SciTech Now Episode 220

In this episode of SciTech Now, scientists work to grow plants in extreme conditions; an app predicts your seven year romantic outlook; and automation and robots are introduced to one of the oldest trades: brick laying.

TRANSCRIPT

COMING UP, GROWING PLANTS ON THE FOURTH PLANET FROM THE SUN.

WE, FIRST OF ALL, NEED TO KNOW HOW TO GROW PLANTS IN EXTREME CONDITIONS ON EARTH AND, ULTIMATELY, ON THE MOON OR MARS.

TEXT 'CRYSTAL BALL' FOR ROMANCE.

NANAYA IS A ROMANCE-DECISION ALGORITHM THAT'LL HELP PEOPLE FIND OUT WHAT THEIR FUTURE WILL LOOK LIKE -- RATHER IT'S, YOU KNOW, WHO TO SETTLE DOWN WITH, WHEN TO SETTLE DOWN, WHERE THEY'LL FIND LOVE.

AND FINALLY, ROBOTS REVOLUTIONIZE AN ANCIENT TRADE.

FOR, REALLY, ONE OF THE FIRST TIMES ON A CONSTRUCTION SITE, WE'VE TAKEN A TRADE, A VALUE-ADDED PROCESS, AND WE'VE HELPED INCREASE THE PRODUCTIVITY OF THAT.

IT'S ALL AHEAD.

FUNDING FOR THIS PROGRAM IS MADE POSSIBLE BY...

HELLO.

I'M HARI SREENIVASAN.

WELCOME TO 'SciTech NOW,' OUR WEEKLY PROGRAM BRINGING YOU THE LATEST BREAKTHROUGHS IN SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND INNOVATION.

LET'S GET STARTED.

FOR HUMANS TO TRAVEL TO THE MOON AND TO MARS, THEY'LL NEED TO BRING, AMONG OTHER THINGS, A LOWLY WEED.

JUST AS ACTOR MATT DAMON ATTEMPTS TO SURVIVE ON MARS IN THE MOVIE 'MARTIAN' BY CULTIVATING PLANTS IN HOSTILE CONDITIONS, REAL-LIFE ASTRONAUTS INTERESTED IN COLONIZING MARS MAY ALSO NEED TO UNDERSTAND HOW TO GROW PLANTS IN EXTREME CLIMATES.

NOW RESEARCHERS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA ARE STUDYING WEEDS IN UNIQUE SITUATIONS, LIKE ON THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

FILMMAKER AND 'SCIENCE FRIDAY' PRODUCER EMILY DRISCOLL BRINGS US THE STORY.

IF WE'RE EVER GONNA COLONIZE THIS PLACE OR SPEND AN EXTENDED AMOUNT OF TIME HERE OR EVEN TRY TO SURVIVE IN CHANGING CLIMATES ON OUR OWN PLANET, WE'RE GONNA NEED...CRACKWORTS?

AND PEOPLE CALLED IT 'CRACKWORT.'

THERE'S LOTS OF DIFFERENT COMMON NAMES FOR ARABIDOPSIS.

ESSENTIALLY, IT'S A WEED.

PLANT BIOLOGISTS ANNA-LISA PAUL AND ROBERT FERL AT THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA GAINESVILLE SPACE PLANTS LAB GROW THE HUMBLE WEED ARABIDOPSIS ON PURPOSE -- TO FIND CLUES ABOUT HOW PLANTS BEHAVE IN EXTREME CONDITIONS, SUCH AS...

HOW DO PLANTS GROW DIFFERENTLY IN ORBIT OR ON THE MOON OR ON MARS?

SPACE FLIGHT IN PARTICULAR -- IT'S SOMETHING THAT NO ORGANISM ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH HAS EXPERIENCED EVER IN ITS EVOLUTIONARY HISTORY.

SO, HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THAT?

WE'RE REALLY INTRIGUED BY WHAT METABOLIC TOOLS A PLANT WILL DIP IN TO TO DEAL WITH SOMETHING THAT IT HAS NO EXPERIENCE WITH.

DR. PAUL AND DR. FERL USE GLOW-IN-THE-DARK MARKERS THAT SHOW WHICH GENES ARE TURNED ON WHEN THE PLANTS ARE STRESSED.

THEN THEY STRAP ARABIDOPSIS IN FOR SOME UNIQUE SITUATIONS, LIKE PARABOLIC FLIGHT, WHICH MIMICS THE WEIGHTLESSNESS OF SPACE.

PARABOLIC FLIGHT IS A VERY INTERESTING AND EXCITING THING FOR PLANTS AND PLANT BIOLOGISTS.

PLANTS KNOW WHEN THEY'RE IN A JET AIRPLANE.

NOW, THEY DON'T KNOW THAT IN THEIR BRAINS BECAUSE THEY DON'T HAVE THEM, BUT IT'S RECORDED IN THEIR METABOLISM.

PLANTS ARE JUST EXQUISITELY SENSITIVE TO CHANGES IN THEIR ENVIRONMENTS.

THEY CAN'T GO ANYWHERE, AND SO THEY BECOME THE MASTERS OF THEIR METABOLIC UNIVERSE.

THEY CAN RESPOND EVEN IN THE FIRST 30 SECONDS OF A PARABOLIC SET.

THE PARABOLIC FLIGHTS ALSO HELP THE RESEARCHERS FIGURE OUT WHICH EXPERIMENTS WOULD WORK -- OR NOT -- FOR ASTRONAUTS IN ZERO 'G.'

THEN IT'S BLAST-OFF TIME.

ARABIDOPSIS SEEDS WERE PLACED IN CASSETTES WITH NUTRIENT GEL AND LAUNCHED TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

ONCE ON BOARD, THEY'RE PLACED IN A GROWTH CHAMBER, WITH SOME CASSETTES RECEIVING MORE LIGHT THAN OTHERS.

ASTRONAUTS MONITOR THE 12-DAY EXPERIMENTS BEFORE RETURNING THE AGED ARABIDOPSIS BACK TO EARTH, WHERE DR. PAUL AND DR. FERL WERE WAITING TO ANALYZE THEIR GROWTH.

ON EARTH, WE USUALLY GROW THEM VERTICALLY, AND SO WE GROW THEM ON A VERTICAL SURFACE, AND THEN THE ROOTS WILL GROW PRETTY MUCH STRAIGHT DOWN THE SURFACE OF THE PLATES.

WHEN YOU GROW THEM IN SPACE, IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT, THERE'S NO GRAVITY TO TELL THE ROOTS WHICH WAY TO GROW.

ONE IDEA WOULD BE THAT, IN THE ABSENCE OF GRAVITY, PLANT ROOTS WOULD SIMPLY WANDER AROUND AIMLESSLY.

ANOTHER EXPECTATION MIGHT BE THAT IF LIGHT WAS A STRONG ENOUGH CUE, THEY WOULD SIMPLY GROW IN A SINGLE DIRECTION AWAY FROM THE LIGHT.

AT FIRST, THE SPACE PLANTS GREW DOWN THE PLATE, LIKE THEY WOULD ON EARTH, BUT THEN THE ARABIDOPSIS THAT WERE GROWN FURTHER FROM THE LIGHT DID SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

RIGHT ABOUT THE 5-DAY MARK, THEY STARTED TO DO THIS CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WE CALL, 'SKEWING,' THIS KIND OF JOG TO THE LEFT.

SINCE THE TIMES OF DARWIN IN THE 1800s, IT'S BEEN UNDERSTOOD THAT THIS ANGLED GROWTH OF ROOTS, THIS SKEWING, WAS DUE TO GRAVITY.

INSTEAD OF GRAVITY GUIDING ITS GROWTH, ARABIDOPSIS USED LIGHT.

A CLOSER LOOK AT THE PROTEINS INVOLVED IN PLANT BEHAVIOR REVEALED THAT 480 GENES UNDERWENT SIGNIFICANT CHANGES DURING SPACE FLIGHT.

NEXT, DR. PAUL AND DR. FERL WILL DELVE DEEPER INTO THESE CHANGES, EVEN GROWING PLANTS IN THE DARK.

THEIR TESTING COULD HELP US BECOME BETTER FARMERS IN EXTREME CONDITIONS ON EARTH AND IN SUBORBITAL VEHICLES, PAVING THE WAY FOR TAKING PLANTS TO THE MOON AND MARS.

PLANTS HAVE A VERY KEY ROLE IN KEEPING HUMANS ALIVE IN LONG-TERM SPACE FLIGHT.

IT'S SIMPLY IMPRACTICAL, IT'S VERY DIFFICULT, AND IT COSTS TOO MUCH JET FUEL, TOO MUCH ROCKET FUEL, TOO MUCH NUCLEAR FUEL TO BOOST ALL OF OUR FOOD TO THE SURFACE OF MARS AND HAVE IT BE THERE FOR ENOUGH YEARS TO KEEP A HUMAN COLONY ALIVE.

WHO KNOWS?

THIS LOWLY PIONEERING PLANT COULD ONE DAY BECOME AN INTREPID MARS EXPLORER.

JOINING ME NOW IS SCIENCE FILMMAKER EMILY DRISCOLL.

PEOPLE GOT MORE EXCITED ABOUT BOTANY IN THE LAST TWO MONTHS BECAUSE OF ALL THOSE TRAILERS FOR THE MATT DAMON MOVIE THAN I'VE SEEN IN YEARS, BUT THE FACT THAT PEOPLE ARE ACTUALLY TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO GET SOMETHING TO GROW IN THESE BIZARRE CONDITIONS IN SPACE -- THAT'S PRETTY INTERESTING.

YEAH.

IT WAS REALLY EXCITING, VISITING THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA SPACE PLANTS LAB, WHERE DR. PAUL AND DR. FERL ARE GROWING THESE WEEDS AND PUTTING THEM UNDER ALL THESE EXTREME CONDITIONS.

THEY ALSO TAKE THEM ON JET PLANES AND THESE PARABOLIC FLIGHTS AND SIMULATE WEIGHTLESSNESS FOR THE PLANTS, AND JUST IN 20 OR 30 SECONDS, THE PLANTS -- WHAT'S HAPPENING INSIDE THE PLANTS IS ACTUALLY CHANGING, EVEN IN THAT SMALL AMOUNT OF TIME.

SO, PLANTS KNOW WHEN THEY'RE IN ZERO 'G' OR EVEN 30,000 FEET.

LIKE, THE PROTEINS INSIDE THE PLANTS ARE CHANGING AND TRYING TO, YOU KNOW, KEEP THEIR STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY INTACT.

AND THAT'S INTERESTING.

WHEN THEY SAW WHAT HAPPENED TO THOSE PLANTS THAT WERE EXPOSED TO DIFFERENT TYPES OF LIGHT IN SPACE AND THEY SAW THE ROOTS KIND OF HEADING TOWARD ONE DIRECTION, THAT DOES THAT TEACH THEM?

WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

YEAH. SO, THERE'S SOMETHING CALLED 'SKEWING,' WHICH IS HAVING THE ROOT SLANT TO THE LEFT, AND THAT WAS THOUGHT FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS THAT THAT A THE RESULT OF GRAVITY, SO THEY FOUND THAT THE PLANTS WERE DOING THIS IN SPACE.

NOT ALL OF THEM -- ONES THAT WERE FARTHER AWAY FROM THE LIGHT.

SO, THIS SHOWED THEM THAT SOMETHING ELSE IS CAUSING SKEWING, WHETHER IT'S LIGHT OR WHETHER IT'S MOISTURE.

YOU KNOW, THEY STILL DON'T KNOW, BUT THAT REVEALED SOMETHING, YOU KNOW, REALLY DIFFERENT FOR THEM.

REALLY, IT TOOK A SPACE FLIGHT TO CHALLENGE WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT SOMETHING AS BASIC AS, 'OH, YOU KNOW WHAT?

WE'VE KNOWN THIS FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS.

SKEWING MUST HAPPEN BECAUSE OF 'X.'' AND NOW, WHEN YOU DON'T HAVE 'X' IN THAT ENVIRONMENT, MAYBE THERE'S ANOTHER REASON.

EXACTLY, AND UNDERSTANDING PLANT BIOLOGY IS JUST REALLY IMPORTANT FOR SO MANY REASONS, BUT WE, FIRST OF ALL, NEED TO KNOW HOW TO GROW PLANTS IN EXTREME CONDITIONS ON EARTH, WITH CLIMATE CHANGE AND OUR EXPANDING POPULATION, BUT ALSO IN SUBORBITAL VEHICLES, IF WE DO LONG-TERM SPACE TRAVEL, AND, ULTIMATELY, ON THE MOON OR MARS.

AND, PLUS, ONE OF THE THINGS THAT THE SCIENTISTS SAID IS THAT WE REALLY COULDN'T POSSIBLY CARRY ALL THE FOOD THAT WE NEED.

WE HAVE TO FIGURE OUT A WAY TO GROW THINGS.

OTHERWISE, WE COULDN'T FEED OURSELVES.

EXACTLY, AND THEY'RE ALSO LOOKING TO -- THEY HAVE IN THE CANADIAN HIGH ARCTIC, THEY ARE WORKING ON THESE ANALOG GREENHOUSES, SO YOU CAN PROGRAM THEM.

SO, FOR EXAMPLE, LIKE, IF WE SEND THE GREENHOUSES TO MARS AHEAD OF TIME, BY THE TIME THE ASTRONAUTS GET THERE, YOU KNOW, WE COULD PROGRAM THEM SO THEY'LL ACTUALLY START GROWING, SO THEY'LL BE GROWN BY THE TIME THE ASTRONAUTS GET THERE.

ALL RIGHT, EMILY DRISCOLL.

THANKS SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

THANK YOU.

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT EMILY DRISCOLL'S SCIENCE FILMS, CHECK OUT THE LINK ON OUR WEBSITE.

♪♪

THE ROBOTICS ASSOCIATION AT EMBRY-RIDDLE IS THE ONLY STUDENT ORGANIZATION IN THE WORLD, ACTUALLY, THAT COMPETES IN ALL OF THE MAJOR AUVSI ROBOTICS COMPETITIONS.

WE COVER AIR, GROUND, SEA, UNDERWATER, AND EVEN WITH OUR NASA COMPETITION IN SPACE.

THIS ORGANIZATION IS COMPLETELY RUN BY THE STUDENTS.

WE HAVE THE STUDENT OFFICERS AND THEN STUDENT TEAM LEADS FOR EACH OF THE VARIOUS TEAMS.

THAT'S ONE OF THE THINGS I LOVE ABOUT THIS.

WE HAVE PROJECTS IN EVERYTHING.

WHEN I CAME IN AS A FRESHMAN, I GOT MY HANDS RIGHT IN THE FIRST WEEK OF MY FRESHMAN YEAR.

I WAS WORKING ON PROJECTS AND DOING THINGS THAT MATTERED AND THAT I LEARNED A LOT FROM.

THE QUAD ITSELF WAS DESIGNED IN-HOUSE HERE, 3-D-PRINTED, WHICH MEANS IT WAS BUILT FROM THE GROUND UP HERE.

IT'S COMPLETELY STUDENT-DESIGNED, AND IT'S FOR OUR INTERNATIONAL AEROROBOTICS COMPETITION.

[ WHIRRING ] AND HOLD IT RIGHT ABOUT THERE.

AND YOU CAN SEE I'M NOT CONTROLLING IT AT ALL.

IT'S COMPLETELY AUTONOMOUS.

RIGHT HERE I HAVE OUR LAST YEAR'S ROBOT FOR NASA'S ROBOTIC MINING COMPETITION.

IT'S A COMPETITION HELD DOWN AT KENNEDY SPACE CENTER EVERY YEAR.

I ACTUALLY LEARNED QUITE A BIT JUST FROM STARTING TO WORK ON IT.

ANYTIME YOU GET YOUR HANDS ON ON ANY OF THESE PROJECTS, YOU'RE GONNA BE LEARNING WHILE WORKING ON THEM, BUT ALSO FROM ALL THE CLASSES I'VE TAKEN, YOU CAN DEFINITELY PUT EVERYTHING YOU LEARN TOGETHER INTO ONE SYSTEM.

IT'S A GREAT LEARNING PROCESS, ACTUALLY GOING TO THE COMPETITION AND THEN WORKING ON THESE PROJECTS, YOU KNOW, BUILDING IT UP, AND YOU ALWAYS GO THROUGH A DESIGN PHASE WHERE YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEAS AND CONCEPTS OF WHAT YOU WANT TO IMPLEMENT, FIND WHAT IS FEASIBLE, AND THEN JUST GO OUT AND DO IT AND MAKE SURE THAT YOUR SYSTEM WORKS, AND HOPEFULLY BETTER THAN THE LAST YEAR.

PERHAPS LOVE CANNOT BE EASILY REDUCED TO SCIENCE, BUT ONE NASA ENGINEER IS HOPING HE CAN SIMPLIFY THE PROCESS OF LOOKING FOR ROMANCE.

HIS NAME IS RASHIED AMINI, AND HE IS HERE TO DISCUSS NANAYA, HIS ROMANTIC-OUTLOOK TOOL DESIGNED TO PREDICT A PERSON'S ROMANTIC OUTLOOK SEVEN YEARS INTO THE FUTURE.

REPORTER ANDREA VASQUEZ HAS THE INTERVIEW VIA GOOGLE HANGOUT.

RASHIED AMINI, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

YOU'RE A SCIENTIST.

YOU WORK WITH NASA.

HOW DID YOU START WORKING ON THIS PROJECT, ON NANAYA?

AND TELL ME WHAT IT IS.

WELL, IT ALL STARTED A LITTLE BIT AGO, BUT NANAYA IS A ROMANCE-DECISION ALGORITHM THAT WILL HELP PEOPLE FIND OUT WHAT THEIR FUTURE WILL LOOK LIKE -- RATHER IT'S, YOU KNOW, WHO TO SETTLE DOWN WITH, WHEN TO SETTLE DOWN, WHERE THEY'LL FIND LOVE.

WOW.

AND IT STARTED ABOUT A YEAR AND A HALF AGO, WHEN MY THEN-GIRLFRIEND WAS WONDERING WHETHER OR NOT WE SHOULD STAY TOGETHER, AND SHE WANTED TO DO A COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS OF OUR RELATIONSHIP.

AND I FELT, 'OKAY.

THAT'S ONE OF THE SILLIEST THINGS I'VE HEARD, BUT YOU KNOW WHAT?

THIS IS THE SORT OF THING I DO FOR WORK, SO WHY NOT?

I'LL TRY TO SEE IF I CAN DO IT, IF ONLY TO SHOW THAT IT DOESN'T WORK.'

AND, AS IT TURNED OUT, IT DID.

REALLY? USING WHAT FACTORS?

IT USES QUITE A FEW.

SO, IT'S, YOU KNOW -- I TOOK WHAT WE USED TO DO OR WHAT I DO IN NASA FOR PLANNING SPACE MISSIONS, WHERE THERE'S ALL THESE DIFFERENT FACTORS, AND IN EACH ONE, THERE CAN BE, LIKE, MANY DIFFERENT OUTCOMES.

SO, SAY, FOR INSTANCE, IF YOU WANT TO BUILD A SPACE MISSION THAT WILL LAND ON MARS, THERE'S A COUPLE WAYS OF DOING THAT, BUT SOME WAYS WILL GIVE YOU THE BEST CHANCE OF MISSION SUCCESS.

SO MUCH IN THE SAME WAY, A PERSON INTERACTS WITH ALL THESE DIFFERENT GROUPS OF PEOPLE, SO THE PEOPLE AT WORK, THE PEOPLE THEY MEET IN COLLEGE, THEIR FRIEND NETWORK, AND IN EACH ONE, THERE'S ALL THESE DIFFERENT PROBABILITIES OF, YOU KNOW, HOW THEY'LL -- YOU KNOW, OF FINDING LOVE, AND THEN, ALSO, DIFFERENT WAYS THEY INTERACT WITH ALL THESE GROUPS.

SO, FOR INSTANCE, YOU MAY GO OUT WITH YOUR CO-WORKERS SO OFTEN AND YOU GO OUT WITH YOUR FRIENDS SO OFTEN.

AND IF YOU FACTOR ALL THESE THINGS TOGETHER, EVENTUALLY IT'LL ACTUALLY GET AN ANSWER.

SO, IS THIS A SERVICE OR AN ALGORITHM?

IT WILL BE A SERVICE SOON, BUT WE'VE BEEN WORKING ON THE ALGORITHM FOR ABOUT A YEAR AND A HALF, TESTING WITH WITH PEOPLE, ACTUALLY, OFF OF CRAIGSLIST.

IT FIRST STARTED WITH FRIENDS, AND THEN WHEN IT SEEMED LIKE IT WAS WORKING, I STARTED TESTING IT WITH PERFECT STRANGERS TO SEE IF I COULD PROVE WHAT WOULD HAVE MADE THEM HAPPY IN THE PAST.

IF I CAN DO THAT, THEN I KNOW IT WORKS.

OKAY.

SO, YOU'RE TESTING IT BY PUTTING IN RETROACTIVE...

EXACTLY.

...INFORMATION AND SEEING IF IT CAME TRUE.

SO, WHAT LEVEL OF ACCURACY ARE YOU GETTING?

WELL, IT'S HARD TO GAUGE ACCURACY BECAUSE IT'S SOMETHING WE'RE CONSTANTLY LEARNING, SO, FOR INSTANCE, IF IT DOESN'T WORK A LITTLE BIT, I'LL GO BACK.

I'LL RETOOL THE ALGORITHM TO SEE, 'MAYBE WE MISSED SOMETHING.'

SO, THE MAIN KEY FEATURE THAT WE WANT TO BE ABLE TO HAVE IS WHETHER OR NOT YOU SHOULD STAY WITH YOUR CURRENT PARTNER.

THAT'S A LITTLE SPOOKY, AND I DON'T WANT TO PUT THAT OUT UNTIL WE KNOW THAT IT REALLY WORKS.

SO, WHAT WE HAVE TO DO IS CONTINUE TO TEST THAT PORTION, BUT, AT THE SAME TIME, WE DO WANT TO OFFER THE OTHER CAPABILITIES THAT IT HAS.

SO, THE ONE THAT I'M REALLY EXCITED ABOUT IS WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF FINDING LOVE?

AND THAT ONE IS SOMETHING THAT, YOU KNOW, WE HAVE A PRETTY GOOD FIX ON, AND THAT'S HOW YOU INTERACT WITH DIFFERENT GROUPS OF PEOPLE AND WHAT FREQUENCY AND WHAT ARE THE PROBABILITIES.

AND HOW DO YOU ACCOUNT FOR THE HUMAN ELEMENT OF PERSONALITY AND DYNAMIC AND COMPATIBILITY?

SO, IF I CAN BREAK DOWN THE ALGORITHM IN A COUPLE DIFFERENT PARTS, THERE IS ONE THAT DOES ALL THE SOCIAL MODEL, AND THAT'S BASED ON PERSONALITY TESTS THAT WE'RE CURRENTLY OFFERING ON OUR SITE, nanaya.co, BUT WE HAVE THE SERVICE THAT FINDS OUT WHEN YOU'LL FIND LOVE.

YOU DO A PERSONALITY TEST, BUT WE HAVE TO ASK SEVERAL QUESTIONS ABOUT, YOU KNOW, HOW DO YOU INTERACT WITH YOUR CO-WORKERS.

HOW DO YOU INTERACT WITH THE PEOPLE THAT ARE YOUR FRIENDS IN YOUR CITY OR PEOPLE, LIKE, IN YOUR EXTENDED NETWORK?

AND ALL THESE QUESTIONS ARE PERSONALIZED.

SO, AS YOU ANSWER ONE QUESTION, IT LEADS TO ANOTHER, AND IT'S ALL ADAPTIVE.

NOW, IF YOU'RE ASKING THESE QUESTIONS, WE CAN GET A REALLY GOOD IDEA OF HOW A PERSON INTERACTS AND HOW THEY'LL BE INTERACTING IN THE FUTURE, AS WELL.

AND SO HOW SERIOUSLY SHOULD PEOPLE TAKE ADVICE FROM NANAYA IF IT SAYS YOUR RELATIONSHIP'S NOT GONNA LAST?

WELL, THE WAY I THINK ABOUT IT IS YOU HAVE A COIN.

YOU CAN FLIP IT AND GET HEADS OR TAILS 50% OF THE TIME.

WELL, 50% DOESN'T MEAN ANYTHING FOR ONE, YOU KNOW, COIN FLIP.

IN A SENSE, WHEN WE LIVE OUR LIVES, WE REALLY ONLY HAVE ONE COIN FLIP.

SO, PROBABILITY DOESN'T ALWAYS DO THE BEST JOB OF DESCRIBING HOW YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE.

AND I THINK, AT THE END OF THE DAY, PEOPLE MAY KNOW IN THEIR HEARTS WHAT THEY WANT TO DO.

SO, I ACTUALLY VIEW THE RESULT NOT BEING THE MOST IMPORTANT THING BUT RATHER THE VERY PROCESS OF GOING THROUGH ALL THESE QUESTIONS WILL HOPEFULLY HELP PEOPLE UNDERSTAND, YOU KNOW, WHAT THEY REALLY WANT.

AND I THINK THAT'S THE SORT OF THING THAT'S MOST IMPORTANT AT THE END OF THE DAY, NOT JUST THE NUMBER AT THE END OF THE REPORT.

OKAY.

SO, THE ALGORITHM'S FACILITATING SOME INTROSPECTION ALONG THE WAY?

AND I THINK THAT'S MY MAIN OBJECTIVE IN DEVELOPING THIS.

GREAT.

WELL, WE'LL SEE HOW THE NEXT SEVEN YEARS GO.

[ LAUGHS ] THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

THANKS SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME.

♪♪

IN THE LAST 50 YEARS, INDUSTRIAL ROBOTICS HAVE COME TO PLAY A CRUCIAL ROLE IN MANY INDUSTRIAL FIELDS, REPLACING DANGEROUS OR TEDIOUS HUMAN TASKS.

WHILE THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY HAS REMAINED LARGELY UNTOUCHED BY THE ROBOTICS REVOLUTION, A COMPANY IN NEW YORK HAS DEVELOPED A ROBOT TO INCREASE THE PRODUCTIVITY OF ONE OF THE OLDEST TRADES IN THE WORLD -- BRICKLAYING.

TAKE A LOOK.

IT WAS BACK IN ABOUT 2007.

NATE AND I WERE TALKING ABOUT OUR VARIOUS CAREERS.

NATE HAS SPENT MANY, MANY YEARS IN THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY WITH A GENERAL-CONTRACTING COMPANY, AND MY BACKGROUND IS ENGINEERING -- MANUFACTURING ENGINEERING.

AND NATE REALLY EXPRESSED THE FRUSTRATION AND WHAT HE SAW AS THE INEFFICIENCIES ON THE JOBSITE, ON THE CONSTRUCTION SITE.

THERE'S SO MUCH MANUAL LABOR INVOLVED.

EVERYTHING IS A VERY MANUAL PROCESS, VERY SLOW PROCESS.

WHEN YOU LOOK AT AUTOMATION AND YOU LOOK AT FACTORIES AND HOW THEY LEVERAGE AUTOMATION IN ROBOTICS, THEY'RE ABLE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE BENEFITS THAT ROBOTICS AND THESE AUTOMATION SYSTEMS CAN BRING TO THE TABLE, AND ONE OF THE FIRST APPLICATIONS THAT WE FELT WAS A GREAT FIT WAS MASONRY.

IT'S A VERY REPETITIVE PROCESS, VERY MANUAL PROCESS, VERY PREDICTABLE PROCESS WHICH IS PERFECT FOR AUTOMATION AND ROBOTICS.

SAM IS SHORT FOR 'SEMI-AUTOMATED MASON,' AND WHAT SAM DOES -- IT WORKS ALONGSIDE THE WORKER.

IT'S NOT A FULLY AUTONOMOUS ROBOTIC SYSTEM.

YOU CAN'T SET IT UP AND THEN COME BACK A DAY LATER AND THE WALL'S BUILT.

IT'S VERY INTERACTIVE WITH THE WORKERS.

IT'S A LITTLE BIT INTERESTING SPACE THAT WE'RE IN, BECAUSE WE'RE NOT BUILDING EQUIPMENT THAT'S, LIKE, REMOTE-CONTROLLED.

YOU KNOW, YOU'RE NOT SITTING AT CONTROLS, DRIVING, LIKE, A BACKHOE AROUND, AND YOU'RE NOT ALSO SETTING UP, AGAIN, A LIGHTS-OUT FACTORY WHERE YOU JUST SET THIS THING AND COME BACK A DAY LATER.

IT'S REALLY THIS IN-BETWEEN SPACE.

IT'S THIS IN-BETWEEN SPACE OF YOU SET UP A CERTAIN WORKSPACE FOR THIS ROBOT TO WORK WITHIN, AND THEN ONCE IT'S SET UP, ONCE YOU'VE DEFINED THE WORKSPACE FOR THIS ROBOT TO BUILD THE BRICK WALL, THEN IT CAN RUN FAIRLY AUTONOMOUSLY WITHIN THAT SPACE.

YOU NEED TO FEED IT BRICKS, YOU NEED TO FEED IT MORTAR, AND YOU NEED TO INTERACT WITH IT WHENEVER IT HAS AN ISSUE.

IT'LL TELL YOU.

IT SAYS, 'HEY, COME PAY ATTENTION TO ME.

FIX THIS PROBLEM THAT I SEE.'

[ MACHINE CHIRPING ] AND SO IT ALLOWS THE WORKER TO LEVERAGE SOME OF THEIR TIME AND EFFORT.

THEY CAN SET IT UP, THEY CAN GET IT RUNNING, THEY NEED TO KEEP IT FED WITH BRICKS AND MORTAR, BUT THEN, FOR THE MOST PART, THE MASON WILL FOLLOW BEHIND THE SYSTEM.

A LOT EASIER ON YOUR BODY, FIRST OFF, 'CAUSE YOU'RE NOT DOING ALL THE WORK YOURSELF.

IT'S JUST HARD ON YOUR BODY, REALLY -- HARD ON YOUR ELBOWS, YOUR JOINTS.

RIGHT NOW I HAVE TENNIS ELBOW FROM HANDLING A TROWEL, SO IT REALLY JUST TAKES A LOT OF THAT, AND NOW MY JOB MOSTLY CONSISTS OF TOOLING, MAKING SURE THE BRICK ARE IN THE RIGHT ALIGNMENT.

EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE, I'LL RUN UP THERE AND STOCK IT.

YOU HAVE TWO GUYS RUNNING THE SYSTEM -- THE GUY ON THE WALL AND THE GUY UP THERE RUNNING THE PAD AND STOCKING, USUALLY, AND KEEPING ORDER.

TWO OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES THAT WE DISCOVERED EARLY ON WAS HOW DO YOU CORRECT FOR THE MOVEMENT?

WHEN YOU TAKE A ROBOT -- AGAIN, WHEN A ROBOT IS TYPICALLY USED IN A MANUFACTURING ENVIRONMENT, IT'S A VERY PREDICTABLE SETTING AROUND IT.

SO, IT'S BOLTED TO THE FLOOR.

IT'S ON A CONCRETE PAD.

IT CAN DRIVE AROUND VERY EASILY.

IT CAN MOVE AROUND.

WHEN WE TAKE A ROBOT ONTO A JOBSITE FOR MASONRY APPLICATIONS, YOU'RE TYPICALLY BUILDING VERTICAL WALLS, SO YOU'RE GOING UP STORY AFTER STORY.

AND WHEN YOU GET UP IN THE AIR, YOU NEED A WAY TO GET UP THERE, AND WHAT IS USED ON CONSTRUCTION SITES TODAY IS A MAST CLIMBING WORK PLATFORM.

WHEN YOU MOUNT OUR SYSTEM TO THAT PLATFORM, IT'S MOVING AROUND, SO IT'S LIKE BEING ON A BOAT.

YOU'RE UP IN SPACE, AND AS STABLE AS THIS PLATFORM IS, IT'S STILL SWAYING WITH THE WIND.

IT'S STILL MOVING AS PEOPLE JUMP UP AND DOWN.

SO, I MEAN, WHEN YOU'RE UP THERE FIVE, SIX STORIES, YOU LITERALLY FEEL LIKE YOU'RE ON A BOAT.

SO, YOU'RE TAKING THIS ROBOT AND PICKING UP A BRICK, IN THIS CASE, GOING TO THE FIXED STRUCTURE WHILE SITTING ON THIS BOAT, SO TO SPEAK, AND TRYING TO FIND THE EXACT SPOT WHERE IT'S SUPPOSED TO PUT IT, CORRECT FOR THAT MOVEMENT, AND THEN PLACE IT THERE.

THE OTHER MAJOR PROBLEM WAS HOW DO WE DEAL WITH THE MORTAR?

[ WHIRRING ]

WELL, WHEN IT FIRST STARTED, MOST OF THE FOCUS WAS TRYING TO UNDERSTAND THE PROPERTIES OF THE MORTAR, SO WE WERE LOOKING AT MORTAR RHEOLOGY.

WE WERE LOOKING AT WHAT WE HAD TO DO WITH MOISTURE CONTENT -- ANYTHING THAT WE CAN DO WITH MORTAR TO HAVE IT WORK IN OUR SYSTEM -- AND THE FOCUS RIGHT FROM THE BEGINNING WAS TO TRY TO WORK WITH MORTAR THAT THE MASONS ARE USING.

SO, WE DIDN'T TARGET TRYING TO CREATE ANYTHING NEW.

WE WANTED TO UNDERSTAND WHAT WE CAN DO WITH THE EXISTING MORTAR THAT THEY'RE USING AND UNDERSTAND THE PRODUCT OR UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENT PHYSICAL PROPERTIES AND CONTROL THEM AND DESIGN THEM TO WORK IN OUR PROCESS.

WE'RE KIND OF DOING THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT MASONS DO.

TYPICALLY, MASONS WILL PUT MORTAR ON THE BRICK OR ON THE BLOCK AND THEN LAY ANOTHER BLOCK ON TOP OF IT.

WE'RE APPLYING IT, AND WE HAVE TO INVERT IT AND HAVE THE MORTAR STICK IN A SUSPENDED FORM.

SO, FROM THAT POINT, WE WENT ON TO LOOKING AT THE PROCESS AND TRYING TO APPLY THE MORTAR AND SEE WHAT WE CAN DO TO MAKE IT ROBUST ENOUGH TO HAVE EXISTING MORTAR STICK.

SO, IT'S KIND OF A BALANCING ACT.

WE CAN MODIFY THE MORTAR TO SOME DEGREE WITH MOISTURE CONTENT.

AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE, WE WANT TO MAKE A ROBUST PROCESS THAT WORKS WITH THE MORTAR THAT THEY'RE USING IN THE FIELD.

IN MY OPINION, IT'S PRETTY REVOLUTIONARY.

WHAT WE'VE DONE FOR, REALLY, ONE OF THE FIRST TIMES ON A CONSTRUCTION SITE, IS WE'VE TAKEN A TRADE, A VALUE-ADDED PROCESS, AND WE'VE HELPED INCREASE THE PRODUCTIVITY OF THAT BY ACTUALLY HELPING TO PERFORM THAT TRADE, TAKING SOME OF THE MANUAL, PHYSICAL ASPECTS OUT OF THAT.

I THINK THAT THE TRANSITION THAT WE'LL SEE OVER THE COMING YEAR IS, AS TECHNOLOGY EVOLVES, AS IT ADVANCES, YOU WILL SEE A LITTLE BIT LESS INTERACTION WITH THE SYSTEM.

THE SYSTEM WILL GET SMARTER.

THE SYSTEM WILL HAVE -- IT'LL BUILD ITS OWN INTELLIGENCE.

THERE'LL BE OTHER ROBOTS AND OTHER PROCESSES THAT HELP FEED THE SYSTEM EASIER AND FASTER SO THAT YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE PLACING EVERY BRICK ON THE SYSTEM.

SAME THING WITH THE MORTAR.

BUT -- BUT I THINK THAT THERE WILL ALWAYS BE SOMEONE THERE TO HELP SET THINGS UP, TO HELP MONITOR, SO, EVENTUALLY, THERE MAY BE A DAY WHEN, AS THIS TECHNOLOGY ADVANCES OR OTHER TECHNOLOGIES ADVANCE, THERE MAY BE ONE TECHNICAL CONSTRUCTION PERSON THAT CAN RUN THREE OR FOUR SYSTEMS.

BUT I THINK THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A WORKER THERE.

AND THAT WRAPS IT UP FOR THIS TIME.

FOR MORE ON SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND INNOVATION, VISIT OUR WEBSITE, CHECK US OUT ON FACEBOOK AND INSTAGRAM, AND JOIN THE CONVERSATION ON TWITTER.

YOU CAN ALSO SUBSCRIBE TO OUR YouTube CHANNEL.

UNTIL NEXT TIME, I'M HARI SREENIVASAN.

THANKS FOR WATCHING.

FUNDING FOR THIS PROGRAM IS MADE POSSIBLE BY...