Posts Tagged ‘feedback’


You don’t need to buy a Hybrid car for better mileage

February 26, 2009

pumpinggas I’ve been driving a Toyota Prius for over a year now.  Gas prices have been jumping up and down, but I’ve definitely been pleased with the car overall. However, if you’re not already in the market for a new car, maybe you can get better mileage with the car you have. 

Yes, the Prius gets great mileage. I generally get between 44mpg and 54mpg depending on the time of year and the type of driving. However, when I first bought the car, it was closer to 38mpg to 42mpg. The improvement came because the car has an on-board smart-meter that provides immediate feedback about the relationship between your driving behavior and gas mileage. By the way, that’s an improvement of 10% – 20% just based on my driving habits. 

So, what would happen if you could tame the jack-rabbit starts, go easy on the gas-pedal, and keep it under 70mph? Could you effectively knock $0.20 to $0.40 off each gallon of gas you buy this month? In combination with other common practices (properly inflated tires, a clean air filter, and a tune up), maybe.

Have other Prius drivers found the same to be true? Do other hybrid vehicles have similar smart-meters? What’s your take?

Photo credit:


What makes a great teacher?

February 22, 2009

Is there a message in there?

Who are your teachers? Whom do you learn from?

Whenever I talk to someone, or read an article, or finish a project, isn’t the goal that I come away having learned something? Isn’t that what makes Seth Godin’s stream of content so interesting?  He seems to find insight where others walk on by. Is that because he is a great teacher? He clearly has a lot to teach us. But, perhaps it’s that he is a great student. He’s more receptive to learning something new. Can we be as receptive?

My list of “teachers” is pretty long, but I’d guess none of them are aware of it. I don’t pay tuition, I don’t have tests, but if I don’t pay attention, I may get left behind. 

Are you looking for a teacher, or perhaps you have experience to offer someone else? The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) has an eMentoring program that pairs young engineers with experienced ones. Do other societies have similar programs?

You don’t have to be in a classroom to have teachers. These are simply people you learn from, and they can be everywhere, if you’re listening.

Photo Credit: Rodolfo Clix


Google To Give The Energy Sector A Jumpstart

February 13, 2009

windpower_hdrThis week, Google announced they’re Beta testing a new application that you can use to track your household (or business) energy use by device in an effort to cut energy usage. Google PowerMeter will break down your energy usage almost in real-time. According to their data, the clothes-line may be due for a comeback. As the old adage goes,

“If you can not measure it, you can not improve it.” – Lord Kelvin

They’ve built the application, but now they’re looking to develop some hardware to go with it. Google is not the only player in the game, though. Pepco is also looking to develop Smart Meters in the DC suburbs, and Agilewaves, comprised of a trio of NASA engineers, developed similar technology after the wave of California’s rolling blackouts in 2006. Even with a decent head-start, it might be hard to beat the raw initiative, seemingly unlimited cash reserves, and amazing grasp of user interfaces that Google has shown time after time. 

Last fall, Google and GE announced a partnership aimed at pushing technology and policy in the energy sector. To kick off the initiative, they’ll both be hosting Plug Into The Smart Grid next Tuesday at 2pm EST. The event appears to be open to the public, but plan for attendance to be maxed. Instead of making you fight the crowds, though, they’ll be posting the  content within 24 hours of the presentations on both Google’s DotOrg channel as well as GE’s YouTube channel. Google has also invited everyone to submit and vote on questions in advance via Google Moderator. This event appears to have some big players, so it’s not exactly a grass-roots effort. But, everyone is going to be called upon to act eventually. Now is a good time to start paying attention. 


  • Introduction and welcome 
    • Dan Reicher, Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives,
    • Bob Gilligan, Vice President, GE Energy
  • Part I: Envisioning smart power
    Energy tools and technologies to empower people with information and choice    

    • Moderator: Bob Gilligan, GE
    • Adrian Tuck, CEO, Tendril
    • Ron Binz, Chairman, Colorado Public Utilities Commission
    • Jeff Renaud, Director, Ecomagination, GE
    • Ed Lu, Advanced Projects, Google
    • Kelly Speakes-Backman, Principal, RE+GENeration Consultants LLC
    • George Bjelovuk, Managing Director, American Electric Power
  • Break

Part II: Accelerating the energy revolution
State and federal policies to drive smart power
Opening remarks: The Honorable Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change (invited)  

  • Moderator: Dan Reicher, Google
  • Fred Butler, President, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners
  • John Podesta, President, Center for American Progress (invited)
  • Andy Karsner, Former Ass. Sec. for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy
  • Chris Miller, Office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

Photo Credit: John Nyberg


Can you feel me now?

February 2, 2009

Touch the red pillIn graduate school, I studied haptics. But what is “haptics”, and why does it matter?

Haptics is the study of the sense of touch. Unlike our other senses – sight, smell, hearing, and taste – we can feel the world throughout our entire body. It’s a very complex system. We use our sense of touch to perceive temperature, texture, vibration, density, and more. But what if you couldn’t touch anything? How would you be affected?

Haptics and technology
Not everyone is taking to the digital revolution. People like the feel of a newspaper or of gliding pen across paper and do not like to work on a computer. Now that digital technology has progressed and grown into more corners of our lives, people are less accepting of the fact that it lacks the sense of touch.

The rumble pack in game controllers was one of the early attempts at integrating a sense of touch into the gaming experience. When you blow something up or drive off the track, an eccentric mass rotates (similar to a cell phone) and causes vibration. The sense isn’t overwhelming, submersive, or even accurate, but you can perceive meaning from that vibration, and it’s better than nothing.

For a class project, I developed a magnetically actuated force-feedback mouse. I added an electro-magnet to a common computer mouse and placed it on a steel mouse pad. When energized, the frictional force increased from almost nothing to 2N (.44lbf). Quite substantial. I devised several experiments to showcase how the feedback could be utilized and to explore how haptic feedback might improve a user’s ability to click on-screen items faster and more accurately. I created virtual textures and a target that slowed the mouse for you when you entered it. You can download a PDF of my paper detailing my project and the experimental results.

Companies and universities are studying the integration of haptic feedback into products of far greater importance than my class project. Intuitive Surgical leads the commercial medical robotics field with the da Vinci minimally invasive surgical system. Force feedback allows surgeons to have the tactile sensation similar to a standard minimally invasive procedure, except with the additional benefits of an intuitive control system, virtual boundaries, and motion scaling. Sensable Technologies has developed a haptic Dental Lab to digitally scan and interact with the details of a patient’s mouth to fabricate better crowns or bridgework. Immersion Medical manufactures a suite of surgical simulation products to provide doctors with lifelike training and planning tools. And, of course, Dr. Allison Okamura’s Haptics Lab (my alma mater) and other university programs are also on the cutting edge of haptics research, exploring new ways to interact with the tools of the next century.

The future of digital
As our interaction with the world around us becomes more digitized, we can expect great innovation in the use of haptic feedback. Logitech has improved on the vibrating game controller with some exciting racing wheels, and even the Blackberry Storm offers feedback in its touchscreen. We enjoy and need the sense of touch. It’s a large part of how we interact with the world and it improves our experience.

Dont’ worry, you will feel a thing.

Photo credit: Rodolfo Clix