Doing More With Less

Dear Friends of CITRIS:

Austerity. Budget cuts. Limits. Fiscal cliffs. Nobody likes these things. And yet, if necessity is the mother of invention, then austerity is sometimes the parent of innovation. The two stories profiled in this issue of The CITRIS Signal demonstrate the great progress that can be made when limits are reached but progress must still be made.

The first piece, Irresistible and Affordable, describes professors Ken Goldberg’s and Ayorkor Korsah’s efforts to spur creativity among robot developers by putting them on a very tight budget. When I was back at CMU and designing robots for Westinghouse Corp., we felt pretty accomplished if we could come in on budget at $100,000. The limit Ken imposed was a little tighter; the competition he and professor Korsah launched last summer was for robots that could be manufactured for 10 dollars or less. The resulting entries are not just frugal, they are paradigm-defying delights.

>> Read Irresistible and Affordable

Incidentally, the winner of the tethered category sweetened its victory by coming in nearly a dollar and a half short of the ten-dollar budget. That makes it about 1/27th the price of the cheapest programmable educational robot on the market to date. This little guy could make a big difference to budding roboticists in schools around the developing world. Come see an exhibit featuring the little Suckerbot at the Tech Museum at CITRIS Headquarters here in Berkeley.

Projects at CITRIS, including Connected Corridors, are looking at ways to give commuters better options when they’re on the road.

The second story, Connected Corridors: Deploying the Wisdom of Crowds and Macro-Models to Ease Traffic Woes, hits us close to home. Here in the SF Bay Area, where the commuters among us spend, on average, more than 60 hours standing still in traffic each year, auto congestion is no longer a problem we can simply build and spend our way past. Alex Bayen’s and Roberto Horowitz’s Connected Corridors Project will employ crowd sourced data collection with advanced traffic modeling and prediction technology to help Caltrans better manage the increasing numbers of cars on the road. At millions of dollars per lane mile, we can’t afford to just keep throwing more concrete construction at the problem. 

>> Read Connected Corridors

Instead, CITRIS-supported research is adding intelligence to systems that will better coordinate not only the freeway traffic that clogs our urban arteries each weekday, but also the neighboring arterials, employing underused roads to relieve pressure on congested ones. This is made possible by the groundbreaking work of Alex, who was among the first to use GPS-enabled cell phones to provide real-time traffic information, and Roberto, whose macro-modeling techniques make complex traffic analysis possible so these intelligent systems can advise their human overlords on the best possible solution to any traffic problem. This will save commuters time. And it will also save billions in now wasted energy costs and reduce unnecessary pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Safer, faster, cheaper, cleaner.

Keep up the good work!

Best wishes,
Paul K. Wright

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