PopTech Blog

Our bodies are remote controls: Desney Tan and Scott Saponas explain

Imagine if you could turn up the volume on your stereo, answer an email, or find directions - all by tapping your arm or moving your body. It's really not all that far off. On the PopTech stage, Desney Tan and Scott Saponas demoed Skinput, their technology that creates an interface using bio-acoustics on touch-sensitive surfaces of our body. Beyond the novelty of using your forearm to change the channel on your television, there's a real benefit from this technology.

Tan lays the foundation of their talk by explaining that the iPads and Androids we depend upon daily aren't purely functional. Instead, if they're designed right, they should provide an experience for the user, change culture, and shape the way we live. But these devices, which we've become tethered to, can be limiting. What if we didn't always need to pull something out of our pocket and close off the world around us while staring into a small screen and tapping away on an ever-shrinking device? What if we could continue to interact with our environment while getting the information we need?

"We've made cool technologies that profoundly shape how we live. The bottleneck is in the interface. The challenge is to create richer ways for humans and computers to communicate," described Tan. He suggests that we turn our bodies, or what he deems "playground[s] of technology interface," into sensors so that we can then become our own controllers wherever we go, whenever we want.

This week: Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub

There's always something brewing in the PopTech community. From the world-changing people, projects, and ideas in our network, a handful of this week's highlights follows.

  • Tuberville is an organization dedicated to reducing hunger within our communities by focusing on engaging farmers to set aside a few acres of land to harvest and donate the crops to local food banks. The Tuberville web series, whose first episde was released last week, was inspired by a desire to find an innovative and entertaining approach to raising awareness and grow the Tuberville organization. PopTech has worked with a number of folks on this film crew and we're proud to call them our friends. 

If you'd like to receive a stream of these updates (and more) throughout the week in real time, follow us on TwitterTumblrFacebook, sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to the PopTech blog.

Image: Brent Harrewyn for Tuberville

2012 Google Science Fair: Call for student entries

Spring is drawing ever closer and with it comes science fair season, when parents dust off their folding card tables and kids put together their best interpretation of Mount Vesuvius using only Cheese Wiz and mud.

This year, Google is once again getting into the science fair action with their second annual Google Science Fair. The contest, open to students ages 13-18, allows entries from either individuals or teams of up to three people in a variety of categories (see complete rules). Last year's winning projects (all led by girls!) included a study on carcinogens in grilled chicken, improving air quality for asthma patients, and improving treatment results for ovarian cancer patients.  

The theme this year revolves around asking a question. From the site:

Have you asked a question today? What did you do with it?

Did it take you somewhere new? Did it bring you here?

The Google Science Fair is an online science competition seeking curious minds from the four corners of the globe. Anybody and everybody between 13 and 18 can enter. All you need is an idea.

Geniuses are not always A-grade students. We welcome all mavericks, square-pegs and everybody who likes to ask questions. Simply upload your project here to win some life changing prizes.

Everyone has a question. What’s yours?

Prizes include a National Geographic Expedition to the Galapagos Islands, a $50,000 scholarship from Google and a bunch of other amazing, science-related things. You can follow along on all the projects' process on the related Google Plus site or on Twitter @GoogleSciFair

If you're a teacher, a student or know a budding scientist who might be interested, please help spread the word about this opportunity. Let's take the science fair to the next level!

Image-wise: PopTech portraits from Alphachimp's Perrin Ireland

PopTech friend Perrin Ireland of Alphachimp Studios sketched portraits of PopTech 2011 speakers and Fellows in action, and we've compiled these pieces into a slideshow for your viewing pleasure. You may get a sense of the talks' topics from the illustrations, but if they've piqued your interest and left you wanting more, we've conveniently included links to each of their stage talks as well.

  1. Shahidul Alam describes how he started a number of projects to bring photography to the people.
  2. Milenko Matanovic is a community builder and visual artist.
  3. Krista Donaldson runs D-Rev: Design Revolution, which creates state-of-the-art, user-centric products to empower the lives of people living on less than four dollars a day.
  4. Reuben Margolin creates large-scale kinetic sculptures that use pulleys and motors to create the complex movements and structures we see in nature.
  5. Adrien Treuille tackles scientific problems with games.
  6. Jan Chipchase, head of research for frog Design, talks about the process behind his company’s acclaimed work.
  7. Military strategists Col. Mark Mykleby (who presented with Captain Wayne Porter) presents highlights from their much-discussed paper, “A National Strategic Narrative.”
  8. Iain Couzin studies how animals coordinate behavior.
  9. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson describes Iceland’s social and democratic upheaval and their path to resilience.
  10. Paul Needham's organization, Simba Networks, makes solar energy available to the poor by using a pay-as-you-go pricing structure that eventually leads to electricity ownership.
  11. Michael Murphy uses architectural solutions to make people healthier.
  12. Katherine Kuchenbecker designs haptic interfaces, virtual objects and distant environments that feel real to the human touch.
  13. Jonathan Rothberg’s invention ushered in the era of personal genetics and today his technology is used in laboratories and medical centers all over the world.
  14. Erik Hersman explains how Africa has some of the world’s fastest growing economies where innovation and entrepreneurship are exploding.
  15. Anne-Marie Slaughter shares her insights on the transformation of state and non-state actors.
  16. Thomas Thwaites reverse engineered a simple seven dollar toaster into 400 separate parts and then set about recreating it entirely from scratch.
  17. Unity Dow, a lawyer, high court justice in Botswana, and novelist describes seismic generational shifts between pre- and post-independence Africans.
  18. Military strategists Captain Wayne Porter (who presented with Col. Mark Mykleby) presents highlights from their much-discussed paper, “A National Strategic Narrative."
  19. Saman Arbabi (who presented with co-host Kambiz Hosseini) started a satirical television show, Parazit, that uses use the power of satire combined with content from citizens on the street to expose injustices happening across Iran.
  20. Tony Orrico explores line and shape with his actual body, creating works of visual art that record his own motion.

Megan White Mukuria on making it


Am I normal? Am I special? Am I going to make it?
These are questions teenagers struggle with around the globe. And for vulnerable girls in Kenya, the answer to the last question - if Social Innovation Fellow Megan White Mukuria has anything to do with it - is yes. Making it means making sure those girls receive an education. So White wondered, "If educating girls is the number one things we can do, what's the simplest thing I can do to change the world and keep more girls in school?"

On the heels of PopTech's recent Climate Lab in Nairobi, Kenya in which we looked at the impact of climate change on girls and women, White's concerns about making it and the question she set forth are particularly relevant. When White learned that over 860,000 girls in Kenya wind up staying home and missing a month and a half of school each year because they can't afford sanitary pads during menstruation, the simple solution became clear: help provide affordable pads and health education to these young women. ZanaAfrica, the organization she founded, gives girls the freedom and self-confidence to stay in school and provides them with an opportunity to connect online with a community of like-minded young women. The results of ZanaAfrica's work with 800 young women in the Kibera slums in Kenya has positively changed the dynamic within classrooms, families, and communities, and with plans to scale this project, we have yet to see the full potential this program will have on the lives of young women.

Image-wise: An eye on the bygone days of Fat Tuesday

"Female Eye", costume design, Krewe of Comus, New Orleans Mardi Gras, 1869

It was Comus, who, in 1857, saved and transformed the dying flame of the old Creole Carnival with his enchanter's cup; it was Comus who introduced torch lit processions and thematic floats to Mardi Gras; and it was Comus who ritually closed, and still closes, the most cherished festivities of New Orleans with splendor and pomp. - Wiki

Image: The Public Doman Review

This week in PopTech: Diplomacy beats and photographic feats

There's always something brewing in the PopTech community. From the world-changing people, projects and ideas in our network, a handful of this week's highlights follows.

If you'd like to receive a stream of these updates (and more) throughout the week in real time, follow us on TwitterTumblrFacebook, sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to the PopTech blog.

Image: Kris Krug

What makes the strongest Social Innovation Fellow nominations?

Nominations for the PopTech Social Innovation Fellows program opened earlier this month. Whether you’re nominating yourself or someone else, how can you best make the case?

Based on past years’ most compelling nominations, here are some helpful tips:

  • Give specific examples of the nominee’s leadership and collaborative success.
  • Describe clearly the central innovation and how it has begun to prove its impact. Why is this a breakthrough idea? What demonstrates that it really works?
  • Indicate the most promising path and potential timeframe for reaching scale and sustainability. How many people could be reached, how, and when?
  • Include a personal highlight or two to help reveal the nominee’s passion, dedication and other key qualities.

We need your help identifying the strongest candidates for this year’s class of Fellows. Please have a look at the call for nominations and submit your nominations any time between now and April 3, 2012.

Image: captain.orange

#ILoveArchitecture. Do you?

Heart made of buildings and bridges

We admit it: we kind of have hashtag fever. While the initial novelty of Twitter is wearing off (and as it has increasingly become a place for spambots and psychotrons), it's interesting to see how the tool usage is morphing and how it still very much has the power to do what all social media claims to do: bring people together.

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about the pro-scientist movement started by marine biologist Kevin Zelnio with his Twitter hashtag #IamScience. This time, fresh off of Valentine's day, we're checking out #ilovearchitecture. Conceived by Architecture for Humanity, the I Love Architecture movement encourages architects to "Put down the coffee for a moment and spend minutes reminding yourself why you love architecture and, if you feel so bold, let the world know. It could be a building you worked on, a client who made you think differently or a community you’ve helped to transform. It could be the work of a fellow practitioner or perhaps a great space that inspired you to become the person you are today."

Recognizing their contributions, PopTech has welcomed many architects to the stage over the years including 2011 Social Innovation Fellow Michael Murphy, RISD architecture professor Kyna Leski, and Architecture for Humanity project partner Neema Mgana.  

Read more...

Tony Orrico: Symmetry in Motion


Tony Orrico utilizes patterned physical movement and graphite mark-making on paper to create bilateral drawings that leave a powerful record of his process. He is equal parts dancer, choreographer and visual artist; and there is a hypnotic quality to the repetitive motions, intense focus, and physical endurance required to create his drawing performances that can last up to seven hours.

He shared his artistic journey with the PopTech 2011 audience, including the important early influence of his grandfather, a painter, as he began his exploration of visual art and contour through dance and choreography that have culminated in his Penwald drawing series. The video shows Tony performing one of those pieces at PopTech 2011. Read more...