Posts Tagged Massachusetts Institute of Technology

App Captures the Boston Bombing’s Psychological Effects – IEEE Spectrum

App Captures the Boston Bombing’s Psychological Effects

Could psychological-monitoring apps become as common as fitness and activity gadgets?

By Eliza Strickland

Posted 27 Aug 2013 | 14:00 GMT


Image: CogitoA Mind Minder: Cogito’s mood-monitoring app can detect signals of psychological distress

In April, the software company Cogito was halfway through a clinical trial to see if it could detect symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through a smartphone app. All of the 100 participants in the study lived around Boston. Then, on 15 April, two bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring hundreds. Suddenly, Cogito’s clinical trial was a lot more relevant.

The trial was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) under its Detection and Computational Analysis of Psychological Signals program. To address the troubling number of psychological problems and suicides among active-duty military personnel and veterans, the U.S. Department of Defense is seeking technologies that can identify at-risk individuals so professionals can help them.

Cogito, a Boston-based MIT spin-off, developed an app that keeps track of a person’s social behavior and vocal characteristics. The app monitors the phone’s location and time of use and also logs phone calls and text messages. (It doesn’t look at the content of those calls and texts.) Finally, there’s an active component: Participants can choose to fill out questionnaires about their mood and can record audio diaries. Cogito’s expertise is in automated speech analysis, which it applies to those audio diaries; future iterations could mine phone conversations for information as well.

Put all the data together and you’re able to tell a lot about a person, says Cogito CEO Joshua Feast. Sometimes you even find signs of distress that people don’t want to admit to or haven’t recognized themselves. “We’re able to look at sleep, mood, social isolation, and physical isolation,” says Feast, all of which can serve as “honest signals” of psychological trouble. In the Boston trial, Cogito was only testing the sophisticated algorithms it developed to aggregate the data. If the trial works out, future versions of the software could provide these summaries to clinicians to allow them to intervene and could also give the information to the subjects themselves.

All of this can seem rather creepy—apps that get inside your head and reveal your emotional secrets. But Feast says that’s why his company places so much emphasis on privacy and trust. If Cogito’s system becomes a commercial product, there will be legal guarantees that a user will always own and control his or her own data. For example, a user could choose whether or not to share the data with a clinician. Feast says he doesn’t think users would have it any other way. “Morally it’s the right thing to do, and also for adoption it’s the right thing to do,” he says.

The participants in the Boston trial included veterans, civilians with histories of trauma or depression, and some healthy civilians. While the bulk of the data from the study is still being analyzed, Feast says the impact of the April bombing is already clear. The algorithms picked up more markers of stress in the participants, including decreased use of the app’s interactive components. “Fewer survey questions were being answered, and fewer audio diaries were being recorded,” he says.

Further study of the data will answer other important questions about the nature of depression and PTSD, says Feast: “What is resilience? What kind of people fared better after the bombing? What happens to people with vulnerability when things like this happen?” The company is still formulating its research questions, he says.

The Durkheim Project, another initiative funded by this DARPA program, focuses more narrowly on identifying veterans at risk of suicide. Chris Poulin, director of the project, explains that his system predicts suicide risk by analyzing veterans’ text messages and their posting on social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Poulin says he’s impressed with the scope of Cogito’s data collection and its incorporation of voice monitoring. “There are other people out there collecting mobile data and looking at activity metrics, but very few people have integrated voice data,” he says.

Cogito’s voice-analysis software, Cogito Dialog, monitors vocal characteristics such as level of excitement and fluidity of speech. Feast explains that it’s tricky to get clear data in this area because there’s so much natural variation in people’s speech habits. However, the system can detect changes to an individual’s speech patterns over time and can also be useful in telemedicine. For example, if a clinician calls veterans and asks them all the same series of questions, a monitoring system can flag people with unusual responses. “Speech analysis is well suited for looking at population norms and deviation from the norms,” says Feast.

Feast believes that the company’s experience with the Boston bombing provides a preview of a possible future where psychological monitoring apps are as common as the fitness and activity gadgets that proliferate today. “When there’s an earthquake or terrorist attack or traumatic event that hits a population center, this technology could support a rapid response team for psychological distress,” he says. “It would be like the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] responding to a flu outbreak.”

 App Captures the Boston Bombing’s Psychological Effects – IEEE Spectrum.


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Trump says he would have fired McConnell challenger for LinkedIn page – The Hill’s Ballot Box

Trump says he would have fired McConnell challenger for LinkedIn page

By Alexander Bolton – 08/20/13 03:15 PM ET


Donald Trump, the billionaire real estate magnate, has joined the chorus criticizing Senate Kentucky candidate Matt Bevin for apparently lying on his online resume. 

Trump warned Bevin, who is challenging Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell in the Kentucky primary, that he would have fired him for claiming educational ties to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“As someone well versed in job creation and the Private Sector, if you lie on your resume, You’re Fired!” Trump wrote Tuesday afternoon in a tweet directed at Bevin.

Bevin retorted that voters should fire McConnell because of his track record in Congress.

“@MattBevin: @realDonaldTrump If McConnell votes for Wall St. bailout, tax increases, amnesty, & pay raises, he should be fired. #kysen #firemitch,” he tweeted in response.

MIT has disputed that Bevin graduated from any program formally affiliated with the top-notch school, despite the candidate’s apparent claim on his LinkedIn profile earlier this year.

Trump’s salvo came hours after McConnell launched a six-figure television ad slamming Bevin for claiming on LinkedIn that he earned a master’s degree at MIT.

“Newspapers say Bevin was dishonest about his resume, claiming he graduated from prestigious MIT. Not true again,” a narrator intones on McConnell’s ad.

The Hill first reported in March that Bevin had overstated his affiliation with MIT on his online profile.

At the time, Bevin listed his education as MIT in the headline section of his LinkedIn profile.

Further down his page, Bevin listed MIT at the top of his educational profile.

He stated he was a 2008 graduate of the Entrepreneurial Masters Program at the MIT Endicott campus, describing it as a “renowned executive education program sponsored by the MIT Enterprise Inc. Magazine and the Entrepreneurs Organization.”

The LinkedIn presentation was misleading because it suggested Bevin graduated from an MIT-affiliated program, even though MIT officials said the program had no connection to the school.

Kate Anderson, the director of marketing and enrollment at MIT’s Sloan Executive Education program told The Hill in March that the program Bevin cited “is not an official program offered by MIT, MIT Sloan or MIT Sloan Executive Education.”

“It is not a masters program, certificate or any other kind of MIT program and does not bear any MIT credit whatsoever,” she said in March.

Bevin never responded to The Hill about what appeared to be a misleading portrayal of his educational background, but he immediately revised his page to reflect he did not graduate from MIT or an MIT-affiliated program.

Trump says he would have fired McConnell challenger for LinkedIn page – The Hill’s Ballot Box.

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Robotic bartender assembles personalized drinks, monitors alcohol consumption, and takes social mixing to a whole new level | Robohub

Robotic bartender assembles personalized drinks, monitors alcohol consumption, and takes social mixing to a whole new level

by Hallie Siegel
May 16, 2013

You’re at a busy bar. You order your personalized cocktail through a smart phone app; a drink dispenser measures out the beverage according to your instructions and a Kuka robotic arm give it a shake (or stir), while another garnishes it with a slice of lemon; the made-to-order concoction is delivered to your waiting hand via a slick little ten-lane conveyor belt. MakrShakr_LucasWerthein_0104

Makr Shakr Kuka robotic arm holding a martini shaker. Photo credit: Lucas Werthein.

The ‘mixology system’ tracks your order from start to finish: a large display behind the bar shows you the number of drinks ahead of yours in the queue, the current wait time, and lets you know when your drink is ready to be picked up. It also shows you what’s popular to drink tonight among both the ladies and the gents in the crowd, and lets you influence drinking trends in realtime by incorporating your suggested tweaks on popular recipes.

This clearly isn’t your parents’ neighbourhood watering hole, but it could be your kids’ — or even yours if you are lucky enough to be at the Google I/O After Hours event tonight in San Francisco. Welcome to Makr Shakr, a bar for the ‘sense-able city’ of tomorrow.

Drink as digitally/socially fabricated meme

Makr Shakr is one of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab projects, where the goal is to study and anticipate how sensor technologies can inform and transform our built environments. The project’s creators say that it’s not about trying to replace bartenders with robots, or even about drinking; it’s about exploring the dynamics of consumption and social networks in the context of sensor and digital fabrication technologies. In other words, its a mini-lab for learning about how we, the social creatures that we are, might interact with each other and our environments in the sensor-augmented cities of tomorrow.

According to project leader Yaniv Turgeman, Makr Shakr was conceived as part research project, part art installation, part social experiment: ”It is a research platform aimed at the third industrial revolution, where anyone can design, produce and influence culture. It’s also an installation meant to provoke and question our relationship with technology and creation … we’re experimenting with the idea of social co-creation and consumption.” Given Makr Shakr’s fundamental connection to crowdsourcing and social networks, it’s no wonder, then, that the project was invited to this year’s Google I/O event as a feature project.

As I write this article, Turgeman is busy with last minute preparations for Makr Shakr’s official launch at tonight’s Google I/O After Hours party, but I managed to track him down for a phone interview earlier this afternoon. He explained to me that point of the project was to take the phenomenon of maker culture and learn whether (and how) we can leverage it to socially create “bottom up culture”.

The SENSEable City Lab has many social and sensor networking projects at various stages of development (including elaborate plans for a World Expo 2015 project that will explore how social connectivity can be used to influence the production, distribution, preparation, consumption and recycling of food), but when Google first approached the lab about developing a project specifically for the 2013 I/O event, the team chose Makr Shakr because drinking is a social and relatively discrete (and therefor easy to parameterize) activity; in other words, it’s an ideal context for studying how people interact with digitally-mediated social networks.

“Drinking happens to be a very social activity,” Turgeman said. “At a bar, you’re looking to meet people. You might think ‘hey that’s a great drink I just invented’ and want to share it or iterate on it … by exploring the realtime behavioural dynamics in this situation, maybe we can learn something about how people interact with and influence each other’s consumption habits.”


Makr Shakr’s data visualization, showing the number of drinks in the queue, current wait time, drinks made and other details. Credit: Superuber Visualizations.

Digital fabrication is an important theme at the SENSEable City Lab, which regularly partners with industry in order to contextualize researchers where they can conduct real-world experiments. The kind of personalized, just-in-time digital fabrication and delivery exemplified by Makr Shakr (the ‘third industrial revolution’ Turgeman refered to earlier in our conversation) is one that demands that big time players from the food and beverage sector take note. And some already have — in 2009 Coca-Cola launched Freestyle, a touchscreen-operated beverage dispenser that offers more than 100 of the company’s brands in a single dispensing device. But the big idea of Turgeman’s project is not to study delivery systems for custom drinks, it’s to study how cultural memes are created and promoted, and this is surely of interest to major brands like Coke and Bacardi, which are the main sponsors of the project.

In this context, Makr Shakr takes personalized branding to a whole new level. Says Turgeman: “The magic moment will be watching the formation of a bottom-up bar culture, as we close the loop between co-curating and co-producing in real time.” It’s not hard to imagine that, if Makr Shakr one day goes mainstream, advertisers and big brands will want a piece of the action. But as top-heavy players in a bottom-up world, the question that lingers is, will we let them?

Bottom up culture, or Bottoms up culture?

Makr Shakr beverage ready for pick up. Photo credit: Max Tomasinelli.

It’s not clear to me during our phone interview whether Turgeman sees the pun in his ‘bottom up’ approach to influencing drinking culture, but it does get me prodding him about the claims on the Makr Shakr website that the system promotes responsible drinking by allowing people to self-monitor their alcohol consumption.

While this feature won’t be operational during the Google I/O event (they are expecting a crowd of 5000+ and didn’t want to overextend the system tonight) Turgeman explained that, yes, Makr Shakr can be used to track a person’s alcohol consumption. There’s no breathalizer unit to blow into (too uncouth, I imagine, not to mention the privacy issues and ick-factor); instead the system estimates your blood alcohol levels based on weight and height information you provide when you install the app on your phone, and the number of drinks that the system has served you.

The Makr Shakr phone app displays your blood alcohol level over time in a chart, but it also uses three simple icons to tell you whether you are safe “to drive, to walk or to talk,” because, as Turgeman points out, numbers might be meaningless to you, especially after a few drinks. “Sometimes you think you’re safe to drive when you’re not. When you’re being social, it’s hard to keep track of how many drinks you’ve had,” says Turgeman, and since that data is so easy to capture, “it’s a no-brainer that of course we should let people know.”  He also assures me that, as discretion is a must for bartenders, all data from the Makr Shakr app is anonymous (though users are able to share their age, gender, nationality, nickname and photo or avatar for social networking if they want to).

Though Makr Shakr will not demand that you turn over your car keys and order you a taxi if you’re over the legal limit, Turgeman says that it’s not a stretch that future iterations could interface with taxi-service apps like Uber.

I’m told that Makr Shakr doesn’t take tips, but I’ll tip my hat to its makers all the same.


Makr Shakr at it’s unveiling in Milan. Photo credit: Max Tomasinelli.

[Credits: Project concept and design by MIT Senseable City Lab; Implementation bycarlorattiassociati | walter nicolino & carlo ratti; Main partners – Coca-Cola and Barcardi. Technical partners – Kuka, Pentagram, SuperUber; Media partners – Domus, Wired; Videos by MyBossWas; Event in collaboration with Meet the Media Guru, and endorsed by: Comune di Milano, World Expo Milano 2015 – Energy for Life. Feeding the Planet. Photos: Lucas Werthein, Max Tomasinelli, My Boss Was. Full credits available at

 Robotic bartender assembles personalized drinks, monitors alcohol consumption, and takes social mixing to a whole new level | Robohub.

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Why Cell Phone Bans Don’t Work – ScienceNOW


Why Cell Phone Bans Don’t Work

by Carol Cruzan Morton on 22 August 2012



It’s the driver. People who talk on cell phones tend to be more unsafe drivers, says a new study from MIT that included a test drive.

Credit: Nathan Fried-Lipski/MIT AgeLab

You can take the driver away from the cell phone, but you can’t take the risky behavior away from the driver. That’s the conclusion of a new study, which finds that people who talk on their phones while driving may already be unsafe drivers who are nearly as prone to crash with or without the device. The findings may explain why laws banning cell phone use in motor vehicles have had little impact on accident rates.

The study involved 108 people, equally divided into three age groups: 20s, 40s, and 60s. For each person, the researchers correlated answers on a questionnaire with data collected from on-board sensors during a 40-minute test drive up Interstate 93 north of Boston. The drivers commanded a black Volvo SUV tricked out with an eye tracker, heart and skin monitors, video cameras facing out the front and back windows, on-board sensors, and other research gear.

No cell phones were allowed during these trips. Instead, before they got behind the wheel, the study participants filled in answers about how often they used a cell phone while driving, how they felt about speeding and passing other cars, and how many times in the last year they had been warned or cited for speeding, running traffic lights and stop signs, and other infractions. The team grouped the participants into “frequent users” (those who talked on the phone while driving a few times a week or more) and “rare users” (those who talked while driving a few times a month or less).

Compared with people who rarely talked as they steered, frequent cell phone users drove faster, changed lanes more frequently, spent more time in the left lane, and engaged in more hard braking maneuvers and rapid accelerations, according to the SUV’s onboard equipment. Frequent cell phone users, for example, zoomed along about 4.4 kilometers per hour faster on average and changed lanes twice as often, compared with rare users.

“These are not ‘oh-my-god’ differences,” says study leader Bryan Reimer, a human factors engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. “They are subtle clues indicative of more aggressive driving.” What’s more, he says, other studies have linked these behaviors to an increased rate of crashes. “It’s clear [from the scientific literature] that cell phones in and of themselves impair the ability to manage the demands of driving,” Reimer says. But “the fundamental problem may be the behavior of the individuals willing to pick up the technology.”

The findings, reported online this month in Accident Analysis & Prevention, provide one plausible explanation for why injuries and fatalities from motor vehicle crashes have decreased to historic lows even as cellular technology use has increased dramatically. They may also explain another mystery. “Cell phone bans have reduced cell phone use by drivers, but the perplexing thing is that they haven’t reduced crashes,” says Russ Rader, a spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Virginia, who was not involved in the new study. In two other studies, the institute has found no reduction in crashes due to hand-held cell phone or texting bans, based on insurance claim rates in states with and without the laws.

The findings may help explain why legislation banning mobile phone use has had little measurable impact on overall crash rates, speculate the study authors. “There is no question in anyone’s mind that talking on a cell phone increases risk,” Reimer says. “It’s great we can take the phone out of their hands, but these may be the drivers who are getting in accidents anyway.”

“We have seen the same correlations in our Traffic Safety Culture Index,” says Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, an independently funded charitable research and education organization established by the American Automobile Association. The index surveys more than 3100 people each year. The foundation wants to change driver behavior, a challenge more complex than banning phones, he says.

Still, cell phone bans may save lives, says David Strayer, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. “The MIT data indicate that regulation [banning cell phone use] may be reasonable so long as it is followed up with good enforcement, and that together these would result in a decrease in unsafe driving behavior.”

 Why Cell Phone Bans Don’t Work – ScienceNOW.


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MIT creates superhydrophobic coating for condiment bottles |

MIT creates superhydrophobic coating for condiment bottles

May. 23, 2012 (11:30 am) By: Matthew Humphries


Super slippery coatings seem to be quite popular at the moment. We’ve already shown you the superhydrophobic spray that means no more clothes to wash, and then there was the superhydrophobic film promising to make circuit boards water resistant. Now MIT has come up with another slippery coating, only this one is safe for use with food.

Why do we need a non-slip coating on food packaging? Well, have you ever tried to get the last few drops of ketchup or mayonnaise out of a bottle? It’s impossible without you start scooping the substance out with a spoon, and even then you can’t get all of it. Put a non-stick coating on the inside of the bottle though, and the problem disappears.

MIT has such a coating and they’ve called it LiquiGlide. As the video above demonstrates, it doesn’t let anything stick to the surface it is applied to, meaning a bottle of ketchup will look squeaky clean when empty. The same will be true of any food or drink packet you currently dispose of covered in the remains of the food it contained.

LiquiGlide can be applied to glass and varying types of plastic. To the touch it is a solid coating, but its properties make it act more like a lubricating liquid. It is formed using only FDA approved materials due to its intended use alongside food, which means it might not be long before we see it used in a commercial product. And I guarantee everyone will know about that first product as the marketing will focus on it.

LiquiGlide has many uses beyond just food packaging. In fact, its use with food is actually a byproduct of the MIT team trying to develop a coating to stop oil and gas line clogs. They have also looked into using a similar coating to stop ice forming on a surface. So while LiquiGlide may make pounding a condiment bottle a thing of the past first, in the future it could also be making those cold winter mornings a more pleasant experience for drivers.

 MIT creates superhydrophobic coating for condiment bottles |

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Solar ‘towers’ beat panels by up to 20x |



Intensive research around the world has focused on improving the performance of solar photovoltaic cells and bringing down their cost. But very little attention has been paid to the best ways of arranging those cells, which are typically placed flat on a rooftop or other surface, or sometimes attached to motorized structures that keep the cells pointed toward the sun as it crosses the sky.


Now, a team of MIT researchers has come up with a very different approach: building cubes or towers that extend the solar cells upward in three-dimensional configurations. Amazingly, the results from the structures they’ve tested show power output ranging from double to more than 20 times that of fixed flat panels with the same base area.

The biggest boosts in power were seen in the situations where improvements are most needed: in locations far from the equator, in winter months and on cloudier days. The new findings, based on both computer modeling and outdoor testing of real modules, have been published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science.

“I think this concept could become an important part of the future of photovoltaics,” says the paper’s senior author, Jeffrey Grossman, the Carl Richard Soderberg Career Development Associate Professor of Power Engineering at MIT.

The MIT team initially used a computer algorithm to explore an enormous variety of possible configurations, and developed analytic software that can test any given configuration under a whole range of latitudes, seasons and weather. Then, to confirm their model’s predictions, they built and tested three different arrangements of solar cells on the roof of an MIT laboratory building for several weeks.

While the cost of a given amount of energy generated by such 3-D modules exceeds that of ordinary flat panels, the expense is partially balanced by a much higher energy output for a given footprint, as well as much more uniform power output over the course of a day, over the seasons of the year, and in the face of blockage from clouds or shadows. These improvements make power output more predictable and uniform, which could make integration with the power grid easier than with conventional systems, the authors say.

The basic physical reason for the improvement in power output — and for the more uniform output over time — is that the 3-D structures’ vertical surfaces can collect much more sunlight during mornings, evenings and winters, when the sun is closer to the horizon, says co-author Marco Bernardi, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE).

The time is ripe for such an innovation, Grossman adds, because solar cells have become less expensive than accompanying support structures, wiring and installation. As the cost of the cells themselves continues to decline more quickly than these other costs, they say, the advantages of 3-D systems will grow accordingly.

“Even 10 years ago, this idea wouldn’t have been economically justified because the modules cost so much,” Grossman says. But now, he adds, “the cost for silicon cells is a fraction of the total cost, a trend that will continue downward in the near future.” Currently, up to 65 percent of the cost of photovoltaic (PV) energy is associated with installation, permission for use of land and other components besides the cells themselves.

Although computer modeling by Grossman and his colleagues showed that the biggest advantage would come from complex shapes — such as a cube where each face is dimpled inward — these would be difficult to manufacture, says co-author Nicola Ferralis, a research scientist in DMSE. The algorithms can also be used to optimize and simplify shapes with little loss of energy. It turns out the difference in power output between such optimized shapes and a simpler cube is only about 10 to 15 percent — a difference that is dwarfed by the greatly improved performance of 3-D shapes in general, he says. The team analyzed both simpler cubic and more complex accordion-like shapes in their rooftop experimental tests.

At first, the researchers were distressed when almost two weeks went by without a clear, sunny day for their tests. But then, looking at the data, they realized they had learned important lessons from the cloudy days, which showed a huge improvement in power output over conventional flat panels.

For an accordion-like tower — the tallest structure the team tested — the idea was to simulate a tower that “you could ship flat, and then could unfold at the site,” Grossman says. Such a tower could be installed in a parking lot to provide a charging station for electric vehicles, he says.

So far, the team has modeled individual 3-D modules. A next step is to study a collection of such towers, accounting for the shadows that one tower would cast on others at different times of day. In general, 3-D shapes could have a big advantage in any location where space is limited, such as flat-rooftop installations or in urban environments, they say. Such shapes could also be used in larger-scale applications, such as solar farms, once shading effects between towers are carefully minimized.

A few other efforts — including even a middle-school science-fair project last year — have attempted 3-D arrangements of solar cells. But, Grossman says, “our study is different in nature, since it is the first to approach the problem with a systematic and predictive analysis.”

 Solar ‘towers’ beat panels by up to 20x |

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A biplane to break the sound barrier – MIT Media Relations

For Immediate Release: March 15, 2012

contact: Kimberly Allen, MIT News Office
email: phone: 617-253-2702


A biplane to break the sound barrier

Cheaper, quieter and fuel-efficient biplanes could put supersonic travel on the horizon.

(CAMBRIDGE, MA) — For 27 years, the Concorde provided its passengers with a rare luxury: time saved. For a pricey fare, the sleek supersonic jet ferried its ticketholders from New York to Paris in a mere three-and-a-half hours — just enough time for a nap and an aperitif. Over the years, expensive tickets, high fuel costs, limited seating and noise disruption from the jet’s sonic boom slowed interest and ticket sales. On Nov. 26, 2003, the Concorde — and commercial supersonic travel — retired from service.

Since then, a number of groups have been working on designs for the next generation of supersonic jets. Now an MIT researcher has come up with a concept that may solve many of the problems that grounded the Concorde. Qiqi Wang, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, says the solution, in principle, is simple: Instead of flying with one wing to a side, why not two?

Wang and his colleagues Rui Hu, a postdoc in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Antony Jameson, a professor of engineering at Stanford University, have shown through a computer model that a modified biplane can, in fact, produce significantly less drag than a conventional single-wing aircraft at supersonic cruise speeds. The group will publish their results in the Journal of Aircraft.

This decreased drag, according to Wang, means the plane would require less fuel to fly. It also means the plane would produce less of a sonic boom.

“The sonic boom is really the shock waves created by the supersonic airplanes, propagated to the ground,” Wang says. “It’s like hearing gunfire. It’s so annoying that supersonic jets were not allowed to fly over land.”

Double the wings, double the fun

With Wang’s design, a jet with two wings — one positioned above the other — would cancel out the shock waves produced from either wing alone. Wang credits German engineer Adolf Busemann for the original concept. In the 1950s, Busemann came up with a biplane design that essentially eliminates shock waves at supersonic speeds.

Normally, as a conventional jet nears the speed of sound, air starts to compress at the front and back of the jet. As the plane reaches and surpasses the speed of sound, or Mach 1, the sudden increase in air pressure creates two huge shock waves that radiate out at both ends of the plane, producing a sonic boom.

Through calculations, Busemann found that a biplane design could essentially do away with shock waves. Each wing of the design, when seen from the side, is shaped like a flattened triangle, with the top and bottom wings pointing toward each other. The configuration, according to his calculations, cancels out shock waves produced by each wing alone.

However, the design lacks lift: The two wings create a very narrow channel through which only a limited amount of air can flow. When transitioning to supersonic speeds, the channel, Wang says, could essentially “choke,” creating incredible drag. While the design could work beautifully at supersonic speeds, it can’t overcome the drag to reach those speeds.

Giving lift to a grounded theory

To address the drag issue, Wang, Hu and Jameson designed a computer model to simulate the performance of Busemann’s biplane at various speeds. At a given speed, the model determined the optimal wing shape to minimize drag. The researchers then aggregated the results from a dozen different speeds and 700 wing configurations to come up with an optimal shape for each wing.

They found that smoothing out the inner surface of each wing slightly created a wider channel through which air could flow. The researchers also found that by bumping out the top edge of the higher wing, and the bottom edge of the lower wing, the conceptual plane was able to fly at supersonic speeds, with half the drag of conventional supersonic jets such as the Concorde. Wang says this kind of performance could potentially cut the amount of fuel required to fly the plane by more than half.

“If you think about it, when you take off, not only do you have to carry the passengers, but also the fuel, and if you can reduce the fuel burn, you can reduce how much fuel you need to carry, which in turn reduces the size of the structure you need to carry the fuel,” Wang says. “It’s kind of a chain reaction.”

The team’s next step is to design a three-dimensional model to account for other factors affecting flight. While the MIT researchers are looking for a single optimal design for supersonic flight, Wang points out that a group in Japan has made progress in designing a Busemann-like biplane with moving parts: The wings would essentially change shape in mid-flight to attain supersonic speeds.

“Now people are having more ideas on how to improve [Busemann’s] design,” Wang says. “This may lead to a dramatic improvement, and there may be a boom in the field in the coming years.”

Written by: Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office

 A biplane to break the sound barrier – MIT Media Relations.

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Economists See More Jobs for Machines, Not People –


Published: October 23, 2011

Top of Form

Bottom of Form


A faltering economy explains much of the job shortage in America, but advancing technology has sharply magnified the effect, more so than is generally understood, according to two researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Mark Ostow for The New York Times

Erik Brynjolfsson, left, and Andrew McAfee, authors of “Race Against the Machine,” argue in their e-book that technological advancements are outpacing the human worker.

The automation of more and more work once done by humans is the central theme of “Race Against the Machine,” an e-book to be published on Monday.

“Many workers, in short, are losing the race against the machine,” the authors write.

Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist and director of the M.I.T. Center for Digital Business, and Andrew P. McAfee, associate director and principal research scientist at the center, are two of the nation’s leading experts on technology and productivity. The tone of alarm in their book is a departure for the pair, whose previous research has focused mainly on the benefits of advancing technology.

Indeed, they were originally going to write a book titled, “The Digital Frontier,” about the “cornucopia of innovation that is going on,” Mr. McAfee said. Yet as the employment picture failed to brighten in the last two years, the two changed course to examine technology’s role in the jobless recovery.

The authors are not the only ones recently to point to the job fallout from technology. In the current issue of the McKinsey Quarterly, W. Brian Arthur, an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute, warns that technology is quickly taking over service jobs, following the waves of automation of farm and factory work. “This last repository of jobs is shrinking — fewer of us in the future may have white-collar business process jobs — and we have a problem,” Mr. Arthur writes.

The M.I.T. authors’ claim that automation is accelerating is not shared by some economists. Prominent among them are Robert J. Gordon of Northwestern and Tyler Cowen of George Mason University, who contend that productivity improvement owing to technological innovation rose from 1995 to 2004, but has trailed off since. Mr. Cowen emphasized that point in an e-book, “The Great Stagnation,” published this year.

Technology has always displaced some work and jobs. Over the years, many experts have warned — mistakenly — that machines were gaining the upper hand. In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes warned of a “new disease” that he termed “technological unemployment,” the inability of the economy to create new jobs faster than jobs were lost to automation.

But Mr. Brynjolfsson and Mr. McAfee argue that the pace of automation has picked up in recent years because of a combination of technologies including robotics, numerically controlled machines, computerized inventory control, voice recognition and online commerce.

Faster, cheaper computers and increasingly clever software, the authors say, are giving machines capabilities that were once thought to be distinctively human, like understanding speech, translating from one language to another and recognizing patterns. So automation is rapidly moving beyond factories to jobs in call centers, marketing and sales — parts of the services sector, which provides most jobs in the economy.

During the last recession, the authors write, one in 12 people in sales lost their jobs, for example. And the downturn prompted many businesses to look harder at substituting technology for people, if possible. Since the end of the recession in June 2009, they note, corporate spending on equipment and software has increased by 26 percent, while payrolls have been flat.

Corporations are doing fine. The companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index are expected to report record profits this year, a total $927 billion, estimates FactSet Research. And the authors point out that corporate profit as a share of the economy is at a 50-year high.

Productivity growth in the last decade, at more than 2.5 percent, they observe, is higher than the 1970s, 1980s and even edges out the 1990s. Still the economy, they write, did not add to its total job count, the first time that has happened over a decade since the Depression.

The skills of machines, the authors write, will only improve. In 2004, two leading economists, Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane, published “The New Division of Labor,” which analyzed the capabilities of computers and human workers. Truck driving was cited as an example of the kind of work computers could not handle, recognizing and reacting to moving objects in real time.

But last fall, Google announced that its robot-driven cars had logged thousands of miles on American roads with only an occasional assist from human back-seat drivers. The Google cars, Mr. Brynjolfsson said, are but one sign of the times.

As others have, he pointed to I.B.M.’s “Jeopardy”-playing computer, Watson, which in February beat a pair of human “Jeopardy” champions; and Apple’s new personal assistant software, Siri, which responds to voice commands.

“This technology can do things now that only a few years ago were thought to be beyond the reach of computers,” Mr. Brynjolfsson said.

Yet computers, the authors say, tend to be narrow and literal-minded, good at assigned tasks but at a loss when a solution requires intuition and creativity — human traits. A partnership, they assert, is the path to job creation in the future.

“In medicine, law, finance, retailing, manufacturing and even scientific discovery,” they write, “the key to winning the race is not to compete against machines but to compete with machines.” 

Economists See More Jobs for Machines, Not People –

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