BEST OF THE WEB: How Lego is training the next generation of engineers

Lego is one of the most iconic companies in the world – plenty of children across multiple generations have spent hours playing and constructing with the small coloured blocks.

While the company has spent years perfecting its strategy with construction toys, it seems it also has a new venture – research and development into how it can help children become the next generation of engineers.

The department is inside a place called the Tech Building at the company’s headquarters. And over at The Smithsonian, there’s a piece which goes straight into the belly of the beast – and examines what’s happening at Lego’s secret research and development branch.

It’s not secret Lego has a connection to engineering. As the piece points out, Lego created “a way for novices to learn the basics of structural engineering”.

But a new branch of the company’s product range called Mindstorm allows users to create Lego constructions, then power them with simple robotic technology. The robots can be plugged into computers and coded with a simple computer language.

The language has become so popular groups of users have crowdsourced different types of robots built by Lego bricks. There are a plethora of videos on YouTube dedicated to the craft, and even schools are holding tournaments to reward the best designs.

“In the United States, competitions are run by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a nonprofit founded by the seemingly inexhaustible inventor Dean Kamen (creator of the Segway scooter).”

“Every spring FIRST holds championships in four robotics divisions, spanning ages 6 to 18. At this year’s three-day Lego block party at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, 650 teams vied for robotic superiority and more than $16 million in scholarships to 140 colleges.”

The tech has become so popular even MIT has a Lego Chair.

This is a great piece which delves not only into Lego’s popularity with robotics, but how the company can back from its mid-2000s financial difficulties.

While Lego has always had a connection to construction, by tinkering with robotics the company has made its headway into inspiring a new generation of engineers – and perhaps even entrepreneurs.

The alluring power of South by Southwest

Heard of South by Southwest? If you’re at all interested in technology, you should have.

The yearly conference in Austin is a massive mish-mash of technology, music and artistry. Start-ups come every year to show off their wares, and entrepeneurs give plenty of talks on anything from internet culture to how to develop an idea of your own.

As this piece on The New Republic explains, SXSW is “in some ways a lot like the internet itself”.

“There are endless options all competing for your attention: hundreds of parties, both official and unofficial, 30,000 other attendees to meet, and more than a thousand panels on topics ranging from “Getting Started With Angel Investing” to “The Comfy Chair! Are We Sitting Too Much?””

“Nearly everyone who’d been to the festival before, I’d discovered by then, had a meta-reading of it and advice on how to game it.”

While the festival began as a music gathering, it expanded to film in the 1990s and has now attracted more and more technology companies that tech is the most-attended part of the festival.

This isn’t just any gathering. Companies small and large attempt to launch new ideas there, and those that gain traffic can be assured a huge amount of success. Earning buzz at SXSW is a golden ticket.

If you’ve ever read about SXSW, or are in the tech scene, this is a must-read for a festival you should definitely have plans to attend.

How big data is helping specialised workers

We all love to use the words “big data”, but there are very few ways companies are using it in viable, sustainable ways.

But this piece over at The New York Times indicates companies are beginning to wise up to how they use data in order to create new opportunities for specialised clients.

Jade Dominguez was contacted out of nowhere by a recruiter last year, who had discovered Dominguez using a piece of technology from a company called Gild.

Gild trawls the internet, looking for any piece of information it can find about specific people. In Dominguez’s case, programming. The tech comes up with a score, and then creates a list of potential targets for recruiters.

It’s not just a punt, either. Gild expects to earn between $2-3 million this year and has already raised $10 million in venture capital. And it could change the recruitment industry.

“This application of Big Data to recruiting is “is absolutely worth a try,” said Susan Etlinger, an analyst of the data and analytics industries at the Altimeter Group.”

“But she questioned whether an algorithm would be an improvement over what employers already do: gathering résumés, or referrals, and using traditional markers associated with success.”

Whether or not the tech can replace good old-fashioned scouting, the amount of money in this new tech indicates there’s definitely something here.

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