New Tech Research | Clara Fasce

Deep-Learning Networks Rival Human Vision

Computers are great at solving problems, however they’ve always struggled with visual problems. Recent breakthroughs in the field of deep learning (a stem of artificial intelligence) are giving computers the power to interpret complicated visual issues by drawing inferences from subtle, telling patterns. This new learning based approached is known as convolutional neural network (CNN).

The way this technology works is by analyzing thousands of images related to one topic and then storing the data in layers. By doing this they create a hierarchy within the categories of an image. On the lower levels of organization they learn simple shapes and edges. In the higher layers they learn complex and abstract concepts. They are then capable of making high quality inferences based off of this hierarchy.

This deep learning technology is one of the greatest advances we’ve made in recent years. Its power comes from its adaptability. Before this technology machines were only capable of following an objective set of tasks. Now technology is capable of learning and making predictions.

This new technology releases unlimited possibilities across almost every industry. They allow for self driving cars to be safer, security cameras to understand crowd behavior, prevent the spread of disease in crops, identify early signs of cancer and disease, and way more.

New Tech Research | Kat Fenton

Ecstacy will be used to treat PTSD in clinical trials

I’ve been following this story for a while, just because I find this type of work in the medical industry really interesting. It really represents a change in thinking for me. These are drugs that used to be taboo in not only the public eye, but also in the medical field, are being re explored.

I think this is an important part of our society switching from religion and superstition to a fact and research based culture. Though MDMA has largely been associated with the club scene and many other drugs, it’s important to realize what it is at its core – a chemical mixture that alters your state of mind. If you boil it down to this, you open up a whole world of possibilities. Especially with our shift to focusing on our mental health as much as our physical health, this kind of exploration is important to deepening our understanding of how the human brain works.

It’s not necessarily a new technology, since ecstasy has been around for a while. But I’d like to argue that it’s a new way of thinking and it’s something that definitely could have a huge positive effect on a lot of people. This whole process started back in 1985 with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. This past year the FDA began funding them for the third phase of the study.

The participants in the study include “combat veterans, sexual assault victims, and police and firefighters with PTSD who had not responded to traditional prescription drugs or psychotherapy. Patients had, on average, struggled with symptoms for 17 years.” So far, two thirds of the participants’ symptoms have gone down so much that they don’t meet the criteria for PTSD anymore.

The researchers involved are so optimistic about these trials that they are estimating that this could be a viable treatment option by 2021. With all this positivity though, there has to be a negative side, right? Doctors are worried that people could abuse this drug much like prescription pain killers. Researchers involved in this trial make the argument that this drug should be used only when in therapy. This is how Dr. Mithoefer and his wife, Ann Mithoefer, conducted their trials.


Sources : NY Times


New Tech Research / Heather Weyda

aero – water harvester

Created by the UMEÅ Institute of Design // Susanne Duswald and Janis Beinerts in collaboration with Husqvarna Group and Gardena

It is predicted that by 2030 there will be a shortage of water due to urbanization, population growth, and increase of demand for energy and food production. This will make things such as personal and community farming a luxury activity that is too expensive for the average citizen. In order to save urban farming it is necessary for people to be able to collect a cheap source of water in order for these gardeners to take care of their plants. This is where Aero comes in.

Aero is a water harvester that takes water molecules from the air using polymer coated cotton membranes. Aero can harvest up to 200 liters of water a day. This device is complete powered by solar energy and can have smart dosing feeders connected in order to automate the plant watering process and to reduce overwatering and wasting of the resource. While Aero is meant mostly for community use, there is also the Aero mini for smaller, more personal use.

While I do find this to be an interesting concept I can’t help but wonder about the effect that this may play on the environment and if it would only make the situation worse. I worry about the idea of quite literally squeezing the resource out of the air, especially if there is such a high demand to do so. It also begs the question if there is higher demand and increase of price for water then will produce prices also rise and become a luxury causing people to turn to personal farming? It would be interesting to see how much a device like this would cost as well and if this device itself would be a luxury product. If it were to be listed in a higher price range then I feel as though it would only be helping the people who could already afford the luxury of personal gardening. Also, could this concept be used for other applications such as drinking water? I feel as though this idea and technology has many potential uses and can prove to be beneficial to society, provided that proper research about its impact on the water supply and the environment has been conducted.


The Process of Making Aero – This goes into the research and design process

The Final Project


New Tech Research / Astrid Otero

What initially started as a project to get people out of parking tickets through straightforward legal services provided by a bot, has become much more than that. Joshua Browder, a 19-year-old undergrad student at Stanford University, created an AI chatbot that asks users a series of questions to figure out the best way to help them. The bot then takes that information to draft a claim letter, saving people on legal fees and quite possibly a headache or two. With the bot being able to successfully navigate the world of parking tickets (it overturned more than 160,000 parking fines), Browder decided to take on a much more challenging issue; homeless and refugee asylum claims.

With the assistance of lawyers, the Stanford undergraduate has been able to craft responses for homeless people specifically, as well as research trends on why public housing applicants are denied so as to help particularly vulnerable populations, one example being, those living with mental illness. The chatbot helps to determine which application the individual needs to fill out, and takes caution in asking questions in “plain English,” rather than usual legal jargon these forms are usually replete with. The details you give are used to auto-fill an application form for either the US, Canada or the UK. The data is destroyed from his servers within 10 minutes of someone using the bot. This specific feature tackling homelessness has had more than 3,000 users as of August 2016 (when the feature was launched), and Browder is currently working on making the service available in multiple languages and partnering with more internationally adopted platforms such as WhatsApp.

This is an amazing, simple, free tool that I hope continues to break news in a positive way, especially as diverse asylum seekers wish to follow the law and receive proper services, but are faced with more obstacles than they should in order to gain basic human rights.

New Tech Research / Adam Stafford

As the world’s population grows larger and larger, designers, engineers and other innovators will be faced with a number of new issues. Among those problems, providing food for the world’s population will be paramount. In fact, according Ganesh Jayaram, vice president of information technology at John Deere & Co., “What that [population growth] translates to in terms of supply is that the global food supply must nearly double.” If that is true, then we will need to make some great leaps in terms of agricultural technology, and John Deere is the latest company to take a meaningful step toward a well-fed future.

On September 6, 2017 John Deere, one of the world’s best known tractor manufacturers, spent $305 million to acquire a startup known as Blue River Technology, specializing in computer vision and artificial intelligence, in order to integrate it into their large-scale farming products. With Blue River’s revolutionary technology, new John Deere products will be able to “see” and identify weeds and neutralize them at the source- the “plant level” as it’s called by director of John Deere Labs in San Francisco. By doing so, John Deere’s machines will reduce chemical use by up to 95%, and can greatly improve the yield of crops. What’s more, this computer vision and AI technology could be implemented in all the other steps in farming. In short, John Deere and Blue River Technology are taking a huge step toward putting highly efficient robot technology on farms. This sort of technological augmentation of traditional farming techniques is known as precision agriculture.

The new Bonirob robot is capable of distinguishing between weeds and crops by comparing them to images using machine learning.

Naturally, John Deere is not the only company with a strong focus on innovation in farming tech. Bosch is also developing farm-ready machines with their Bonirob Field Robot, which can punch weeds to death, thereby eliminating the issue with no chemicals whatsoever. Additionally, IBM is, “collecting real-time data on weather, soil and air quality, crop maturity and even equipment and labor costs,” and using, “predictive analytics to [help farmers] make smarter decisions” (see the image above). They even envision a farming future that utilizes mobile devices and crowd-sourcing to connect farmers with specialists, allowing them to weigh in on conditions that may affect crops in various areas.  So, although the world’s population and the issues it faces may grow, the possibilities for alternative solutions is are broad and varied.

New Tech Research / Margot Harknett

Gene Therapy 2.0

Scientists have figured out a way to take an engineered virus and have it deliver healthy copies of a gene inside someone who has defective genes. They had complications at first, which halted the process when some patients were dying from the gene therapy. One problem they were having were that the viruses they developed to carry the cells took the genetic information to the wrong part of the gnome, leading to cancer causing genes to be activated. Another problem was the viruses would mess with the patient’s immune system, which would lead to organ failure. The emerging technology is called CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing and it has been used by researches at the University of Massachusetts (MIT) and Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) in successfully correcting hereditary tyrosinemia, a rare metabolic disease. CRISPR can be packaged into an AVV or adeno-associated virus, which is the most versatile gene delivery vehicle, and therefor scientists don’t need to send an entire gene because CRISPER is an editing system. This is a big step for gene therapy but it is just the beginning, researchers are looking into more complex common diseases such as Alzheimer’s, heart failure, and cancer that would require multiple genes that aren’t always involved in every case. A Harvard geneticist named George Church says that someday everyone may be able to use gene therapy to combat the effects of aging.

Gene therapy 2.0: Will CRISPR make expensive treatment accessible to all?

New Tech Research | Emily Schaefer

Artificial / Bionic Leaves

In June of this year, a conference called “The Annual Meeting of the New Champions” (held in China) highlighted the “…best technologies designed to improve lives, transform industries and safeguard the planet …within the next 3-5 years.” (Source)

The Annual Meeting was established in 2007 as “The foremost global gathering on science, technology and innovation…the next generation of fast-growing enterprises shaping the future of business and society.” (Source)

One of the projects from this meeting that I have chosen to highlight is Daniel Nocera’s “Artificial Leaves”, designed to turn CO2 into fuel. He has been working on a way to artificially simulate the photosynthesis process of plants for many years now, and is finally (I suppose within the next few years) ready to take his successful technological discoveries to the next level.


Here are the Who, What, When, Where and Whys about his project:

What is it?
Artificial / Bionic Leaves …
+ that reduce C02 emissions
+ that create fuel from hydrogen
+ that is a great way to store the energy until we need it.
+ that can help underdeveloped countries
+ that can help combat climate change

Who is doing the research?
Several researchers have been pursuing the goal of understanding and re-creating photosynthesis. The most notable are: David Nocera and his team at Harvard University, Chemist Fernando Uribe-Romo at the University of Central Florida and Research scientist Amin Salehi-Khojin & team at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

What is this capable of?
+ Removing / Reducing CO2 emissions from the air
+ Powering Homes
+ Providing Fuel for Cars
+ Providing energy for communities
+ Solving the challeges of solar and wind power
+ Increasing the production of crops

How will this be used in every day life?
Nocera imagines people using the technology to power their homes & sustain their lives. Beyond producing hydrogen and carbon-rich fuels in a sustainable way, he has demonstrated that equipping the system with a different metabolically altered bacterium can produce nitrogen-based fertilizer right in the soil, an approach that would increase crops yields in areas where conventional fertilizers are not readily available.

What are the risks?
We’re not sure how bacteria will evolve or how plants will be effected by the nitrogen-based fertilizer in the soil. How will it effect our food?

When will this become available?
Hopefully within the next few years.

Links & Sources
MIT Tech Review – “A Big Leap for an Artificial Leaf” (June 7th, 2016)

National Geographic – “Daniel Nocera: Maverick Inventor of the Artificial Leaf” (May 19th, 2014)

NBC News / Science – “Can ‘Bionic Leaf’ Solve our Climate, Energy Problems? (May 30th, 2017)

Videos to Watch:
“The Artificial Leaf” – Forward Focus Films 2nd Place Winner in 2012:

“Bionic Leaf Turns Sunlight into Liquid Fuel” -Harvard University Youtube Channel

New Tech Research / Niyah Jackson

We’re all familiar with tiny homes and the trend towards downsizing and living a more minimal life, but did you know about tiny homes with smart capabilities? Described as “a tiny house for people who aren’t tiny home people,” the Mio (built by Covo Tiny House Co.) has just that. The 300 square foot home has retractable decks and roofs, high-tech solar panels, a washer/dryer combo and best of all is connected through Amazon’s Alexa. The video below demonstrates how to ask Alexa to lock the doors or turn off the lights.

Smart, tiny homes are gaining traction and are starting to become a competitive market. Kasita, is the name of another one built by Jeff Wilson who describes it as “an iPhone I can live in.”

This tricked out home has aspects that most full-sized homes don’t even have. Will this shift the way we think about living spaces as more and more people catch on?

New Tech Research/Andy Millard

Paying with Your Face

New emerging Technology provided by Face++, a highly valued Chinese startup. Face++ uses tracking software which tracks multiple points of a human face, (83 points to be exact) to create a more convenient/seamless customer experience.

Currently this facial recognition software is only being used in China for financial transactions, secured building entrances, ride–share companies, etc… I believe this technology could allow for a future with less aggravating interactions. For example, paying your parking meter. Imagine your parking meter recognizing your face, you could literally park your car, look your meter in the face and continue on with your day. I believe this could also allow for a more paperless world, hopefully resulting in less waste.

This could also create some problems. With any new emerging technology there will be some risk. When dealing with personal security and privacy the risk is in an insecure data base resulting in being hacked. Yet this technology works within a 99% success rate, there is still room for error.

New Tech Research – Sarah Grunkemeyer

Tech Source:

YouTube link:

Who owns your face? The HiMirror is a smart mirror that examines your skin that gives you exact metrics of what you can do to improve the current conditions of your skin. The system uses facial recognition and underlying technology to track and log skin firmness, texture, clarity, brightness, and health over the course of hours and days. The technology is still underway about how beneficial it can be compared to the average skin survey via smart screen at places like Sephora and Ulta.

When assessing the face, the HiMirror analyzes the face is things like skin complexion, spots, roughness, wrinkles, pigmentation, hydration, pores, dark circles and ethnic background. The baseline is to track your skin’s condition, monitor changes, make adjustments to your skincare products, and finding a routine that is best for you.

On the contrary, there are not many regulations set into place about this kind of technology that use facial recognition. The questions I ask is: does the National Telecommunications and Information Association have the power to stop the use and accessibility of our faces from being sold to companies or the government for types of data? Could powerful industry representatives take advantage of HiMirror, and sell millions of misguided information to convince someone that they need a new product every single day and cut down the users confidence and their body image? Could the mirror soon be an enemy of society because the device will see much more negatives instead of giving positive feedback? I feel like this smart mirror has a large sum of dark matter surrounded its creation. We must think deeply on this matter, so that one-day these advanced systems do not own our face and our feelings.