3D Printing Buildings

Will 3D printing become widely adopted? WinSun believes it will. They have just finished a 5 story 3D printed building at the Suzhou Industrial Park in China. Their printer uses a patented “ink” of recycled building material and quick setting concrete. Although 3D printed buildings have been proposed by a number of different groups, WinSun is perhaps the most advanced. They say the Egyptian government has already ordered 20,000 of the single-story houses.

Many 3D printing concepts for buildings have focused on printing the structure of the building. But for residential buildings, this can be as low as 20% of the entire cost of the building. The greatest efficiency gains from 3D printing will occur when the plumbing, wiring, appliances and finishes can be printed along with the structure. The size of buildings built by WinSun are impressive, but the coarse layers used by their printer show they are a long way from printing the whole building.



Smart Infrastructure and Privacy: Should Waze allows users to track police?

Waze, a smartphone app providing traffic information, has begun to draw criticism from the police. The app’s primary purpose is to allow users to share information about traffic flow, given its moto “Outsmarting Traffic, Together.” But the app also allows users to tag speed traps, red light cameras, and police patrol cars. Police fear that the app could become a mechanism for “Outsmarting Police, Together.” In addition, many police worry that locating police vehicles on the map could help those wishing to harm policemen. Ismaaiyl Brinsely, who killed two Police Officers in New York City on Dec 20th, 2014, was a Waze user, although it’s unclear if he used the app in the killings (http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/01/26/law-enforcement-wants-police-tracking-app-waze-disabled). The National Sheriffs’ Association issued a statement criticizing Google, the parent company of Waze; they want Google to prohibit users from tagging the location of Police Vehicles.

While Waze empowers its users with information, it could hurt Police attempts to ensure safety. As we collect more information on the state of our infrastructure, we will have to balance privacy versus empowerment.


FLiR’s hot new sensor

Longwave infrared (LWIR) imagers are able to provide heat maps that are great for a variety of purposes.  A home inspector might use a hand-held version to find air leaks in a building.  The Predator uses this same technology when chasing Arnold across the swamps of Central America.  Up until recently, this technology was extremely expensive and hard to source for lower-cost sensing applications.  The company FLiR has now released the Lepton sensor series that is easy to interface over SPI (common on most micro-controllers).  You can even order a development kit from spark fun.  At $350 it is not super low-cost, but this opens a fantastic new potential for embedded sensing systems.

PixiePath: Drone Fleet Management

If you haven’t heard already, the drones are coming. Recent startup PixiePath just launched a platform for managing swarms of drones.  Instead of the current paradigm where one user controls a single drone, this software allows people to build complex multi-agent applications that manage sensor collection, path planning and coordinate of an entire fleet in real-time.  Drone advocates like Martha Stewart will finally be able to scale their coverage. Multi-agent research has a long track record in academia and its great to see signs of commercial applicability at scale.  Keep in mind that autonomous swarm operation is all still illegal under current FAA regulations.

3D sensing for everyone

Microsoft Kinect first showed consumers the potential of 3D sensing technology in 2011.  Since Kinect’s debut, there has been a race to miniaturize these sensors and make them more accessible to the open-source community.  Occipital Inc, released a sensor similar in nature to Kinect called Structure that combines 3D sensing with IMU data from a mobile device to perform Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) in order to help digitize the world around us.  This is similar in nature to Google’s Project Tango except that you can buy it now ($349) and it is a retro-fit (strap-on) to your existing mobile device and not an integrated stand-alone system. These 3D capture systems work by projecting structured IR light into a scene and then looking at where features fall on an image taken by a co-located camera.  The depth of objects in the scene will move IR feature points in a predictable manner. This 1996 SIGGRAPH paper or a more recent 2002 paper from Stanford has a good overview of how this class of structured light sensors work.  Wouldn’t this be great for BIM?

The Outernet puts a library and news in every pocket

Lantern is a recently announce Indiegogo campaign to make an anonymous portable library and news outlet that is solar powered and receives data anywhere in the world forever.  The data distribution service (packaged content) is called the Outernet and uses the Digital Video Broadcast Satellite (DVB-S) infrastructure to transmit data.  Being able to broadcast the latest media feeds along with comprehensive library content has the potential to radically change information distribution in many inaccessible locations.  One could imagine building their own receiver using something like a USB dongle connected to a Linux box.

Using electricty data to perform Leak Detection

Photo courtesy powwowenergy.com/

Photo courtesy powwowenergy.com/

PowWow Energy, Inc. is a leading innovator in the Agriculture & Food sector. Based in California, its team leverages Big Data to provide simple answers to farmers on the field. By assisting them manage risks in their daily operations, it helps them save water and energy and they have a positive impact on the environment. The company’s first SaaS application, the Pump Monitor with smart leak detection™, is a Cleantech Open 2013 winner.  They effectively turn existing smart energy meters into agricultural pump monitors, and their solution typically saves 10% in energy and water while protecting the farm.

PowWow turns data into actionable information in the field. Today, PowWow mines energy data from utilities and provides an alert service to growers and ranchers. Using electrical signatures derived from the way water pumps operate, they can tell them if there is something wrong such as a falling water table, a leak, or an electrical failure. As they aggregate additional data on farms, they will be able to provide additional services in the future to minimize labor costs and dramatically reduce the consumption of water. They aim to induce permanent changes in the way growers consume water and energy, because they provide them with actionable alerts that save thousands of dollars on crop losses, damage repairs and labor, instead of relying solely on environmental concerns as motivators for change. CMU and INFERLab alumn, Leneve Ong has joined PowWow’s team recently. She says her interests and work in intersecting data mining and analytics with engineering infrastructure systems aligns extremely well with the challenges PowWow is trying to solve.  Ong mentions that the agriculture sector is relatively under served when it comes to technology, so the potential to make an impact is immense. She believes that technology should never be developed in a vacuum, and PowWow espouses this philosophy by actively in listening and responding to their growers in order to build something they are confident in using.

Tiny meters that make sub-metering hassle free


Photo courtesy greentechmedia.com

If facility managers want to know how an office building or industrial plant is using energy on a more granular level, they’ll often invest in submeters. Those additional meters can provide a deep source of information about specific areas of a building and pieces of equipment. But they can also be quite expensive — up to $1,000 per unit. That barrier led two doctoral students at the University of California, Berkeley to come up with a more nimble solution: a tiny electrical submeter that can be taped onto a circuit breaker in minutes. The pair recently formed a company around the concept, called Persistent Efficiency, and they are now beta-testing the meters at a few customer sites, including a 1-million-square-foot office building in Chicago.

This meter doesn’t require professional installation, which has been one of the major barriers to adoption of the technology. Live and granular feedback of energy use has been shown to reduce electricity consumption by as much as 18%. But the cost associated with installation, need for professional installation, and lack of reliable technology and standards have hindered the progress of adoption of such technologies. Power Patch holds the potential to overcome these obstacles and make real time granular energy monitoring a reality.

Building a 21st Century Infrastructure

Photo courtesy WPVI-TV, Philadelphia

Photo courtesy WPVI-TV, Philadelphia

On July 17, 2014, the President delivered remarks at the Port of Wilmington in front of the I-495 Bridge in Delaware. At the port – and in this Year of Action – the President announced a new executive action to create the Build America Investment Initiative, a government-wide initiative to increase infrastructure investment and economic growth. As part of the Initiative, the Administration is launching the Build America Transportation Investment Center – housed at the Department of Transportation – to serve as a one-stop shop for cities and states seeking to use innovative financing and partnerships with the private sector to support transportation infrastructure. Learn more: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/07/17/fact-sheet-building-21st-century-infrastructure-increasing-public-and-pr

The SII applauds the President’s commitment to “Building a 21st Century Infrastructure” and welcomes this new opportunity to modernize our country’s aging infrastructure. We believe that tomorrow’s infrastructure will blend traditional physical-infrastructure (transportation and transit systems, buildings, pipes, power grid, concrete and steel) with cyber-infrastructure (computers, networks and sensors) in ways that are just emerging. We are committed to bringing various organizations including companies, universities and governmental entities together to leverage each other’s strengths and build or re-build our nation’s critical infrastructure. Examples of current SII projects include:


Mooshimeter is a battery-operated bluetooth multi-meter that can measure up to 600V and 10A with 24 bit precision at a distance of 50 meters for 6 months. Best of all, it can locally log data and it talks directly to your phone as a display. Multiple Mooshimeters can communicate to a single host making it ideal for quick home energy audits. It would be really great if it could measure current and voltage at the same time acting like a power meter. Maybe this is just a firmware modification?