TIME Innovation

Watch a Swarm of 1,000 ‘Kilobots’ Assemble Into Different Shapes

A thousand-robot swarm created by Harvard researchers can self-assemble into different shapes

From the editor’s summary in Science:

When individuals swarm, they must somehow communicate to direct collective motion. Swarms of robots need to deal with outliers, such as robots that move more slowly than the rest. Rubenstein et al. created a large swarm of programmed robots that can form collaborations using only local information. The robots could communicate only with nearby members, within about three times their diameter. They were able to assemble into complex preprogrammed shapes. If the robots’ formation hit snags when they bumped into one another or because of an outlier, additional algorithms guided them to rectify their collective movements.

This may still be some time away. But I wouldn’t get too comfortable with human civilization in its current form.

(via IEEE Spectrum)

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 22

1. A global transformation from a carbon-based economy to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future will create jobs and add wealth.

By Christiana Figueres and Guy Ryder in Project Syndicate

2. Antibiotic resistance causes 23,000 deaths and two million illnesses every year. Concerted government action is necessary to fight the crisis.

By the Editorial Board of the Washington Post

3. China can improve its global standing and U.S. relations by joining the fight against Islamic State.

By Dingding Chen in the Diplomat

4. The economic future of manufacturing is to be an incubator of innovation: “where new ideas become new products.”

By Nanette Byrnes in MIT Technology Review

5. In the future, a book could be a living thing.

By Wendy Smith in Publisher’s Weekly

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

Video Of The Planet’s Most Terrifying (and Fictional) Traffic Crossroads

lost-at-e-minor_logo

This article originally appeared on Lost at E Minor.

Oh my giddy aunt! This is most dangerous traffic intersection in the world. Thank your lucky stars it’s not a real one. With cars whizzing in all directions in endless streams and pedestrians carelessly braving the crossings by threading their way between speeding vehicles, just looking at this video has raised our heartbeat.

Thankfully this intersection doesn’t actually it exist, it’s the work of genius film-maker and editor Fernando Livschitz. By threading together different clips of the same crossroads in Argentina, Livschitz has masterfully created Rush Hour: a video of the planet’s most terrifying (and most fictional) traffic phenomenon.

(via Fastcodesign)
TIME Innovation

Watch This Crazy Drone With Arms Fly and Turn a Wheel in Mid-Air

I, for one, welcome our new armed-drone overlords

Sure, drones can take videos of Martha Stewart’s farm and maybe even save the environment. But… can they unscrew a bottle cap? Play Twister? Spin a dreidel? Do anything that involves having arms? Well, now we have a drone with arms—that can fly and turn a valve wheel mid-air.

Above is the video, and here’s the paper’s title and abstract (flip to 1:00 in the video to see the really cool stuff):

“Towards Valve Turning using a Dual-Arm Aerial Manipulator,” by Christopher Korpela, Matko Orsag, and Paul Oh, from Drexel University.

We propose a framework for valve turning using an aerial vehicle endowed with dual multi-degree of freedom manipulators. A tightly integrated control scheme between the aircraft and manipulators is mandated for tasks requiring aircraft to environmental coupling. Feature detection is well-established for both ground and aerial vehicles and facilitates valve detection and arm tracking. Force feedback upon contact with the environment provides compliant motions in the presence of position error and coupling with the valve. We present recent results validating the valve turning framework using the proposed aircraft-arm system during flight tests.

I, for one, welcome our new armed-drone overlords.

(via IEEE Spectrum)

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 19

1. China should match its massive investment in Africa with robust support for the Ebola fight.

By James Gibney in Bloomberg View

2. The market alone can’t drive advances in biomedical science. Philanthropy has a role.

By David Panzirer in Wired

3. Far from radical, the new USA Freedom Act protects citizens from government spying with better oversight and less secrecy.

By Mary McCarthy in USA Today

4. Outdated laws on debt collection and wage garnishment are crushing the working poor.

By Paul Kiel in ProPublica and Chris Arnold at National Public Radio

5. Scotlands referendum was a reassuring exercise in the ‘majesty of democracy.’

By Michael Ignatieff in the Financial Times

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

Watch This Dancing Traffic Light Stop People in Their Tracks

Sidewalk, meet dance floor

lost-at-e-minor_logo

This article originally appeared on Lost at E Minor.

Since nobody likes to wait at traffic lights, one company, Smart, decided to place a very special set of traffic lights in the middle of Lisbon, Portugal. They allowed random pedestrians to enter an oversized traffic light studio, dance, and their moves were displayed in real time on the traffic lights outside.

The idea wasn’t just to amuse people waiting at stop lights, but also to make it a safer area, since Smart believes traffic lights are some of the most dangerous spots in the city. And through this extra fun installation, Smart was able to make 81% more people stop at the red lights and wait. See! Dancing can change the world!

(via Viral Nova)

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 18

1. Islamic State is hunting for Syrian chemical weapons that eluded international inspectors.

By Paul D. Shinkman in U.S. News and World Report

2. The true promise of education technology is in differentiating learning to meet the needs of each student.

By Jennifer Carolan in EdSurge

3. A robot’s ethical dilemma: How would a self-driving car weigh the safety of its passengers against the risk to other motorists?

By Aviva Rutkin in New Scientist

4. A disaster relief organization is giving military veterans a chance to do good and recapture the spirit of their service.

By Jonathan Lesser in Medium

5. Future social scientists will have a wealth of data from Facebook likes and shares to truly understand what moves us.

By Jonathan Wai in Quartz

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 17

1. Islamic State’s sexual violence is a war crime and U.S. leaders should call it out, seek ways to track it, and hold the terrorists to account. Instead, policymakers are ignoring it.

By Aki Peritz and Tara Maller in Foreign Policy

2. When the rich get richer, states get poorer. Income inequality is eating away at state tax revenue.

By Gabriel J. Petek at Standard and Poor’s Ratings Service

3. Does big philanthropy have too much power over policy?

By Gara LaMarche in Democracy

4. An innovative program is connecting high-performing low-income students with scholarship dollars and guiding them through the daunting financial aid process.

By David Leonhardt in the Upshot

5. Can a major redesign transform Union Station into the commercial and cultural heart of Washington?

By Steven Pearlstein in the Washington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

How to Make the World’s Poor $500 Billion Richer

Central American Migrants Attempt Arduous Voyage Thru Mexico To U.S.
Honduran migrants at a shelter for undocumented Central American immigrants on Sept. 14, 2014 in Tenosique, Mexico. The research by Copenhagen Consensus Center suggests that free mobility of skilled workers should be encouraged. John Moore—Getty Images

My think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus, has asked 63 teams of the world’s top economists to look at economic, social and environmental costs and benefits

There is a way to make the poor of this world $500 billion better off, but this solution is rarely discussed.

This matters, because the international community is gearing up to produce the next set of development goals for 2015-2030, to continue the work of the Millennium Development Goals. $2.5 trillion in development aid plus unknown trillions from national budgets hang in the balance of these goals, so getting our priorities right is vital. Spending money on poorly chosen targets is a wasted opportunity to do much more good elsewhere.

To do the most good, my think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus, has asked 63 teams of the world’s top economists to look at the economic, social and environmental costs and benefits of all the top targets. Some of these are obvious, like health, education, food, water and environment, but some are less so—though often discussed in the development community. One such example is the transfer of technology from rich to poor and middle-income countries as an aid to sustainable development.

The reason technology is so important is that it makes people more productive, which boosts overall economic growth. Not just that, but once knowledge has been gained, it is embedded in society and can be used as a stepping stone for future growth. Countries with a reasonable technical or research and development base are in a better position to absorb and make the best use of more new technologies as they become available.

Professor Keith E. Maskus from the University of Colorado has written an extensive paper on what works and how much good it will do. As he rightly points out, the UN’s technology-related targets are simply too general and bland. Instead, using the economic literature, he puts forward two proposals.

The first proposal is straight-forward: if our goal is to get more technology available for the poor, maybe we should simply increase investment in research and development (R&D), especially in the developing world.

The point is the benefits from R&D do not just go to the company doing it; there are also broader societal benefits as productivity gains occur elsewhere in the economy and other people learn on the job or see the possibility for more innovation. After Apple produced an innovative touch screen on its first iPhone, the knowledge is now available to lots of products in many different areas.

This broader benefit justifies governments supporting research, either through tax credits or direct government spending on research in public institutions. Right now, the developing countries spend just 0.2% of their GDP on R&D and perhaps 0.3% in 2030. If we instead aim at 0.5% of GDP by 2030, this would naturally increase the direct government costs, but it would also increase the long-run technological innovation and capabilities.

The models estimate in total, that for every dollar spent, we could likely end up doing $3 worth of good. That is not bad.

However, there is another, and much more effective way to increase technological capabilities in low-income countries. Instead of focusing on innovating more technology to make people more productive, we could focus on getting more people to places where they would be productive.

While allowing the free mobility of goods (free trade) can add several percentage points to global GDP, we have long known that free mobility of people could add anywhere from 67-147% to global GDP. Allowing free mobility could essentially double the world’s income.

This is because people in poor areas are not inherently unproductive but their circumstances mostly make them unproductive. So, if they were to migrate, from say, Guatemala to the US, they would become much more productive.

Of course, absolutely free mobility would result in a massive relocation from poor to rich countries, which would likely engender huge political issues. But professor Maskus suggests that we could start off with a modest goal of increasing current skilled migration by 5-20% with 10-year visas. Since we have the best models for the Americas, he estimates the outcome for this region, but it is likely the results can scale for the rest of the world.

A 5% increase in skilled migration would mean an extra 136,000 managerial and technical workers, with 97,000 going to the US. Although other research shows migrants would only become half (or less) as productive as Americans, this would still make them much better off. The model shows they would earn $15 billion more over the next 25 years. Moreover, as they would bring with them new ideas and concepts, they will increase productivity in the US and elsewhere by $1.5 billion.

Of course, this will also mean an outflow of skilled workers from poorer countries. For instance, 30,000 people will leave Mexico for 10 years. But they will send back money – about $3 billion in total. And while many worry about a ‘brain drain’, there is actually more evidence for a ‘brain gain’: If there is an opportunity to go abroad and make more money as a doctor or engineer, it will induce more young to invest in a professional education, meaning more doctors and technicians in the long run. And as these skilled professionals come back after 10 years, they will also bring back new ideas and higher productivity.

In total, the costs, mostly in lost tax revenue are significantly outweighed by the gains. For every dollar spent, this target could do $10-20 worth of good. With the Americas making up one-third of the global economy, the potential benefits could go as high as $500 billion. That should make the target of higher labor mobility a strong contender for the world’s next set of goals.

Dr. Bjørn Lomborg, an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, directs the Copenhagen Consensus Center, ranking the smartest solutions to the world’s biggest problems by cost-benefit. He is the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool It. His new book is How To Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 16

1. America can offset China’s rising power and Russia’s influence in Asia by strengthening its relationship with India.

By Paul J. Leaf in the National Interest

2. MIT moms challenge engineers and students to pitch ways to improve breast pumps in a ‘hackathon.’

By Katie Levingston in Boston.com

3. College is disproportionately off limits to poor and minority students. Here are some critical steps to close that gap.

By Antoinette Flores at the Center for American Progress

4. State governments should stop paying off businesses to ‘create jobs.’ The tax incentives and other giveaways are a waste.

By Richard Florida in the Los Angeles Times

5. One way the NFL can address the mishandling of domestic violence by its players: paying to rebuild our nation’s depleted support system for survivors of abuse.

By Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

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