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Design Job: Are You On Your Career's Side? Nationwide Insurance Is Seeking an Experience Strategist in Columbus, OH

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

Provides consulting services on one or more technical specialties such as usability, interaction or visual design, prototyping or content. Leads project teams to define and document site architecture, navigation elements, content strategy, map user flows, and propose best practices in usability and interactive design based on a deep understanding of customer needs. Recommends innovative solutions that balance customer needs with business viability and technical feasibility. Creates exceptional user experiences that result in market differentiation and efficiency improvements while maintaining brand standards and meeting business objectives.

View the full design job here

Tom Dixon and IKEA's Urban Farming Solutions Will Be Available as Early as 2021

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

As part of the 2019 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, Tom Dixon and IKEA have designed an experimental model for urban farming. Titled "Gardening will Save the World," the exhibition demonstrates how people can grow food at home and do their best to reduce food waste, through the combination of design and technology.

The two-level garden will feature over 4,000 plants, as well as a horticultural lab that integrates technology into the system. "Aiming to give back to cities and create productive landscapes within urban zones, the garden includes a raised modular landscape with edible and medicinal plants and an enclosed based garden fueled by hydroponic systems and controllable lighting," says Dixon.

IKEA has explored gardening systems in the past, but this is the first time the company is working on a scalable system that can be applied to both large spaces and the individual home. "We want to create smart solutions to encourage people and to make it easier for them to grow plants anywhere they can, whether that's in their community garden, rooftop or in containers on balconies and window sills," says James Futcher, Creative Leader at IKEA Range and Supply.

A few of the solutions for urban growing that resulted from this collaboration will actually be available at IKEA stores globally in 2021. After the Chelsea Flower Show comes to a close, "Gardening will Save the World" will be donated to Participatory City and moved to East London for at least three years.

For CTRL Labs the Future Is All in the Wrist

Design News - Mon, 2019-05-20 05:00
(Image source: CTRL Labs)

What if you could walk around all day wearing a wristband that allowed you to control all of devices around you with simple hand and finger gestures, or even with your mind?

The problem with humans today, according to CTRL Labs' Dan Wetmore, is “our output systems are much more limited than our input systems.” We live in a world full of touchscreens, mice, and keyboards, not to mention voice command – all fast, efficient ways of controlling the machines around us...and all limited by our human physiology.

“The only way we interact with the world is through our motor system – whether that's shaking hands, speaking...typing,” Wetmore, Director of Clinical & Research Partnership at CTRL Labs, told an audience during his talk at the 2019 Embedded Systems Conference in Boston. “But we're limited in how quickly we can speak and type. Human output is constrained by slow, mechanical movement and sensor devices.”

New York-based CTRL Labs is looking to overcome those limitations by going straight after the motor nervous system. The company has developed a wearable electromyography (EMG) device in a wrist-worn form factor that reads singles from the nerves in the wrist and forarm that control hand movements. These signals can be transformed into control actions on an electronic device significantly faster than any tactile input.

By using machine learning to understand muscle signals, the wristworn device is able to accurately translate hand movements with very low latency and can also understand the intentions behind movements.

But CTRL Labs isn't out to just replace your mouse or keyboard. The company is imagining a world were completely new control schemes are created and even machines themselves transform because of it.

“Going direct to neural data removes constraints and creates opportunities for new, unimagined control,” Wetmore told the audience. “There's no reason you can't have control over an eight-limbed, octopus-like robot, for example. Our motor system has already adapted to work with machines that are different than ourselves. Think of a musical instrument, for instance.”


To achieve this effect, the CTRL Labs team trained machine learning models to map EMG data to specific hand and finger movements. Since the model is capable of learning over time it can create a personalized control based on the wearer and also achieve near zero latency from input to feedback, according to Wetmore.

The wearer is not even required to physically move their hand or wrist. Since the device reads from the motor neuron only an imperceptible twitch, something closer to just a thought, is required. “You can hold your hand firm, but still activate muscles to extend fingers,” Wetmore explained. “It's not just your movements – it's your intentions...decoding signals from the muscles in the forearm allows for inference of what's happening with joints of the hand.”

This level of specificity also allows for a novel twist on the idea of multitasking and a potential move away from the world of “hands-full control,” we currently live in, Wetmore added. When we think of tasks like typing or controlling a video game, for example, we assume our hands are occupied with that one task. However, since CTRL Labs' device focuses on specific neurons, it can allow users to occupy control tasks while also doing other things. A video from Wetmore further demonstrated this when a player was able to hold other objects, fold his arms, and even write will still controlling a character on a video game.

CTRL Labs' device also allows for multitasking. Here a wearer is able to still control a video game both with imperceptible movements as well as with his arms occupied with other tasks.

Building on top of the sensor system opens up even more applications. Adding an inertial measurement unit (IMU) to the device allows it to also read the force, speed, and power of a gesture. In a demonstration video Wetmore showed to the ESC audience a researcher wearing the device was able to move a virtual block on a screen different distances depending on how forcefully he moved his hands and fingers.

Wearers can also manipulate virtual objects with a sense of speed and force, creating virtual interactions that more closely mimic the real world.

A number of companies have been looking into applications of brain-computer (BCI) or brain-machine interfaces for a variety of use cases ranging from virtual reality entertainment to even medical care. Medical researchers have been actively developing mind-controlled prosthetics for disabled patients. And companies like Boston-based Neurable are examining applications for thought-controlled gaming. OpenBCI sells an open-source electroencephalogram (EEG)  headset targeted at members of the DIY and Maker community looking to develop their own BCI applications.

Wetmore said what differentiates CTRL Labs from many other companies is that it opts for EMG-based control rather than EEG. “Commercial brain-computer interfaces focus on brain itself, and can include invasive implants as well,” he said, adding that even a non-invasive EEG headset can be cumbersome and impractical at times. “By going after the motor system, we think there is more opportunity. There is more information to get scalably, non-invasively, and affordably... The human hand is one of the finest control structures in the universe, and the nerves that control the hand are largely in the forearm.”

The research CTRL Labs is conducting is based off of work that was done as early as the 1960s, when studies found it was possible to train people to voluntary control a single motor unit in their spinal cord using audio or visual feedback.

CTRL Lab's device is still in its development stages, but the company is currently accepting applications for its early access developer program. Wetmore said the company is aiming to be a core technology builder and to license its technology to partners in any number of fields.

He noted the company has a particular interest in medical applications of its technology. In addition to prosthetics applications, CTRL Labs believes its technology can also help with the diagnosis and treatment of nervous system disorders. Diseases like Parkinson's, schizophrenia, ALS, and depression all have a strong signal related to muscle and movement as symptoms emerge and persist. Using strong, accurate EMG recording could provide early warnings and assist in rehabilitation from these conditions.

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

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The ABCs of Multi-Layer Insulation for Spacecraft

Design News - Mon, 2019-05-20 04:00
Multi-layer insulation blankets consist of multiple layers of thin plastic film, coated on one or both sides with an aluminized reflective material.  (Image source: Web Industries) 

With increasing numbers of exploratory spacecraft and constellations of small satellites proliferating in the distant skies, demand is rising for multi-layer insulation (MLI) materials. The materials, which play a critical thermal management function, are visible as the shiny, reflective areas on the outside of satellites and other space-traveling vehicles.

Often called blankets, MLI components are a type of lightweight insulation that protects a vehicle’s occupants, electronics, and equipment from the damaging effects of radiated heat. While in orbit, space vehicles face an extremely challenging temperature environment. They can be exposed to direct or indirect sunlight at one moment and then plunged into total darkness the next. Temperature variations during a single orbit can range from lows of -450ºF to highs of 250ºF. In addition, a vehicle’s instrumentation and equipment can generate a considerable amount of heat that must be controlled.

In the vacuum of space, where there is significant exposure to thermal radiation but minimal conduction or convection, MLI blankets provide exceptional insulating properties. For example, a foot of standard insulating material on Earth might have an R value of 24 to 30. In comparison, MLI blankets in space have an insulating effectiveness equivalent to about R=10,000. They help manage a spacecraft’s thermal profile by protecting against extremes of heat and cold.

The Form and Function of MLI

MLI blankets consist of multiple layers of thin plastic film, coated on one or both sides with an aluminized reflective material. A typical blanket for space applications can have 10, 20, or more layers, with about ½-inch thickness overall. Between the layers is a nonwoven mesh material that separates reflective layers and prevents conduction between them. The amount of space between layers can be varied to improve blanket performance.

When exposed to radiated heat, MLI blankets function like this: The outermost blanket layer reflects in the range of 90% of the radiated heat it encounters. The next layer reflects the same percentage of radiated heat that has passed through the first layer, and each successive layer does the same. Collectively, the multiple layers reduce the radiated heat to virtually zero.

MLI blanket layers are stacked and sewn together at the edges or affixed by other means such as plastic pins. Metal grommets are placed at the corners to attach the blankets to space vehicles.


Design Considerations for MLI

Engineers designing spacecraft thermal management systems can choose either active methods like heaters or passive ones such as metallic components or multi-layer insulation. Before making a decision, engineers will consider a method’s absorptive and emittance properties, its reliability and weight, and then assess the tradeoffs between cost and performance associated with each method.

Engineers often favor MLI blankets over other options because of their light weight, dependability, and superior thermal performance. They can be configured for different vehicle locations such as near engines and propulsion systems and to protect structural members, wire harnesses, and instrumentation.

Individually tailored MLI blankets accommodate virtually any geometric shape, eliminating the need for inefficient manual material cutting on the manufacturing floor. (Image source: Web Industries.)

MLI Blanket Production

Many spacecraft manufacturers maintain in-house MLI production operations, which are often surprisingly low-tech and labor-intensive. The operations generally involve making templates for MLI blankets using a vehicle or satellite mock-up. Nonwoven materials cover a wooden model built to resemble the space vehicle. Workers cut the materials by hand in the desired blanket shapes before employing an industrial-size scanner to scan the cut-outs and create blanket patterns. These patterns are then used as guides to manually cut the thin blanket films.

But more efficient approaches are gaining favor as the new space age ramps up and demands for MLI blankets surge with the needs of constellations. Increasingly, MLI blanket suppliers are computerizing and automating blanket design and production. Many employ software programs that can create complex geometries and irregular shapes, and automatically convert three-dimensional drawings to flat blanket patterns. This promotes greater accuracy in blanket design and faster production. There is also increased use of automated cutting machines that deliver greater accuracy than manual cutting and facilitate large-scale production.

The more computerized approach also simplifies making blanket changes and modifications. Telemetry data from orbiting space vehicles can supply temperature data instantly to engineers on the ground. The data can indicate whether the blankets on board are performing as intended. Engineers can then use software programs to calculate the effects of adding or removing a blanket layer. Adding a layer enhances a blanket’s insulating effectiveness, while removing one reduces overall weight. This flexibility allows spacecraft producers to optimize blanket performance for future iterations.

What Does the Future Hold for MLI?

The future is likely to see the introduction of more advanced, thinner MLI blanket materials. There will also be greater collaboration between spacecraft manufacturers, MLI designers, and suppliers in response to increased flight activity. Co-sourcing arrangements in which in-house blanket shops and MLI suppliers partner closely on many aspects of blanket design and production are bound to proliferate to maintain IP of the materials and processes. Blanket shops will also have the option of relying on MLI suppliers for labeling, packaging, kitting, and blanket-related inventory services.

As Web Industries’ Business Development Manager for Thermal Insulation, Lee Smith introduces leaders in the medical and space fields to the advantages of automated production for thermal insulation materials and how they can successfully co-source their MLI blankets. Smith’s industry experience with cryogenic materials includes tenure as program manager for a NASA SBIR stage I & II. The mission addressed the development of a film/fabric laminate which could be fabricated into balloons used as a platform for automated sensing on the Saturn moon, Titan. Titan is covered with a sea of methane which has a temperature of minus 179 C and is considered a perfect lab for observing a primordial Earth. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry from Rutgers University. He can be reached at: lsmith@webindustries.com