Innovation

How to Train Your Robot: Now They Can Follow Human Demonstrations to Tie Knots

BRETT the robot is a knot-tying whiz; it can tie an overhand knot, square knot, figure 8, and hitch. Sure, there are robots out there that drive cars, detonate roadside bombs, and even collect rock samples from the surface of Mars, but what makes BRETT special is not what it can do, but how it came by its modest talents. Read more about How to Train Your Robot: Now They Can Follow Human Demonstrations to Tie Knots »

From the Winter 2014 Gender Assumptions issue of California.

Fear Factor: In Business and Life, It May Separate Smart Luck from Dumb Luck

Taking big risks might actually keep you from succeeding. 

John Morgan is haunted by the prospect of failure. However, he tells his classroom of aspiring entrepreneurs, this fear might not be as unhealthy as your “clinical psychologist will tell you.”

We may like to peg successful entrepreneurs as overconfident thrill seekers, but such thrill seekers “never appear in Forbes,” according to Morgan, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. That’s because, by and large, these individuals fail and never bounce back. Read more about Fear Factor: In Business and Life, It May Separate Smart Luck from Dumb Luck »

From the Winter 2014 Gender Assumptions issue of California.

Bitcoin and Beyond: Is It Possible to Demystify the Coin of the Digital Realm?

We all know about Bitcoin: It’s that electronic currency that exists somewhere in the ether and can be used to buy illicit products on the Internet. And it isn’t backed by hard assets (such as gold specie) or a sovereign nation. And to create new Bitcoins you must  “mine” them, which means solving complex mathematical problems to demonstrate you put x number of computer hours into the process. Read more about Bitcoin and Beyond: Is It Possible to Demystify the Coin of the Digital Realm? »

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. Read more about Robot Response: Exploring Unique 'Hands-On' Potential in the Fight Against Ebola »

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. Read more about GMOs: Research Says They'll Help End Starvation, but Americans Remain Wary »

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 »

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