Railroad Day on Capitol Hill

Capitol_at_Dusk_2

In a few short weeks, advocates and representatives of the Railroad Industry will make their annual journey to Washington DC to make their messages heard by lawmakers. This important annual event, Railroad Day on Capitol Hill, is taking place on March 2nd, 2017, at the Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown, 999 9th St, NW, Washington, DC.

With the ever-shifting political climate, it’s more important than ever to be heard.  As anyone who has taken part in the event before knows, it’s the most effective way for the railroad industry’s message to be reached by Congress and can only succeed if everyone turns out in order to present a unified industry.

New Dome Railroad Day Logo - 2017

The event takes place over the course of one day with appointments, meetings, and events all organized in order to communicate the important role that the railroad industry plays in America’s economy, improving our country’s role in global marketplace, and our ongoing success in helping the environment.

Attendees of Railroad Day will have the opportunity to speak directly with decision makers and help promote real change. “Railroad Day is our single most impactful day of the year with Congressional leaders,” said Linda Darr, president of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, of 2016’s Railroad Day. “We had the opportunity to address issues of importance to our industry and the shipper customers we serve.”

Attendance is open to all Class I, II, and III railroad personnel, shippers, state and local government representatives, as well as members from the supplier community with an interest in furthering the political goals of the railroad industry. To learn more, please visit www.aslrra.org.

Photo Credit: By Martin Falbisoner – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, www.commons.wikimedia.org

NRC-REMSA 2017 Wrap Up

NRC-REMSA2017

Photo Source: REMSA Twitter

Last month, a team from Willamette Valley Company’s Railroad Division had the privilege of traveling to Boca Raton, Florida to meet with industry representatives and officials at the NRC-REMSA 2017 Conference and Exhibition. This year’s event proved once again to be an unparalleled opportunity for WVCO and other railway businesses to connect directly with professionals representing all segments of the industry. We appreciated the opportunity to listen to your questions and concerns about the growing number of challenges this industry faces and introduce you to our wood-tie remediation and other repair products.

NRC-REMSA

The annual NRC Conference and NRC-REMSA Exhibition encompassed more than 1,000 attendees, 150 exhibitors and over 25,000 square-feet of meeting space. It was a pleasure to join the many other members of the railroad industry; including service firms, manufacturers, suppliers and contractors to answer questions about our railroad products and POLYQuik Roadway Repair materials, Joint Fillers and Light-Rail Grout. Other participants of the conference/exhibition included: Union Pacific, SANDAG (San Diego), Genesee and Wyoming, Caltrans, CSX, California Rail, LA Metro, Alaska Railroad, Norfolk Southern, Canadian National, New York MTA, Watco, OmniTRAX and many others.

Speakers

Event-goers had the chance to take in seminars from key individuals in the railway and transportation industry. Rob Castiglione, the Staff Director of Human Performance Program for the Office of Railroad Safety FRA presented “Overview of FRA Part 243 Minimum Training Standards Final Rule,” where he expanded on training requirements for all railroad employees and contractors who perform safety related work, the history of the rule, and the role of associations like NRC.

John Zuspan of Track Guy Consultants presented “Means and Methods for Direct Fixation, Low Vibration Track & Embedded Track,” a seminar on the means and methods for embedded track construction.

Jerry Power’s seminar on “Overview of FRA Part 219 Drug & Alcohol Regulation for Maintenance-of-Way Workers Final Rule”  covered  the scope of FRA’s alcohol and drug regulations to cover employees who work in railroad maintenance.

Lastly, Lesa Forbes, Senior International Trade Specialist, U.S. Commercial Service, spoke on new opportunities abroad and how US Commercial Services can help your firm expand your international business.

HallOfFame

Photo Source RT&S

The event also saw the induction of new members into the NRC Hall of Fame, Ron Brown, John Zuspan, and Rick Ebersold. The three were honored for their work in NRC, REMSA, and the railway industry as a whole.

Below are some photos of NRC-REMSA 2017, courtesy of REMSA’s Twitter page.

NRC-REMSA2017

Photo Source: REMSA 2017

NRC-REMSA2017

Photo Source: REMSA Twitter

WVCO was proud to take a part in NRC-REMSA 2017 and look forward to taking part once again next year!

Sources:

Railway News

NCRMA

RT & S

Nora Ayanian sees a future of autonomous robot coordination

Nora Ayanian

Photo Source Tumo

“Teams of humans are exceptionally good at coordination. Teams of robots, however, are clumsy at coordination, requiring extensive communication and computation.” – Nora Ayanian

There’s no denying it, robots are incomparably skilled when carrying out a specific given task, even if that task requires some light improvisation. The same can’t be said, however, when robots are forced to worked together; the overlap in work either results in extra work on the programming side or redundant/ineffective task management on the robot side. But what if robots could coordinate themselves autonomously depending on what the other robots are currently doing? It may sound like something out of Westworld, but this is exactly the question that Nora Ayanian is working to answer.

Nora Ayanian, assistant professor and Director of the ACT (Automatic Coordination of Teams) Lab at USC, endeavors to make robots and robotics a very real part of everyday life. “I want to make robots easy to use and have them everywhere,” said Ayanian, “they should be accessible, user-friendly and interactive so you can have them in your house and in your car. Right now, robots are really difficult for novices to use.”

Despite her passion for the robotic, her goal to achieve robotic automation would require researching a much less predictable source: people. By developing an online multiplayer game with funding from the National Science Foundation CAREER award, Ayanian was able to study the ways that humans can coordinate together when presented with very little information or communication tools. This research would prove invaluable in defining an automated coordination system for robots and allow to them to “think” of solutions for problems based on the activities of the greater robotic team.

Though automated coordination could certainly be applied to groups of identical robots with identical programming, Nora Ayanian believes that diversity, both in terms of team and of the robots themselves, is the key to solving complex tasks.

“The way we solve multi-robot problems right now is to uniformly apply one control policy to all of the identical robots in the team. For example, imagine we’re trying to monitor air quality with a team of physically identical aerial robots. If we considered all the factors that could affect the problem, the robots, and their capabilities, we might have too many factors to consider and our problem would be intractable,” wrote Ayanian in a blog post for Justmeans.com. “Imagine that same team of aerial robots assisted by robots on the ground. The robots on the ground could provide additional information such as temperature, position, topography, and satellite communications via hardware the aerial robots might not be able to carry. They could also perform computation, telling the aerial robots where to go and mapping the air quality, allowing the aerial robots to use more of their on-board energy for sensing.”

The contributions Nora Ayanian has made to the field of robotics don’t just end with the vast potential of her research, they are also every present in the new generation of roboticists she inspires and works alongside in her role as Director of USC’s ACT lab. We are incredibly excited to see what Ayanian’s work means for the future of robotics and dub her our “Featured Innovator of the Month.”

Note: Nora Ayanian does not work for Willamette Valley Company nor is she affiliated with our company.

Sources:

https://www.technologyreview.com/lists/innovators-under-35/2016/

http://www.justmeans.com/blog/diversity-in-the-it-industry-is-key-to-solving-global-problems

USC News: New USC Viterbi professor sees robots in future

USC News: Two USC Viterbi researchers named among top ‘Innovators Under 35’

American Society for Engineering Education Promotes STEM Education to Trump Transition Team

TEM experiences help students develop critical-thinking skills, encourage innovative thinking, and foster perseverance.

Story Source: American Society for Engineering Education
photo credit: Lab Science Career In the Laboratory via photopin (license)

The American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) joined eight organizations in sending a letter to the Trump transition team to highlight the importance of investment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

“A quality STEM education is important for the continued prosperity and safety of the United States,” said ASEE Executive Director Norman Fortenberry. “With this letter, ASEE and our peer organizations strongly encourage the Trump administration – and Congress – to continue the momentum that STEM education has gained in the last several years, from funding sources to initiatives and legislation.”

The letter can be read in its entirety below.

******************
In this era of global competitiveness, it is clear that America’s 21st-century workforce students in classrooms today—will be critical to ensuring that the United States remains a world leader in the years ahead. It is similarly clear that the pervasiveness of technology in our society demands that our students receive a sound education in Computer Science, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM including Computer Science) knowledge and skills.

The nation’s STEM educators are working diligently to prepare this future workforce and the next generation of scientists, engineers, innovators, and entrepreneurs critical for future economic growth and prosperity.

Our organizations—National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA),American Chemical Society (ACS), American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT), the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA) and the STEM Education Coalition —representeducators who provide instruction to every student in this country. We therefore believe the federal
government has a responsibility to ensure the following:

● Equitable access to high-quality STEM learning experiences for all students and their
communities;
● The promotion of STEM literacy and competencies for all students;
● Funding for innovation and technologies to implement STEM initiatives;
● Quality leadership and support for STEM in-service teachers and preservice providers (through discipline-specific and integrated STEM programs) that promote innovation and superlative STEM teaching and learning that includes integrated changes in research-based curriculum, technology, teacher professional development, and assessment, as well as strong school leadership;
● School- and state-defined strategies for achieving scale for STEM learning, and STEM school experiences that foster long-term sustainability; and
● Engagement in STEM education by multiple stakeholders from the business, professional, unformal, research, and education communities and from elected officials—all of which are vital to the success of STEM schools.

To achieve these goals, the new Administration must propose—and strongly encourage Congress to provide—the highest possible funding for the STEM-related programs outlined in the Every Student Succeeds Act. These programs are primarily in Title II (Preparing, Training, and Recruiting High Quality Teachers and Principals) and Title IV-A (Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants), which will provide funds for STEM instruction and supports to high-need students in targeted districts and schools.

We also call upon the new Administration to consider these suggestions during the presidential transition:

1. Appoint a high-profile STEM education coordinator at the White House Domestic Policy Council whose role will be to drive a K–12 STEM agenda across the federal government among the mission federal agencies, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Education, and to work with state stakeholders.

2. Ensure that the President’s Science Advisor (who is also the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy) has a demonstrated public record of commitment to STEM education. We also strongly suggest the creation of a senior-level position in OSTP that deals specifically with K–12 STEM education.

3. Appoint leading STEM educators to a wider range of federal advisory bodies, such as the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and the National Science Board, and to other senior federal agency policymaking positions.

4. Direct the Secretary of Education to implement the STEM Master Teacher Corps to enhance teacher leadership and service to the nation, as authorized in Section 2245 of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

5. Sustain and increase investments in STEM education programs at the mission agencies and STEM-related educational research and innovation at the NSF, and direct NSF to pilot implementation strategies resulting from that research.

6. Direct the Secretary of Education to publish an annual report assessing the degree to which states are using the new authorities provided under the Every Student Succeeds Act to support and prioritize STEM education activities and student success.

7. Publish an online guide of federal resources available to support STEM education that highlights research on best practices in teaching and learning and areas such as STEM competitions, informal learning, and ways to increase the participation of women and minorities in STEM learning.

While the creativity that drives STEM literacy, scientific discovery, engineering design, technological problem solving, and innovation starts at home, it is nurtured in the K–12 STEM classroom. STEM experiences help students develop critical-thinking skills, encourage innovative thinking, and foster perseverance. All stakeholders—including the federal government—must work together to nurture and support the teachers on the frontlines of Computer Science, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education and ensure they receive what they need to succeed in the classroom and provide our children with a world-class education.

Family Run Australian Company Paves the Way with Earth Friendly Concrete.

JoeWagner

Photo Source – The Australian

“EFC contains no Portland cement, instead we use recycled waste products (blast furnace slag from steel production and fly ash from coal fired power) creating a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” – Joe Wagner

We believe that our future is brightest when we all look towards sustainable solutions and eco-friendly practices in the customs and business that define our everyday lives. Without them we could see the balance of earth’s environment shifting and resulting in catastrophic negative consequences. Joe Wagner and Wagners of Australia know this and propose a solution of their own: Earth Friendly Concrete.

What is Earth Friendly Concrete (EFC)? As the name implies, it’s concrete that offers a reduced carbon footprint and lessens its environmental impact. Instead of using Portland Cement like most traditional concrete, EFC uses a geopolymer binder system that utilizes two industrial waste by-products, blast furnace slag (iron production waste) and fly ash (coal power waste), through a chemical activation. This technology is said to reduce carbon emissions by 80 – 90% in comparison to Portland Cement.

Wagners of Toowoomba, Australia is a family owned construction materials and mining services company run and established by Henry, John, Denis, Neill, and Joe Wagner. They’ve spent the last 10 years perfecting the formula for Earth Friendly Concrete and it’s certainly paying off. Some of the additional benefits of EFC include: High sulphate resistance, high chloride ion ingress resistance, high acid resistance, very low shrinkage, 30% higher flexural strength and very low heat of reaction. So in other words, it’s not just better for the environment, it’s more durable than most traditional concrete.

It’s no surprise that people all around the world are taking notice of Earth Friendly Concrete. To date it’s been awarded winner of 2011 QLD Premiers ClimateSmart Awards,  the overall winner of the 2013 BPN Sustainability Awards, 2013 The Australian – Shell Innovation Awards, category winner “Hi-tech Manufacturing and Design,” the 2015 Concrete Institute of Australia (CIA), Queensland State Award for Excellence – “Engineering Projects,” and the 2015 CIA National Sustainability Award.

Being able to find creative solutions to the long-term problems that our planet faces is one of the great benefits humanity derives from innovation. For their work in diminishing construction’s carbon footprint through inspired solutions, we name Joe Wagner and Wagners our “Featured Innovators of the Month.”

Wagners is a family owned construction materials and mining services company in Toowoomba, Australia and not affiliated with Willamette Valley Company.

Sources:

http://www.wagner.com.au/main/what-we-do/earth-friendly-concrete/about-efc

http://www.queenslandcountrylife.com.au/story/4130398/a-concrete-innovation/

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/innovationchallenge/manufacturing-and-hi-tech-design-winner-joe-wagner/story-fn9dkrp5-1226771411297

Master the Art with Mark Montano

Mark Montano

“It feels natural for me to be creating and making. I get depressed if I’m not in the middle of a project to be honest.” – Mark Montano

Mark Montano is literally a man of many hats. Just look at his resume; he’s been an interior designer, a clothing designer, a TV host for The Style Network and The Learning Channel, a columnist, a published author, and most recently a youtube-hit with his channel, Make Your Mark where he frequently uses our favorite craft glues (like the E6000 line) and other DIY products from our very own Eclectic Products.

Mark’s passion and infectious creativity have brought success in every medium he’s immersed himself in, but it’s his desire to inspire others that have truly brought him to the limelight.

It all began at the young age of 14 when Montano aided his mother and aunts in the sewing of their clothing. “Sewing is so wonderful and meditational. Since I was from a small town with no real way to get great clothes, I had to make them and that’s what I did.” Years later this very mindset took him to acquire a masters in Costume History from the Fashion Institute of Technology. Paired with his Bachelors degree in business, Montano was ready to take the design world by storm.

Mark Montano went on to intern for Oscar de la Renta and found himself in the heart of design world. His New York surroundings inspired his work and became a staple of the boutique he established. His creative sensibilities would soon find a very different audience than the high fashion world of New York when he took on the position of contributing editor for Cosmo Girl! Magazine. His design tips helped define many a teenage girl room from that moment onward.

It was his transition to TV, however, that truly brought Mark to the everyone’s homes and face to face (so the speak). As a designer on the hit TLC show While You Were Out, Mark Montano would transform people’s homes while they were away for the weekend. By the time he became host of My Celebrity Home, it was hard not to recognize Mark Montano’s unique style and vibrant attitude.

Mr. Montano is a thoroughly creative individual, one with the unwavering capacity to master whichever medium he embraces. It’s his gift for sharing, however, that truly renders him incomparable from so many other creatives. From his Cosmo Girl! tips to his design shows to his YouTube Channel, Mark has always done everything in his power to inspire others to create and to give them the tools to do so. We name him our “Featured Innovator of the Month” and look forward to sharing more videos and tips from Mark in the future. Don’t forget, you can always find the latest from Mark Montano in his Youtube Channel. Now, go create something!

Note: Mark Montano does not work for Willamette Valley Company.

Sources:

instructables.com/id/Featured-Author-Interview-Mark-Montano/

kellygolightly.com/interview-mark-montano/

www.youtube.com/user/MakeYourMarkMontano

AllAmericanSpeakers

Innovators We Admire: Dirk Ahlborn

Dirk-Ahlborn

Photo Source CrowdFundInsider.com

“New technologies and new ideas, can create a better passenger experience while solving these issues through new monetization strategies and business models, with the Hyperloop and all other forms of transportation.” – Dirk Ahlborn

Innovation can’t thrive in a vacuum; external factors, opposing views, tools, and resources must come together to create the breakthroughs that propel us forward. Few know that as well as Dirk Ahlborn, Founder and CEO of JumpStarter Inc. which operates JumpStartFund  and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT).

Ahlborn’s mission was to create a new platform for scientific funding and the bringing together of minds. “We already have a process to help create a physical startup. Why not do that online?” asks Ahlborn. “Why not create an online crowdsourced incubator? This way we allow tech-disconnected hubs to connect with the best technology hubs and co-found new companies. It’s all about building communities smarter and faster.” It’s this collaboration of communities and hubs that have lead the way for Hyperloop Transportation Technologies.

Watch as Ahlborn discusses his ideas about the world’s next breakthrough in transportation on the news program, Business Rockstars.

The term Hyperloop, a concept popularized by super innovator Elon Musk (most famous for Telsa), is a system of transportation that uses tubes and air compression to reach incredible speeds. Inspired by this idea, Dirk Ahlborn and Jumpstarter Inc. built HTT, a research crowd collaboration company working to develop a high-speed transportation system.

Hyperloop

Photo Source Hyperloop Transportation Technologies.

HTT aims to create a high speed intercity transport that travels close to 800 miles an hour as well slower, inter-suburban travel. The project would have a capacity of 15 million passengers a year. Putting this into further context, an airplane travels at most at 500mph and most trains at 200mph. Beyond its speed, the Hyperloop boasts many other proposed benefits, such as being self-sufficient through renewable energy, a greater emphasis for safety, lower construction costs, and affordable travel.

This may sound like a far-off fantasy but it’s closer than one may think.  In a partnership with Deustche Bahn, HTT will be working to create an “Innovation Train,” a conventional train powered through the technology of HTT for greater efficiency. One such piece of tech would be the creation and use of Augmented Reality windows, as seen below.

Dirk Ahlborn knows that innovation can’t thrive when it’s isoated, it’s only when great minds come together that breakthroughs occur. This philosophy is already bringing about changes to the transportation industry and will only continue from here. For these reasons and many more, we name Dirk Ahlborn our “Featured Innovator of the Month.”

If you’re looking to hear about more incredible innovators bringing the latest breakthroughs to the transportation industry, be sure to take part in AREMA’s 2016 Expo.

Note: Dirk Ahlborn does not work for Willamette Valley Company nor is he affiliated with our company.

Sources:

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies

JumpStartFund

Tech.EU

TechnoBuffalo

Featured Innovator: Linda Bauer Darr is Transforming Transportation

Linda Bauer Darr

Photo Source -NVLConvention

“We want the organization to be more inclusive and supportive of small railroads, develop a strong safety product and be recognized by Class Is as an essential part of their networks.” – Linda Bauer Darr

Transportation is a topic that’s of utmost importance to us at WVCO, with many of our divisions are focused towards public and automobile transportation. We do our part to push for innovation and safety in those sectors, and her 25+ year career, Linda Bauer Darr too is working to do the same. She has lead associations and companies in many of transportations biggest sectors and has brought positive and real change to them. If you’re planning on taking part in the AREMA 2016 Expo, you’ll have the opportunity to hear her speak on the subject.

From 1989 to 1998, Linda Bauer Darr acted as Vice President for the American Trucking Association, a far cry from her once vocation of choice, criminal law. “The trucking industry was opening up and going more international. I was 26 years old and meeting with ambassadors and senators,” says Darr. Her international experience would only grow from there as she made the transition to the U.S. Department of Transportation, adopting the role of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budgets and Programs. In her role she oversaw a department-wide process reform for the review of large-scale transportation projects and lead the development of a $60 billion dollar annual budget to go towards rail, highway, Coast Guard, and aviation funding. “Here I am in my early 30s and meeting with the Coast Guard commandant talking about eliminating part of his budget,” said Darr.

ABA

Her role in the transportation industry didn’t end there. From 2001 to 2007, Linda Bauer Darr took on the Executive Director and Senior Vice President of Policy & Communications at the American Bus Association. As executive director, she directed the day-to-day activities of the ABA Foundation (the research and education sector), created grant programs for rural buses firms, and lead initiatives that resulted in a multi-million dollar infusion into the industry. The next step in her illustrious career took Darr to the American Moving & Storage Association, where she acted as President & CEO from 2007 to 2014 and lead the AMSA through a transformative period. Her Industry Certification initiative removed hundreds of problematic AMSA members, an initially daunting proposition that resulted in short term due loss but long term gains.

These days, Darr is the president of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, the first woman to ever to fill the role in its 102 year history. She’s already brought progress in the form of the Short Line Safety Institute, a non-profit corporation that promotes safety, training, and research for short line and regional rail roads.  “Safety is a critical focus,” says Darr. “We need to help create a culture in this diverse industry, and a level of understanding and compliance.” Though she’s only been president since 2014, it’s clear that under her tenure the association will be moving towards greater efficiency, training, and overall security.

It is a difficult task to briefly sum up the crucial role Linda Bauer Darr has played in the transportation industry throughout her professional career; she has pushed for safety initiatives, championed researched and awareness, brought funding to industries that were previously struggling, and embraced forward thinking processes no matter how daunting they may seem in comparison to the status quo. For these reasons and many, more we have named Linda Bauer Darr our “Featured Innovator of the Month.” We hope you’ll enjoy her lecture at AREMA 2016.

Note: Linda Bauer Darr does not work for Willamette Valley Company nor is she affiliated with our company.

Sources:

Progressive Railroading

AREMA

Short Line Safety Institute

How One Man Is Helping Develop China’s High Speed Railway

ZhaiWanming

Photo Source – South Jiaotong University

“China is developing its high-speed train technology fast enough to catch up with the best by, among other things, funding research teams to develop advanced monitoring and early warning systems, and quake-resistant technology to ensure the safety of high-speed railways. Even in environmental protection, China has gained enough experience while building the railway that connects Lhasa, Tibet with Qinghai province.” – Professor Zhai Wanming

If you’re attending this year’s ASCE International Conference on Transportation and Development, you will have the opportunity to listen to a lecture presented by Professor Zhai Wanming on the Technology Challenges in Rapid Development of High-Speed Railways in China.

Professor Zhai Wanming is a railway engineering dynamics specialist who fills the roles of chairman of Academic Committee of Southwest Jiaotong University, director of the Train and Track Research Institute, elected member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Rail Transportation. With all that in mind, it should be safe to say that he has played a fundamental role in the development of safety protocols and frameworks for China’s high-speed rail system and abroad.

HighSpeedTrain

One of China’s High-Speed Trains. Photo Source ChinaDaily.com

To understand the importance of Zhai’s work, one should also understand the necessity of the High-Speed rail in China. To date, it is the world’s longest high-speed rail network and the most heavily used in the world, with over 2.5 million passengers a day. In 2011, a devastating crash between two high-speed trains in Wenzhou, as well as some political circumstances, prompted a greater focus on safety and a reexamining of current systems. It is through the work of experts like Professor Wanming that the rails have been tested and secured for considerable use.

Professor Wanming’s endeavors include developing a method for analyzing and assessing the safety of high speed trains passing through bridges and the development of a vehicle-track coupled dynamics framework, used throughout the country. As China expands their high-speed rail system, Zhai Wanming’s processes have been used in over 20 large-scale field engineering projects to date. His work also extends to over 160 papers he has published on the subject and such books as “Vehicle-Track Coupling Dynamics” and “Advances in Environmental Vibration.”

Zhai has won the first-class prize of Science and Technology Progress Awards by the Ministry of Education in 2003 and the first-class prize of National Award for Science and Technology Progress by State Department in 2005. He received the achievement prize of Zhan Tianyou Railway Science and Technology Award in 2003, as well as several honors including the National Expert with Outstanding Contribution in 1994 and the Award of Chinese Youth Scientist in 2006. Lastly, he was named Chang Jiang Professor by the Ministry of Education (the highest honor issued to an individual in higher education by the Ministry of Education).

Over the course of several decades, Zhai Wanming has brought considerable advances to railway engineering and safety both in China and the world over through his frameworks, systems, and publications. It is this unwavering drive to improve the way we handle railway transportation systems that has made Zhai Wanming our “Featured Innovator of the Month.” We hope you all get the chance to hear him speak at International Conference on Transportation and Development, it will not be one to miss!

Note: Zhai Wanming does not work for Willamette Valley Company nor is he affiliated with our company.

Sources:

ASCE International Conference on Transport and Development

China Daily

International Conference on Frontiers of Design and Manufacturing

New York Times

Could a Robot Learn By Itself?

Ashutosh Saxena

Photo Source Cornell Engineering

“We now live in a world where robots are helping humans in their daily lives, and just like humans, robots need to learn new skills in order to do their jobs successfully. And we shouldn’t expect a robot to learn on its own from scratch, any more than we’d expect a human to do so—imagine a child growing up with no access to textbooks, libraries, or the Internet.” – Ashutosh Saxena

What if robots could learn to carry out tasks autonomously? In other words, when giving a robot a new task it could “figure out” on it’s own how to do it? This is exactly the question that Ashutosh Saxena is working to answer.

Professor Saxena is a roboticist at Cornell University working to develop a massive online search engine that robots could access and find the required knowledge to carry out tasks, the aptly named RoboBrain. When given a question, RoboBrain will search the internet for relevant knowledge databases and images, sidestepping the need to teach robots to do tasks through step by step instructions.

“In 2014, I started a project called RoboBrain at Cornell University along with PhD students Ashesh Jain and Ozan Sener. We now have collaborators at Stanford and Brown. What we’re working on is a way of sharing information that allows robots to gather whatever knowledge they need for a task,” writes Saxena. “If one robot learns, then the knowledge is propagated to all the robots. RoboBrain achieves this by gathering the knowledge from a variety of sources. The system stores multiple kinds of information, including symbols, natural language, visual or shape features, haptic properties, and motions.”

The implications of such a project, if successful, could be enormous. It would lead to an increase in efficiency and reduce downtime and spending spent in “training” robots how to carry out tasks. RoboBrain could also lead to robots with more capacity to carry out objectives than previously intended.

Saxena’s work has garnered him several awards and recognition, including Eight Innovators to Watch in 2015, Smithsonian Institution; World Technology Award, 2015; The 50-years of Shakey at AAAI-RSS Blue Sky Ideas award, 2015; RSS Early Career Award, 2014; NSF Career award, 2013; Microsoft Faculty Fellow, 2012; Alfred P. Sloan Fellow, 2011; Best Cognitive Robotics paper, IROS’14. Best student paper, RSS’13; CUAir at AUVSI’12: First prize, mission performance; Google Faculty Research Award, 2012.

These breakthroughs in robotic learning coupled with the unparalleled potential of a developed RoboBrain is what makes Ashush Saxena our pick for “Featured Innovator of the Month.”

Note: Ashush Saxena does not work for Willamette Valley Company nor is he affiliated with our company.

Sources:

Stanford University

Rethink Robotics Youtube

MIT Technology Review

Smithsonian