Innovation

Concrete Credence: More Bay Bridge Woes May Validate Concerns of Span’s #1 Critic

Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl has been portrayed as a Cassandra, but these days he merely seems prescient. The UC Berkeley engineering professor was one of the earliest and most vocal critics of the new Bay Bridge design. The self-supported span was inappropriate for a seismically active area, he said, insisting that what was needed was a more prosaic, anchored span fixed securely to the mainland and Treasure Island. Read more about Concrete Credence: More Bay Bridge Woes May Validate Concerns of Span's #1 Critic »

Berkeley Architect Aims to Transform the World—One Outlandish Project at a Time

On a quiet, ordinary residential block in West Berkeley, amid boxy bungalows with manicured yards, there is a house that defies description. It’s known as the Fish House, but it looks more like a many-nostrilled beetle, or a sea slug with an underbite, or perhaps something Gaudí would have designed had he been a set designer on Star Trek. Read more about Berkeley Architect Aims to Transform the World—One Outlandish Project at a Time »

In the Driver’s Seat: When Can We Expect To Hand the Wheel Over to Robots?

Steven Shladover thinks that you, my human friend, are an excellent driver—and that fact makes his job exceptionally difficult. That is because Shladover, program manager at UC Berkeley’s Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology (PATH), has spent 40 years researching automated vehicle systems. The Holy Grail of this field is the self-driving car: the artificially intelligent chauffeur that promises to one day relieve us of our driving duties. If recent media accounts are to be believed, this sci-fi dream may be right around the corner, but the veteran Shladover is not so sure. Read more about In the Driver's Seat: When Can We Expect To Hand the Wheel Over to Robots? »

From the Fall 2014 Radicals issue of California.

Avoiding a Tragic Wine Crush: Seismic Expert Urges Safer Barrel-Stacking Method

A forklift operator at Wild Horse Winery near Paso Robles was maneuvering between barrel rows in the wine cellar when suddenly the ground started to shake. The 18-foot-high stacks swayed above her and then collapsed, burying her in an avalanche of 600-pound barrels. It took rescuers over an hour to reach her, after carefully draining and removing barrels one by one. Read more about Avoiding a Tragic Wine Crush: Seismic Expert Urges Safer Barrel-Stacking Method »

Cool Play: Innovator Aims to Combat Global Warming From the Rooftops Down

George Ban-Weiss is all about being cool: Not only does coolness figuratively define his work as a professional jazz bassist, it almost literally defines his career as a scientist.

His work was pivotal in persuading the city of Los Angeles to require this year that new and renovated residential rooftops be “cool roofs”—reflecting rather than absorbing the sun’s heat. It’s an idea that could someday spread throughout California and other sun-soaked metropolises. Read more about Cool Play: Innovator Aims to Combat Global Warming From the Rooftops Down »

Engineering Sisters Design, Ship Bargain Bots to Engage Diverse Kids—Especially Girls

The two robots spin and lurch, their little electric motors whirring against each other as a bevy of kids look on, their eyes bulging and their shoulders scrunched almost up to their ears in rapt attention. A girl of about 12 with long black hair scratches her chin, smiling nervously—a smile that twists into a grimace as her robot battles too near the edge of the circular table. She talks to her robot, goads it on, giggles. When that fails, she resorts to body English, rapping her right hand against her hip three times. Read more about Engineering Sisters Design, Ship Bargain Bots to Engage Diverse Kids—Especially Girls »

Do-It-Yourself Biology? Messing Around with DNA Increasingly a Garage-Band Venture

Silicon is so passé. Those who are truly au courant in the coding world are working with carbon—specifically DNA, that most ancient and elegant of codes. Such biohacking is central to the rapidly expanding field of synthetic biology, a term that somehow seems a little threatening to many of us who are the products of the old fashioned kind of biology that’s been around since the planet first managed to gin up a few primitive prokaryotes 3.5 billion years ago. Read more about Do-It-Yourself Biology? Messing Around with DNA Increasingly a Garage-Band Venture »

Sniffing Out Better Bomb Detection: Berkeley Researchers’ Tiny Lasers Could Replace Dogs

Long before Lassie fished Timmy out of a well, dogs have been heroically bailing us humans out of sticky situations. In the post 9/11 era that’s never been truer, with bomb-sniffing dogs scouring our airports and cities for deadly explosives. 

So it’s a shame to say that man’s best friend may be out of a job. Read more about Sniffing Out Better Bomb Detection: Berkeley Researchers' Tiny Lasers Could Replace Dogs »

Mass Appeal: Researchers Score Public Support—and Cash—Via Crowdfunding

Marcus Lehmann is at work alongside a 50-meter-long water tank in a high-ceilinged engineering lab at UC Berkeley’s O’Brien Hall, surrounded by wrenches, tape, wires, electronics, pipes, lab notebooks and other flotsam and jetsam. Within the tank, he generates ocean-like waves to test a promising invention: a carpet-like device that captures wave energy. It holds the promise of someday being able to harness the power of the ocean, a potential huge source of renewable energy. Read more about Mass Appeal: Researchers Score Public Support—and Cash—Via Crowdfunding »

When Cal’s Human-Powered Vehicle Snapped in Two, Nobody Expected How it Would End

Things were looking bleak for the UC Berkeley Human Powered Vehicle Team last weekend, and the timing couldn’t have been worse.

The team, all engineering majors, were on the verge of their big competition: the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Human Powered Vehicle Competition West, in Santa Clara. Rider Andrew Taylor had just started his practice run on Saturday morning when Reuben, the state-of-the-art vehicle that he and his cohorts had spent seven months building, crashed on the first lap. Read more about When Cal's Human-Powered Vehicle Snapped in Two, Nobody Expected How it Would End »

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