TEDxPeachtree 2014 "Illuminate!" Recap

Agency Sparks CEO, Joe, and Director of Business Development, Stephanie at TEDxPT.

Agency Sparks CEO, Joe, and Director of Business Development, Stephanie at TEDxPT.

This year, the AgencySparks team attended TEDxPeacthree at the Buckhead Theatre on October 17th, and we weren’t disappointed! We’d like to thank our fearless leader and CEO Joe Koufman, who has personally and professional invested in our participation. He has been an enthusiastic TEDxPeachtree attendee for the last three years, and wanted that same positive experience for his employees.

In this TEDxPeachtree article, Joe explains why he decided to bring his entire team to the conference. He mentions how important it is to feed the mind with new ideas, and the importance of building a company culture on the ideal of excellence fueled by intellectual curiosity.

Now that we have experienced TEDxPeachtree for ourselves, we can see why he makes this brain-stimulating conference a big priority – because every year is a brand new experience for veterans and newcomers alike! This year’s theme, “Illuminate!”,  consisted of four different segments: Frontiers, The Lab, Sensory Percussions, and Play. All of the speakers inspired and sparked new perspectives. It will be hard to top off this line-up next year, but TED Talks never disappoint. Here is the rundown:


Fractal Thinking by Keith McGreggor

As the Director of VentureLab at Georgia Tech, Keith McGreggor’s passion lies in Artificial Intelligence. He began his presentation by challenging our way of thinking. To quote McGreggor: “We are visual reasoners from the day we are born.” As it turns out, we all have two powers as human beings: noticing novelty and abstraction. He also mentions that the world exhibits fractal self-similarity at multiple scales.

At VentureLab, they are focusing on training computers to notice similarities and differences in patterns, and they have found that computers can get quite good - even better than humans, at noticing differences in patterns.

Photo credit: TEDxPeachtree Team Flickr

Photo credit: TEDxPeachtree Team Flickr

Can Origami Advance Space Exploration? by Shannon Zirbel

Mechanical engineer PhD student Shannon Zirbel has earned a NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship that is propelling her research in compliant mechanisms to spacecraft development. When it comes to astronomical transportation, fitting all the necessary equipment into a space rocket is always an issue. It can also be very expensive, with the cost, typically averaging $10,000/lb to launch anything into space. NASA is interested in Zirbel’s ideas, as they want to get a solar array into the atmosphere to power satellites without taking up more room or cargo weight.

This is where origami plays a role. A technique referred to “hannaflex” can cut down on weight and friction with its flower-like, flat, circular form. Zirbel wants to design a solar array that is 25 meters when deployed, but only one-ninth of that diameter when stored. Pretty amazing! Zirbel told the audience that at age 5, she saw a picture of the moon, and has dreamed of being the first woman on the moon ever since. We won’t be surprised if someday we hear that her mission to the the moon was accomplished. She says, “Recognize the little bits of inspiration that will help us change the world.”

Check out this video to see the origami solar array prototype: 

TED Talk Video

This video was about Damon Horowitz, a philosophy professor who teaches at San Quentin State Prison through the Prison University Project. He tells a story about a time that he is trying to discuss the principles of ethics in his class at the prison, and one his students, Tony, interrupts him, “What are you going to teach me about right and wrong? I know what is wrong. I have done wrong.” Damon challenges Tony by asking him what is wrongness itself? What makes something wrong? Tony starts to understand the principles of philosophy that begin in wonder. Damon says that Tony did his philosophy homework, and began to strengthen his philosophy muscle. “His body was in prison, but his mind was free”, says Damon. Tony surprises his professor when he asks a challenging question himself that Damon does not know the answer to. In that moment, it is no longer teacher and inmate, but rather “two minds ready to do philosophy.”

Watch this video for the full TED Talk on Philosophy in Prison: http://on.ted.com/Prison

What if Dogs Could Talk? by Melody Moore Jackson

What a great question. Imagine if your dog could talk. What would he/she say? Dr. Melody Moore Jackson is the director of the Animal Computer Interaction Lab at Georgia Tech, where her team experiments with devices and electronics that make it easier for assistance and military dogs to communicate with their owner/handler.

The project is called FIDO (Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations,) and it came about after her and her lab partner, Thad Starner, made the connection between wearable technology and assistance dog communication. The dog wears a vest with sensors that can send signals to the owner. Dogs are already trained to do a lot of things based on natural behaviors like tugging, pulling, and biting, therefore all the sensors that they’ve developed are made with those dog movements in mind and will trigger technology that clearly communicates with humans.

She gave the example of a friend with epilepsy who has a service  dog that can sense when she is going to have a seizure. Right now, the dog is trained to back her up to a wall so she doesn’t fall, but what if the dog could pull something on his vest that would call 911 and give them a location through GPS technology.

While there are many possible applications, there’s no doubt that this is a total game-changer. She then brought her friend and service dog on stage to demonstrate a few different scenarios for us, making history by having the first-ever dog “speech” at TEDx! Dr. Jackson has been training and raising dogs for more than 30 years and it’s amazing what she and her team have been able to accomplish. 

Dr. Melody Moore Jackson on stage at TEDxPeachtree talking about FIDO.  Photo credit: TEDxPeachtree Team Flickr.

Dr. Melody Moore Jackson on stage at TEDxPeachtree talking about FIDO. Photo credit: TEDxPeachtree Team Flickr.

Photo credit: Instagram of @elizadaynight

Photo credit: Instagram of @elizadaynight

The Lab

Lighting Up Indoor Farming by Eric Mattos

What if plants could tell us how much light they need to grow and be healthy? Eric Mattos, an urban agricultural advocate, shows us how that is a possibility with LED illumination systems for photosynthesis applications. Exposure of a plant to excessive light at early stages can lead to damage that can cause a decline in photosynthetic capacity, whereas low levels of light energy at later stages become a growth-limiting factor. Mattos found a way to optimize the cultivation process by developing a device that allows the plant to dictate how much light it needs. His invention brings indoor grow facility production costs down, which ultimately improves food economics.

Eric Mattos illustrates LED illumination systems for photosynthesis applications.  Photo credit: TEDxPeachtree Team Flickr

Eric Mattos illustrates LED illumination systems for photosynthesis applications. Photo credit: TEDxPeachtree Team Flickr

TED Talk Video

13-year-old Richard Turere gave a 2013 TED Talk about his innovative solution to a very common problem in his Masai community in Africa. Lion attacks on their valuable livestock were rapidly increasing, and the upset Morans warriors who protect the community were killing the wild beasts. Richard thought of an idea that would help both survival of cattle and the lions. He discovered that lions were scared of a moving light, and put his young mind to work developing a solution that safely scared the predators away.

Richard placed multiple, flashing lights facing outward and mounted on poles that surrounded the livestock. These lights were wired to a box with switches and an old battery that was powered by solar panels. His invention fooled the lions into thinking that people were roaming and protecting the area. Even more impressive is that Turere started small in his own home, and later installed the “lion lights” in other communities like his that faced the same problem.

His ingenuity landed Turere a scholarship to Brookhouse School, and intends to continue creating electrical inventions like the “lion lights,” and aspires to become an aircraft engineer and pilot.

Watch the video below for the full TED talk: 


Mental Fabrications: Pushing the Edges of Subconsciousness by Ion Popian

An audience member tweeted, “Thanks to the incredible work of #IonPopian you can now hold your thoughts in your hand. #TEDxPT.”  Through the Mental Fabrication Project, this Romanian-born artist and architect gets his inspiration from inside the human mind. Ion’s projectmaps “intensities in your subconscious brain” using raw data that is then edited through a modeling program that creates an amazing physical landscape based on digital results.

During the event breaks, attendees were able to experience this experimental architectural tooling exhibit, by wearing an EEG monitor inside an isolated booth, and shown an abstract, vivid film that incites varying emotions. The EEG monitors mental activity that can be printed with a 3D map, which enables participants to old a little piece of their minds in their hands.

Photo credit: @Deborahschild Twitter

Photo credit: @Deborahschild Twitter

Every Cancer is Personal by Adam Marcus

This title resonates with us because we are all personally connected to someone fighting, surviving, or losing their courageous battle to cancer. Adam Marcus, a cancer biologist and researcher at Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute, explained that researchers usually know the symptoms of cancer, but not the underlying causes, at which point he showed us what cancer looks like on a molecular level.

Oncologists have treated specific types of cancer the exact same way every time, regardless of the patient. We learned that each cancer is highly personalized –– for example, two people with lung cancer may require two very different treatments, as no two cancers are alike. Marcus shows us where hope lives in cancer research with his efforts on developing several new agents that target metastasis. By sequencing cancer DNA, researchers can devise a personalized treatment strategy that is tailored to treat the person, and not just the type of cancer they have.

Check out this video that Dr. Marcus showed at TEDxPeachtree on how quickly breast cancer cells divide:

Sensory Percussions

Beatbox for All by HeaveN Beatbox

The Buckhead Theatre went crazy with this beatbox performance by HeaveN Beatbox. Our words couldn’t do his performance justice if we tried to explain the sounds that this man is able to re-create through his surroundings. Let us show you a quick video that received a standing ovation at TEDxPeachtree.

Virtual Reality for Pre-Visualization by Derek Fridman

You know that awesome TV show you’ve been binge-watching for the last two weeks? Well, according to Derek Fridman, an interactive designer, the habit of watching an entire season (or even an entire series!) on Netflix in a couple of days is preparing us for a Virtual Reality. We are at a Virtual Reality tipping point, and “shit is about to get virtual”, Fridman said. Take for example the Oculus Rift; it’s allowing us to enjoy experiences and environments in a way that feels nearly real. You can put yourself in a dangerous experience without risking your life, or you can re-create and re-live a memory. While this idea is revolutionary, at the same time, it is scary territory. Fridman reminds us that we can’t forget who we are and what we really know when VR allows us to escape.

TED Talk Video

We watched another inspirational presentation from sonochromatic cyborg artist, Neil Harbisson, who was born completely color blind. He created a head-piece device/antenna that translates colors into sounds, and allows him to hear a symphony as he perceives a blend of different colors. Watch the video below for the full TED talk and prepare to be mind-blown:


Rehab without Effort: How Learning Piano Helps Partial Spinal Cord Injury by Thad Starner

Thad Starner was the same fella we mentioned earlier when we discussed Dr. Melody Jackson’s talk –– Starner shares a lab with her at Georgia Tech. He is currently the technical lead on Google Glass and has been sporting some form of wearable technology for more than 20 years.

He presented his invention: gloves with a robotic box that could teach beginners how to play piano melodies in less than an hour. Additionally, this glove can teach a blind person how to type and read Braille. Moreover, “We looked at those with fractured spines and found that using the glove actually helped them gain some sensation back in their hands,” Starner said.

The process is based on passive haptic learning (PHL), meaning that the vibrating glove assists in developing motor skills without focusing on the movement on your hand. It works even if you’re not actually thinking about it! Starner has invented a device that helps people learn a new skill while going about their daily routines.


Performance Interstitial by Christopher Erk

Tapdancing from Christopher Erk with a cameo from HeaveN Beatbox. The perfect duo.

Christopher Erk and HeaveN Beatbox performance at #TEDxPT.  Photo credit: TEDxPeachtree Team Flickr.

Christopher Erk and HeaveN Beatbox performance at #TEDxPT. Photo credit: TEDxPeachtree Team Flickr.

This is MY Body by Abby Norman

Abbey Norman - “The solution to rape culture is so simple – everyone is in charge of their own body!”

Rekindling the Sense of Wonder by Genna Duberstein

Genna Duberstein is a multimedia producer for NASA. She's also working to produce a solarium (http://www.nasa.gov/solarium/) art exibit, where each minute of ultra-high definition footage takes 10 hours of work to produce.

Civic Play: The Ultimate Social Tunic by Chantelle Rytter

Chantell Rytter founded the Krewe of Grateful Gluttons in 1999 in Atlanta after a stint of 10 years living in New Orleans. She is also responsible for the annual Atlanta Beltline Lantern Parade. These ideas came from the Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs in New Orleans that exist to make the cities we live in more fun. As Rytter expained, parades like the ones she organizes for Atlanta are "love bombs" for our city. Her words to live by are: "To work is human. To play is divine!" This was immediately followed by a New Orleans brass band and participants hoisting oversized lanterns, illuminating the stage and inspiring our creativity.

TEDxPeachtree 2014 finale.  Photo credit: TEDxPeachtree Team Flickr

TEDxPeachtree 2014 finale. Photo credit: TEDxPeachtree Team Flickr