now sold by major retailers, those parents were definitely on to something—not to mention it was the only Toy Fair booth with a line of people waiting to try out its product.For when real dirt just isn't an option, try PlayVisions's Play Dirt.Available in August, LEGO Hidden Side sets combine physical construction with augmented reality—what LEGO calls "fluidplay." Assemble the kit, pull up the kit's app, and point a smartphone or tablet camera to see the hidden creatures lurking in the set. The situation then flows into a video game as players are challenged to eliminate the augmented reality monsters.View the full gallery here

Reduce Your Single-Use Plastic with these Reusable Bamboo Containers

Core 77 - Wed, 2019-03-13 13:25

2019 seems to be the year of taking actionable steps towards reducing single-use plastic, and reusable to-go containers and multi-purpose utensil sets are a useful and impactful way to start doing so in your everyday life. On that note, Anvil Studios and UCO Ware have created the Bamboo 5-piece set, a non-plastic meal and utensil meal kit made of 90% natural materials:

While many of UCO Ware's products are focused on camping and outdoor activities, for this challenge, they enlisted Anvil Studios to design containers that were functional in settings off-campsite. "The solutions needed to be truly useful and not make compromises for either of its intended uses; outdoor and cafeteria (the collection should be just as comfortable in an REI as it is at your office)," says Treasure Hinds, cofounder of Anvil Studios.

One of their core objectives was to redesign the Spork, the ubiquitous, yet oftentimes unuseful tool that isn't quite a spoon and isn't quite a fork. By designing the Switch Spork Utensil set with connecting ends, Anvil has created transportable, compact utensils without compromising function. A tether holds everything in place, making sure that the lid doesn't fall off and the utensils don't get lost in the depths of your bag.

Specifically designed as an eco-friendly offering, innovative solutions and material exploration were key to the project's objectives. Anvil Studios worked to include new, interesting, and exciting ways to mix various materials. They landed on the a renewable pulped bamboo as the main material, which consists of finely crushed bamboo that is mixed with starch and resin as the binder. Creating new materials out of renewable ingredients is going to become more and more common over the next few years, and we're excited to see one of such materials be applied to the Spork (of all things).

Currently Crowdfunding: A 3D Camera, Indestructible Pantyhose and More

Core 77 - Wed, 2019-03-13 13:25

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:

Pantyhose are cheap for a reason: slip into a new pair in the morning and you'll likely have a hole somewhere by the end of the day. Sheertex pantyhose are made of the same fibers as bulletproof vests and are virtually indestructible. Their updated design features a control top and comes in three nude shades.

If you're a film photographer looking to up your game or try something new, check out Reto3D. The triple-lens system takes three half-frame images simultaneously from three different angles, while an accompanying app lets you seamlessly stitch the results into GIFs. Best of all? The $80 Early Bird price tag makes it super accessible.

Parents looking to cut back on screen time should give TIMIO a go. The portable audio player uses magnetic disks that kids can easily swap out themselves for hours of happy listening. The curated content ranges from nursery rhymes to vocabulary lessons, so it can appeal to babies, toddlers, and beyond. The multilingual platform is available in English, Spanish, French, German and Dutch, with more languages under development.

Sleek, modern upgrades of classic mid-century watch design never get old. Topo, the latest from Danish brand Bulbul, is made of the best and most resilient components available: Italian leather, Japanese-made movements and a steel mesh band produced in Pforzheim, Germany.

Oregon turned 160 earlier this year and to celebrate 84 East partnered with the iconic Pendleton Woolen Mills to create "the most Oregon gift ever"—a wool-cotton blend blanket that proudly bears the state seal and will keep Oregonians cozy and warm for generations to come.

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.

Your Subaru Is Being Recalled Because of Your Perfume

Design News - Wed, 2019-03-13 07:00

In one of the oddest cases of a technical glitch in recent years, Subaru is recalling 1.3 million US vehicles due to potential malfunctions caused by consumer use of fabric softener, perfume, and other products that employ silicone-based materials.

The recall, which affects certain Crosstrek, Impreza, and Forester vehicles, stems from the gaseous movement of the silicone materials into the brake lamp switch housing, where they can leave a deposit on the contact. “If the contact switch loses conductivity to the terminal, it may result in the rear brake lights not illuminating,” Subaru wrote in an e-mail to Design News. “Subaru will reach out to affected customers and replace the switch.”

Certain Subaru Impreza (2008-’14 and (2012-’16), Crosstrek (2013-’17), and Forester (2014-’16) vehicles are being recalled due to potential brake light malfunctions.  (Image source: Wikipedia/by order 242 from Chile)

Experts told Design News that silicone from perfume, car polish, and fabric softener is known to become airborne and deposit itself elsewhere. “Silicone oils will readily adhere to the surface of metals,” wrote Stephen Beaudoin, a professor of chemical engineering at Purdue University. “These oils are not good conductors of electricity, and it’s understandable how they will interfere with good contacts between the metals in switches, reducing current flow when the switch is supposedly ’on.’” Beaudoin added that several factor such as the switch material, relative humidity, and local temperature could contribute to the possibility of that happening.

What’s still not known, however, is why the silicone gases affected some Subaru models and not others. Switch suppliers contacted by Design News said that brake light switches are often located under the instrument panel, near the brake pedal, where they could be subjected to airborne gases. Most such switches, they said, are not sealed but offer some level of ingress protection, which is described by their IP rating.

Still, most suppliers were surprised to hear that perfume and fabric softener had potentially caused problems in certain Subaru models. “That’s crazy,” said one engineer who asked not to be identified. "I’ve never heard of anything like that.”

A Subaru spokesperson declined to comment on why the problem happened in some vehicles but not others. However, the specifics of the recall, which affects some model years and not others, suggests that Subaru knows precisely why some switches are having problems.


An article in The Wall Street Journal said that Subaru started receiving complaints about the issue in 2013, and realized the problems could be caused by the presence of silicone gases from household products. The article stated that Subaru has received 1,399 complaints about it worldwide over the past five or so years.

In the US, the company has received only 33 problem reports, Subaru told Design News.

Experts said that the willingness of a manufacturer to recall millions of vehicles under such unusual circumstances could be a positive reflection on its business practices. “We’ve seen the other side of this – manufacturers that resist recalls, even after several crashes,” noted Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for Consumer Reports. “In some ways, this may be a measure of how responsive the manufacturer is.”

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.


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

Biorefinery Waste Can Be Used for 3D Printing

Design News - Wed, 2019-03-13 06:00

Scientists are constantly looking for ways to reduce industrial waste, with reuse for other purposes as one potential option. Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have achieved this for an intractable biorefinery byproduct, lignin, through the development of a new composite material well-suited to additive manufacturing.

Lignin is what’s left over from the processing of biomass, researchers said. The material gives plants rigidity and also makes biomass resistant to being broken down. They described their work in an ORNL news release.

Using as much as 50 percent lignin by weight, a new composite material created at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory is well-suited for use in 3D printing. Lignin is a byproduct of biorefinery. (Image source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

Creating a Composite

ORNL scientists have combined a melt-stable hardwood lignin with other materials—conventional plastic, a low-melting nylon, and carbon fiber—to create a composite that has suitable characteristics for extrusion and weld strength between layers during the printing process, they said. The composite also boasts excellent mechanical properties, said Moe Khaleel, associate laboratory director for Energy and Environmental Sciences at ORNL.

Researchers published a paper detailing their work in the journal Science Advances.

“ORNL’s world-class capabilities in materials characterization and synthesis are essential to the challenge of transforming byproducts like lignin into co-products, generating potential new revenue streams for industry and creating novel renewable composites for advanced manufacturing,” he said.

Not Easy

The team’s work was not without its challenges, researchers said. Lignin is not an easy material with which to work; it chars easily and can only be heated to a certain temperature for softening and extrusion from a 3D printing nozzle. This is because prolonged exposure to heat dramatically increases lignin’s viscosity, making it too thick for useful extrusion, they said.

The team found success in developing a composite for 3D printing by combining lignin with nylon. Much to their surprise, this combination increased the composite’s room-temperature stiffness while decreasing its melt viscosity, Amit Naskar, the lead on the project, said.

Moreover, the lignin-nylon material had tensile strength similar to nylon alone and lower viscosity, in fact, than 3D-printing polymers such as conventional ABS or high-impact polystyrene, he said. 


Neutron Scattering

To understand why the material combination reacted like it did, the scientists studied its molecular structure by conducting neutron scattering at the High Flux Isotope Reactor and used advanced microscopy at the Center for Nanophase Materials Science at ORNL. What they found is that the combination of lignin and nylon “appeared to have almost a lubrication or plasticizing effect on the composite,” Naskar said.

Indeed, by studying the structural characteristics, the team was able to bolster the 3D printability of the materials, said ORNL’s Ngoc Nguyen, another collaborator on the project.

Specifically, they mixed in a higher percentage of lignin—40 to 50 percent by weight—a 4 percent to 16 percent carbon fiber. The lignin percentage represents a new achievement in the quest for a lignin-based printing, Nguyen said. The result is a composite that heats up more easily, flows faster for speedier printing, and results in a stronger product, researchers said.

The ORNL team has a patent pending on its lignin-nylon composite, and plans to continue its work to refine the material and find other ways to process it, researchers said.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for 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.


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


Jonathan Ward on Designing Without Corporate Interference, and Where Icon Could Go

Core 77 - Tue, 2019-03-12 12:39

In design school, we're taught that our greatest struggles will be design-based: Find the form. Improve the function. Source the best materials. Figure out the manufacturability.

But spend a few years working in industrial design, and you'll often find those aren't the greatest struggles at all. Your greatest challenge is named Dennis and he's an uncooperative engineer. Or Nancy in Marketing, Greg from Accounting, Susan in Operations, The Client. A lot of times it seems like designers are the only ones who give a damn, and each week we have to fight a Nancy-faced Voltron of other corporate interests into making even the tiniest concession that we might know what we're doing. That design might actually make a difference. That the customer might actually be wiling to pay more for a kick-ass product.

Those endless internal struggles sap energy, harden the heart and can have us psychologically retreating from work, seeking creative fulfillment within private hobbies instead. So anytime we encounter a designer who manages to sidestep those problems entirely, retaining full commitment to the work, we're intensely curious as to what that's like, and how their situation came to be.

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we saw that Icon's Jonathan Ward is indeed occupied with pure design struggles, absent Voltron's interference. Here we find out how and why. We also asked Ward about other areas of product design he'd like to see Icon branch into.

Core77: We talked about the constraints designers face when working on a project. What sucks is when there are non-design-based constraints stemming from interdepartmental conflicts within the company itself. How have you managed to avoid being stuck in that situation?

Jonathan Ward: I'm an idiot. And I'm self-financed. I have no investors. I have no board. I have to answer to my key team here. And sometimes that creates some strife, to be honest.

I started the company with a somewhat irrational focus on wanting to do something different and more considered and evolved and better engineered than I saw in the entire segment of my industry. In the beginning that was sort of easy, and that audacious spirit was manageable. As the scale of our brand gets larger and larger, that ups the ante on shit like that. But thus far, that's been a founding mandate that I protect like a lunatic.

Protect how, concretely?

We have tenets, ten questions that anything we're going to get into must hold up against. To the extent that the answer must be "Fuck yeah" or "No." It can't be just "yeah," it's gotta be a match.

We know the upshot to this approach. What are the downsides?

The prototype that's in development here, [the still-secret addition to our vehicle line] that you've seen and we've spoken of--what I'm investing in time, money and key technicians to get there, is almost becoming irrational. But I just have such a grip on it--it would be so revolutionary and exceptional and evolutionary that, to a fault, I'm going to see it through. It is what it is.

Money is often the root of a designer's struggle within an organization.

Yeah, like with this watch, I could have had theoretical goals of price point and I'd love it to be like $3,500 or whatever. But in the end, the price point of all my projects and products is an aftereffect of what it costs to create it. Without the sacrifices. Without the accounting departments saying no, without pushback from Wall Street or any of those constraints that most companies of scale--the big boys, not guys our size--have.

And it's become an amazing freedom. It could be what kills me in the end, if I keep pissing money into all these crazy development projects, but it's what drives me. Most importantly, it's what keeps me hyper crazy passionate about what I'm doing. Just having the freedom to do that. I mean, I'd be fired by any OEM on the planet for sure. I'm probably thoroughly unemployable.

You've applied Icon's design philosophy to cars, you've applied it to watches. What are some of the other categories you'd like to see it applied to in the future?

Oh, shit: Architecture, audio, home goods, and especially furniture--I see massive opportunities with some of the heritage brands in that space. And in many cases I feel like what they're making today is watered down, a function of VC and numbers-only brand management over the decades, and it's a shame compared to what's in their own design archive from the past.

[Ward thumps his hand on the large metal conference table we're sitting at.]

This table's from the '40s. All of my furniture in all the offices are vintage McKinney and Steelcase, and you've just seen that crazy chair [earlier Ward showed me his recently-acquired aluminum-and-molded-foam Knoll lounge chair designed by Bruce Hannah and Andrew Morrison in 1971]. That right there is something I'd love to do.

Or revisit the original Tanker Desk: Build them out of aluminum; offer all sorts of fun surface technologies and coatings and finishes; make them adaptive and acknowledging of modern desk needs for charging and computer drop-down so we can interface with them--all the shit that's relevant today, with the quality and aesthetic of vintage in a lighter weight, modern, shippable form. I mean, try to ship a vintage fucking Steelcase. So to take modern constraints and apply a vintage aesthetic to that, would tickle me pink. I love that shit.

Other areas: I don't have this skillset, but I certainly have opinions when it comes to apparel. We're currently doing some prototype leather jackets with Horween and Black Bear and I love that. Is it going to go anywhere? I don't know; I might end up with one overpriced, cool, kick-ass prototype jacket, and that might be enough. Or is it going to keep me up at night? Is it going it force itself into going to the next level and continuing to be developed, force itself into being expanded upon as much possible? I don't know.


We don't know either, but we'll be watching.

You can follow Ward's work on Instagram and Icon's website.

3 Innovative Play Trends That Look Toward the Future of Toy Design

Core 77 - Tue, 2019-03-12 12:39

From motor skills to empathy to reading and writing, it's clear that children learn through play, and if they aren't interested in the toys they're playing with, then they aren't learning. To keep children interested in playing—and adults interested in buying—toy companies must design toys that reflect the world children currently live in. In today's world, we have become phone-reliant and more inclusive (Debatable, but baby steps are still steps.), and coding has become a top recruited skill among employers. These three cultural observations are what many companies exhibiting at the 2019 Toy Fair in NYC seemed to work from when designing for the future of play.

The Toy Association highlighted their favorite "innovative" trends as unboxing, compound material play, throwback items, food play, aspirational play, and licensed entertainment toys, but we've selected our own innovative categories that we feel truly encapsulate what the future of play will look like in 2019 and beyond:

Physical to Digital

In the past, digital products were transformed into physical ones—think video game characters turned into action figures, and movie plots turned into plastic playsets. This year, there is a industry-wide transformation of physical products entering digital worlds—touching everyone from LEGO to K'NEX to Hatchimals.

LEGO Hidden Side

Photo Credit: LEGO

Available in August, LEGO Hidden Side sets combine physical construction with augmented reality—what Lego calls "fluidplay." Assemble the kit, pull up the kit's app, and point a smartphone or tablet camera to see the hidden creatures lurking in the set. The situation then flows into a video game as players are challenged to eliminate the augmented reality monsters.

Hatchtopia Life Plush Collectibles

Photo Credit: POPSUGAR

While Hatchimals already has the Hatchtopia app, beginning in Fall 2019, the Hatchtopia Life Plush Collectibles release brings the plushies online with experiences unique to each product. Each Hatchimal will come with an accompanying code, allowing kids to unlock more play options in a format that sounds reminiscent of the early 2000s Webkinz.

K'NEX Thrill Rides + Ride It! Ap

Photo Credit: K'NEX

Pursuing "STEAMagination inspired play," K'NEX is known for its crazy build-kits for massive motorized creations. In 2018, K'nex released some of its legendary Thrill Rides kits with new VR capabilities. Wearing the included cardboard "goggles" and VR Ride It! app, users can "ride" the roller coaster they just built from a first-person, 3D perspective. Without the goggles, the app displays a 2D perspective of the already-built roller coaster and allows players to design their own digital rides featuring K'NEX elements and settings. 

Inclusivity Magic Wheelchair

Photo Credit: Toy Association

While not technically a toy, Magic Wheelchair's creations are are customized costumes for each wheelchair-bound child the organization serves. Though each costume costs roughly $1,500, Magic Wheelchair provides them at no-cost to the family. Catering to these children's wildest dreams—from pirate ships to Batmobiles to spaceships, and everything in between—the costumes are an exercise in extreme building. This year, the Toy Association partnered with Magic Wheelchair to reveal a purple princess carriage costume for one very lucky little girl. With each striving to bring play and imagination to children of all abilities, hopefully this is the first of many partnerships between the two organizations.


Photo Credit: Barbie

Barbie's 60th anniversary campaign might not sound like a big deal, but believe me—as someone who once owned close to one hundred Barbie dolls—it is. Acknowledging the "Dream Gap"—the self-limiting beliefs girls develop starting at age five that they can't do or be anything they dream—Barbie has launched an initiative that helps girls not only imagine everything they can be, but actually see it. Committed to releasing ten role model dolls inspired by real women each year, Barbie released twenty from eighteen countries, of all walks of life, and of varied skin tones, for their anniversary. In addition to the role model line and continued release of dolls that reflect diverse ethnicities, body-types, and abilities, Barbie's new career dolls—featuring careers in politics, engineering, medical, communications, athletics, and other fields—help children imagine a world of professional possibilities. Now with Barbie, seeing is believing.

Photo Credit: Barbie

Coding Without Screens

While introducing coding to children at a young age isn't a new concept, most coding toys are screen-dependent, and for children who are reading-age or older. Learning Resources's Coding Critters and Fisher-Price's Code-a-Pillar Twist each aim to introduce preschoolers to coding basics without the use of screens.

Coding Critters

Scheduled for a Summer 2019 release, Learning Resources's Coding Critters introduce preschoolers to STEM concepts. Featuring an interactive storybook and creatures with accompanying challenges, the kit helps parents teach their youngsters early coding concepts.

Code-a-Pillar Twist

Three years after the debut of the original Code-a-Pillar, whose body segments could be rearranged to introduce children to sequencing, the Code-a-Pillar Twist made its debut at the 2019 Toy Fair. Instead of featuring configurable segments like the original, the Twist is one piece. To code the sequence, users simply twist the dials on each body segment to set a series of moves that the critter then follows. Claiming 1,000 possible code combinations and at half the price of the original, the Code-a-Pillar is expected to be a hit when it releases in Fall 2019.

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