SciTech Now Episode 539

In this episode of SciTech Now, one of the first graduating class of Tesla technicians, never forget your keys again, the call of the bat, and how inventors have powered innovation through the years.


[ Theme music plays ] ♪♪

Coming up, one of the first graduating classes of Tesla technicians...

One of the assignments in class, we had to pick each car, take it completely apart.

...never forget your keys again...

Anything that you can slap a sticker on, we can track.

...the call of the bat...

We don't see them.

We don't hear them, so those 17 species of bats are just sort of something that we don't really know about. inventors have powered innovation through the years.

No deadlines, no budget constraints, just study, learn, create.

It's all ahead.

Funding for this program is made possible by...

Hello. I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

Welcome to our weekly program bringing you the latest breakthroughs in science, technology, and innovation.

Let's get started.

One of the first graduating classes of Tesla car technicians is headed off to the workplace after an intense training course in North Carolina.

This segment is part of American Graduate: Getting to Work, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


Annalisa Sansone.

[ Cheers and applause ]

She is staying in Charlotte!

It's graduation day at Central Piedmont Community College, and Annalisa Sansone is the only female in this class...

The guys really didn't treat me too differently.

...the only single parent in this class...

Well, being a mom, you're used to having to do things, just go, go, go all the time.

...the only graduate with a 3-year-old on her lap, plus two more kids at home.

I had to change.

I had to work for what I wanted, and I lost a lot of sleep and time for myself and even time with my kids to get where I am now.


Where Annalisa is now is Tesla, the company that's building state of the art electric cars.

♪♪ And even launching them to Mars.

♪ Is there life on Mars?

The cars that you work on, you never can tell where they're going to end up.

Three, two, one.


Tesla and Central Piedmont are snipping the ribbon on what they call the Tesla START program, the company providing the college with this fleet of new Tesla cars and equipment.

We need to do more than just design and build electric vehicles.

And Central Piedmont, one of only two colleges in the country, providing Tesla with the teachers and the high-tech training for a new generation of Tesla technicians, learning the cutting-edge skills to keep these cutting-edge cars rolling.

At the end of the day, our mission is about our students and putting them into a workforce where they can live a great life, have a tremendous career, sustainable wage and just do amazing things, so if our student graduates who we're going to champion and celebrate in a few minutes would stand, we'd like to honor you first thing this morning.

[ Applause ]

These 13 CPCC trainees are the first Tesla START graduates in the country, the first anywhere.

Matthew Plummer, Nashville, Tennessee.

[ Cheers and applause ]

And that's part of what this 13-week immersion is, right?

It's quick.

It's hard.

It's, like, hey, trying to learn a whole new technology whether you've worked on cars before or haven't is quite, quite an endeavor, and the amount of dedication and work that you guys have done to get you prepared is absolutely awe-inspiring.

I was living with my parents.

I had to move back in with no hope of moving out if I kept doing what I was doing.

I just knew that I had to work to get what I wanted.

I had to just stuff down all my anxiety and my fear of failing.

I'd rather fail than say, 'I never tried.'

One of the assignments in class, we had to pick each car, take it completely apart, down to the...

Here at Tesla's Charlotte showroom and service center, where she works now, there's not much Annalisa doesn't know about these cars on the showroom floor.

She's not a trainee anymore.

Annalisa is a high-tech professional now with a promising future or her and for her young family.

Now they know that we're going to move out soon.

They're going to have bedrooms, maybe a yard.

They're going to definitely have a better life.

I can spend more time with them.

We can actually go on a vacation or something.

This partnership provides job opportunities for our students.

These students are able to graduate and immediately enter the workforce, immediately, so it doesn't take them 6 months to find a job and send out their resume and go through CareerBuilder.

They're immediately finding employment, and that is something to be proud of.

[ Cheers and applause ]

It's a 'cut the cake happy ending, just the beginning' story for Annalisa and the other START program graduates...

All right.

...a story that Tesla and the college hope to keep telling over and over.

We are so excited for your success, excited that all of you have a new career with Tesla and that you're going to be going out all over the country to represent not only that wonderful company but this great college.

So would you, as we get started, give our graduates a tremendous round of applause and to our great partners.

And, of course, the cars... Everybody loves the cars.

♪♪ ♪♪

New technology has changed how we go about our daily lives.

Some students from Cornell University are trying to design an object-management system through a new start-up.

Joining us is Eliza Harkins, a 2018 graduate of Cornell Tech and CEO of start-up Kipit, a start-up that uses radio waves to keep track of your important belongings.

How does Kipit work?

[ British accent ] Yeah, so basically we have a device that goes into any bag or suitcase that you carry around with you all the time.

And then you put little RFID stickers similar to a barcode-type sticker on everything you want to keep track of, from clothing items to laptops to chargers to glasses, and as you take...

Phones, keys, everything else I'm keeping inside my head.

Everything that you want to keep track of, and anything that you can slap a sticker on, we can track, and as you take things in and out of the bag, the reader knows that and sends that information to your phone.

So is there something... Are you adding something to the bag itself?

Yes. Yeah.

It looks like a little foldable sheet of paper that you just sort of slide into the bag.

What made you want to do this?

Well, frankly, I am a very forgetful person.

I kept showing up to the gym and not having the shoes I need, so I couldn't do that workout or going to school and not having the right notebook, and it was very frustrating for me, and then the more people I talked to about this, the more and more I heard of people who missed flights because they forgot their passport or people who have, like, 17 different pairs of sunglasses because they keep forgetting them or losing them places.

And it's such a small problem, but it can be kind of a big disruption in our day, and it doesn't need to exist, so why not use technology to fix it?

You know, is there... Or how did you figure out what the market was?

I mean, when you're at business school or you're thinking about a product... Forgetful people is a large quotient, but how do you say, 'Okay. This is somebody... This is a group of people that I could tackle that would want a product that I'm building'?

Yeah, so we...So I agree.

Forgetful people is a large group, which is what makes it an exciting market.

There's a lot of different types of people who kind of fall into that category.

We've seen a lot of connections around parents because they have so much stuff both for themselves and their children, people who are slightly older and they want to remain independent but keep having trouble forgetting their things... It's really resonated with them.


...and then people whose jobs require having a lot of equipment around them all the time, like professional videographers and stuff.

If they lose a piece of equipment, it can be hundreds or thousands of dollars lost.

And so how much does your... How does your product work?

I mean, is this something that you purchase up front, a group of stickers and the RFID itself and an app?

How does it all connect?

Yeah, so basically the way that it will work is you can buy a kind of start kit and it will be the reader and a starter set of tags, and then if you want to track more things, you can always buy more tags.


I think the technology that we have, the reader can track up to 150 different items at once, so there's...You can go crazy if you want to, you know?

Right, right.

I doubt you'll have that many things in a bag, but that's just what the technology can handle.


And where are you at as a business?

I mean, this is something you and some colleagues at school got going together inside the sort of Cornell Tech incubator, right?

Yes, exactly.

And so what stage is it at now?

Yeah, so we just hit our 6 months of being a business anniversary, which is very nice.

We'd graduated in May of 2018.

At that time, we pitched Kipit to this competition that they have at the end of every year at Cornell Tech, and we won that competition, so they were able to give us some funding to make it a reality.

So right now we have our proof-of-concept prototype, and now we're working towards a manufacturable prototype.

Our goal is to have a sort of beta launch with a sort of small run of actual units of Kipit by the end of this coming summer.

So do you go the Kickstarter route or the Indiegogo route to try to get funding?

Do you go after traditional venture capitalists who want early stage investments in your company?

How does it work?


We're still working that out, frankly.

You know, a start-up is difficult in any situation, and then doing a hardware start-up with a physical product is even more challenging.

So we're kind of looking at all of our options at the moment.

We want to see what makes the most sense.

Kickstarter is really terrific for this kind of product, but I really want to make sure that if we do that, it's at the time when we can really deliver the product that people are paying for because Kickstarters, it's usually just ordinary people giving up their hard-earned money.


And unlike maybe a career investor, they don't have exactly the same level of risk tolerance, so I want to make sure that we're developing exactly the product that people want if we go down that route.

All right.

Eliza Harkins, CEO of Kipit, thanks so much.

Yeah. Thank you.


How do we navigate through space?

Currently, spacecraft flying beyond Earth don't have a GPS to find their way through space.

Navigators on Earth send a signal to the spacecraft, which receives it and sends it back.

Extremely precise clocks on the ground called atomic clocks measure how long it takes the signal to make this two-way journey.

The amount of time tells them how far away the spacecraft is and how fast it's going.

The farther out in space the spacecraft is, the longer it takes to receive and send a signal, but what if humans are sent to another planet, like Mars?

A two-way system that sends a signal from Earth to a spacecraft back to Earth and then to the spacecraft again would take an average of 40 minutes.

Imagine if the GPS on your phone took 40 minutes to calculate your position.

You might miss your turn or be several exits down the highway before it caught up with you.

If humans travel to the red planet, it would be better if the system was one way, allowing the explorers to immediately determine their current position, rather than waiting for that information to come back from Earth.

NASA is testing new technology that would allow future explorers to do just that.

The Deep Space Atomic Clock is the first demonstration of an atomic clock that can be used for navigation in deep space.

It will allow a spacecraft to calculate its own trajectory instead of depending on Earth.

If a spacecraft had one of these clocks onboard, it could receive a signal from one of those big antennas on Earth and quickly measure its speed and position.

The Deep Space Atomic Clock could one day let astronauts navigate safely and accurately to Mars and beyond.

This technology demonstration is the first step in making one-way space navigation a reality.

In North Carolina, a regional acoustic bat survey is underway to identify bats, where they're going and how they're doing in urban and rural environments.

All of this information is gathered by recording the call of the bats.

Take a listen.

When you're asleep, the skies are filled with multiple species of bats.

So we don't see them.

We don't hear them, so those 17 species of bats are just sort of something that we don't really know about, and what we do in my lab is we work to really understand, 'What are all those different species doing?'

So to find out what the bats are doing, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro listen.

They are a very acoustic species and group of animals.

So what we do for all of our studies is we put out microphones all across the landscape so that we eavesdrop on them, and we can study them by eavesdropping on those sounds.

Well, they don't listen to bats in a traditional way.

Bats produce ultrasonic sounds.

That means the sounds are at a higher frequency than humans can hear.

We typically set these up to record from sunset to sunrise because that's the time when bats are active, so we can see that the boxes there and the microphone is several meters above, and that's because bats are... Some of the bats are really high fliers.

Some are low fliers, but this gives us an opportunity to catch more of the vocalizations of the bats that are passing through.

And what's amazing about these bats is that you can assign specific species to the calls that they make.

So each species produces a different type of call, and so that is one way that we can understand the types of bats that we have in the area and how often they come through here.

We can understand, 'When are they actually present?'

And they use those sounds to communicate with each other as well as find their way by echolocation.

The sound waves bounce off obstacles bats need to avoid and prey they're going to eat.

Bats produce calls in the ultrasonic range, which humans are unable to hear.

However, using computer software, we're able to slow down bat recordings and change the frequency so that way they're in the audible range.

So this is the echolocation calls and terminal buzz of a big brown bat played back at one-eighth original speed.

So you can almost, as you look at it, you can almost think the bat is looking, looking, looking.

'Oh, found something, found something.

Got to find it, find it, find it, find it. Got it.'


The regular echolocation calls are when the bat is navigating and searching for food items.

It's producing these calls, and then it waits until it hears the echo of the previous call before it emits the next call, and then when a bat is getting a lot closer to an insect, the echoes are going to be returning at a lot more rapid pace.

Bats can be identified by their calls.

Each species is unique.

Researchers are also learning there are different calls for different situations, including avoiding danger and looking for a mate.

So this is another call from a big brown bat.

[ Bat chirping ] So we have a search-phase echolocation call, and then we have this social call, which is made of a rapid succession of down sweeps and then followed by a terminal buzz.

This call is actually used when two bats are competing over the same insect.

So another example of an evening bat social call... [ Three high-pitched chirps ] [ Deeper chirp ] [ High-pitched chirping ]

This is connected, and we're going to have a microphone through outside of this box.

Let's get there and make sure the tripod is level.

The research team, with help from citizen scientists, is collecting bat calls from almost 200 sites across North Carolina.

[ Low-tone static feedback ]

This is how we test the microphone.

Sometimes we use keys to shake behind the microphone so to make sure the sound can travel around it and be recorded.

It's part of the Carolinas Regional Acoustic Bat Survey.

We would put microphones across the landscape in urban, suburban, exurban, agricultural areas as well as very pristine areas, and then we'd see which species are active, when and how they are being active.

So we can learn.

If they're doing well, their range is expanding in our state, or they're not doing very well, the range is shrinking in our state.

We actually found certain species that are expanding.

They go to new places over years, and some species, unfortunately, the range actually shrinking.

The bats that are on the coast in bottom-line hardwood swamps are different than the species that are in the mountains, and in the Piedmont, there's a mix of both of those species.

And in North Carolina what all of those bat species are doing is just eating insects.

What they're doing, really, in terms of a service is they're controlling insects.

Track a Lilac is a citizen-science project hosted by the USA National Phenology Network.

Volunteers are needed to document spring's arrival across the country.

Lilacs are among the first plants to grow leaves and flowers in the spring.

Researchers and the USA National Phenology Network have been tracking lilac leaf and bloom for over 60 years to calculate spring's arrival.

Data are being used to confirm if springs are arriving, on average, earlier each year and if the growing season is getting longer.

♪♪ Through the Track a Lilac online program and mobile app, you can contribute observations to this important research.

It's easy and takes very little time.

First, locate a lilac.

Enter your address.

Report whether you see leaves or flowers on the plant by answering these three questions: Do you see breaking leaf buds, open flowers, full flowering?

Click or tap the button to report your observations.

By sharing what you see, you'll help scientists confirm spring's early arrival.

You can make a difference.

♪♪ ♪♪ [ Computer keys clacking ] ♪♪

New Jersey isn't only known as the Garden State, it's also called the innovation state.

It has been the place that many inventors have establish laboratories, from Thomas Edison to David Sarnoff to Alexander Graham Bell and many more.

The legacy of these innovators lives on today, with several incubator spaces across the state continuing to foster New Jersey's spirit of invention while also inspiring the next generation of inventors.

Here's the story.

Almost everyone knows him as a genius.

If you ask Thomas Edison, he'd say he had stick-to-it-iveness.

Either way, his legacy permeates New Jersey's rich history.

Edison sets up this place like no other place in the world had been done.

It was here at the aptly named Invention Factory built in Menlo Park that Edison and his teams of brilliant scientists, known as the Muckers, would work around the clock, creating and improving other inventions, like Bell's telegraph and telephone.

And from that research, Edison hears something.

He writes down a little drawing, and he creates what we know today as the phonograph.

He has 1,093 patents in the US and 1,250 patents in 34 other countries.

Edison and the Muckers would perfect the incandescent light bulb, and, no, they never laid claim to inventing the original, eventually bringing his direct current, or DC, electric power generation and distribution to the world.

That success spurred greater contributions from competitors, from the Invention Factory to the Idea Factory of Bell Labs.

The team hired to make Bell's telegraph and telephone company, we know it today as AT&T, would later move to Murray Hill, New Jersey.

The laboratory is still going strong as Nokia Bell Labs.

They were encouraged to have serendipitous encounters, to cross-pollinate, to learn from each other: no deadlines, no budget constraints, just study, learn, create.

It was the birthplace for the transistor, revolutionizing the electronics industry to solid state, earning a Nobel Prize.

Nearly a dozen sites would be built throughout the state to support the Bell Labs' work: the first solar cell, radar technology, mobile phone communications.

Scientists changed radio astronomy as we knew it.

We set out at a frequency where we didn't expect there to be much at the Milky Way, tried to make a measurement and see if we could measure zero, and lo and behold, we didn't measure zero.

We discovered the cosmic microwave background.

Aka, leftover radiation providing evidence to the Big Bang theory.

Much like the innovators before them, the science was about doing good for the many: lasers and fiber optics, transoceanic telephone cables.

Thousands of inventions came from these labs.

At the same time, a man named David Sarnoff was on the scene, recognizing the potential of radio as a point-to-mass broadcasting system.

He became the president of RCA, the Radio Corporation of America, in the early 1920s.

He oversaw the development of communication technologies that came to define the Information Age.

He had ideas of how the future would look like or how he wanted the future to look like, and he hired a bunch of smart people to make that happen.

Under his leadership, RCA organized the first radio-broadcasting network, and that sparked Sarnoff's ideas for television.

His RCA engineers would perfect the black-and-white picture and invent color TV.

Every year on his birthday, he would go to the RCA Labs and ask his engineers for something.

One year it was a TV so flat it could hang on the wall like a picture frame.

It was that forward thinking that brought much of the consumer electronics we associate with RCA today, inventing SIMO semiconductor technology, the electron microscope, perfecting lasers, digital memory, broadcast camera equipment, the first liquid-crystal displays, or LCD screens.

At his RCA Labs in Princeton, now SRI International, it's also were my father, Fred Vannozzi, has spent nearly 40 years as an electrical engineer, part of that living history.

One of the things that maybe really helped people, especially people with some physical disabilities keeping them stuck in a chair was the development of the full-function remote control.

Today much of the focus has shifted to artificial intelligence and augmented reality.

One of the applications is autonomous vehicles, where we're using cameras to be able to know exactly where the car is.

And we wonder what Edison would think.


And that wraps it up for this time.

For more on science, technology and innovation, visit our website.

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You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Until then, I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

Thanks for watching.

Funding for this program is made possible by... ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪