Where Robot Cars Are Driving Us: Interview with Brad Templeton

During the recent Web Summit held in Dublin, Ireland, we were honored to speak with Internet pioneer Brad Templeton on topics like robot cars (self-driving cars), Internet of Things and on-line surveillance.

Canadian-born software architect Brad Templeton is active in the network community since late 70’s. He is considered to have been the first to suggest that Internet addresses should be in the form site “dot” top-level-domain. He also founded the first-ever dot-company back in 1989.

Currently, living in San Francisco, Templeton is a noted advocate of robot cars, having even advised Google on its driverless car project. This multifaceted entrepreneur is also a Board Member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a well-known non-profit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world, Director for the Singularity University, and Board Member of the nanotechnology think tank Foresight Institute.

He made two appearances at the Web Summit, the first one on Day 1 to talk to a crowded audience on the Machine Stage, and the second one on Day 2 in a round-table format meeting. After that we met for this interview.

Brad Templeton at Dublin Web Summit 2014
Brad Templeton at Dublin Web Summit 2014

P.N. Robocars are one of the most expected technologies nowadays. Can they, in its current state of development, provide solutions for the car industry of today ?

B.T. I don’t want to say that the cars are good today as something you can sell to people. Although, there are some people building products, what you call advanced cruise control, but you still have to pay attention, you can take your hands off the steering wheel but still you have to be watching, so that is just a way of relaxing. Some of these technologies sprung out of researches on this, or some of the robocars researches sprung out of researches on building a system called ADAS. The interesting thing happening is a push for cheaper sensor technology, lighter technology, radar technology. All these technologies are getting more people interested in working on manufacturing high-end cars cheaper, which gonna help every kind of car.

P.N. How come you got involved with robocars ?

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Making Arduino: Interview with David Cuartielles

Is it possible to sense if an specific technological advance was made with genuine good faith? Talking with the founders of Arduino, you always have this honest impression. Some time ago we interviewed Massimo Banzi at Barcelona (you can read it here) and few months later we had the serendipitous chance of talking with David Cuartielles, co-creator of Arduino, as well as Electronics Laboratory Director at Malmö University and an active promoter of open hardware and education through technology.

Arduino is becoming something like a household name in electronics, being used widely by the Maker movement. For those who are not familiarized with it yet, let’s summarize saying that Arduino is an open source board of micro-controllers which has revolutionized the way of making interactive objects: easier, cheaper and backed on the community cooperation. A new way of understanding electronics, interactivity and our relationship with the world around us . As put in <<Arduino: The documentary>>: “It’s kind of like I’m taking one step up a ladder and helping other people go further up the ladder”. Talking with David Cuartielles in the Web Summit at Dublin, we better understood why Arduino’s community is unstoppably climbing the ladder of technological evolution.

P.N. Every day manufacturers are launching new “compatible with Arduino” stuff. It seems that it could happen in the future that everybody will say “an arduino” for any electronics board, as it is becoming like a generic…

D.C. Yes, something like this is happening and I must say that it is a honor to me, as we are changing the way people understands the creation of hardware and software.

David Cuartielles at Dublin Web Summit 2014
David Cuartielles at Dublin Web Summit 2014

P.N. How did you start working together in the Arduino project?

D.C. It’s a funny story. I started studying electronic engineering and working in the University, and I realized that even being a passionate of electronics in that moment I didn’t really liked the practice of it. I was 24 then. So I took the chance offered by the School of Arts and Communication of Malmö University, On January 1rst 2001 I took my car, all my things, and I drove through the bridge to Malmö, Sweden. In the University I gave Java lessons to Industrial Design and Interactive Design students: people who had no former education on technology, meaning that I was teaching to people who didn’t knew what an algorithm is, or discrete mathematics, or mathematic thinking at all. It wasn’t easy, I had to invent a full series of methods. Now it seems normal because many people is working on this, but back in the year 2001 there was nobody.

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Dublin Web Summit 2014 Day 1: Machine stage

Technology conference Web Summit was held in Dublin from 4th to 6th November, an impressively huge and very well organized tech event, where around 20,000 attendees from more than 100 countries met. During three intense days, we found gathered a great amount of insightful speakers sharing their ideas, enthusiastic startups willing to met investors, as well as countless workshops, roundtables, network sessions, presentation pitches, demos, stands, and also night parties.

Actually, the event featured several summits happening at the same time: Builders, Enterprise, Food, Machine, Marketing, Music, Sport, amongst others. The first day, we mainly attended the Machine Summit, where a line-up of noted speakers discussed about topics like the Internet of Things, smart cities, wearables, robotics, 3D printing and human-machine interaction.

Web Summit
The Web Summit beehive

From Hollywood to the real world

In the morning, one of the first speakers that impressed us was the interface designer John Underkoffler, pretty widely known for his work as science advisor on SF films like “Iron Man” and “Minority Report”. This MIT Media Lab alumni gave us a visionary glimpse of where human-machine interaction is heading. It looks like definitely you can forget your mouse, keyboard and other devices as 3D space UI is becoming the emerging trendOblong Industries, the company where Underkoffler serves as a CEO, has been working since more than a decade to make real the cool gesture-based data interface technology featured in the film “Minority Report”, and they are almost there with G-Speak, an spacial operating environment, whose first commercial application is the conference room solution Mezzanine.

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Connected by default: Meet IoT (Innovation Week Rome)

From 27 sep to 5 oct, Rome hosted the Innovation Week, a place where leaders in innovation, technology experts, makers and many more met to share views on how the near future will be. Promoted by the Chamber of Commerce of Rome, and organized by the Asset Camera, in collaboration with Arduino and Make magazine, the Innovation Week took place in Auditorium Parco della Musica.

The Innovation Week featured many events, ranging from the huge Maker Faire European Edition to the Open Hardware Summit (here, our review of this event), as well as many other events covering an array of topics like social innovation, smart cities, Internet of Things, data society, wearables, creative start-ups, smart money, and so on.

Maker Faire cookies
Maker Faire cookies at Innovation Week bar

For those who are not familiar with the Internet of Things concept yet, briefly we can summarize it as the development of a wide network of interconnected everyday objects via the Internet. From traffic lights to fridges, lamps, and even your own body, everything could be linked to the web, sharing data and being commanded online. Considered as the “big next thing” by amateurs and specialists, Internet of Things (abridged, IoT) brings as many expectations as doubts about its impact on people’s lives.

Meet IoT was the event focusing on Internet of Things at the Innovation Week, showing how IoT developments can make our lives better, but also bearing in mind the challenges and even dangers this would mean. Following, our highlights.

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Getting back to the physical world: Open Hardware Summit Rome 2014

The Open Hardware Summit is the annual conference organized by the Open Source Hardware Association. The 5th edition of this international event was held in Rome, Italy on 30 sep – 1 oct, as part of The Innovation Week, which also featured other events as  Maker Faire: The European Edition, MEET IOT and Smart Money.

First day was fully focused on talks,  there we listened to fascinating speeches from a range of open source hardware experts. Following below, some of our highlights.

Second day was the community day, organized in small workshops to connect face-to-face and learn from key protagonists of the OSH movement.

“I’m a believer”

David Cuartielles, one of the creators of the platform Arduino, opened the summit with an encouraging speech. Being able to believe from his childhood and through his adolescence,  what Cuartielles believes now in his maturity is in open source, and particularly in open source hardware. A place where he finds there is still room to contribute to a greater good. So, he stated, don’t worry so much about open source being useful, but make it useful, go create stuff, and make things open.

David Cuartielles
David Cuartielles on OHSummit stage

Day-to-day robots

From design collective MADLAB.CC, researchers Madeline Gannon and Zach Jacobson-Weaver (also from EnArtDezArk) presented Robo.Op, an open, modular platform for hacking industrial robots.  This hardware & software toolkit prototype works as an universal shield adaptor to communicate with robots by using different software interfaces and devices. Their search goal is to approach robotics to a broader public, overcoming the current limitations in the area (prohibitively expensive, proprietary interfaces, private knowledge) with their proposal of modular hardware, user-friendly software and knowledge hub.

MADLAB.CC is also a collective that explores the edges of digital creativity by merging disciplinary knowledge from architecture, robotics, human-computer interaction and design. We had the opportunity to speak with Madeline and Zach about all these issues. The interview will be posted soon.

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Fab 10 Barcelona – Saturday, 5th July

During one week, starting from 2nd July 2014, Fab 10 Barcelona meeting gathered the international Fab Lab community. It was a week full of events focused on open technologies and social innovation. Most of the events were held at Disseny Hub Barcelona.

Atmosphere was thrilling: you could feel the excitement of people around workshop tables, the conviction of speakers at the panels and speeches, the energizing sensation that something not just new but real (and wide-ranging) was growing there. The choices were so many, and related to so many areas, that it was quite difficult to pick out just some. And everybody was there to make the best of the event: not only in terms of knowledge, but in terms of human relationship as well. If anyone has any doubt about the strength of the Fab Labs wave, Fab 10 Barcelona was the place to understand why this is a movement meant to last.

Workshop at Fab 10 Barcelona
Workshop at Fab 10 Barcelona

On 5th and 6th July, it also hosted the Fab Festival, a myriad of simultaneous events as workshops, demos, talks and exhibitions with topics like digital fabrication, emerging communities and productive cities.

Saturday started, for us, with Foodini, the 3D food printer by Barcelona-based company Natural Machines. Foodini prints all types of real food as burgers, ravioli or pizza, using fresh ingredients. During their workshop, they presented the printer as a kitchen appliance that can contribute to a healthier eating lifestyle, encouraging people to make their own food but saving them some of the most time-consuming cooking tasks. Foodini printers may also be helpful for professional use. They are on prototype stage, expecting to start shipping units in the second half of this year (2014). Its price will be around € 1,000 ($1,300).

Next we attended the workshop of e-Nable, a global community of makers, engineers, designers, parents and many others who create and design assistive hand devices for those in need. These designs are open source, and can be downloaded and 3D printed for less than $50 in materials, being available on Thingiverse. If you are interested to collaborate, you will find more info on their web site.
During the workshop, Kachina Gosselin and Jon Schull from E-Nable kindly showed us how easy is to make one of these mechanical hands. They also told us encouraging stories about members of the community, for instance a 11 years little girl who knew the project and decided to make hands for other children. They also told us about the origin of the community, which is a beautiful story deserving a separated post. The most touching moment of this workshop happened when a young couple came on stage, looking for an affordable solution for their 7 months child who has a not fully developed hand. E-Nable devices can become a viable alternative to expensive commercial prosthesis, particularly suitable for the growing child.

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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:

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