Innovation

Drivin’ on Sunshine: Cal Team Is Crafting Solar-Powered Car for National Race

As flocks of wild turkeys and geese look on, about 50 members of the UC Berkeley Solar Vehicle Team—aka CalSol—are laboring from dawn to dusk every day at the Richmond Field Station, a 152-acre lot six miles northwest of campus. Their goal: the construction of “Zephyr,” a solar-powered car that can cruise along at 55 miles per hour on only the energy needed for a portable hairdryer.

It’s Cal’s latest entry in an international collegiate competition that has been going on since the early 1990s, before many of CalSol’s current members were born.

Feeding Forward: Giving Us the Power to Fight Hunger From Our Phones

Time has borne out the veracity of the Biblical observation that poor will always be with us—and so, too, are well-meaning efforts to feed the famished. But success in getting food to the hungry has been spotty at best. Now, a group of idealistic Cal students is bringing high tech to bear on the problem, producing an approach that is propagating across the country.

Gadzooks, MOOCs!

“I’ve been rereading Christensen a lot,” says Armando Fox. The Berkeley computer science professor is referring to business guru Clayton Christensen, famous for his research on how innovations can unsettle existing institutions. For example, how the PC upended the market for mainframes, or how the new business and publishing dynamics of the Internet have thrown traditional media companies into turmoil. Now Christensen warns that higher education will face its own disruption in the form of online learning.

From the Winter 2013 Information Issue issue of California.

Riding the iBomb: Welcome to Life in the Age of Exploding Information

The Acxiom Corporation has me down as Arab.

Acxiom is a commercial data broker based in Little Rock, Arkansas, a Big Data company that builds consumer profiles by aggregating information from various public and consumer databases. It then packages and sells that information to marketers who want to more accurately target ads to consumers. One of Acxiom’s slogans is “Stop Guessing. Start Knowing.”

From the Winter 2013 Information Issue issue of California.

Metal Machine Music

From autoworkers to telephone operators, many employees have lost their jobs to robots. Could session musicians be next? It’s more likely than you might think. A trio of Berkeley researchers is developing computer programs that can hold their own with the best jazz artists.

From the Winter 2013 Information Issue issue of California.

Tracking Transit

The question at the center of Daniel Chatman’s latest paper seems like it already should have been answered: Just how much is public transportation worth to a city? Although city planning papers had examined public transit’s financial effects before, Chatman, an assistant professor of city and regional planning, found none researched the link between public transportation, worker productivity, and increased wages. That gap led Chatman to create a model that could accurately predict the financial benefits different public transit systems bring to the cities they serve.

From the Winter 2013 Information Issue issue of California.

Wrangling Big Data

Imagine a website that could offer you personalized medical advice. You could log on and input your symptoms and medical history. The program would then compare your situation to that of other people with a similar condition, perhaps analyze your genotype, consult with a few hundred doctors as necessary, and then provide you with a diagnosis and treatment recommendation.

From the Winter 2013 Information Issue issue of California.

“Fund Me:” Researchers who can’t get corporate funding forced to get creative

With government funding more scarce, corporations have stepped in to underwrite an increasing amount of research in academia—as we’ve reported, industry now accounts for about 10 percent of funding for research at UC Berkeley, double the percentage it was two decades ago. But what about the iconoclastic researchers—the ones whose work is either irrelevant to, or at cross-purposes with, the profit-minded interests of corporate funders?

Holy Innovation, Batman: Using bat-like sonar, UC researchers develop way to control smartwatches with a wave of your hand

A group of UC researchers has created a small motion-detecting control device for consumer electronics that uses bat-like ultrasonic echolocation, which means…

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na… BATPHONE!

Or possibly Batwatch, or BatGPS, or Batslideshow-controller, or Batscreen with gestural interface. Really, the possibilities are endless within the realm of electronic devices you could control by waving your hand—like, say, a miniature symphony orchestra, or the stereo in the Batmobile.

Crowded Field: How crowdfunding is changing the investment world

Used to be, not so very long ago—prior to 2008, in fact—you had few options for raising money if you were low on cash and wanted to make a film or album, write the Great American (or Australian or Lithuanian) Novel, launch a killer app, or start a catering service for dogs. If you had credit cards, you could max them out. Or you could ask mom and dad for a currency infusion. Or you could…you could…well, that’s about it. With zip collateral, no bank was going to give you a loan. Venture capitalists or angel investors? Puh-leeze. You wouldn’t even register on their scopes.

Bridge Over Troubled Bolts: Cal Experts Question Whether New Bridge is Safe

As the Bay Area celebrates the opening of a new Bay Bridge—an eastern span that transportation officials are hailing as elegant and seismically secure—UC Berkeley engineers are expressing serious misgivings about whether the structure is safe. And at least one professor labels it far less stable than the old bridge. 

The Fold-Up Boat

Tell people you’ve invented “the world’s first origami kayak,” and you’re likely to be met with wry grins and chuckles. The mind runs to images of paddlers astride giant paper gewgaws, sodden and sinking in the surf. But, rest assured, the Oru Kayak is no joke: It’s a sleek, honest-to-god kayak that folds together in minutes from a single sheet of corrugated plastic, then folds again into a carrying case about the size and shape of an overstuffed garment bag.

From the Summer 2013 A New Deal issue of California.

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