Technology

MIT Signs Historic Deal With New Russian Technology Hub

By Phillip Martin   |   Thursday, October 27, 2011
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Oct. 27, 2011

skolkovo map

It could be the next Silicon Valley or Kendall Square, and it's going up in a suburb of Moscow. (Skolkovo Foundation)

 

BOSTON — On October 26, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced a historic agreement with a Russian government–sponsored foundation to build a world-class graduate school of technology, known as SkTech, just outside Moscow.

DJ Henry and siblings
MIT Professor Ed Crawley will lead SkTech. (Courtesy of MIT)

The Skolkovo Institute of Technology is being built on farmland about 40 miles outside of Moscow. As WGBH reported several weeks ago, the project is being hailed as a watershed moment in Russia’s post–Cold War development — and MIT is taking part of the credit.
 
MIT President Susan Hockfield, in Moscow for the signing, said that MIT is committed to “bringing together Russian, U.S. and global research and technology, and in integrating teaching, research, innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Alexey Sitnikov, the foundation’s executive director of academic development, explained why another graduate university similar to MIT or CalTech is needed in Russia.
 
The country already has a technological institute — but it was founded in the middle of the last century, Sitnikov said, and since then “we haven’t created a university of a truly international caliber, competitive on the international level, [that’s] able to create and commercialize technology.”  
 
The agreement between MIT and the Skolkovo Foundation to develop SkTech will take place over three years. MIT scientists, engineers and other professionals will travel back and forth to Russia to work and conduct research. They will find the going easy: The government is relaxing visa restrictions for those associated with the project.
 
The new institution will offer master’s degrees and doctorates in five critical priority areas, Sitnikov said: Biotechnology, information technology, space technology, communication and nuclear technology.”
 
Edward Crawley, an MIT professor of engineering, will be SkTech’s first president.
 
MIT and the Skolkovo Foundation — which was set up to spur this very kind of initiative — have also committed to building Skolkovo Innovation City on the same dry patch of land. The innovation city is being compared to both Kendall Square and Silicon Valley. One of MIT’s long-term goals is to profit from the joint venture through the development of new mass-market and industry-related products.

 

sktech plan

SkTech will have five primary focal areas. (SkTech MIT Initiative)

Xconomy Report For Oct. 21, 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011
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Oct. 21, 2011

BOSTON — A Boston-area tech company is involved in one of the most ambitious federal projects of our time. Security Innovation, based in Wilmington, makes the software behind what could be the nation’s first wireless collision avoidance system for cars. A pilot study of 3,000 cars is rolling out next year. Eventually, all cars made in the U.S. could be required to have the technology. 
 
In other innovation news:
 
Boston-based Third Rock Ventures put $35 million behind a new company, Sage Therapeutics, that aims to develop a novel class of drugs for schizophrenia, depression, and other brain disorders.
 
Cambridge-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals is seeking FDA approval for a drug that would offer a new way of treating cystic fibrosis.
 
Finally, two deals this week continue a recent trend of Boston-area tech companies being bought out by West Coast giants. Endeca Technologies, an enterprise search company in Cambridge, is being acquired by Oracle for an undisclosed sum. Boxborough-based BNI Video, a startup that makes Internet software for cable companies, is being snapped up by Cisco for $99 million.

The weekly roundup of business, technology and life science news from our partners at Xconomy.com airs every Friday on WGBH 89.7 Boston Public Radio.

Experts Warn Against Digital 'Babysitters'

By WGBH News   |   Thursday, October 20, 2011
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Oct. 20, 2011

child with iPad

Children today pick up using tablets and touch-screen devices as if they were born to it. (michaelaion/Flickr)

BOSTON — With children as young as 2 picking up and easily playing with iPhones and iPads these days, parents are understandably concerned about what effects the new handheld and mobile devices will have.

Tim Monroe is head of school at the Sage School for gifted children in Foxborough, Mass. Like many other educators, he is faced with integrating the new technology into the classroom. He talked with WGBH Radio's Bob Seay about that challenge and gave some advice for parents.
 

At Sage, every second grader has been given an iPad to use for part of the day, Monroe said: “What we’re trying to do this year is figure out [if] mobile devices enhance learning in the school setting. And so far the results are pretty good.”
 
He thought it was key that parents supervise their children’s screen time and not use these devices as digital “babysitters.”
 
Dr. Michael Rich, who directs the Center on Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital Boston, agreed in an October 20 conversation with Jared Bowen, guest host of “The Emily Rooney Show."
 
When considering the effects of mobile devices on children, Rich said, “The first thing is to think about what the child is doing on it and for how long. If it is simply to distract them so you can get dinner on the table or take a shower, that’s probably not the right choice to make. … There are alternative activities that kids can do that will keep them just as happy, like giving them a bunch of pots and pans and a wooden spoon while you’re making dinner.”
 
When a child is allowed to use an iPhone or iPad as a distraction, “it teaches them that this is the default position for downtime,” Rich said.
 
Hear the complete conversation on "The Emily Rooney Show."

MIT Helps Build the Silicon Valley of Russia

By Phillip Martin   |   Friday, October 14, 2011
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Oct. 10, 2011


BOSTON — Sometime in the next month, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will sign a historic agreement that will lead to the creation of a major institute of technology in Russia. The planned university will be the anchor of a $6.6 billion project that aims to establish Russia as a major technological power.
 
The Skolkovo Foundation was established just a couple of years ago by the Russian Academy of Sciences to advance the country’s scientific and technological future.
 
Since signing a preliminary agreement this summer with the Foundation, MIT has kept quiet about its plans and its role in what will become the Skolkovo Institute of Technology just outside of Moscow.
 
But Alexey Sitnikov, the Foundation’s executive director of academic development, made no secret of his goals. The future university “will combine research education and commercialization similar to what MIT does—but better,” he said. Researchers will create inventions, commercialize them and bring them to market “to complete the innovation chain from idea to profit.”
 
Sitnikov was in town for meetings with MIT officials, to work out the details of creating a world-class technological university.
 
There’s no doubt Russia has the brainpower—graduating large numbers of mathematicians, scientists and engineers. What it lacks in the post–Cold War era, said Sitnikov, is the kind of openness that spawns innovation. That means, in part, welcoming researchers from all over the world. MIT faculty and SIT faculty will work side-by-side, creating innovation.

Organizers envision Skolkovo as the world's next Silicon Valley. (Google Earth)

“The university we are creating will be international both in the composition of faculty and student body as any international university should be,” Sitnikov said. “We don’t want to be closed. We want to be open.”
 
Russia says it will relax visa and travel restrictions to make this project work. MIT scientists and other professionals will come and go at will.
 
The university is the center of a radically new community. Skolkovo Innovation City—like Silicon Valley, on which it is loosely modeled—will house dozens of new startups and old businesses, including Microsoft, Nokia and Cisco Systems. The Skolkovo Institute of Technology will sit at the town’s center, sort of like a library on Main Street, but without the provincial flair. The development is funded by the Russian government in partnership with private companies.
 
Right now, Skolkovo Innovation City is an empty field, just under 1000 acres, watched over by two security guards.
 
But by 2017, the Foundation envisions a thriving town of 20,000 to 30,000 people, both residents and commuters from outside the country. It will have clusters of companies and office space. Unlike many Moscow suburbs, it will not be a gated community, Sitnikov said: “It will be an open town using a lot of technologies of today and tomorrow.”
 
The Silicon Valley of Russia is envisioned as a self-supporting community where cars will run on electricity, not gasoline, with power generated by the sun. Science and money will come together seamlessly.
 
The Foundation thinks that vision will appeal to entrepreneurs around the world. “Many of our key partners are American-based companies,” Sitnikov said.
 
Dr. Phil Frost is chairman of the board of the world’s largest generic pharmaceutical firm, based in Israel, and chairs Skolkovo’s International Scientific Advisory Board. He saw big opportunities for a Silicon Valley in Russia.
 
“I think there is great interest in developing an entrepreneurial base in Russia, not only for the medical sciences but for the whole broad spectrum of sciences and the practical applications thereof,” Frost said.
 
His own companies, including Teva and OPKO Health, plan to set up offices in Skolkovo Innovation City. He says MIT’s signoff on the project will convince many scientists and entrepreneurs to set up shop in Russia—which has not always been considered the most secure place to do business.
 
MIT has a long history of success in creating technologies that transfer to the commercial market, Frost said—and the royalties to prove it. “It’s a good role model and its experience can be brought to bear to help with structural efforts that are being tried in Russia.”
 
And though MIT is a practical model for Skolkovo’s anchor university, the true inspiration is the broader American spirit of innovation evidenced by Silicon Valley and Boston’s Route 128, Sitnikov said: “We have the money to fund this effort but we lack the experience. We lack the eyes of the venture capitalists to determine which will be the next Google.”
 
He’s hoping it will rise from a now barren field outside of Moscow –the future Skolkovo Innovation City.


The Skolkovo Foundation and MIT are expected to reach a final agreement on the creation of Russia’s premier technological university within the next month.

 

Mass. Companies Get $27 M To Develop Clean Cars

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Thursday, August 11, 2011
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Aug. 11, 2011

A Nissan Leaf charges in Portland, Ore. The government recently awarded millions of dollars in grants to develop technology for electric and other "green" cars. (AP)

BOSTON — Massachusetts companies will receive about $27 million dollars from the federal government to help improve fuel efficiency technologies for next generation cars.

The U.S. Department of energy says it’s awarding more than $175 million to  spur clean-auto technology and the production of advanced car batteries. The funding will go to 40 projects in 15 states, including eight projects in Massachusetts.
 
Natick company Metal Oxygen Separation Technologies won a $6 million grant. CEO Steve Derezinski says the money will go to developing a cheaper and greener way to manufacture magnesium metal.
 
“The Department of energy has a goal of 55 miles per gallon now. And the best way to do that is just make the vehicles lighter. And magnesium is the lowest density engineering metal out there to make the cars lighter and more fuel efficient,” Derezinski said.
 
Industry analysts say finding cheaper ways of producing magnesium will make it a more viable choice for automakers,
who must meet the new fuel economy standards by 2025.
 
Other Massachusetts companies to receive grants include A123systems, a lithium ion battery maker in watertown, and GMZ Energy in Waltham, which is working on a device that captures heat from a car's exhaust and converts it into energy.

Data-Sharing Websites May Facilitate Identity Theft

By Toni Waterman   |   Tuesday, May 17, 2011
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May 17, 2011

BOSTON — It was just days before Christmas last year when Chrissy DiPietro checked her online bank statement, only to realize the Grinch had come early.
 
“I saw a charge for $100 from Trinity Global. Then I looked back about four days before that and there was another $100 dollar charge. And then about 4 days before that, was a $500 charge,” DiPietro said.
 
At first, the South Boston resident thought it was her Edward Jones retirement fund, but when she Googled “Trinity Global PStars,” an online gambling site popped up. “I called the bank that day and they said this is definitely suspicious,” says DiPietro.
 
And it was. In the course of a few weeks, someone had funneled $3,000 from her bank account to a variety of offshore gambling sites, even opening accounts in her name. DiPietro says she still doesn’t know how they got her information.
 
“They basically are me right now. The person somehow had my name, my address, my parents address, my cell phone number, my email address. I think my computer was hacked."
 
Maybe. But getting information like that isn’t as hard as it used to be. Websites like Spokeo.com and 123people.com are aggregating information and showing it to anyone who wants to see, including identity thieves.
 
“I absolutely believe that they’re using these because there’s too much in the way of — basically low-hanging fruit to go after,” says Beth Jones, Internet security expert at Sophos. 
 
Jones says it’s as simple as typing a name and city into the search box. Then, up pops a profile of that person including age, home address, home value, even your family members — and that’s just the free version. For a paltry four bucks a month, Jones says profiles get even more detailed.
 
“Scammers can start looking up people’s name and just do regular vanity searchers, see where people live, see where they’re working, see what their Facebook and Linked-in profiles have to say.”
 
Jones says the best way to protect yourself is to limit the amount of information you put out there, especially the information you share on Facebook and Twitter.
 
“If you wouldn’t tell a complete stranger and go up to him and say, hey my birthday is so-and-so and here’s my social security number, you know — if you wouldn’t do this in real life, don’t do it on the computer,” Jones said.
 
Chrissy DiPietro admits she shared too much information on Facebook — like her birthday and email address — and has since wiped her profile clean. She finally got her money and identity back, but it wasn’t in time to pay the bills.
 
“I’m in trouble now. I used my credit card for two straight months while the bank did my investigation and now I’m stuck in credit card debt,” DiPietro said.

About the Authors
Phillip Martin Phillip Martin
Phillip W. D. Martin is the senior investigative reporter for WGBH Radio News and executive producer for Lifted Veils Productions. In the past, he was a supervising senior editor for NPR, an NPR race relations correspondent and one of the senior producers responsible for creating The World radio program in 1995. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 1998. Learn more at liftedveils.org.
WGBH News
The WGBH News team comprises the WGBH radio newsroom, The Callie Crossley Show, The Emily Rooney Show and WGBH Channel 2 reporters and producers from Greater Boston and Basic Black. 
Sarah Birnbaum
Sarah Birnbaum is WGBH News' State House reporter. Send her a news tip.

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