Innovation

Robot Response: Exploring Unique ‘Hands-On’ Potential in the Fight Against Ebola

People tend to be wary of replacing humans with robots—but what if robots could be deployed as mechanical helpers in the fight against Ebola?

The disease, which is an epidemic in West Africa and has made isolated appearances in a few other countries including the United States, is hard to catch but often deadly. Because it is spread by contact with an infected patient’s bodily fluids, health care workers and burial workers are particularly at risk.

GMOs: Research Says They’ll Help End Starvation, but Americans Remain Wary

With global warming, drought and the shrinkage of American farmland, will there be enough food to feed the world? It’s a question with which experts are consumed—and should be. “Millions of people are going to die from climate change,” says Kathryn De Master, a UC Berkeley assistant professor of agriculture, society and the environment.

And experts say some of those millions are going to starve.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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