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Thursday, March 26, 2015

A 'Super' White House Science Fair

by Mark Ollig

Students of all ages, along with their inventions and experiments, attended the fifth annual White House Science Fair last Monday, hosted by President Obama.

Students presented their science projects, while the president would comment, ask questions, and take pictures with them.

This year’s theme focused on STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math).

Demonstrating their science projects before the president, students explained why they created their project, how it worked, showed the results obtained from their experiments, and described its benefits.

I felt, the highlight of this year’s science fair was the automatic book page-turning mechanical device, created using Lego plastic blocks, by five 6-year-old kindergarten and first grade girl students.

Their science fair project sat on a green cloth covered table.

A colorful, informative poster was positioned behind it.

President Obama approached the student’s display, smiled, and greeted them with; “Hey guys! Hello! What’s your names?”

The five students were: Emily Bergenroth, Alicia Cutter, Karissa Cheng, Addy Oneal, and Emery Dodson, all from Tulsa, OK.

He shook each girl’s hand, as they introduced themselves.

“Tell me about your experiment, tell me about your project,” stated the president.

The young student inventors were each wearing a uniformed blue shirt and a red cape with an “S” logo on it.

“We’re the Supergirls from Girl Scout Troop 411,” replied one of the students.

The president grinned and quipped, “Which is why you guys are wearing capes.”

One student began explaining their project, “We looked at different books that are used in education and learning.”

Another student told the president, books are a great learning tool, but some people are unable to turn the pages in a book, due to medical conditions, such as being paralyzed, arthritis, or that “their arms might not work.”

“So, we invented a device that can help people turn pages in a book,” one of the students said.

The students then turned toward the table where their page-turning device sat, and began to explain how it worked, while the president carefully watched and listened.

Then, they turned on the battery-powered device.

A low buzzing sound was heard as it began operating.

The plastic flywheel began to slowly spin over the page of the opened book placed beneath it, and would “catch” a single book page, using one of four, small, Lego rubber tires attached to each of four individual arms extending from the center hub of the motorized flywheel.

The book page would flip-up to this flywheel, because of the friction caused by a separate Lego plastic arm positioned near the edge of the pages of the book acting as a pendulum.

This plastic pendulum arm would flip up the next page, in order for the flywheel’s rubber tire to catch, and then turn the page over.

The turned page would then neatly lay flat against the previously turned pages.

This demonstration caught the president’s eye.

He leaned down, placing his right hand on the table, while closely looking at the plastic, gear-driven motorized device, as it automatically turned the pages in the book.

One page would be turned about every two seconds.

“Well . . . this is wonderful!” the president exclaimed. “How did you guys figure this out?”

“We had a brainstorming session,” one of the young students replied.

The president then asked how long it took them to build the page-turning device.

“Three months,” they answered.

As the page-turning device continued to quickly flip through the pages of the book, the president watched and commented, “It’s working really well, although you’ve got to read kind of fast.”

The president then asked if they were able to slow it down, and speed it up; the students replied in unison: “No . . . ”

One of the students quickly added, “It’s a prototype.”

The president laughed, and looked around the room towards the sound crew, photographers, reporters, and others, and quipped, “It’s a prototype! . . . it’s a prototype . . . it will get refined later!”

All the people in the room shared in the laughter and smiled.

He then turned back to the students, who were resetting the book page-turning device, and said, “So, do you guys like inventing things, and building things like this?”

They nodded, and all responded with, “yes.”

“You guys are very good at this. I’m so impressed,” the president said to them.

The president then took pictures with the five smiling students, while standing in front of their page-turning science fair project.

After the picture taking, he told them, “You got to keep on learning math and science, and you guys are going to build all kinds of great things when you get older.”

“You’re already great inventors, with your brainstorming sessions and prototypes,” he added.

One student innocently asked the president, “Have you ever had a brainstorming session, yourself?”

The president smiled. “I had a couple brainstorming sessions, but I didn’t come up with anything this good,” he said while pointing at the student’s page-turning device.

The official White House YouTube channel uploaded about an hour long video of the 2015 White House Science Fair (page-turning invention starts at 30:43) at

I took a YouTube screen-capture of President Obama (shown below) watching the Supergirls Lego book page-turner in action, and posted it at

Tweets about the science fair are using the Twitter hashtag, #WHScienceFair.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Communicating with computers

by Mark Ollig     

The folks at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently made public a proposal asking for specific models on how humans can naturally communicate with computers.

This investigative columnist read with interest, DARPA’s: Communicating with Computers (CwC), 57-page document.

Dated Feb. 19, 2015, and titled: DARPA-BAA-15-18 Communicating with Computers, this document describes the CwC specifications.

DARPA desires proposals demonstrating how people can engage in two-way interaction with computers using hand gestures, eye movements, facial and other expressions; in addition to language understanding.

“The CwC program seeks to develop technology to facilitate communication between humans and machines, which we take to mean, technology for assembling complex ideas from elementary ones given language and context,” says a sentence on page 9 of the document.

There are certain CwC program tasks and case examples within this document, outlining specific human-machine interactive scenarios.

Some situations call for a collaborative composition involving machines and humans contributing to the creation of a poem, drawing, and story-telling.

An example of a human-machine combined collaboration is when the human would start a story with “Mother cried at her window.” The next sentence would be created by the machine, which would analyze the human’s words, and come up with an original idea of why the mother would be crying, and create a fitting sentence to carry on the story.

The machine would comprehend and build upon additional sentences, in order to come up with new concepts for continuing the story; using its own reasoning algorithms.

I wish to inform my faithful readers; this column is not being written by a machine.

The CwC document suggests evolving intelligence and understanding, acquired by computing machines, will be analogous to how a growing child learns from its parents or guardians.

It is hoped, by having computers easily understand human conversation, and how we interact, that they will be better able to contribute meaningful responses for solving problems, and accomplishing tasks.

“The sole purpose of the CwC evaluation is to steer the program toward technology that gives computers human-like communicative abilities,” states the document.

What will be needed are advancements in algorithmic software coding techniques, so computers (including robots) can “evolve” into reliable, human-assisting associates, and idea-contributing machines; rather than being the static receiving device for input commands.

Well, there we are.

You see, everyone; once again, this all goes back to “Star Trek.”

Yes, friends, let us recall the original series “Star Trek,” episode 53: “The Ultimate Computer,” which aired during March of 1968.

Testing begins of an intelligent and autonomous computing machine, called the M-5 Multitronic System.

The M-5 is physically wired into the USS Enterprise main control computer.

The M-5 starts out innocently enough, effectively performing simple, space-maneuvering operations of the USS Enterprise; without human navigation assistance.

It even successfully defends the Enterprise, and defeats other starships during a mock space battle; again, all without human intervention.

The human crew onboard the Enterprise are both impressed and somewhat worried about losing their jobs to a machine.

The M-5 continues to learn, and its autonomous intellect develops to the point where it takes total control of the Enterprise.

No longer listening to the human crew, it decides on its own which of the ship’s systems should be active or inactive.

The M-5 then seeks out and begins destroying other space ships in the area it feels are a threat to its existence – which ends up being all of them.

Of course, the humans onboard the Enterprise are frantically trying to regain control of the ship. I can still hear Dr. McCoy frustratingly say, “Fantastic machine, the M-5: no off-switch.”

In order to save the day, Captain Kirk establishes a verbal communication tie-in with the M-5.

Using his amazing tact, and above-average reasoning prowess, Kirk convinces the M-5 computer to feel guilty about what it has done.

The M-5 computer then shuts itself off, which allows the humans time to “pull the plug” out of the “unconscious” computing machine; thus disconnecting it from the Enterprise, and allowing the humans to regain control of the ship.

A suggestion to DARPA: make sure future intelligent machines come equipped with an emergency off-switch; just in case they try to take over the planet from the humans.

Machines with a bit of compassion, humor, and patience would be a nice adder, too.

Have we now arrived at the starting gate of when humans begin creating autonomous machines capable of independent thought, human-like conversation, original concepts, and unique problem-solving solutions?

Are we emotionally ready for computing devices and machines which can think and communicate with us, as easily as you and I do with other people?

Will humans ultimately end up creating artificially intelligent machines which will become our new co-workers, bosses, friends, enemies, soldiers, teachers, protectors, space explorers, and personal companions to keep us company, and to assist us in our old age?

Stay tuned.

DARPA’s Broad Agency Announcement CwC (Adobe Acrobat PDF file), is located at:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Stratasys 3D Printer creates realistic dental models

by Mark Ollig

Last week we traveled to Barcelona, Spain for the 2015 Mobile World Congress (MWC) conference.

This week’s Bits & Bytes takes us to Germany.

The 2015 International Dental Show (IDS), held last week in Cologne, Germany, is considered the world’s largest dentistry and dental technology trade fair.

An estimated 125,000 people attended this event to view some 2,200 exhibitors from 56 countries.

One of the most talked about technical advancements in the dental industry appears to be 3D printing.

A company called Stratasys, one of the IDS exhibitors, presented their new Objet260 Dental Selection 3D Printer.

Stratasys Ltd. is headquartered in Minneapolis and in Rehovot, Israel.

Their Facebook page company overview says they are “a leading global provider of 3D printing and additive manufacturing solutions.”

What captured my attention is how their new 3D printer; using advanced triple-jetting technology, is able to create such incredibly true-to-life dental teeth and gum models.

The Objet260 Dental Selection 3D Printer makes use of a patient’s dental image file (obtained from an intra-oral scanner device used by dentists), to create a customized, and extremely life-like dental model with realistic teeth and gums.

Stratasys’ new 3D printer employs PolyJet technology, which includes 16-micron layer resolution, and high-precision, 3D layered specialized photopolymers used in the dental industry.

I contacted the press representative for Stratasys, and was given permission to use the following questions asked by Galit Lipkis-Beck, senior marketing specialist at Stratasys, and the answers provided by Avi Cohen, Stratasys’ director of Global Dental.

The following Q&A is from the Stratasys company blog:

Galit: How does the new Objet260 Dental Selection 3D Printer benefit dental and orthodontic labs?

Avi: There is a lot of focus on intra-oral color scanning these days. Stratasys’ ability to produce ultra-realistic dental models with multiple materials and colors in a single print is taking digital dentistry to the next level.

The business benefits for lab owners are many: virtually any kind of dental model can be 3D printed to create realistic visualization of the complete oral situation, accurately and consistently. With these 3D- printed models, errors are not only reduced, but can be mostly avoided. The results are not only more precise, but the colorful, easy-to-understand models increase lab customer and patient satisfaction.

Galit: Can you tell us a little bit more about the types of applications possible with the Objet260 Dental Selection 3D Printer?

Avi: The Objet260 Dental Selection 3D Printer can have a significant role in implant testing, with 3D printed dental models that mimic the look and feel of real gingiva for accurate functional evaluation, as well as dental models with gum-like features or a mix of rigid and gum-like components. It can also produce a mix of rigid veneers of different dental shades for customized color matching.

These capabilities directly contribute to far better accuracy for the dental practitioners, who can see every detail on the dental model. It also provides better understanding for the patient. In other words, labs can 3D print surgical guides directly from CBCT scan data, with high-definition tooth, root and nerve-canal anatomy rendered in contrasting materials to help prevent dental nerve injury.

Galit: And finally, can you discuss the challenges that lab owners face today?

Avi: When you think about it, dental professionals have the same objectives that all businesses do – increase profitability, improve the customer experience, and be better than the competition. In today’s dental environment, success does not come easy. Procedures are becoming increasingly complex and expensive and they do not always deliver the desired customer experience.

In my view, to succeed, labs need to move beyond traditional methods and shift to the latest advancements in dental methodology. Intra-oral color scanners are becoming increasingly widespread, and 3D printing technology is part of the solution. The new versatile Objet260 Dental Selection 3D Printer is part of this end-to-end digital dentistry workflow. It improves labs day-to-day activities, by providing a more realistic perspective to support dental treatment, broaden the range of applications, and increase their scale of operation.

I appreciate Stratasys for their permission to reprint this Q&A for my readers.

Their blog is located at:

You can follow them on Twitter using: @Stratasys.

See the Stratasys Objet260 Dental Selection 3D Printer at:

The website for the 2015 International Dental Show is:

No doubt about it; we will soon be seeing dentists using advanced-technology 3D printers like the Stratasys Objet260 Dental Selection 3D Printer, in their offices for creating customized, and realistic-looking dental models for their patients.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Barcelona hosts MWC 2015

by Mark Ollig     

A very successful 2015 Mobile World Congress (MWC) conference took place last week in Barcelona, Spain.

I noted the Twittersphere was extremely busy; thousands of message tweets using hashtags: #MWC15 and #MWC2015 were posted regarding this year’s conference.

These hashtags were also trending on Twitter during the week of the conference.

Since 2006, the MWC has held an annual exhibit/conference showcasing wireless, mobile technologies.

Over 93,000 people took part in this year’s MWC, at the Fira Gran Via Exhibition Center, located in Barcelona.

Facebook founder, Chairman, and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg was also there, and spoke about his company’s project on

This website brings technology partners and wireless carrier operators together in order for them to raise awareness, and address the estimated 4 billion people living in developing countries, who have no access or connectivity to the Internet.

Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and parts of Columbia are examples of countries where has launched pilot programs for providing Internet access.

Recently, villages in India were also added.

“Whenever I go to a new place, I try to also see how connectivity and using Facebook and our apps [applications] are specifically impacting people. The thing that is so striking to me is the lengths that people will go to in order to get connectivity,” Zuckerberg said.

“These apps drive data usage, and that is the future of business, and I think everyone is excited about that . . . the question is just how to get there,” he added.

Zuckerberg identified how future improvements in technology will allow mobile carrier providers to extend their networks to provide the infrastructure for Internet access to the world’s population currently not served.

“The more we connect, the better it gets,” proclaims the homepage banner on

The opportunity to entice companies located in other parts of the world, to the local amenities Barcelona has to offer, was also highlighted during MWC 2015.

Barcelona posted this website: which presented numerous accommodations, services, and attractions their community offers not only to businesses; but to students, researchers, and visitors who want to “Discover Barcelona.”

I noted there are 664 Wi-Fi hot spots throughout Barcelona, too.

Visit Barcelona’s detailed “Smart City” technologies webpage at:

Barcelona is a province of Catalonia, which is an autonomous community of Spain.

Catalonia’s largest city, and its capital, is Barcelona.

With the attention the world’s mobile technology users focused on this year’s MWC, Barcelona had the opportunity to promote its own local, technology companies.

The government of Catalonia showcased over 100 Catalan companies involved in the MWC.

Many of these local Catalan companies demonstrated solutions applicable to business and individuals.

Some solutions included smartphone mobile apps for controlling the temperatures in a home or business, and specialized apps for guiding tourists through a city.

Fifth generation, or 5G, wireless network connectivity for smartphones was also a topic of conversation during the week at the MWC.

A peek at the next evolution from today’s 4G wireless mobile technology will be seen during the 2018 Winter Olympics, to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

While no agreed-upon technical specifications have been established by the wireless industry for 5G, it is known the speed in which data is passed over the wireless network, and to our smart devices, will be radically increased – possibly by a factor of 1,000.

When will you and I be able to start using 5G-compatible smart devices?

Everything I have been reading says it will be in 2020.

I believe the future electronic “smart” sensors and other devices to be connected to the Internet, making up the Internet of Things (IoT); will depend on using 5G technology for its big push into our everyday lives.

In time, our association with the IoT will be regarded as a commonality.

By 2020, we will probably see 5G technologies begin supporting the 50 billion electronic devices predicted to be connected to the Internet.

The Mobile World Congress website is:

I also wanted to mention the Mobile World Center, located in Barcelona.

The building this center is located in occupies three floors, and is open to the public.

It houses a permanent exhibition promoting the societal advantages of wireless mobile technology and the Internet; along with details about their evolution.

The Mobile World Center’s website is:

One statement (which I am paraphrasing) on their website says: “Our lives are influenced by the need of being connected. We are living in an extraordinary revolution where the human being is even more important than ever, thanks to technology. We live in a system that is structured through networks and mobile technology which is at the center of everything. It allows us to be connected anytime, anywhere. It helps us to improve our day- to-day lives, and allows us to communicate with the objects that surround us.”

Hopefully, yours truly will someday attend a Mobile World Congress conference, and write a column about it from Barcelona.