Posts about Technology

Self Driving Cars Have Huge Potential for Benefit to Society

Self-driving cars was something that seemed very far-fetched when I first read Google was seriously investing in pursuing that idea as a commercially viable product (Google’s Self Driving Car – 2010 post). I quickly became convinced they were right. I still think it is questionable if they will succeed (the political issues may well be even more difficult than technical ones). But the chances of success seem reasonable and the investment in research could provide a huge payoff.

Google’s self driving cars have driven 700,000 miles without an accident already; which is amazing. Warren Buffett stated that “self-driving cars are a real threat to the car insurance business” (His company owns the GIECO car insurance company) at the 2014 Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting in Omaha.

There are some people, stressing that this is not ready for mass market use. They are right. But, I think it is funny to see people thinking that a very early stage huge innovation in transportation not being ready today is a reasonable criticism. I am amazed that this huge innovation may actually be available before 2020. That would be incredible.

Certainly even then it will have limitations. And certainly there will be accidents. The current transportation system with humans driving cars has thosands of accidents a day and tens of thousands of deaths a year in the USA alone every year. Every year 1.2 million people die worldwide in traffic-related incidents, and over 90% of those accidents are due to human error.

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Stop Sign Mistake Proofing

This is a pretty cool example of using technology to prevent problems. The video shows a system that cascades a sheet of water and displays a stop sign directly in the path of trucks ready to crash into a tunnel (because the truck is too tall).

The driver had ignored several less obvious signals that they were headed for danger. This is an application of one of my favorite management (and industrial engineering) concepts: mistake proofing. As I have stated before, often it is really mistake making more difficult rather than mistake proofing. This truck driver ignored the first several warnings and actually could have ignored this one. This system doesn’t physically prevent the error (the options to do this I can think of would be impractical) but this does prevent the errors in any reasonable case it seems to me.

It does seem the process could be improved a big by doing the cool shower stop sign when the truck still has time to turn off without a huge delay. From the video it seems the truck progressed to a point where getting it out of the way created a major traffic backup.

Related: Practicing Mistake-Promoting Instead of Mistake-Proofing at AppleVisual Management with Brown M&MsPoor Results Should be Addressed by Improving the System Not Blaming IndividualsCutting the Boarding Time of Planes in Half

iPhone Addition as Alternative to Expensive Ophthalmology Equipment

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have developed two inexpensive adapters that enable a smartphone to capture high-quality images of the front and back of the eye. The adapters make it easy for anyone with minimal training to take a picture of the eye and share it securely with other health practitioners or store it in the patient’s electronic record.

The researchers see this technology as an opportunity to increase access to eye-care services as well as to improve the ability to advise on patient care remotely.

The standard equipment used to photograph the eye is expensive — costing up to tens of thousands of dollars — and requires extensive training to use properly. Primary care physicians and emergency department staff often lack this equipment, and although it is readily available in ophthalmologists’ offices, it is sparse in rural areas throughout the world.

“Adapting smartphones for the eye has the potential to enhance the delivery of eye care — in particular, to provide it in places where it’s less accessible,” said Myung. “Whether it’s in the emergency department, where patients often have to wait a long time for a specialist, or during a primary-care physician visit, we hope that we can improve the quality of care for our patients, especially in the developing world where ophthalmologists are few and far between.”

“A picture is truly worth a thousand words,” he added. “Imagine a car accident victim arriving in the emergency department with an eye injury resulting in a hyphema — blood inside the front of her eye. Normally the physician would have to describe this finding in her electronic record with words alone. Smartphones today not only have the camera resolution to supplement those words with a high-resolution photo, but also the data-transfer capability to upload that photo securely to the medical record in a matter of seconds.

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Looking Inside Living Cells

Johns Hopkins’ molecular biologist Jin Zhang explains how she uses light to see where and when within cells specific molecular processes occur and what happens when they go wrong.

Related: How Lysozyme Protein in Our Tear-Drops Kill BacteriaScience Explained: How Cells React to Invading VirusesNobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012 for Reprogramming Cells to be PluripotentWebcast Exploring Eukaryotic Cells

Given Tablets but No Teachers, Kids Teach Themselves – Having Never Seen Advanced Technology Before

In a repetition of an experiment I have posted about here on the Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog before (Letting Children Learn – Hole in the Wall Computers): Given Tablets but No Teachers, Ethiopian Children Teach Themselves

The experiment is being done in two isolated rural villages with about 20 first-grade-aged children each, about 50 miles from Addis Ababa. One village is called Wonchi, on the rim of a volcanic crater at 11,000 feet; the other is called Wolonchete, in the Great Rift Valley. Children there had never previously seen printed materials, road signs, or even packaging that had words on them, Negroponte said.

Earlier this year, OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets, taped shut, with no instruction. “I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,” Negroponte said. “Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.”

Nicholas Negroponte has tendency to overstate the fact from what I remember. I don’t think what he claims as “hacking Android” here is what a real scientist would claim as than is a write up of the results of the experiment. He could well mean they updated a setting or some similar thing. It is a shame to mislead when the bare facts are so cool. And possibly he isn’t misleading – I just am worried he is.

Also what does 47 apps per day mean? I can’t understand how you can usefully (including entertainment do that in any sensible way) – I doubt I use 15 applications in a month and I use the computer hours every single day. Makes me worry that “using” is not a very enlightening piece of data – instead just trying to make it seem like using 47 must mean they are engaged; it seems more likely to me to mean they are not used successfully so they have to go try something else or they are counting “used” in ways we wouldn’t.

Once a week, a technician visits the villages and swaps out memory cards so that researchers can study how the machines were actually used.

These kinds of experiments are very cool. They show how intrinsically curious we are are. Sadly our schools often beat the curiosity out of kids instead of engaging it.

Related: What Kids can Learn (look at the same idea in 2006)Providing Computer to Remote Students in Nepal (2009)$100 Laptops for the World

Engineers Save a Life

photo of car resting in river

This photo was taken by the driver’s parents when they arrived. It doesn’t show much of what it went through to get there, but it gets most of the point across. The picture was taken 200 feet away and looking down from the road.

I got into a major accident today that I was able to somehow walk away from. I lost control of my car and went off of a cliff into boulders, and after flipping a few times, settled in the river. I walked away with cuts on my hands from the broken glass and a bruise that runs from my chest over my left shoulder where my seat belt held me in place.

I shouldn’t be alive discussion on Reddit.

swapsrox: Time to send a letter to the manufacturer thanking them for their safety design! I guarantee your letter will be put on an engineer’s wall, and they’ll know there is a reason they go to work every day.

cmdshftn: Great engineering saved your life. The vehicle’s safety systems from the seatbelt to the crumple zones to the design of the seat kept you safe and alive despite all hell going on around you. Please write a letter to the manufacturer thanking their design team, but above all, follow up with whoever you need to in that jurisdiction to find out why there isn’t a guard rail on that road! Vehicle safety helps, but great road design to prevent an accident like yours helps more!

Related: Electronic Stability Control Could Prevent 33% of Crash DeathsDriver Thanks Engineer Who Hit Him on PurposeSmokeless Stove Saves LivesToyota Scion iQ: 37 MPGEngineer Tried to Save His Sister and Invented a Breakthrough Medical Device

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Introduction Video on 3D Printing

3D printing is an amazing technology that opens up great opportunities for us to enjoy life. The future is great. It is exciting to see how quickly advances are being made in this area. I think the ability to print replacement parts is a huge benefit. And the creative uses people will put these printers too will be a joy to see.

Related: A Pen That Prints in 3D While You DrawOpen Source 3-D Printing (2007)Great 3D Printing Presentation by a kid (2011)3D Printing is Here (2009)A plane You Can Print (2006)

Working as a Software Developer

For most of my career I have been focused on management improvement – helping organizations improve results. Technology plays a big role in that and along the way I found myself becoming a programer for a while; and then a software development program manager. This is a good post on working as a software developer:

reading code is a very important skill. Before a program can be modified, you need to understand what it does, and how it does it. Only then can new functionality be added so it fits in with the existing structure, and without breaking anything. Reading and understanding a program can be a major effort, and one sign of a well-designed program is that it is relatively straight-forward to modify it.

Write for people first, computer second. The code you write will be read many times in the future (by you, or another developer). The computer doesn’t care how the code is written, so make it as easy as possible to understand for the next person that has to read it. A corollary to this is: don’t be too clever. It’s better to be clear than to be clever.

When there is a compelling need to write for the computer first and people second make sure to document that code well. For example, some code that is extremely dense and complex and confusing but greatly enhances the efficiency of a critical area of code.

I recently wrote a book, Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability. There are many great things about a career in software development. It certainly is also challenging and not for someone looking for the easiest career but I have seem a higher percentage of happy software developers than I have seen in any other discipline.

Related: How To Become A Software Engineer/ProgrammerThe Software Developer Labor MarketAvoiding Tragedy of the Commons for Software DevelopmentPreparing Computer Science Students for JobsHiring the Best Fit For Your Company in an Inefficient Job MarketWant to be a Computer Game Programmer?What Graduates Should Know About an IT Career

Promoting Innovation in Sierra Leone

Another inspirational kid that shows that the potential for human good is much greater than the talking heads and politicians that litter the TV screen so often.

In the video Kelvin says, “That is my aim: to Promote Innovation in Seira Leone, among young people.” See another video as Kelvin explains his homemade battery.

Support these young engineers in Sierra Leone via innovate Salone.

Related: Inspirational Engineer Build Windmill Using TrashSupporting the Natural Curiosity of KidsWhat Kids can Learn If Given a ChanceI was Interviewed About Encouraging Kids to Pursue Engineering

Arduino Introduction Video Tutorial

Arduino is a very cool open source programable hardware engineering initiative. It is great for kids and adults who like to learn and create electronic devices. The Arduino Starter Kit is a great education gift for those interested in such things.

The video explains how to build a basic circuit with the Arduino board, and how to use each of the basic components such as LEDs, switches, and resistors. See more videos on related topics. Massimo Banzi, the co-creator and CEO of Arduino, and seen in the videos, also has a book: Getting Started with Arduino.

Related: Schematics of Electronic CircuitsEZ-Builder Robot Control Software

The Eagle Has Landed

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren land on the moon: July 20, 1969. As Neil Armstrong took humanity’s first step onto the Moon he said:

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

Related: Experiment, dropping a hammer and feather on the MoonPlanetary scientist Jennifer Heldmann discusses the MoonApply to be an AstronautOne Giant Leap For Mankind

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