PopTech Blog

Nothing fishy about this robot fish

Maurizio Porfiri, a mechanical engineer at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, has built a robot fish that real fish flock to. It's not about how the mechanical fish looks to the other fish, but how it feels. In a video from this past Friday's Science Friday show on NPR, Porfiri explains:

Typically, when you speak of biomimicry, you tend to give a very human-centered interpretation so you speak of biomimicry if it looks like it. In this case, we try to fake what the fish feels rather than what the fish sees.

By replicating the flapping of a fish's tail, other fish recognize the motion and follow, forming a herd.  And before long, the robot fish is leading the pack. Eventually that could mean using this fake fish to shepherd fish out of harm's way, like an oil spill or some other environmental disaster. Porfiri has a ways to go before that time, but based on the progress he made since the initial discovery a few years ago, it looks like he's on the right track.

This week in PopTech: Designing for health, business and social good

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.

  • PopTech 2011 Social Innovation Fellow and MASS Design Group’s Michael Murphy spoke to a group at Van Alen Books for the launch of Empowering Architecture, a publication showcasing the Butaro Hospital in Rwanda. Murphy discussed his group’s holistic approach to architecture and the potential for architectural practice to play an integral role in building spaces that heal and strengthen communities.
  • Longtime friend of PopTech, Nancy Duarte, the CEO of Duarte Design, has advanced the art and literature of presentations, emerging with her agency as one of the most sought-after authorities in presentation design. Duarte has just released Resonate for iPad, a cinematic, interactive and media-rich business book.
  • Finally, yesterday, Social Innovation Fellow Jake Porway announced that his organization, Data Without Borders, will now officially be known as DataKind

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: Global Pulse

How do you see time?


The Time Project is a collection of user-generated graphic interpretations of time.The project asks:

What do you see, when you picture time?

Think about the next week, month, or year… the rest of your life, or your life so far. Does a diagram come into your head?

Submit your illustration to their online collection.

Images: The Time Project

David Mikkelsen's reconnecting refugees with their loved ones

In 2005, David Mikkelsen and his brother, Christopher, met a young man, Mansour, who had escaped the Taliban in Afghanistan when he was 12 and fled with his family to Pakistan only to, shortly thereafter, lose all contact with his family and wind up in Copenhagen, Denmark alone. The Mikkelsen brothers were determined to help him find a member of his family, which led them on a journey all over the world that ended in Moscow. Six years later, with the Mikkelsens' help, Mansour was able to locate his brother.

The Mikkelsens knew that this was just one story amidst millions of refugees who have lost contact with their family members and don't know their whereabouts. During his 2011 PopTech talk, David Mikkelsen thoughtfully explains, "The torture of uncertainty is just not okay. It's not okay not being able to find your family. The not knowing is so hard."

With that in mind, in 2008 the brothers established Refugees United, a mobile platform where refugees can reconnect with each other via inexpensive mobile phones. As it's described on the Refugees United site:

This digital infrastructure not only fosters greater collaboration and promotes unhindered sharing of information among Family Tracing and Reunification (FTR) agencies, but it also gives refugees the ability to become directly involved in their search for missing family via an anonymous, safe forum; easily accessible tools; and an ever-expanding, user-driven family finding network.

In 2011, Refugees United had 50,000 people looking for family members in its database. By the end of 2012, with outreach and community awareness, the organization predicts about 250,000 individuals looking to connect with loved ones will have found their way to the organization. Spread the word.

Afternoon music break: Blitz the Ambassador

Ghanian-born, New York-based rapper, composer, and producer Blitz the Ambassador and his crew made waves when they performed at PopTech 2011. Before they kicked off their set, we hung out with them backstage.

Image-wise: Finding the Milky Way in plexiglass

From Wired Magazine's Raw File:

The photos in Deborah Bay’s new photo series, The Big Bang, show otherworldly close-ups of bullets lodged in panels of plexiglass. For Bay, they recall images of nebulae and Big Bang explosions, but they are also blunt reminders of a bullet’s destructive force.

“Photography’s roots are so based in realism and I like to take it the other way,” says Bay. “I make an effort to take you into another place that is not quite so real, or maybe real in it’s own way. I aim to give you some food for thought.”

Images: Deborah Bay via Wired Magazine's Raw File

This week in PopTech: Sound effects, garden parties and community building

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.

  • On Thursday, PBS' Media Shift blog profiled community builder and PopTech 2011 speaker Milenko MatanovicMatanovic uses collaboration to transform communities nationwide.

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: James Vaughan

Celebrate Earth Day with Imogen Heap


Stop by Imogen Heap's backyard garden (well, sort of...) this Earth Day, Sunday, April 22, for an intimate, live performance of her new song and video. She'll be performing with her musical gloves for this one. Following the performance, you'll be treated to the premiere of Love the Earth, a film she's been working on for some time with collaborator, Thomas Ermacora. On Heap's blog, she elaborates:

Leading up to the Heapsong6 performance (which will hopefully have a name by then) I will be guiding you through the process so far via a ‘making of’ video. You’ll see the making of before it’s made! I’ll be introducing you to all the people involved in Heapsong6. From cameramen to cyclists, designers to lighting specialists and all of ‘The Gloves’ team, with footage shot over the last few weeks.

...the team will then magically re-assemble the garden from film set to outdoor cinema and we’ll all sit down together, relax and watch our Love The Earth Film, (orchestrally scored by yours truly), after a brief recap and introduction from Thomas Ermacora and I, before saying goodbye and leaving you to watch The Love The Earth film.

To whet your appetite, watch Heap perform at PopTech in 2008 and 2010 and read more from PopTech about her Love the Earth film.

Image: Kris Krüg

Image-wise: Iceland's resilient beauty

This month, National Geographic has featured one of the most beautiful and buoyant countries with Iceland's Resilient Beauty, a multimedia feature that includes text, photos and travel must dos. They're also accepting photo submissions from readers who have spent time in the country. For anyone considering joining PopTech in Iceland this June when we convene a conference on the topic of resilience, we highly recommend having a look.

Image: Orsolya and Erlend Haarberg via National Geographic

At Hveravellir—literally "hot springs in the plain"—thin terraces of geyserite precipitate from the water as it cools. A notorious 18th-century outlaw, Fjalla-Eyvindur, stayed warm here for years, stealing sheep from summer pastures.

Image: Orsolya and Erlend Haarberg via National Geographic

The volcano Eyjafjallajökull, in Iceland, just before dawn on April 23, 2010: The worst is over. Lava flows freely. Earlier, as it punched through the ice cap, it triggered a meltwater flood that destroyed roads and farms, and a steam explosion that hurled ash into the stratosphere, stopping air traffic for a week.


Image: Wild Wonders of Europe via National Geographic

At Litlanesfoss, the waterfall cross-sections an ancient lava flow, which formed columns as it cooled.

School's boring: Learn differently with Simon Hauger

Simon Hauger, an urban educator and founder of the Sustainability Workshop in Philadelphia, believes that school should be about students solving real world problems to have life-changing educational experiences. If you ask kids, they'll tell you school is boring, said Hauger. He explained further, "Traditional school is just focused on content. And if that's not in the service of something larger, kids get bored. Urban education is an interesting place to look. So many things have broken down, you can't hide the failure."

Early on, Hauger realized he'd stumbled upon an educational approach that was noteworthy. His high school kids have built hybrid cars, entered into the prestigious X-Prize and bested competition from Ivy League colleges. He notes, ironically, "It's easier to build cars that get 100 mpg than do grassroots reform work in the educational system." Hauger has described the success of his approach in his videos from PopTech 2010 and a short from 2011.

Hauger has witnessed repeatedly that as soon as his students are engaged in solving a problem, the other stuff in their lives that’s distracting them from learning goes out the door. Skills emerge in response to information that's needed by the particular project at hand.
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