Innovation Article

David Mitchell’s picture

By: David Mitchell

Using a novel capability to reason about shape, function, and attachment of unrelated parts, researchers have for the first time successfully trained an intelligent agent to create basic tools by combining objects.

The breakthrough comes from Georgia Tech’s Robot Autonomy and Interactive Learning (RAIL) research lab and is a significant step toward enabling intelligent agents to devise more advanced tools that could prove useful in hazardous—and potentially life-threatening—environments.

The concept may sound familiar. It’s called “MacGyvering,” based off the name of a 1980s—and recently rebooted—television series. In the series, the title character is known for his unconventional problem-solving ability using differing resources available to him.

For years, computer scientists and others have been working to provide robots with similar capabilities. In their new robot-MacGyvering work, RAIL lab researchers led by associate professor Sonia Chernova used as a starting point a robotics technique previously developed by former Georgia Tech professor Mike Stilman.

Multiple Authors
By: Phanish Puranam, Agustin Chevez

Flying sharks, waterfalls in the lobby, in-house top chefs, and dogs in the workplace. These are just a few tangible examples of experience design reimagining organizations beyond the traditional scope of organization design.

Organization design is concerned with how to shape interactions among members to further certain strategic goals. It typically involves decisions about authority and incentives, selection and recruitment processes, leadership, and culture. But the physical space within which an organization’s members interact has not historically been a part of the design palette. That’s changing rapidly today.

The concept of experience design (introduced by Pine and Gilmore) has been influential in the world of customer interactions. Principles traditionally used to attract, captivate, and retain customers are now being used by organizations to win talent in highly competitive labor markets. The idea, though new to office culture, is basically intuitive: Make work a fun, rewarding place to be, and employees will want to come on board, stay put, and work hard. Hence, the proliferation of foosball tables, bean bag chairs, and other rec-room-style touches in offices aspiring to hipness.

Paul Foster’s picture

By: Paul Foster

When Deloitte wanted to get people excited about employee training, the company decided to adopt a gamification strategy for its online training portal. Using elements like achievement badges, missions, and leaderboards, they achieved a 37-percent increase in participation.

And when Ford Canada gamified its sales and service training, platform usage jumped a massive 417 percent, with big gains in engagement among younger employees.

Saying gamification makes work a game is an oversimplification. In reality, it’s all about leveraging proven psychological principles around our motivation to compete, encouraging habits and behavior that improve business performance.

These principles can also be used in manufacturing to increase engagement in audits, which are critical to quality but often suffer from low participation. Key gamification tools and techniques to consider include mobile apps, competitions, and recognition programs.

Krystle Morrison’s picture

By: Krystle Morrison

From carrying food in from the field, to shipping processed products, to assembling a supermarket display, packaging matters. As a follow-up to our exploration of emerging trends in food packaging, we’re taking a look at several innovative technologies that could change the future of packaging.

The search for sustainability

More than half of consumers say that environmental sustainability is at least somewhat important to their purchasing decisions, and 41 percent of those shoppers look for recyclable packaging. To benefit the environment and ultimately please consumers with sustainability practices, food brands, startups, and researchers are discovering new ways to package products with recyclable, reusable, or biodegradable materials. 

Multiple Authors
By: Jill Barshay, Sasha Aslanian

When Keenan Robinson started college in 2017, he knew the career he wanted. He’d gone to high school in a small town outside Atlanta. His parents had never finished college, and they always encouraged Robinson and his two older siblings to earn degrees. Robinson’s older brother was the first in the family to graduate. “My parents always stressed how powerful an education is and how it is the key to success,” Robinson says.

When Robinson arrived at Georgia State University in Atlanta, he wanted to major in nursing. “I always knew I had a passion for helping people,” he says. Biology had been his best subject in high school. “My dad, my mom would always kind of call me like the king of trivia because I’d always have just like random science facts.”

During his freshman year, Robinson earned a B average. But the university was closely tracking his academic performance and knew from 10 years of student records that Robinson wasn’t likely to make the cut for the nursing program.

Georgia State is one of a growing number of schools that have turned to big data to help them identify students who might be struggling—or soon be struggling—academically so the school can provide support before students drop out.

Zach Winn’s picture

By: Zach Winn

Manufacturers are constantly tweaking their processes to get rid of waste and improve productivity. As such, the software they use should be as nimble and responsive as the operations on their factory floors.

Instead, much of the software in today’s factories is static. In many cases, it’s developed by an outside company to work in a broad range of factories, and implemented from the top down by executives who know software can help but don’t know how best to adopt it.

That’s where MIT spinout Tulip comes in. The company has developed a customizable manufacturing app platform that connects people, machines, and sensors to help optimize processes on a shop floor. Tulip’s apps provide workers with interactive instructions, quality checks, and a way to easily communicate with managers if something is wrong.

Managers, in turn, can make changes or additions to the apps in real-time and use Tulip’s analytics dashboard to pinpoint problems with machines and assembly processes.

Multiple Authors
By: Natasha Gilbert, Knowable Magazine

Alfalfa, oats, and red clover are soaking up the sunlight in long narrow plots, breaking up the sea of maize and soybeans that dominates this landscape in the heart of the U.S. farm belt. The 18 by 85 meter sections are part of an experimental farm in Boone County, Iowa, where agronomists are testing an alternative approach to agriculture that just may be part of a greener, more bountiful farming revolution.

Organic agriculture is often thought of as green and good for nature. Conventional agriculture, in contrast, is cast as big and bad. And, yes, conventional agriculture may appear more environmentally harmful at first glance, with its appetite for synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, its systems devoted to one or two massive crops and not a tree or hedge in sight to nurture wildlife.

As typically defined, organic agriculture is free of synthetic inputs, using only organic material such as manure to feed the soil. The organic creed calls for caring for that soil and protecting the organisms within it through methods like planting cover crops such as red clover that add nitrogen and fight erosion.

Aliyah Kovner’s picture

By: Aliyah Kovner

It’s 1 p.m. on a sunny afternoon in July—smack dab in the middle of summer break—and a perfect 75° outside, but Jonathan Park is laser-focused. Though he could be strolling down a beach, or at home browsing social media, this 16-year-old is bent over a lab bench, intently pipetting reagents to run an Amplex Red assay.

Park, a soon-to-be junior at Dublin High School, is part of the 2019 cohort of the Introductory College Level Experience in Microbiology (iCLEM) summer intensive, hosted and run by the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) in Emeryville, California. First launched in 2008, iCLEM immerses local Bay Area students in the biological sciences—and gives them a taste of day-to-day life as a scientist—through an eight week-long blended curriculum of instruction, hands-on basic laboratory skill training, and in-depth tours of working labs within JBEI, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (which manages JBEI), and local biotech companies. The students, who receive a stipend so that they may attend the program in place of a summer job, utilize their newfound knowledge by conducting independent research projects and presenting their findings at the end of the program.

Laurel Thomas’s picture

By: Laurel Thomas

Soldiers develop attachments to the robots that help them diffuse bombs in the field. Despite numerous warnings about privacy, millions of us trust smart speakers like Alexa to listen into our daily lives. Some of us name our cars and even shed tears when we trade them in for shiny new vehicles.

Research has shown that individually we develop emotional, trusting relationships with robotic technology, but until now little has been known about whether groups that work with robots develop attachments, and if so, if such emotions affect team performance.

The short answer, say University of Michigan (U-M) researchers is, yes and yes.

Previous studies have focused on linking emotional attachment to robots with individual fun and enjoyment in more playful settings, says Sangseok You, who began what he and colleagues believe is the first study of its kind on attachment between groups and robots as a doctoral candidate at the U-M School of Information.

Ben Brumfield’s picture

By: Ben Brumfield

For decades, Krishan Ahuja tamed jet noise, for which the National Academy of Engineering elected him as a new member this year. Today, Ahuja is an esteemed researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology, but he got his start more than 50 years ago as an engineering apprentice in Rolls Royce’s aero-engine division, eventually landing in its jet noise research department.

“In those days, if jets went over your house and you were outside, you’d feel like you needed to put your hands over your ears. Not today,” says Ahuja, who is a Regents Researcher at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and Regents Professor in Georgia Tech’s Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering.


Cyclists watching a jet soar overhead, circa 1960s. Credit: National Archives, Records of the Environmental Protection Agency.

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