MATLAB Made Free

Over the summer, the MATLAB computer program was made free for Rice students, faculty, and staff to download on their personal computers, according to Diane Butler, Office of Information Technology associate vice president.

“MATLAB is one of the most used software packages on campus so we are excited that we can provide it to students at no cost to them,” Butler said.

Previously, OIT had purchased a network license for MATLAB that allowed students to use the program for free on a connected campus computer. MATLAB joins a number of software programs that Rice provides free or at reduced cost through OIT.

“As more and more students came to campus with a laptop, we became aware that students were spending their own money to download a copy of MATLAB to use on their laptop as it was more convenient than going to a computer lab on campus,” Butler said.

Following discussions with the administration, OIT purchased a new license that permits free MATLAB download.

Jones College freshman Adam Subel, who is currently enrolled in the Introduction to Engineering Computation (CAAM 210) course, said he appreciated the free MATLAB license.

“Since, unlike a textbook, there aren’t alternate methods of getting MATLAB cheap, I’m quite happy it’s free,” Subel said. “I’d also have been happy if they offered it at a price closer to that of a textbook.”

Jones senior Matt O’Gorman also said he was happy to hear of the change.

“I’m glad they’re making more of an effort for low-income accessibility,” he said.

Sid Richardson College senior Luis Zelaya purchased MATLAB before the announcement was made.

“I bought it last semester, and it cost me around $70,” Zelaya said. “Not everyone who goes to Rice has the means to pay for such a program. I have a job so it wasn’t too bad for me but other people have other obligations that don’t allow them to accrue a usable income.”

Zelaya said other programs that should have been made free before MATLAB, such as MasteringPhysics and Sapling Learning.

“More students use those than use MATLAB,” Zelaya said. “I think these are still required for introductory physics and organic chemistry and a large swath of Rice students are enrolled in those courses some of whom may have difficulty covering the financial cost of those materials alongside textbooks.”


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Will Rice College sophomore Orlando Cervantes also said he believes another program, MasteringChemistry, should be made free.

“Maybe MasteringChemistry from Pearson could also be made free for Rice students,” Cervantes said. “The textbook itself is already expensive enough so it seems silly that one would then have to pay to even have access to their homework. The same idea applies to other classes that have students pay for homework access like PHYS 125, MATH 102, etc.”

According to Butler, other programs free for students to download on their personal computers are Mathematica, LabView and Solidworks.

“We monitor the usage of software on campus to determine if the cost of a site license makes fiscal sense as it did for MATLAB,” Butler said. “At this time, we feel we have the software licensed correctly.”

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Source @TheRiceThresher

How Retail Can Thrive in a World Without Stores

online-shopping-ecommerce-ss-1920_1Historically, shopping has been a sensory experience. Store associates served as personal shoppers, helping customers pick out items. Shoppers gauged quality by the look and feel of a product. They asked for sales associates’ opinions when they tried on clothes. It was as much an emotional experience as it was a physical, tactile one.

That traditional “personal touch” shopping experience is hard to replicate online. As more companies struggle to find their niche with the modern consumer, they’re turning to new technologies to recreate this sensory experience. What’s emerging is what I call the “StoreHouse” — a hybrid model that merges the physical benefits of a real-world store with the convenience of home. To embrace this market shift, retailers will need to experiment with a range of technologies and strategies across marketing, supply chain, and merchandising. Here’s how some brands are already doing this:

Making the bedroom the new fitting room

When eyeglass maker Warby Parker launched in 2010, its founders had $2,500 seed funding and impressive business school pedigrees. Thanks to a well-timed Vogue feature and a refreshing concept — try on affordable glasses virtually or at home, with free shipping and returns — the company scooped up its Series A through D funding rounds and earned a $1.2 billion valuation within five years.

Others have latched onto customers’ desire for choice. Rent the Runway lets women browse dresses online and then borrow one style for a few days, including a free second size. Amazon recently announced a new service, Prime Wardrobe, that allows customers to select 3-15 items and try the clothes for up to seven days, with free shipping and returns for the items they choose not to keep.

Brands like these know that savvy consumers want both the convenience of online shopping and the experimentation they get in an offline store. I call this trend “bracketing” — buying multiple versions of an item to see which they prefer, intending to return the rest — essentially turning the bedroom into the fitting room. In the future, more brands will follow Amazon, Warby Parker, and Rent the Runway’s examples and embrace bracketing as an opportunity to build trust by ensuring that customers find the right products.

Shopping virtually with augmented reality

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Unlike eyeglasses and clothes, some goods are difficult to try and then return. In categories like furniture and beauty, retailers are experimenting with other ways to offer sensory experiences.

10IKEA just launched an AR-powered app that lets consumers visualize virtual furniture placed in their homes. Sephora, a 50-year-old industry veteran, makes it easy for customers to shop from anywhere with its popular Virtual Artist app. With the app, you can try out more than 1,000 cheek colors using uploaded photos, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence.

If a customer can buy furniture without leaving her home, or test out blush without staining her cheeks, imagine what else is possible. What if you could shop for an engagement ring by uploading a photo of your partner’s hand, or measure and place artwork in your living room using your smartphone? There’s huge potential to replicate important real world shopping experiences using augmented reality.


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Improving customer experiences with logistics

Discovering and trying on products is only part of the retail experience; retailers need to offer delivery options that fit into consumers’ lives. Customers want the dining set they picked using IKEA’S AR app to arrive home without extra hassle, as convenient as a ordering an Uber. They want options, too. If Rent the Runway can’t deliver your dress in time for your friend’s wedding, can you pick it up locally instead?

The complexity that comes with this new retail paradigm, in which every home is a storefront, requires an increased level of sophistication in backend operations. Brands that don’t think strategically about shipping and last-mile delivery will pay the price — literally. It’s estimated that shipping a container of Tide Pods laundry detergent from Atlanta to Oklahoma City costs companies approximately $11.44 — more than the cleaner itself.

In the future, smart inventory management and supply chain analytics can fix this. Say a furniture store wants to ship a dresser from Chicago to Los Angeles, which requires five days at a $50 shipping cost. Supply chain visibility may reveal that a Santa Monica store just received that dresser and can deliver it today for $25 instead. An efficient, communicative delivery model creates the same effect a smiling store associate does when preparing a customer’s package — a pleasant experience that drives loyalty.

In the last twenty years, the internet has become the front door to every retail store. Now, that entry point is briskly shifting to mobile devices, and even further with voice-activated personal assistants and other connected devices. New technologies are helping innovative brands to ease the transition as consumers forgo the shopping mall in favor of bringing the store experience into their homes. Retailers that don’t find a way to create a happy marriage between the showroom experience you’d expect in a store and the convenience of personal shopping at home will be left behind.

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Source @Harvard Business Review

New Process Enables Precision 3D Printing of Silicone

In this approach, support is provided by soft microscale particles suspended in the gel, that “smoothly transition between fluid and solid states.”

Silicone is an excellent material for biomedical applications due to its inherent biocompatibility. The ability to 3D print implantable medical devices would be highly desirable because it would allow for: quick turnaround, local production in a medical facility, precise renderings of highly complex objects, and the ability to customize each device to fit each individual patient. However, 3D-printing with silicone has proven difficult.

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According to Chris O’Bryan, a Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering doctoral student at the University of Florida, “the problem with printing silicone elastomers as that before they actually turn into a hard elastomeric structure, they’re actually a fluid and they have no structural rigidity. This leads to instabilities in the printing process, the material starts sagging, the structures lack definition, and the level of precision that can be achieved is very limited.” 

O ‘Bryan is the lead author of a paper published in the journal Science Advances describing a new process for successfully 3D-printing highly precise detailed objects from silicone.

Previous attempts to print silicone focused on rapidly vulcanizing tiny droplets of silicone liquid as they were laid down with UV light. According to O’Bryan’s advisor, M&AE Professor Tom Angelini, this type of approach has limitations as to the precision that can be achieved.

Printed silicone structures.

What they did instead was to utilize an organic microgel bed to print into. In O’Bryan’s words, the microgels are “very soft gels that swell in organic solvent, that behave like a solid, but can be easily be yielded and fluidized as the print nozzle moves through it,” re-solidifying afterward.
 

“As we print this liquid silicone elastomer, it is supported in a liquid, which allows us to print much finer structures. Then, after we print it, we go back and cure it. It allows you to print very fine, complex structures out of nothing but liquid, and they will hold their shape.”

This is a major departure and a major advantage over other approaches because it removes the time factor. In approaches that treat the silicone more like a thermoplastic resin getting it to support itself by quickly vulcanizing it, there will always be some distortion until the liquid material is cured.

In this approach, the support is provided by soft microscale particles suspended in the gel, that “smoothly transition between fluid and solid states.”

O’ Bryan made the analogy of the ball pit in playgrounds that children play in. They support the child’s weight by packing together. In the same way, the microgel particles trap support the liquid silicon in precisely the shape it is applied, until it is cured and removed.

The key, according to Angelini, was in finding the right level of yield stress in the microgel that would support the silicone adequately, while flowing and rearranging itself around the injection needle as the silicone enters it. The main driver “is the amount of force that the needle applies as it traverses, which is set by the yield stress of the material.” The print mechanism they used was fairly generic; the innovation lies in the microgel that receives and supports the silicone.

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Angelini’s lab developed an aqueous version of the gel in 2015, to be used for bioprinting with living cells, which, like this new organic version, works as “the granular gel fluidizes at the point of injection and then rapidly solidifies, trapping injected material in place.”

Both of these developments are spinoffs of Angelini’s core mission, which is to develop materials and processes in support of bioprinting.


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When they turned to look into 3D-printing silicon for implantable devices, they realized it wouldn’t work with the aqueous gel, because, essentially, oil and water don’t mix. The interfacial tension between the aqueous gel and the silicone oil was high enough to overcome the yield stress, thereby rearranging the particles in the gel and destroying the object being printed. So, they set out to developed a new organic material to support the silicone oil and came up with this microgel.

The result is a new 3D printing method that promises vastly superior biomedical devices, such as tubes with valves for draining bodily fluids, or small joint replacements, or cranio-facial reconstruction, or any of the other many applications for which silicone has been used. Only now, they can be produced in a manner that allows for customized, on-demand, low-cost parts to be made, and in some cases, highly intricate parts that cannot be made any other way.

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Source @DesignNews