Next generation of tech-augmented work for humans… 


Welcome to the new world of work, where humans have the strength of robots.

People will still be essential on the factory floors, even as robots become more common

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has arrived. The first was the steam engine-driven Industrial Revolution; the second involved the innovations from Henry Ford’s assembly line. Third, microelectronics and computer power appeared on factory floors. Now, manufacturing businesses are beginning to integrate robotics, automation and other data-driven technologies into their workflows.

Robots have taken over difficult, dangerous and repetitive physical tasks, improving factory safety, worker comfort and product quality. The next phase of labor innovation will do the same thing for cognitive work, removing mentally stressful and repetitive tasks from people’s daily routines.

Human work will become more versatile and creative. Robots and people will work more closely together than ever before. People will use their unique abilities to innovate, collaborate and adapt to new situations. They will handle challenging tasks with knowledge-based reasoning. Machines enabled by the technologies that are now becoming commonplace — virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa, wearable sensors like FitBits and smart watches — will take care of tedious work details.

People will still be essential on the factory floors, even as robots become more common. Future operators will have technical support and be super-strong, super-informed, super-safe and constantly connected.

We call this new generation of tech-augmented human workers, both on factory floors and in offices, “Operator 4.0.” There are several types of enhancements available, which can be used individually or in combination to put humans at the heart of this technological revolution.

Super strong

One straightforward enhancement would let workers wear robotic exoskeletons to enhance their strength. A “super-strength operator” could let a human truly control the physical power of a large robot. In today’s warehouses and construction sites, workers risk injury and exhaustion by handling heavy objects themselves. Or they are forced to compromise, using a more powerful tool with less adaptability, like a forklift.

The benefits go well beyond the workplace. Of course, a worker in a powered robotic suit could easily handle extremely heavy objects without losing the flexibility of natural human movements. The worker would also be far less likely to suffer severe injuries from accidents or overwork. And at the end of a day, a super-strength worker could take off the exoskeleton and still have energy to play with the kids or spend time with friends.

Super informed

Fighter pilots use heads-up displays, which provide them with crucial information right on the cockpit windshield and directly in their line of sight. This is “augmented reality,” because it displays information within a live view of the world. It used to be very specialized and expensive technology. Now, Microsoft’s HoloLens makes it available for consumers.

An “augmented operator” can get directions or assistance without interrupting the task he or she is working on. Often, when new equipment or processes are developed, trainers need to travel long distances to factories, staying for weeks to teach workers what to do. Designers do the same, getting feedback for refinements and improvements. All that travel takes up a huge amount of time and is extremely expensive. With augmented reality available, it is often unnecessary.

A worker wearing a set of smart glasses can receive individualized, step-by-step instructions displayed right in front of his or her eyes, no matter where he or she is looking. With earbuds and a microphone, she or he could talk directly to trainers in real time.

Super safe

Many manufacturing environments are hazardous, involving heavy equipment, caustic chemicals and other dangers that can maim and kill human workers. A “healthy operator” may be equipped with wearable sensors tracking pulse rate, body temperature, chemical exposure or other factors that indicate risks of injury.

This type of system is already available: Truck drivers can wear the Maven Co-Pilot, a hands-free headset that detects fatigue symptoms, like head-bobbing movements. It can also ensure drivers check their rear-view mirrors regularly to stay aware of nearby traffic. It can even provide reminders to take scheduled breaks. This helps keep the truck’s driver safe and improves everyone else’s road safety.

And beyond…

Possibilities are limitless. An “analytical operator” would wear a monitor showing real-time data and analytics, such as information on chemicals in a sewage treatment plant or pollutants at an incinerator. A “collaborative operator” may be linked to collaborative robots, or co-bots, like the assembly assistant YuMi. A “smarter operator” could be equipped with an intelligent virtual personal assistant, like an advanced Siri or Alexa.

By 2020, 50% of workforce will be remote. Here’s how.

There does not have to be conflict between robots and humans, with machines taking people’s jobs and leaving them unemployed. Technology should be designed with collaboration in mind. That way, companies and workers alike will be able to capitalize on the respective strengths of both human and machine. What’s more, the inherent flexibility of “Operator 4.0” workers will also help to ensure workplaces of the future that can change and adapt. That means getting ever more efficient and safer, as new technologies emerge.

Thorsten Wuestis an assistant professor & J. Wayne and Kathy Richards Faculty Fellow in Engineering at West Virginia University. David Romerois a professor of advanced manufacturing, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey in Mexico. Johan Stahreis a professor of production systems at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. This is published with permission of The ConversationIntroducing ‘Operator 4.0,’ a tech-augmented human worker

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Vehicular Vengeance: The Origin of Lamborghini

Lamborghinis and Ferraris are well known for being the most expensive and opulent sports cars on the planet. But Lamborghini wasn’t always considered synonymous with wealth and status. It began as an Italian tractor company known for refurbishing old military equipment. So how did Lamborghini go from selling tractors to becoming one of the world’s top luxury car brands? With a little improvisation, some not-so-friendly competition and an alleged sticky clutch.

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This may help college students avoid stress, depression & hangovers

Getty Images

Despite what you see in movies and Snapchat stories, the first few months of college can be a tenuous time for many. Sharing a bedroom with a stranger, navigating a new class schedule with more freedom — and homework — constantly meeting new people and living on a steady diet of pizza and (increasingly better) cafeteria food can easily combine to create a stressful first semester.

Fortunately, a new study suggests that taking a few deep breaths, some meditation and other mental exercises may help students make it through. Freshmen who participated in an eight-week “mindfulness” program were less likely to experience depression, anxiety and alcohol-related incidents, like a hangover or blackout, than a control group who did not, according to a study published in a recent issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of American College Health.

“Students’ mental health is incredibly important for their success,” said Kamila Dvorakova, one of the authors of the study. “Interventions that are based on mindfulness and compassion are focused on strengthening (students’) ability to do well in college.”

Mindfulness training typically includes exercises aimed at helping participants be present and in touch with their thoughts. The students studied in the research were exposed to the “Breathe” curriculum, a program focused on teaching mindfulness to young adults. As part of the study, students participated in group sessions centered around skills like body awareness and understanding and working with their thoughts. They also received cards to use at home to remind them to perform mindfulness techniques, such as taking three deep breaths in response to stress.

Though the study observed a relatively small group of students (109 in total), the findings provide some insight into strategies campuses can use to help ease the transition to college for students and help them have a healthier experience overall.

Colleges and universities have struggled to cope with a growing number of students facing mental health challenges while in school. Mindfulness training is of course no replacement for counseling, but it may complement existing resources available on college campuses, said Dvorakova, the compassion and caring fellow at the human development and family studies department at Pennsylvania State University.

“It’s not just having a counseling center,” she said. “The treatment is super important, but that’s at the end of the line when things already went downhill. What can we do to prevent that?” She suggests that colleges do more to indicate to students that they value wellness and health in addition to academic achievements.

The findings also come amid mindfulness’s growing cache in the corporate world. Companies are increasingly offering employees’ sessions on how better to cope with stress as well as boost focus and memory. What’s more an explosion of other apps and tools has helped turn mindfulness and meditation into a nearly $1 billion industry.

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Bebe is closing all its stores, the latest casualty in retail 

Bebe is closing all its stores, the latest brick-and-mortar retailer to get dumped by customers who would rather shop with their phones than their feet.

Bebe Stores (BEBE), which models itself as a purveyor of “unique, sophisticated and timelessly sexy” clothing for women, said it plans to close the stores by the end of May, according to a regulatory filing on Friday.

Bebe did not immediately return messages from CNNMoney asking whether it plans to go out of business or transition to online-only.

The company had hinted that something like this could happen. Bebe said in an SEC filing last month that it was “exploring strategic alternatives.” Earlier this month, the company said it planned to close 28 stores and was trying to figure out what to do with the rest of them.

Before that announcement, Bebe had 168 stores in the United States and Canada.

Bebe has plenty of company in the struggling brick-and-mortar retail industry. Macy’s (M), JCPenney (JCP) and Sears (SHLD) once ruled the shopping malls, but now they’re closing hundreds of stores and cutting thousands of jobs.

Luxury retailer Neiman Marcus said earlier this month that it might sell itself, after ditching its plans for an IPO in January amid sorry sales.

So who’s the winner? Amazon (AMZN, Tech30), the behemoth of online retail, is seizing market share from more traditional retailers, though bargain-hunters are keeping T.J. Maxx and Dollar General (DG) in business.

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Balenciaga Now Sells A $2,145 Version Of Ikea’s $0.99 Blue Bag 

.By Elyse Wanshel

Balenciaga has come out with a designer bag that will look strikingly familiar to anyone who has ever been to Ikea.

That’s because the couture brand’s new $2,145 Arena Extra-Large Shopper Tote Bag looks almost exactly like Ikea’s $0.99 blue plastic bags.

Both are electric blue, have a similar construction and are big enough to comfortably carry a four-pack of wine glasses that will break in a month, 50 packages of Swedish Fish and two weeks worth of sweat-drenched gym clothes.

The biggest difference between the two bags is that Ikea’s crinkly “Frakta” bag is made of recyclable plastic while Balenciaga’s consists of “glazed leather.” Oh, and that one costs $2,144 more than the other.

“We are deeply flattered that the Balenciaga tote bag resembles the Ikea iconic sustainable blue bag for 99 cents. Nothing beats the versatility of a great big blue bag!” a spokesperson for Ikea told Today.

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Facebook’s goals: Typing with your brain, ‘hearing’ with your skin 

Chief of ‘audacious science’ unit teases ambitious future technology
Regina Dugan, vice president of engineering of Building 8 at Facebook, speaks Wednesday in San Jose.

Facebook Inc. wants to read your mind.

“What if you could type directly from your brain?” asked Regina Dugan, who runs Facebook’s FB, +0.93%  secretive hardware division, Building 8, during a keynote address at the company’s F8 developer conference Wednesday.

Building 8, which was created at last year’s F8, has been working on a “brain-computer interface” for several months, Dugan said. Recent job postings for Building 8 show the unit is hiring engineers for a two-year project “focused on developing advanced (brain-computer interface) technologies.”

Ultimately, the mind-reading technology could help people type 100 words a minute from their minds — about five times faster than we type from our smartphones, Dugan told developers at the conference in San Jose, Calif. Separately, Building 8 also is working on technology that could help people “hear” with their skin, Dugan said. Facebook hired Dugan from Alphabet Inc.’sGOOG, +0.17%GOOGL, +0.30%   Google last year with a mandate to develop what she called “audacious science.”

Via: Facebook’s goals: Typing with your brain, ‘hearing’ with your skin

Graphene sieve could make seawater drinkable

(CNN)Researchers in the United Kingdom have developed a graphene-based sieve that can filter salt out of seawater, a development that could provide drinking water to millions of people around the globe.

The applications could be a game-changer in countries where access to safe, clean, drinkable water is severely limited.
Graphene — an ultra-thin sheet of carbon atoms organized in a hexagonal lattice — was first identified at the University of Manchester in 2002 and has since been hailed as a “wonder material,” with scientists racing to develop inexpensive graphene-based barriers for desalination on an industrial scale.
Now, the team at Manchester has used a compound of graphene, known as graphene oxide, to create a rigid sieve that could filter out salt using less energy.

Overcoming hurdles

In recent years, there had been some success in water filtration using graphene oxide to sift out other smaller nanoparticles and organic molecules.
But researchers had struggled to move forward after finding that the membrane’s pores would swell up when immersed in water, allowing particles to continue to pass through.
Rahul Nair’s team at Manchester now claims it has discovered how to control of the expansion and size of the pores.
Writing Monday in the Nature Nanotechnology journal, the team revealed it was able to restrict pore-swelling by coating the material with epoxy resin composite that prevented the sieve from expanding. This means common salt crystals could continue to be filtered out, while leaving behind uncontaminated, clean, drinking water.
The discovery is “a significant step forward and will open new possibilities for improving the efficiency of desalination technology,” Nair said in a statement from the university.
“This is the first clear-cut experiment in this regime. We also demonstrate that there are realistic possibilities to scale up the described approach and mass produce graphene-based membranes with required sieve sizes,” he added.

Global implications

Boosting global access to water is critical. By 2025, 14% of the global population will suffer from water scarcity, the United Nations predicts. In addition, climate change is expected to wreak havoc on urban water supplies, with decreased rainfall and rising temperatures expected to fuel demand.
Cities have been investing heavily in diversifying their water supplies, including developing new desalination technologies to make seawater potable. But existing, industrial-scale desalination plants can be costly and normally involve one of two methods: distillation through thermal energy, or filtration of salt from water using polymer-based membranes.
These techniques have drawn criticism from environmentalists, who argue they involve large amounts of energy, produce greenhouse gases and can be harm marine organisms.

What’s next?

The graphene-oxide breakthrough has been welcomed by scientists in the field as a promising development, but some are cautious of the next steps.
“The selective separation of water molecules from ions by physical restriction of interlayer spacing opens the door to the synthesis of inexpensive membranes for desalination,” wrote Ram Devanathan of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, in an accompanying news-and-views article in the journal.
More work still needs to be done to test the durability of the barriers and to confirm the membrane is resistant to “fouling by organics, salt and biological material,” he said.
Water treatment with membranes that separate water molecules from ions, pathogens and pollutants has been proposed as an energy-efficient solution to the freshwater crisis, Devanathan added.
“The ultimate goal is to create a filtration device that will produce potable water from seawater or waste water with minimal energy input.”

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