White House Frontier Conference sparks innovative exhibits

Julia Eve Napolitano, Theodore Teichman Oct 16, 2016

Last Thursday, Oct. 13, Carnegie Mellon University had the honor of co-hosting the 2016 White House Frontiers Conference along with the University of Pittsburgh.

According to its website, the goal of The White House Frontiers Conference is to “bring together some of the world’s innovators in Pittsburgh to discuss how science and technology frontiers will help improve lives, including progress and investments that are keeping America and Americans on the cutting edge of innovation.”

The Conference was broken down into five main tracts – Personal, Local, National, Global, and Interplanetary, with exhibits featuring each one.

There were seven exhibits featured in the Personal tract. These included “Restoring Movement and Touch with Brain Interfaces,” “Using Games to Map the Brain,” “Mapping the Brain through Citizen Neuroscientists,” “Diagnosing Mental Illness with Multimodal Behavior Perception,” “Developing Continuous Patient Monitoring for Cardiovascular Health,” “Enhancing Science and Discovery with Ultra-Low-Cost Paper Microscopes,” and “Engaging Citizens with the Precision Medicine Initiative.”

“Diagnosing Mental Illness with Multimodal Behavior Perception” was an exhibit run by Carnegie Mellon University that showcased MultiSense, a behavior-sensing technology that helps clinicians diagnose several mental illnesses, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia. MultiSense can detect subtle changes in a patient, including facial expression and vocal prosody, that identify behavior indicators of mental illness. The system can then be used to track the progress of a patient.

There were five exhibits featured in the Local tract. These included “Learning Practices of Making,” “Using Flying Machines to Assess Infrastructure in Hard-to-Reach Locations,” “Addressing Social Need through Assistive Technology Innovations,” “Displaying Autonomous Vehicles over Time,” and “Inspiring Girls through Robotics.”

Carnegie Mellon hosted the exhibits “Using Flying Machines to Assess Infrastructure in Hard-to-Reach Locations,” which showcased an autonomous flying-machine system developed by Carnegie Mellon’s Field Robotics Center to improve the efficiency, fidelity, and safety of current critical-infrastructure inspection methods; “Displaying Autonomous Vehicles over Time,” which showcased the evolution of autonomous vehicles, including the 1984 Terragator, the 2007 DARPA Urban Grand Challenger winner Boss, and a research vehicle integrating autonomous systems into a Cadillac SRX; and “Inspiring Girls through Robotics,” which showcased a chassis building kit constructed by Girls of Steel Robotics, a K-12 outreach program run by the Field Robotics Center.

For the “Inspiring Girls through Robotics” exhibit, members of the Girls of Steel Robotics Team displayed their projects and talked about the barriers to getting girls into Robotics and STEM. The team was founded at Carnegie Mellon in the fall of 2010 and is mentored by an array of faculty from across engineering disciplines to mentor high school girls and show that the field of robotics is within their reach.

Each year the team competes at the FIRST robotics competition and spends the 6 weeks between the release of the challenge and the competition frantically building their complex models. The team displayed these robots as well as their “easy to assemble” robot made by middle school girls mentored by the high school team members.

They also discussed how they had never before considered careers in engineering, but they now consider STEM and engineering a strong possibility for their future. They are excitedly plotting the next FIRST conference.

There were four exhibits featured in the National tract. These included “Snake Robot and Snake Monster,” “CoBot Service Robots,” “The Mobility Enhancement Robotic Wheelchair,” and “The Socially Aware Robot Assistant.”

Carnegie Mellon hosted the exhibits “Snake Robot and Snake Monster,” which demoed two biologically inspired robots that can navigate to places that humans can’t reach, such as threading through tight spaces and navigating rough terrains; “CoBot Service Robots,” which showcased the autonomous mobile-service robots developed by Carnegie Mellon’s CORAL lab that have been navigating the Gates-Hillman Complex for the past three years; and “The Socially Aware Robot Assistant,” which showcased a robot that uses artificial intelligence to pair each task goal with a social goal in order to personalize interaction and improve task performance.

The four exhibits featured in the Global tract included “Energy Inventor Labs,” “Climate Playground,” “Wave Energy Prize,” and “Geoscience Data Visualization.”

The four exhibits featured in the Interplanetary tract included “Hyperwall,” “Journey to Mars,” “Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory,” and “Commercial Crew.”

The common emphasis across all of the exhibits featured in these different tracts was that technology will help build our future. In part, Carnegie Mellon hosted a number of exhibits because of the convenient location. However, there is also some incredible, cutting-edge technology being developed here that will undoubtedly shape the future.

As Carnegie Mellon’s biography on The White House Frontiers Conference website says, “CMU doesn’t imagine the future, we create it.”