Students for a Smarter Planet ..leaders with conscience
Smarter Planet
March 31st, 2015

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During the past few weeks, we have continued to tinker and build “motley”, our waterproof drone in preparation for taking aerial photography of ocean environments. We added a product called “Plasti-Dip” to the rim of the dome to create a more stable seal with the frame (see figure below). The dome will still require a more secure seal for flight, but the “Plasti-Dip” coating adds some stability.

For the first time since last fall, we tested motley in our Indoor Track and Tennis (ITT) facility.
Flight characteristics were smooth and without incident. We tried using a tether for indoor flying, and motley was able to handle jerks and tugs in the air.


Motley is almost ready for Belize. Before we travel, we are hoping to look at the battery configuration inside of the drone. We are hoping to fit two batteries inside for a longer flight time. We are also looking at attaching foam to the bottom of it to make it float better in case of a crash in water.

Much of February was spent preparing for a public event titled “Commercial Drones in our Backyards and Communities”, held at Smith College on March 4th, 2015. We prepared drones for indoor flights on a tether as part of the demonstration. We also designed a “roll cage” for one drone to protect the propellers and add an extra level of safety, but ended up not using it since it caused large vibrations in the system. We worked on the tether system to ensure a secure, yet flyable system.

Although not directly tied to our research, our plans for work in Belize were highlighted.
Finally, we heard from our liaison in Belize that early June is a good time to observe turtle nesting, which we intend to add to our itinerary. Our imagery of turtle nesting sites will add to a baseline survey of nesting locations.

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March 31st, 2015

The World Health Organization (WHO) is launching a new policy on injection safety and a global campaign with support from the IKEA Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to help all countries tackle the pervasive issue of unsafe injections.

Federal Minister for Development Gerd Muller, Gavi CEO Seth Berkley and Gavi Deputy CEO Anaradha Gupta pictured at the moment pledges to Gavi reached US$ 7.5 billion (Credit: GAVI/2015)

Federal Minister for Development Gerd Muller, Gavi CEO Seth Berkley and Gavi Deputy CEO Anaradha Gupta pictured at the moment pledges to Gavi reached US$ 7.5 billion (Credit: GAVI/2015)

WHO calls for worldwide


use of ‘smart’ syringes


The spread of infectious diseases from our traditional syringe system has risen alarmingly.  It’s time for measures that will halt disease proliferation.  Do you have some ideas for ‘smarter’ healthcare products?  Your idea may save lives!

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Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) (such as EdX and Coursera) have initiated a revolution in higher education by providing opportunities for interested students to learn from the comfort of their individual locations at their desired pace. However, an important and highly successful aspect of traditional classroom education, which is modulating content delivery based on understanding real-time student feedback, is conspicuously missing in such e-learning environments.While existing e-learning environments provide a basic technology framework, the personalization of such environments with human-in-the-loop feedback is still missing. This project, e-DRIShTI, aims to bridge this gap by developing a system for automatic recognition of students’ engagement levels during e-learning sessions, using advanced computer vision and machine learning methods.

Considering the ubiquitous presence of cameras in consumer devices such as tablets and laptops, it is possible now to develop a system that can detect and recognize student engagement levels from the face images captured by the camera during the e-learning sessions. Such a system has several applications towards smarter, personalized e-learning environments: (i) it can allow for content to be modified based on a student’s engagement level; (ii) it can be used as feedback for curriculum development; (iii) it can potentially be used as a diagnostic for early detection of learning disabilities; and (iv) it can be stored and archived as part of students’ learning portfolios which can later be mined or analyzed for providing feedback to the students. In general, this project can lead to a more concerted, larger effort on automatically obtaining real-time student feedback – including other states such as confusion, boredom, excitement and interest – towards an effective personalized e-learning experience.

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One may look to their orange tree to find the source of a new technology that employs orange tree trimmings to produce acoustic insulation.  The new material is more environmentally friendly to produce and an improvement in terms of acoustic insulation compared to conventional laminated gypsum boards.

blog orange tree

The Universitat Politècnica de València has teamed up with researchers at the Universitat de Girona and created acoustic insulation from orange tree trimmings by a defibration (or “digestion”) process which is then combined with polypropylene, a common plastic found in a wide variety of products, including toys and automobile parts.

The new insulation boards meet the objectives of the European research programme Horizon 2020, which focuses on replacing materials that can damage the environment with natural or recycled raw materials.

The team is working on improving the compositions to further increase their insulation properties, and is also working with ground olive stones in a similar way to the orange trimmings, having achieved very promising preliminary results.

I wonder what other unconventional materials can be used to produce insulation – there must be thousands once the technology to transform them is identified.  This really gets one thinking….. hmmmm…




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Computation brings us unprecedented power to solve tough problems. But when those problems are worlds away, and don’t have an obvious computational solution, we need to leverage that power in a less direct way. Luckily, any problem of reasonable scale has a wealth of data associated with it, and there’s nothing computers are better at than using data in incredible ways.

The Measles virus is one of the largest and most pervasive healthcare problems worldwide, and it’s one Dr. Matt Ferrari spends a good deal of his time with. Each year, Dr. Ferrari composes a large data set for statistics associated with the Measles virus worldwide, and presents it to the World Health Organization to inform vaccination policy. However, this data takes the form of large and difficult to interpret spreadsheets, and any visualization of this data has to be done piecemeal.

That’s why in the inaugural semester of Stateware, a student-led software development group at Penn State, we’re building a web platform for Dr. Ferrari that will allow users to visualize this data transparently, on demand. The platform, called Dav3i (Disease and Virus Vaccination Visualization Interface, pronounced like Davey), is aimed at improving the efficacy of worldwide Measles vaccination policy, and using the power of computation to benefit world health. When the first release of the program is complete, the WHO will have an unprecedented power to visualize, analyze, and understand the state of the Measles virus from a global perspective.

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