PopTech Blog

Video: Introducing PopTech's 2011 Science Fellows

The 2011 PopTech Science and Public Leadership Fellows are high-potential early- and mid-career scientists working in areas of critical importance to the nation and the planet.

Science Fellow spotlight: Katherine J. Kuchenbecker


This afternoon, Katherine J. Kuchenbecker, the first member of PopTech's sophomore class of Science and Public Leadership Fellows to present at this year's conference, talked about her efforts to make robotic systems more touchy feely. "If the sense of touch is so useful to humans, why are there so few human-computer interfaces that exploit it?" she asked the crowd, citing the numerous tricky manual feats we regularly complete, such as assembling a coffee table from IKEA.

At her laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, Kuchenbecker is working to incorporate the sense of touch, known as haptics, into human-computer interfaces. "We seek to engineer new haptic technologies that take advantage of the richness of the sense of touch...to help people do things they haven't done before," she explained.

Kuchenbecker's work stands to transform the way surgeons operate, play computer games, drive a car -- and even the way we shop online. Here are a few examples she talked about:

  • A tablet computer that actually lets you feel the objects on the screen. Think a swatch of carpeting or a fur collar.
  • Robot-assisted surgical tools that allow surgeons to feel as they cut, probe or suture, improving the quality of care.
  • A robot agile enough to manipulate almost any object it encounters, from a bunch of bananas to the chicken drumsticks you may bring home from the grocery store.  

Kuchenbecker and her graduate students have also worked to give robots the ability to communicate via touch -- one of the most important ways that humans interact. Their chosen gestures? Not a kiss or a hug or a handshake. The next time you meet a robot, try greeting it with a high five or a fist bump.

Images: Perrin Ireland, Alphachimp Studio, and Kris Krug for PopTech

Video: Introducing PopTech's 2011 Social Innovation Fellows

Around the world, visionary change agents are hard at work incubating new approaches to the planet’s toughest challenges. Introducing the PopTech Social Innovation Fellows class of 2011.

Social Innovation Fellow spotlight: Krista Donaldson & Paul Needham

The Social Innovation Fellows have always been crowd favorites at PopTech. As Andrew Zolli said when introducing the program, it's impossible to be cynical around these people who are working so hard to better the world.

This morning we met two entrepreneurs who are both working to improve the lives of people living under $4 (and in some cases much less) a day. 

Jaiphur knee illustration

First to take the stage was Krista Donaldson, who is bringing high design to the base of the pyramid. Her company D-Rev identifies high-impact opportunities and builds products that address issues such as jaundice, amputeeism and disease-detection. The organization's extensive user research and post-implementation follow-up ensures its designs have a significant and measurable impact on the people served.

"There are three things we believe in," Donaldson says, "That these products can be world-class, that they can be affordable, and that they should be user-driven." She showed a quick video demonstrating the improved mobility of a leg amputee using one of D-Rev's products called JaiphurKnee. "Our hope is that these products will catalyze industries so that anyone anywhere can go to a hospital and get the best care possible."  

Solar device from Simpa Networks

Next up was Paul Needham, who's company Simpa Networks is working to make solar energy available to underserved consumers by using a pay-as-you go pricing model. Living without electricity, explains Needham, has enormous impact.

Yet most of the "unelectrified" tend to be the poorest, with irregular and uncertain income. His company models its payment structure similar to that of pay-as-you-go mobile phones: a low initial cost for the hardware required and purchasing credits. Once the cost of the hardware is paid back, the device becomes the consumers' and the electricity generated going forward is free. 

"This device provides clean, reliable energy that leads to ownership," says Needham. "Consider the power that gives people and imagine what they could do."

Images: Perrin Ireland, www.alphachimpstudio.com 

Announcing PopTech: The World Rebalancing - our first iPad app!

PopTech, along with our partners, has created an iPad app to explore new ways to visualize a world that’s in the midst of a global realignment.  Recognizing that data can tell rich stories, this app synthesizes varied types of data, allowing users to:

  • Navigate the intersection of news events and personal memory via The New York Times R&D Lab,  
  • Understand how regular people around the world are describing their everyday lives using their cell phones via The United Nations Global Pulse and JANA, a mobile platform that reaches over two billion people in emerging markets.
  • Tour the forces shaping the global business landscape via PwC, and
  • Learn how remarkable innovators are creating social change around the globe via PopTech.

Learn more about the app or download it for the full experience.

The World Rebalancing app is made possible by generous support from PwC and has been supported by JANA, the New York Times R&D Lab, and the UN Global Pulse. It was designed and built by Hot Studio.

PopTech 2011 in images: Wednesday highlights

Check out highlights from our first day of PopTech 2011. And stay tuned for more tomorrow!

Wednesday round-up: Highlights, snapshots & quotable moments

PopTech 2011 is off to an enthusiastic, if slightly soggy, start. Arriving attendees were greeted by the always-smiling volunteer staff and quickly off to their various adventures, which included making cheese, sailing Penobscot Bay with citizen scientist Gale McCollough, and discussing the science of character with psychologist David DeSteno.

Below are some of the day's highlights, snapshots and quotable moments:

PopTechers on a boat; science by a fluke

Citizen scientist and whale activist Gale McCullough scans the horizon on the PopTech voyage aboard the Schooner Appledore.

Saltwater Farm: Preserving tradition through food

Salt Water Farm sign

Know your butcher. Know your fishmonger.

-- Salt Water Farm chef/owner Annemarie Ahearn on understanding where your food comes from.

Science of Character discussion

Psychologist David DeSteno explained his simple yet ingenious experiments that probe questions such as: Why do politicians, celebrities, CEOs -- even ourselves -- behave in ways we would consider "out of character"? Take Eliot Spitzer, the former New York State attorney general who rallied against prostitution yet secretly used the services of an escort. Did his friends, his wife, the public gravely misjudge his character? Was he a sinner all along? DeSteno asserted that, based on new scientific insights, the answer is no. Rather, it's our concept of character that's wrong and needs to change: 

It's not this rigid thing. It's more like a scale that's always in motion. And depending on where the scale is at a given moment is going to influence the way we act.

-- David DeSteno

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry preview

Art often isn't about hearing artists talk about their own work, it's about leaving space for viewers to interpret.

-- Alison Klayman, who screened portions of her documentary on Chinese artist-dissident Ai Weiwei and discussed the three years she spent following the artist leading up to his detainment in April of 2011.

That's it for today! Check back tomorrow when we'll be live streaming the presentations, blogging, sending photos up to Flickr and otherwise covering all the action as it unfolds.

Photos by Emily Qualey and @mriggen

PopTech 2011 - from anywhere!


Here in Camden, we’re incredibly excited that PopTech 2011: The World Rebalancing, our 15th annual gathering, is just beginning! It’s our largest event ever, and we’re preparing to welcome more than 600 remarkable thinkers, leaders and doers including Olafur Grimsson, Unity Dow, Thomas Thwaites, and Stephanie Coontz.

If you’re not here to catch the conference in-person, there are a slew of other ways to keep tabs on the 80+ speakers, Social Innovation Fellows, and Science Fellows scheduled to present from October 19-22:

  • We’ll be live streaming the conference every day from 8:30 am–6:30 pm EST and you can find us on Facebook and Twitter here as well.
  • You can follow @poptech on Twitter with hashtags #poptech or #poptech2011 for 140-character speaker updates, news, and musings.
  • Three of us will be blogging throughout the conference:
    • Michelle Riggen-Ransom is a writer, a lover of tech and a fan of all things handcrafted (especially chunky sweaters, robots and beer). She currently lives in Seattle with her husband and two children. This is her fourth year helping to cover PopTech. Fall is her favorite season and she especially enjoys spending it in Maine with her fellow PopTechers.
    • Lindsay Borthwick is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and the environment. Before venturing to tell her own stories, she worked as an editor at Seed, Best Health and Green Living magazines. She currently calls New Haven, Connecticut home.
    • And me! This is my second conference as PopTech’s editor-in-chief after spending time working in social innovation, culture, and fashion.

Image: Kris Krug for PopTech

Registration is open at PopTech 2011 with Wednesday sessions just on the horizon!

Registration is now open in the Welcome Lounge on Washington Street inside the Opera House (take a right on the street just before the Opera House).  

Wednesday sessions begin at 2:00 pm and require registration; we’ll post more from some of the sessions shortly.

Also, you can add your photos to the Flickr pool and please tag your tweets, images, and video with #poptech2011.

Social Innovation Fellows training in images

Since Friday, the Social Innovation Fellows training has been taking place at Point Lookout in Lincolnville, Maine. The fifteen Fellows, led by innovators and leaders in their fields, have been meeting for a multi-day intensive program focused on accelerating their projects that address new approaches to the planet’s toughest challenges. The training looks to tools such as branding, media relations, social media, finance, digital storytelling and design to bring these social innovations to scale.


Have a look at more photos of the training from our Flickr stream. And be sure to check out our schedule so you can watch their stage talks at PopTech this coming week, which will also be streamed live starting Thursday, October 20, 2011.