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An end of radio

1942-lincoln-continental-cabriolet-radio_100428025_mby Seth Godin –

Eight years ago, I described how city-wide wifi would destroy the business of local radio. Once you have access to a million radio stations online, why would you listen to endless commercials and the top 40?

I realized last week that this has just happened. Not via wifi, but via Bluetooth and the smart phone.

The car-sharing driver (Bluetooth equipped car, with a smart phone, of course) who picked me up the other day was listening to a local radio station. It was almost as if he was smoking a pipe or driving a buggy. With so many podcasts, free downloads and Spotify stations to listen to, why? With traffic, weather and talking maps in your pocket, why wait for the announcer to get around to telling you what you need to know?

The first people to leave the radio audience will be the ones that the advertisers want most. And it will spiral down from there.

Just as newspapers fell off a cliff, radio is about to follow. It’s going to happen faster than anyone expects. And of course, it will be replaced by a new thing, a long tail of audio that’s similar (but completely different) from what we were looking for from radio all along. And that audience is just waiting for you to create something worth listening to.

 

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China and the United States have reached a breakthrough in talks on eliminating duties on information technology products, a deal that could pave the way for the first major tariff-cutting agreement at the World Trade Organisation in 17 years.

The breakthrough would allow the “swift conclusion” on talks to expand the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) at the WTO in Geneva later this year, United States Trade Representative Michael Froman told reporters on Tuesday. It would reduce global tariffs on such products as medical equipment, GPS devices, video games consoles and next-generation semiconductors.

“This is encouraging news for the US-China relationship,” Froman said on the sidelines of meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Summit (Apec) in Beijing.

“It shows how the US and China work together to both advance our bilateral economic agenda but also to support the multilateral trading system.“

The ITA, which went into effect in 1997, now covers more than $4tn in annual trade, according to the US government. Participants to ITA commit to eliminating tariffs on such items as computers and computer software, telecommunication equipment and other advanced technology products.

An expanded ITA would eliminate tariffs on about $1tn worth of global sales on IT products, Froman said. More than 200 tariff lines will be reduced to zero under the new agreement.

US chamber of commerce executive vice-president Myron Brilliant immediately welcomed the announcement.

“With so many new products created since the ITA was concluded two decades ago, expanding the agreement’s coverage is imperative,” Brilliant said in a statement. “The commercial significance of these negotiations is obvious.“

Talks to update the WTO pact on technology trade broke down due in the summer of 2013 due to disagreements over the scope of coverage of what listed products would be covered by the agreement, said Froman.

“Since that time, the United States and China have been working to close our differences,” Froman said.

The United States and other countries were hopeful that China would agree to an expanded ITA agreement, which requires signatories to eliminate duties on some IT products, during the APEC summit ending on Tuesday.

Washington has blamed China, the world’s biggest exporter of IT products, for derailing the talks by asking for too many exemptions.

“While we don’t take anything for granted, we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to work quickly to bring ITA to a successful conclusion,” Froman said.

 

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Choosing those that choose you

by Seth Godin –icn.seths.head

We have the privilege about being picky in who we expect/hope/count on/need to pick us.

Pity the foolish 8-year-old boy who gives a kid just a year older the power to make his day. In that moment, being picked for the kickball team is the most important thing in the world, and his dreams are in the hands of a kid with a demonstrated history of poor judgment. If you were walking by the playground and he yelled, “Hey Mister! Wanna be on our team?” it would (I hope) mean little to you. You’re no longer willing to be judged by a kid who can’t even ride a bike.

But what if your organization or your brand or your self esteem has chosen a chooser you can’t rely on,  or one you’re not qualified to expect to have come through? If you say, “we need 100 of the top CIOs at the biggest companies in this region to choose our technology,” you’ve made it clear who the choosers are. But if this group is swayed by bribes (which you won’t pay) or local salespeople (which you don’t have), you have a disconnect.

Or what if you “need” to be picked by the anonymous crowds on social networks, or picked by the apparently powerful editor or the bouncer at the club?

A huge swath of human unhappiness is generated by selecting someone to pick you, only to have that person abuse the power, let you down or otherwise seduce you into pursuing something that’s not going to happen. Unchoose those people as choosers.

The person or organization you’re seeking to be chosen by: Do they have a good track record? Do they choose wisely? Coherently? Reliably? Do they abuse their power, seducing you into acting against your interests? Do they make you miserable? Do they have good taste?

Do you have the resources and reputation necessary to be picked by someone like the person you’re needing to be chosen by?

If you’ve signed up to be approved by, selected by, promoted by or otherwise chosen by someone who’s not going to respond to your efforts, it’s not a smart choice.

And one last thing: The ultimate privilege is to pick ourselves. To decide that the most important person to be chosen by is ourself.

If you pick yourself as the chooser, if you give yourself the power to say ‘go’, I hope you’ll respect how much power you have, and not waste it.

Choosing those that choose you

We have the privilege about being picky in who we expect/hope/count on/need to pick us.

Pity the foolish 8-year-old boy who gives a kid just a year older the power to make his day. In that moment, being picked for the kickball team is the most important thing in the world, and his dreams are in the hands of a kid with a demonstrated history of poor judgment. If you were walking by the playground and he yelled, “Hey Mister! Wanna be on our team?” it would (I hope) mean little to you. You’re no longer willing to be judged by a kid who can’t even ride a bike.

But what if your organization or your brand or your self esteem has chosen a chooser you can’t rely on,  or one you’re not qualified to expect to have come through? If you say, “we need 100 of the top CIOs at the biggest companies in this region to choose our technology,” you’ve made it clear who the choosers are. But if this group is swayed by bribes (which you won’t pay) or local salespeople (which you don’t have), you have a disconnect.

Or what if you “need” to be picked by the anonymous crowds on social networks, or picked by the apparently powerful editor or the bouncer at the club?

A huge swath of human unhappiness is generated by selecting someone to pick you, only to have that person abuse the power, let you down or otherwise seduce you into pursuing something that’s not going to happen. Unchoose those people as choosers.

The person or organization you’re seeking to be chosen by: Do they have a good track record? Do they choose wisely? Coherently? Reliably? Do they abuse their power, seducing you into acting against your interests? Do they make you miserable? Do they have good taste?

Do you have the resources and reputation necessary to be picked by someone like the person you’re needing to be chosen by?

If you’ve signed up to be approved by, selected by, promoted by or otherwise chosen by someone who’s not going to respond to your efforts, it’s not a smart choice.

And one last thing: The ultimate privilege is to pick ourselves. To decide that the most important person to be chosen by is ourself.

If you pick yourself as the chooser, if you give yourself the power to say ‘go’, I hope you’ll respect how much power you have, and not waste it.

 

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Oh, it’s gonna be a fun two years…Boehner warns of ‘big trouble’ if Obama forces through immigration reform

Republican House speaker sets confrontational tone in first post-midterms comment, saying the president will ‘burn himself’ if he uses executive action to overcome congressional deadlock
How GOP turned Democrats’ tactics against them
John Boehner wasted no time in flexing Republican Congressional strength following the midterm elections.

John Boehner

The Republican speaker of the House, John Boehner, has warned Barack Obama he is “inviting big trouble” by using his presidential authority to reform the immigration system, setting the scene for the first major collision between the parties after the midterm elections.

Striking an uncompromising tone at his first press conference since a wave of Republican congressional victories on Tuesday, Boehner said there would be “no chance” of legislation to mend the country’s immigration system if the president acted alone.

“When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself,” he said. “He’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path.”

The White House responded to Boehner’s comments by insisting that the president was undeterred, and would pursue “common sense and substantive” executive action on immigration. On Wednesday, the president pledged to take that action before the end of the year.

Boehner failed repeatedly over the last year to persuade Republicans in the House to even countenance a package of immigration reforms that the party’s leadership believe is necessary. He was not drawn on whether he could guarantee a vote on immigration reform but said he would talk to his members in coming weeks and signalled his determination to revisit the issue.

“It is time for the Congress of the United States to deal with a very difficult issue in our society,” he said. “This immigration issue has become a political football over the last 10 years or more. It’s just time to deal with it.”

Boehner and Mitch McConnell – the Kentucky senator who will take over as majority leader in January after the GOP gained eight seats in the chamber – will meet the president for lunch on Friday. It will be their first encounter since Republican electoral gains reshaped the balance of power in Washington.

As well as regaining control of the Senate, Republicans have gained at least 13 seats in the House, where they already enjoyed a large majority. Boehner, who is expected to overcome any challenge to his leadership, will begin the 144th US Congress with the largest majority of any Republican speaker since at least the 1940s.

He promised to use that position of strength to push for a simplified tax code, reduce the national debt and repeal the president’s signature health reforms in the Affordable Care Act.

In a gesture to rightwingers in their party, Boehner and McConnell identified the repeal of Obamacare as a key legislative priority in a joint op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday.

Boehner has already allowed more than 50 House votes to amend or repeal Obamacare since 2010. He conceded at his press conference that another vote to fully repeal the law was unlikely to succeed beyond the House, but insisted there would also be separate attempts to seek smaller alterations to the law.

“Just because we may not be able to get everything that we want, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to get what we can,” he said.

The press conference, however, was dominated by immigration, which threatens a major confrontation between the parties.
A bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate, which combined border security and provided a path to citizenship to the estimated 11 million undocumented migrants in the US, was passed in 2013.

But it languished in the Republican-controlled House and Boehner repeatedly failed to convince conservatives in his caucus to embrace even piecemeal reform.

Earlier in the year, Obama pledged to take executive action to overcome intransigence on Capitol Hill. He postponed the move until after the midterm elections under pressure from Senate Democrats who feared it would harm their chances of re-election.

The president is now under intense pressure from Latino groups not to break his promise a second time. This week the Democratic representative Luis Gutiérrez told the Guardian there would be a “civil war” in the president’s party unless he takes executive action before Christmas.

Obama is expected to somehow expand the reach of his 2012 action, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which shielded young people brought to the country illegally as children from deportation and provided them with permits to work.

Extending the order to other categories of undocumented workers could enable millions of people in the country illegally to emerge from the shadows. Analysts say the president is unlikely to move before the runoff election for Louisiana’s senate seat on 5 December, and that he may wait until Congress goes into recess about a week later.

“I think it’s fair to say that I’ve shown a lot of patience and have tried to work on a bipartisan basis as much as possible, and I’m going to keep on doing so,” Obama said. “But in the meantime, let’s figure out what we can do lawfully through executive actions to improve the functioning of the existing system.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Thursday reiterated the White House’s commitment to presidential action on immigration reform. “Yes, the president is going to take that action,” he said.

But Boehner suggested that the vexed issue of immigration would result the first major collision between the parties after the midterms. “The president, if he continues to go down on this path of taking action on his own, is inviting big trouble,” he said. Twice, he used the same “poisoned-well” metaphor adopted by McConnell 24 hours earlier.

“I’ve made clear to the president that if he acts unilaterally, on his own, outside of his authority, he will poison the well, and there will be no chance of immigration reform moving in this Congress,” Boehner said.

Both Republican leaders will take that message to Obama at Friday’s White House meeting, which will also be attended by the Democratic leaders who, in two months, will be in the minority in both chambers of Congress.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Boehner dismissed the suggestion he was “held back” in pursuing immigration reform by his restive caucus. Instead he laid the blame on exclusively on the brief spike in unaccompanied children arriving at the border over the summer, inflaming tensions.

“What held us back last year was a flood of kids coming to the border because of the actions that the president had already taken,” he said. “The American people, from the right to the left, started looking at this issue in a very different way.”

 

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I CAME UNDONE: ONE WOMAN’S HORRIFYINGLY REAL EXPERIENCE WITH BURNOUT

After years of being glued to her Blackberry and the Internet news cycle, Glynnis MacNicol felt burned out and broken down. But she never expected what would come next: the dissociative glee that came with being a woman who does nothing. Nothing at all.

By Glynnis MacNicol-

Photo: Mark Pillai

A few years ago, after shooting up the career ladder as a media reporter and editor, I quite suddenly quit my very well-paying—if not dream—job at a top website. And then, for a long time afterward, I did nothing.

Literally. Nothing.

When I did leave my house and venture back into my social circles to attend a cocktail party, or a book release, or a business dinner, I would tell people who inquired (and they always did. I live in New York City, where what you do comes after your name but before your real estate vitae) that I did nothing. Then I would step back and, with a sort of perverse satisfaction, watch them squirm. It turns out folks don’t really know what to do with people who are so nakedlyunambitious. It was a little bit like I was inviting them to my funeral. For a long while, this little party trick was my favorite part about going out.

Very likely I should have been the one squirming—at least after the first few weeks of this life stasis. Not being independently wealthy, my relatively small savings account was clearly only going to last me for so long. When I did seriously consider looking for work, usually after a morning spent paying my bills, the thought of returning to a life in which I was shackled to the Internet, hostage to the news cycle, and routinely sleeping with my Blackberry in hand (frequently I would be awakened by its vibrations only to discover an intrepid commenter had Photoshopped my face onto a porn still and thoughtfully sent it to me) was simply too awful. I couldn’t face it.

Instead, during those weeks, and contrary to all common sense, I turned down two high-profile jobs, and remained in my apartment where my mornings were spent away from my computer watching Golden Girls reruns on the Hallmark Channel. How I coveted those ladies’ pre-Internet, Florida retirement lifestyles.

Who was I?

I wasn’t sure anymore. And I was even less sure that I cared, which was actually both the strangest and most terrifying part of the whole ordeal. I’d been supporting myself since high school and had always been grounded in and by certain financial realities. And yet even as I watched my bank account dwindle to numbers not seen since I was a teenager, I couldn’t muster the sort of reliable panic that would have hightailed a saner person back into the work force. Worse still, far worse, was that I had grown to hate, and even see as punishment, the thing I cherished most: the act of writing.

Related: How To Love Your Work

I was badly burned out. Which, as it turns out, is not the same as being tired out, stressed out, bored, or in need of a vacation. It’s more like all those things wrapped together, times ten, plus a lobotomy.

“Burnout happens when you’ve been experiencing chronic stress for so long that your body and your emotional system have begun to shut down and are operating in survival mode,” says Dr. Sara Denning, a clinical psychologist based in Manhattan who specializes in dealing with stress and anxiety. “You numb out because you can’t think. You can’t even make decisions anymore.”

Bingo.

Unfortunately, it’s also one of those terms so overused that telling people you’re burned out, particularly in a country that fetishizes work (Americans work morethan any other country in the industrialized world) and in a city that runs on ambition, does not exactly engender much sympathy. Mostly it’s hard not to sound like a whiner. And yet, the real thing—actual, life-stopping burnout—demands to be noticed.

Photo: Mark Pillai

A few years ago, Marissa Mayer made headlines when she declared that she doesn’t believe in burnout. Here’s Mayer’s reasoning:

“Avoiding burnout isn’t about getting three square meals or eight hours of sleep. It’s not even necessarily about getting time at home. I have a theory that burnout is about resentment. And you beat it by knowing what it is you’re giving up that makes you resentful…I had a young guy, just out of college, and I saw some early burnout signs. I said, ‘Think about it and tell me what your rhythm is.’ He came back and said, ‘Tuesday night dinners. My friends from college, we all get together every Tuesday night and do a potluck. If I miss it, the whole rest of the week I’m like, I’m just not going to stay late tonight. I didn’t even get to do my Tuesday night dinner.’ So now we know that Nathan can never miss Tuesday night dinner again. It’s just that simple.”

I’ve given a lot of thought to this as I’ve pondered what happened to me and why, because in some ways Mayer does have a point: learning to say no is an important part of professional growth (also personal, but that’s another article). Would I have flamed out quite as spectacularly if I’d made sure to check out for a dinner once a week? Oh Marissa, I wish it were that simple. The problem was, like for so many of us, my priority was my job. And for a long time, I was resentful of anything that caused me to miss work, including, but not limited to, people who expected me to hold uninterrupted conversations over dinner. But at some point my lifestyle went from overdrive to overheat and when it did, not only did I not know where the brakes were, I wasn’t convinced there were brakes.

Related: ‘Stop Trying to Be Perfect’ and Other Lessons for Winning at Work

In hindsight, it should have been clear there was a problem when I began fantasizing about being a garbage truck driver. I would sit at my desk, Gchat windows exploding, no less than 40 tabs open on my screen, my Blackberry within arms reach like a small tethered child or, perhaps more accurately, like a contraband substance, my television set tuned to the morning shows, and gaze out my window overcome by a sharp longing—a deep envy—of men who toss cans of refuse into a rumbling truck before continuing on to parts unknown. Parts free from the Internet.

“You were looking for permission to go home,” Patty Forbes Pedzwater, a practicing psychotherapist in Manhattan tells me when I relay what I assume is evidence that there is something deeply wrong with me. “I hear it all the time,” she notes, somewhat reassuringly. “It’s simply a fantasy of something we perceive to have a beginning, middle, and an end. There’s a timer on it. You work someplace, the whistle blows, and you’re out.”

When Pedzwater says this to me I nearly burst into tears, because OH MY GOD, YES, this is exactly it. I am also suddenly reminded of the opening of theFlinstones and think the days of being able to “go home’ are equally as archaic. In the last ten years, the Internet has essentially become the worldwide Hotel California for anyone with a connection. Sure you can check out, you can check out all you want—there are entire movements devoted to checking out—but you can’t leave. Barring some sort of Zombie apocalypse, none of us are ever leaving the Hotel Internet ever again.

Photo:Mark Pillai

So how do we learn to go home? Because there is mounting evidence that we desperately need to, especially the under-thirty set, who have never known a digitally unconnected adult life. I was midway through my thirties, only half of which had been spent on the Internet, before my lifestyle began to catch up with me. But recent conversations I’ve had with women ten and fifteen years younger than me, some of whom are barely out of college, often make them sound alarmingly like old men dragging themselves home from work, forty years into a career, and suggest our professional practices may be running counter to our professional lifespan.

When I mention this anecdotally to Denning, she tells me it’s not my imagination: In recent years, the uptick in younger patients availing themselves of her services was such that she has had to refocus her practice to deal specifically with clients between the ages of 22 and 35.

“I was starting to see a lot of young women around 32-33 that had already crossed into that burnout state,” she says, noting that one of the reasons she went younger was that she was hoping to head these women off before it got too bad. Instead, she’s now hearing patients complain of burnout symptoms as early as their freshman year in college. “That’s new.”

Indeed. Everything is new these days. Sometimes this digital age seems strangely analogous to the unknowns of the birth control pill, an invention that has fundamentally altered the way we live, but whose long-term effects are yet to be fully understood. Of course, my case may have been an extreme one. My life for many years was about chasing the news cycle, a cycle that shifted into wild overdrive with the advent of social media. The thing is, that lifestyle is no longer so far off from what most people deal with every day: Nearly everyone in possession of a smart phone is tied to some sort of information cycle, often comprised of social media feeds and a heavy dose of work in the form of e-mails that, like the chocolates in this old clip of Lucy on an assembly line, come faster and faster no matter where they try to hide them. Add to this the non-stop highlight reel that so often makes up most of what we see of other people’s lives–even Garance Doré, who appears to be living a life most of us dream about, recently revealed that she’s not immune to the pain of the discrepancy between real life and Instagram–and keeping up with the Jones’s (or the “likes”) is proving professionally dangerous.

So what is the solution? As nice as it was to check out of my life and into Blanche Devereaux’s, it wasn’t exactly a long-term plan (though I did give it my all for a while). Nor was it short-term recovery. I still sidestep the Internet and most things that require me to always be on call, even just socially; earlier this year I went so far as to delete my Instagram account. Denning echoes Marissa’s advice and says it’s a matter of “watching your stress and knowing what your behaviors are. Know what you are doing and learn how to prioritize your own needs over anything else that is going on.” Again, this is all very well and good. But how exactly does one phrase that in an e-mail to her boss?

I suspect the answer may be less of an individual decision and more of a collective one. At some point, when enough people fall down on the job five years into their careers, maybe we’ll start rethinking how we define availability. And that day may not be as far off as we imagine. A friend of mine was visiting her college freshman niece the other day, or trying to. Ironically, she was having a tough time pinning down the visit as her niece had neither a Facebook account nor a smart phone. Availability, it seems, may soon be a thing of the past. Something we lived with before we knew better.

 

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What Drones Are Learning From Insects

insect-drones

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The tall orange antenna in this dated version of the pico quadrotor UAV is now integrated into the device, making it even smaller. (Photo: Yash Mulgaonkar)

Large, unmanned aerial vehicles look like regular (albeit menacing) airplanes. But there are also small drones that resemble big insects, and they’re being programmed to act like them too. Insectile drones could evolve into useful minions to track, map, and respond to climate change.

Since the dawn of entomology (more or less), scientists have been pondering the question posed so eloquently in “High Hopes,” a song Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn wrote for the 1959 movie A Hole in the Head, starring Frank Sinatra: Just what makes that little old ant think he’ll move that rubber tree plant?

Stephen Pratt, an associate professor at Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences, knows the answer as well as anyone. He runsPratt Lab, where researchers study how insect societies source food, build nests, and generally get along. The very short answer, he said, is that ants use collective, decentralized intelligence to perform complex tasks. It helps that they also lack an instinct for self-preservation and are focused only on actions that advance the group’s missions.

Unsurprisingly, the military industrial complex, mining companies, agriculture, and all sorts of other industries can’t wait to deploy swarms of drones for various applications—but neither can some conservationists and scientists.

These characteristics have piqued the interest of robotics engineers such as Vijay Kumar, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics. He and the researchers in his GRASP(General Robotics, Automation, Sensing, and Perception) lab are developing “swarms” of UAVs that work in concert. These devices take hundreds of measurements each second, calculating their position in relation to each other, working cooperatively toward particular missions, and, just as important, avoiding each other despite moving quickly and in tight formations. Kumar and his colleagues are using intelligence from Pratt’s lab, particularly around how ants communicate and cooperate without any central commander, to make swarming UAVs even more autonomous.

Unsurprisingly, the military industrial complex, mining companies, agriculture, and all sorts of other industries can’t wait to deploy swarms of drones for various applications—but neither can some conservationists and scientists, who see the utility that swarms would bring to mapping, monitoring, and sensing the natural environment.

Serge Wich, a professor of primate biology at Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom and a co-founder of Conservation Drones, said drones have made his research remarkably more efficient. He tracks and monitors orangutans, a time-consuming, labor-intensive process of hiking through Sumatran rainforests to find and study nests. With a camera mounted on a drone, however, he can monitor orders of magnitude more land in a given day than he can on foot.

But swarms could do more than just increase the amount of land scientists can monitor. They could also provide access in difficult places or situations. “If you try to monitor a large area for illegal activity, like wildlife poaching or logging, you have to watch it constantly,” Wich said. A single drone only has an hour or two of battery life at best. But a swarm could overcome this limitation. When the battery of any single drone depleted (they would expire at different rates depending on the sensors carried or length of recording time), it could autonomously return to the base camp while another UAV replaces it. Plus one drone might carry a camera and GPS receiver, while others might carry sensors for CO2, methane, light, temperature, or humidity. “I think there is huge potential for this,” Wich said.

Yet the operative word is “could.” Despite what this exceedingly high-tech commercial for Lexus might lead you to believe, swarming drones are not yet ready to be driven off the lot, so to speak. Aside from the fact that various and evolving regulations in countries around the world restrict where and how UAVs can be used, swarming UAV fleets operate today mostly inside academic labs and not in the many remote corners of the world where scientists conduct environmental research. That’s because they’re expensive and complex: You can’t orchestrate fleets of swarming, flying mini-robots using a smartphone app downloaded from iTunes. Yet. Plus the super-precise movements achieved inside labs can’t be replicated outdoors. That’s because in labs, motion-capture cameras are used to give tremendous control over spatial and temporal movements, whereas using GPS signals to map UAVs outdoors is sloppier. But in the coming years, all of those barriers—regulations, costs, accessibility—are set to fall.

Drones themselves are a marvel of engineering, but swarms of drones really up the ante in terms of the different networking protocols and processing power needed to operate them. That engineers are looking to insect behavior as inspiration for how to program UAVs to accomplish fast, complex, autonomous functions is no surprise. But don’t call it biomimicry, Kumar said.

“When the Wright brothers first tried to a build plane, they used flapping wings and that didn’t work,” he said. “So they built wings that were inspired by nature but that did not mimic nature.”

In the same way, Kumar is looking to understand the way, say, a single ant recruits other ants to help it build a new colony because that can help him develop algorithms for programming UAVs to recruit others to assist it in a given task. Or he might look to how ants work together to move a piece of food as inspiration for programming UAVs to lift a log and photograph whatever they find underneath it.

“Some ant species are very good at collective transport,” said Pratt. “They recruit to select the team of the right-sized ants. They move an object along tough terrain. So the question for both me as biologist and for Vijay as engineer is: What rules are each ant following?”

To answer that question Pratt and Vijay are collaborating on experiments. In one, they place a small object with embedded pressure sensors, covered in fig paste, in front of foraging ants of the speciesAphaenogaster cockerelli. They then record the pushes and pulls each ant exerts. “I look at the shape of the object and then, by looking at that, I can determine which ants are pulling and pushing,” said Kumar, “and tease out the roles they take.”

They’ve learned that ants basically figure out who should push and who should pull through trail and error. “Imagine you and I are carrying a table across a room and you are blindfolded,” Kumar explained. “How do we know who needs to exert force? If you look at forces exerted by ants, over time, the amount of force that counteracts the other ant is minimized. They learn—consciously or not—to improve the equilibrium strategy over time.”

So far, Kumar has been able to translate that learning strategy into how terrestrial robots are programmed to interact with each other toward a common goal. Eventually he hopes to do that same for aerial robots.

Of course, robotics engineers also need to improve insectile drones’ flying skills. To that end, Michel Maharbiz, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at the University of California-Berkeley, is studying beetles’ flight. He turns beetles into little cyborgs by saddling them with tiny “backpacks” that contain a micro-controller, battery, and radio, with minute leads inserted into the beetle’s brain and into power muscles used for flight. This apparatus allows Maharbiz to try biasing a beetle’s flight by stimulating certain muscles and studying its response.

“It’s very difficult to back out what an insect is doing in flight without having it in flight,” Maharbiz explained. “In the past people have studied larger animals, or they’ve tied insects lightly to a tether [to collect data], but they’re not really in free flight and that ends up masking [some functions].”

backpack-beetle-2A beetle (Mecynorrhina ugandensis) is saddled with Maharbiz’s backpack. (Photo: Michel Maharbiz/University of California-Berkeley)

While engineers dive deeper into the insect world to make better robots, Wich is waiting for the day when he’ll be able to acquire swarming UAVs the same way he currently gets single drones for his scrappy organization: by building them himself using off-the-shelf parts.

Kumar said that day will arrive sooner than later. First, the “price to performance” ratio of everything from data storage to sensors is coming down rapidly, which means the barriers to iterating and innovating are coming down too. “Students in my lab can design and build a flying robot in two hours,” he boasted. Also, the communications protocols needed to coordinate swarms of UAVs—such as mesh networking, which allows the devices to send and receive messages directly with each other rather than through a main controller—are quickly becoming more robust.

“The ability to build customized robots in remote places … the chances of that becoming a reality are increasing every day,” said Kumar, adding that he sees great potential to use UAVs for environmental monitoring and, ultimately, to influence policy-making through science rather than politics. “Oftentimes science is called into question because we don’t have the data,” he said. In collecting environmental data, “I think that aerial robots can play a huge role.”

 

 

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LuminAID is Named Up-and-Comer Winner at 13th annual Chicago Innovation Awards

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“Chicago is an innovation hub with talented business leaders who have the vision to see things differently and set themselves apart from the competition,” said Tom Kuczmarski, co-founder with Chicago journalist Dan Miller of the awards. “Every winner of the Chicago Innovation Awards embodies this mindset, and each one has found a unique way to solve a previously unmet need in the market.”

“We are honored to receive the Up and Comer Award from the Chicago Innovation Awards and be recognized in our hometown for contributing to the safety of our community and our consumers,” said Andrea Sreshta, co-founder of LuminAID. “We’re already planning new innovations using this unique technology in an effort to continue to contribute to Chicago’s vibrant entrepreneurial community.”

“With more than 550 nominees received this year, it is clear that Chicago continues to rise as a global center of innovation. This region has become a magnet for attracting the capital and talent needed to fuel even more innovation activity and economic growth,” said Luke Tanen, Executive Director of the Chicago Innovation Awards.

The complete list of this year’s Chicago Innovation Award winners can be found at www.chicagoinnovationawards.com.

 

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