RE.WORK Berlin 2014 – Day One

RE.WORK is a far-reaching proposal for all those who are interested in how new technologies will affect our lives and business. It is organized in diverse cities during the year, bringing some of the most promising professionals and researchers on diverse high-tech areas. Last week we joyfully attended RE.WORK Technology Summit in Berlin: the easy-going nature of the city fitted so well with the relaxed, comfortable atmosphere of the gathering. It was the evidence that breakthrough ideas can be spread cleverly as well as peacefully.

First exciting proposal of the day came with Jamie Paik, contributor on École Polytechnique Fédérale de Laussanne and Harvard Microbotics Laboratory, who introduced us into the polymorphic universe of soft robotics. Robots’ softness can be extrinsic (by the way it is designed) or intrinsic (by the material chosen): they are conceived to act there where people or hard robots can’t reach, with a high level of accuracy. This research area is demonstrating itself highly useful in many different applications, as the soft robots are more adaptive, multi-tasked and re-purposed than the “harder” versions. They are ready to revolutionize many professional fields: from comfortable exoskeletons to exploratory robots, soft-robots can be an essential tool in the future. For a more graphic explanation, this video from Harvard University is really eyeopening:

Also inspired by nature, Israelian designer and developer Shlomi Mir exposed his solution to desertification: Tumbleweed. Millions of people are living in desert areas nowadays, and these zones are spreading day by day. Reasoning that information is the only way of understanding the exponential growth of desert, Shlomi Mir has developed an artifact as simple as brilliant. Tumbleweeds are platforms which gather data from the environment, while rolling on land propelled naturally by the wind. They can communicate via GPS and work collaboratively, sharing the gathered information instantly between several Tumbleweeds. Like this, they act as autonomous robotic platforms, providing us with data enough to analyze and understand reasons of increasing desertification.

Shlomi Mir is also currently working on what is expected to be the biggest Fab Lab in the Middle East. We had the chance of talking with him about this in an interview that we will publish on this blog soon.

Nature as a source of information was a constant topic during the day, and Barbara Mazzolai followed that path too. An expert of nature’s environmental behavior, she is applying her knowledge for years now in the creation of bioinspired soft robotics. Her astonishing Plantoid project changes radically our conception of robots, usually thought as a humanoid or animal-inspired artifacts. Plantoids are robots which behave as plants, not necessarily looking like them, but keeping their same activities and means. Plants provide us with much information about the environment where they are (humidity, salinity, temperature, and so on), they react to touch, move without muscles and have a nearly invincible natural anchor system. All this can be artificially reproduced now, allowing us to obtain large data quantities in a short period of time (at least, shorter than the time taken by real plants to provide with this same amount of information) and using their qualities to create robots suited for hard habitats (here space exploration immediately jumps in our minds).

Plantoid can be beautiful, too.
Plantoid can be beautiful, too.

But even bigger surprises were to come during the day. Italian physicist Luca Gammaitoni, from Università di Perugia, left us completely gobsmacked after his demonstration of how computers can work without spending energy. By the moment this is running only as a theory, but it they are planning to actually build the machine, under European institutional surveillance. In the energy-insatiable world we are living, this statement can be of a paramount importance. Gammaitoni’s theories are based on a long research of technologies that significantly improves the performance of a wide class of electric power generators. This, put together with new discoveries about extraction of the energy from the ambient, gives ground to this promising investigation, that we will follow attentively as one of the most encouraging ideas on the years to come.

Luca Gammaitoni at Re.Work
Luca Gammaitoni at Re.Work Berlin 2014

Our last highlight of the day was J. Mayer H Architects, a Berlin-based studio who has broadly overflowed traditional disciplines and nowadays proposes vanguard ideas in many different areas. At RE.WORK they talked about future cars and how interaction between driver and surroundings may change by the means of multitask cars in charge of a selective perception. J. Mayer H. stated that these new cars will modify not only our relationship with transport, but they will re-design cities as well, as many elements won’t be useful anymore –traffic lights, for instance. Their speech was sparkling and full of bright ideas, with reference to other successful projects as the Metropol Parasol at Plaza de la Encarnación in Seville: wonderful constructions that combine both technical challenges and practical purposes (in the case of Metropol Parasol, something as useful as giving the best of shadows in a sunny, burning city).

Metropol Parasol - Photo by Anual CC BY-SA 3.0
Metropol Parasol – Photo by Anual
CC BY-SA 3.0

RE.WORK proved to be a fertile breeding ground for bold ideas and strong proposals, in a relaxed atmosphere favorable to dialogue. Feeling uplifted by what we have seen and heard there, we were eager for more to come on Day Two. Stay tuned!

PostDigital Node

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