Robotics has rapidly evolved from a more specialized and costly branch of technology into a field with countless practical applications. This change has helped create numerous opportunities for people in Illinois to pursue personal interests in robotics. Students, in particular, have benefitted from various new ways to learn about robotics, from classes to club participation. A recent competition held in Chicago gave middle and high school students a chance to gain direct experience producing and working with robotics. Over 300 students participated in the FIRST Tech Challenge Illinois Championship Tournament. The 32 competing teams prepared for the event by spending six months designing and building robots to take part in matches during the tournament. In each match, the robots were tasked with navigating a small arena to pick up balls and place them in cylinders. Each match began with the robots operating autonomously, and then students were permitted to take control of the robots to finish the match. In addition to giving students more exposure to robotics, the event emphasized skills that are beneficial for people working in the field of robotics, such as teamwork. Two teams were paired to compete against two other teams during each match, and judges evaluated how well the teams cooperated. When assigning awards, judges considered the amount of time that each team dedicated to volunteering and helping other teams. The competition’s top award was based on the robot’s performance as well as the team’s demonstrated professionalism and volunteerism. This event was structured as a competition, but it also served as a learning opportunity for many students. Participants were able to work closely with peers and learn from their techniques or experiences. Participants also gained hands-on practice at developing design ideas, building prototypes and making changes to produce a functional final design. This real-life experience may help many students gauge their interest in pursuing work in the growing robotics industry. In recent years, the U.S. and numerous other countries have shown a rising demand for robots to serve in diverse roles. Robotics technology is employed in production in various industries, including the chemical, automotive, plastics and food industries. Robots are also anticipated to take on a rapidly increasingly number of jobs over the next decade. Improvements in functionality and cost-effectiveness may drive greater use of robotics technology in business operations and everyday life. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects growth[READ MORE…]
Many people who have suffered from debilitating injuries or illnesses in Illinois have trouble adjusting to the associated changes in their lives. These individuals may feel isolated or overwhelmed as they struggle with challenges that people close to them have never faced. Peer support groups can play an important role in helping these disabled individuals connect with others, regain confidence and find inspiration. In Chicago, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk has recently started a group, informally called “Kirk’s Battle Buddies,” that seeks to offer members these same benefits. The new group provides disabled people with a chance to share their experiences and support with other people who face similar struggles. Sen. Kirk became inspired to form the group after he suffered a stroke and corresponded with another stroke survivor, a 12-year-old named Jackson. Jackson encouraged Sen. Kirk to put forward his best effort during rehabilitation rather than giving up on making a full recovery. Since that time, the two “Battle Buddies” have given each other support throughout their recoveries. It is Sen. Kirk’s hope that the new group will provide similar motivation to people who suffer from disabling conditions or have experienced serious health setbacks. Members can turn to each other for support as they heal, rehabilitate, set physical goals and work to accomplish those goals. The inspiration for the group’s name comes from the Battle Buddy Foundation, which helps veterans assist other veterans through groups and community events. The Chicago “Battle Buddies” group, however, is open to anyone who has suffered from a serious health problem and wishes to participate. The first group meeting was held in February at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. The same month, members of the group participated in the Hustle Up the Hancock fundraiser. During the event, Sen. Kirk and two other “Battle Buddies” climbed the stairs at the John Hancock Center to raise awareness for lung disease research and education. The event gave group members a chance to achieve their physical goals or show support for other members. Besides providing motivation, groups such as the “Battle Buddies” can offer various invaluable services for disabled individuals. These groups can help members discover resources they might otherwise overlook, from financial and medical support to counseling. Group members can benefit from the advice of others who have faced similar challenges in their relationships, careers or everyday lives. Group participation also allows members to[READ MORE…]
Highly publicized cyber attacks have recently drawn attention to the threat cyber crime poses to organizations across the country, including those in Illinois. One way that hackers are increasingly attacking businesses and other organizations is through the use of a specialized type of malware referred to as ransomware. Ransomware locks up computers or encrypts the contents of every file stored on a targeted computer. Computer users then must pay to regain access to their files or secure the decryption key. Hackers may demand “ransoms” of hundreds or even thousands of dollars. During the last year, attacks made with a ransomware virus called Cryptoware have been reported in various parts of the country. In Tennessee, Cryptoware hackers targeted a sheriff’s office and extorted a ransom. The city of Detroit also experienced a Cryptoware attack. Recently, hackers used Cryptoware to attack the Midlothian Police Department here in Illinois. The malware was downloaded when someone at the department opened an email containing the virus. The virus disabled the employee’s computer and produced a message demanding money in exchange for a code to restore system access. The department ultimately had to pay the hackers with bitcoins to regain access to the computer. Attacks like these are reportedly becoming more common. The President of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police notes that ransomware attacks against government or law enforcement agencies has become more prevalent over the last two years. Other organizations, such as businesses, educational institutions and financial organizations, may also be vulnerable to ransomware attacks. These attacks may disrupt business operations, cause reputational damage and result in the loss of sensitive information. Ransomware is known to infect computers and other electronic devices, such as smart phones, by a few different mechanisms. The malware can be downloaded when a person opens an email attachment containing a virus. People may also inadvertently expose their computers to ransomware by following links or pop-up windows to compromised websites. This second type of attack, which authorities call a “drive-by” attack, is becoming more common. Once the ransomware has been downloaded, hackers may demand untraceable payments in various forms, from prepaid cards to bitcoins. Simple precautions may help businesses and other organizations mitigate the risk of ransomware attacks. It is advisable for computer users to choose passwords carefully and use only current antivirus software. People should also employ caution when downloading attachments or visiting new[READ MORE…]
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