February 2010 Newsletter

CITRIS "shortens the pipeline" between world-class laboratory research in science and engineering and the creation of startups, companies, and whole industries. By engaging business, economics, law, and public policy at the outset of projects, we accelerate and amplify the impact of research that addresses California's most pressing challenges.

Dear Friends of CITRIS:

The world is brimming with valuable and potentially transformative information about health, air quality, structural integrity, energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and every other thing that matters most to us today. One of the most important things we do on our four CITRIS campuses is to find new ways to gather and deliver that information where it will do good.

The first article in this edition of the newsletter highlights a surprising innovation out of Ron Fearing’s Biomimetic Millisystems Lab in Berkeley, that embodies our zeal for getting data. Professor Fearing and his colleagues are making small, inexpensive robots that can climb walls, delivering sensors to bridges, skyscrapers, disaster sites, and other dangerous or hard to reach places. To really take off, the robotics revolution needs three reliable, small, and inexpensive components, Fearing tells us: processors, sensors, and transporters. The first two are already in the bag: sensors and processors are, thanks to largely to California innovators, already very cheap and very small. Mobility has been the limiting factor; but Fearing’s roach-like nearly disposable robots are just the right size and material to crawl happily through that bottleneck.

Simply developing technologies that gather and even deliver information isn’t enough, though. It makes a world of difference when information is expressed in a way that makes it easy to take in and put to use.  Dan Chapman, the curator of our Tech Museum, just bought a lamp, known as an ambient orb, that changes color based on information that’s fed through it. For example, it can be fed data by California ISO  and it will turn red when the load is heavy, yellow when it is average, and green when it is light. Let’s face it, most of us don’t have time to be energy traders, watching the value of power on the grid and planning our clothes-washing cycles to accommodate.  But these lights, which blend right into the environment, can tell you a lot in one quick glance. And the information they give is primal enough that you begin to react reflexively the way you do when a room grows too hot (turning the heat down or removing your sweater) or the garbage begins to smell (take it out). Similarly, the sight of a red light tells you it’s time to turn down the air conditioner and keep the washing machine  and coffee pot off.  The other thing I love about the orb is the way it draws an explicit connection between what the individual is doing and what’s happening in the broader community.

Making technology meaningful to those who use it, by driving home the causal connection between what IT can tell us and what we can do with that knowledge to make things better for ourselves and others, is the bailiwick of professor Greg Niemeyer. His work as an artist and an engineer often explores the connection between how we do something with technology and why we choose to. Or don’t.  His interview in this edition of the newsletter explores how his games and artwork lead people to explore their homes, schools, and workplaces, and often to take charge of improving them.

Thanks and keep up the good work.

Paul K. Wright
Director, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute@CITRIS Berk

i4Energy Center Launched in January
On January 29, we formally introduced the new i4Energy Center, with a panel of distinguished speakers from the California Energy Commission, the State Assembly, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the California Institute for Energy and Environment, and the Berkeley Campus. Following the introduction in the Banatao Auditorium, we dedicated the new i4Energy space on the fourth floor of Sutardja Dai Hall in the Banatao Institute@CITRIS. Photos of the event are online at http://www.citris-uc.org/events/i4energy_dedication

Groundbreaking for California Telehealth Resource Center
UC Davis physicians, nurses and administrative leaders gathered Friday, January 15, to mark the official groundbreaking for the new California Telehealth Resource Center on the grounds of the university’s Sacramento campus. The four-story, $36 million building is designed to enhance and complement UC Davis’ expertise in the field of telehealth, which is the use of high-speed telecommunications for medical services. Read the full article here.

Big Ideas Deadline is March 19:
The deadline for this year's Big Ideas competition is March 19 at 5p.m. More information about the student research proposal contest, including links to previous winners, is at http://www.citris-uc.org/big-ideas-at-citris.

BEARS poster session at Banatao Institute, Feb. 11
CITRIS and the Banatao Institute@CITRIS Berkeley will host a poster and demonstration session from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. in the Kvamme Atrium on the 3rd floor of Sutardja Dai Hall. The poster session is in conjunction with the Berkeley EECS Annual Research Symposium: http://www.eecs.berkeley.edu/BEARS/.