Tuesday, December 31, 2013

MIT Media Lab Year-End Round-Up

A sampling of the most amazing projects, the most exciting research, and the biggest news from the Lab in 2013.


Photo credit: Yoram Reshef for Stratasys
A 3D-printed ensemble created by Professor Neri Oxman, head of the Mediated Matter group, for Dutch designer Iris van Herpen’s collection, “Voltage,” at Paris Fashion Week. The 3D-printed skirt and cape, called Anthozoa, were produced using Stratasys’ Objet Connex multi-material 3D printing technology. 


Photo credit: Jonathan Williams

An urban design system that combines high-definition video projectors, advanced modeling and simulation technology, 3D projection mapping, and physical models, created by Kent Larson and a team from the Changing Places group. CityScope provides a real-time, interactive data environment for understanding and designing relationships between people and places in cities.

Collaborative, Crowd-Sourced Symphonies

Led by Professor Tod Machover, the Opera of the Future group created new software tools to crowdsource music for collaborative music compositions in Toronto and Edinburgh.

Toronto Symphony: Concerto for Composer and City

Tod Machover, Peter Torpey, Akito Van Troyer, and Ben Bloomberg used Hyperscore and the Social Computing group’s DOG programming language to crowdsource and compose a symphony about Toronto.

“Festival City” at the Edinburgh International Festival

Photo source: http://www.eif.co.uk/blog/festival-city-project

Akito von Troyer and Tod Machover created Constellation and Cauldron to gather and remix music
samples contributed by citizens and lovers of Edinburgh.

Director’s Fellows Program 

The Director’s Fellows are a cohort of unique creators who bring inspiration and ideas to broaden the Lab community. They are an eclectic group, most coming from non-academic backgrounds, and are working with students and faculty on a number of exciting field projects.

E14 Fund

The E14 Fund is an independent investment fund that gives recent Media Lab alumni a “six-month runway” to entrepreneurship, in the form of startup support that includes a stipend, legal advice, meetings with venture capitalists, and more. The program also incorporates a way to put a portion of the profits from successful spinoffs back into MIT.

Ed Boyden Awarded the Brain Prize

Photo credit: Dominick Reuter

Professor Ed Boyden, head of the Synthetic Neurobiology group, was one of six scientists awarded the Grete Lundbeck European Brain Research Prize. He was honored for his work in optogenetics, a technology that makes it possible to control brain activity using light.


A new technique that converts an ordinary camera into a light-field camera, from Kshitij Marwah, Gordon Wetzstein, Yosuke Bando, and Professsor Ramesh Raskar of the Camera Culture groupFocii is a light-field camera attachment and software tool that can produce a full, 20-megapixel multi-perspective 3D image from a single exposure of a 20-megapixel sensor.


A carving tool designed by postdoc Amit Zoran of the Responsive Environments groupFreeD allows the user to control the carving process while aided by a computer guidance system that is preprogrammed with the desired three-dimensional shape.


An email metadata visualization tool from Daniel Smilkov, Deepak Jagdish, and Professor César Hidalgo of the Macro Connections groupImmersion scans a user’s email account and creates a portrait of networked connections based on the From, To, Cc, and Timestamp fields.


An interactive dynamic display table from Sean Follmer, Daniel Leithinger, and Professor Hiroshi Ishii of the Tangible Media group. inFORM is a Dynamic Shape Display that can render 3D content physically, so users can interact with digital information in a tangible way. inFORM can also interact with the physical world around it, for example moving objects on the table’s surface.

Joe Jacobson Wins the Exner Medal 

Photo credit: Shuguang Zhang

Professor Joe Jacobson, head of the Molecular Machines group, was honored with a Wilhelm Exner Medal for his contributions to microelectronics. The Exner Medal is awarded to scientists and researchers whose work has directly impacted business and industry. 


An automated conversation coach that helps with interview skills, social interactions, and conversational skills from Ehsan Hoque of the Affective Computing groupMACH, or My Automated Conversation CoacH, is a software program that simulates face-to-face interactions in different social and professional contexts, and offers feedback to improve performance.

New Faculty: Kevin Slavin and Sputniko!

Two new faculty members joined the Lab in 2013: Kevin Slavin, head of the new Playful Systems group, which explores how the systems that increasingly run our lives can be brought to the foreground through games, narratives, and visualizations; and Hiromi Ozaki, also known as Sputniko!, whose new group Design Fictions will explore the social, cultural, and ethical implications of new technologies.

The Privacy Bounds of Human Mobility

Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye of the Human Dynamics group and Professor César Hidalgo of the Macro Connections Group used 15 months of data from 1.5 million people to show that 4 points—approximate places and times—are enough to identify 95 percent of individuals in a mobility database. These findings have been recently used to understand the use of metadata by the NSA and have been cited in numerous media reports and editorials. Their paper, “Unique in the Crowd: The Privacy Bounds of Human Mobility,” was published in Nature.

Science Fiction to Science Fabrication

Photo credit: Guillermo Bernal
A class instructed by Dan Novy of the Object-Based Media group and Sophia Brueckner of the Fluid Interfaces group, exploring the relationship between science fiction and speculative/critical design as a means of encouraging the ethical and thoughtful design of new technologies. Students built projects based on concepts from sci fi and blogged about their work. The class was featured in an interview with the instructors in The Atlantic.

Scratch 2.0

A new version of the programming language for kids from the Scratch Team in the Lifelong Kindergarten group. Scratch 2.0 provides updates to the Scratch programming language and online community that enables kids (ages eight and up) to create their own interactive stories, games, music, and animations for the Web. A new, cloud-based version includes ways for youths to create new types of projects and work together in new ways. In November, the Nominet Trust in England included Scratch on its list of "The World’s Most Inspiring Social Innovations Using Digital Technology."


A solar-powered park bench that charges your phone from Nan Zhao of the Responsive Environments group, visiting scientist Sandra Richter of the Changing Places group, and MIT alum Ines Gaisset. The two seat-e benches installed on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway provide power to recharge mobile phones, a wi-fi Internet connection, and light at night.

The Silk Pavilion

An exploration of the relationship between digital and biological fabrication from Professor Neri Oxman, Jorge Duro-Royo, Carlos Gonzalez, Markus Kayser, and Jared Laucks of the Mediated Matter group. The Silk Pavilion comprises a dome of CNC-deposited silk threads, onto which the researchers placed 6,500 silkworms at the bottom rim of the primary structure, spinning flat non-woven silk patches across the gaps in the dome. The silkworms were affected by spatial and environmental conditions such as the density of the existing silk threads and variation in temperature and sunlight; they migrated to darker and denser areas, creating a unique pattern of spun silk across the dome.

Smart Prosthetics

Photo credit: Simon Bruty
After the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Professor Hugh Herr and the Biomechatronics group informed the public on advances in smart prosthetics research and began working directly with some of those injured in the attack. Professor Herr wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal about this work. 

Smarter Objects

A project that uses augmented reality technology to program physical objects and their interactions, led by Valentin Heun of the Fluid Interfaces group. Smarter Objects allow users to imbue tangible objects with virtual interfaces, giving the virtual and physical worlds new ways to interact.

What We Watch

A tool to examine who's watching what, when, and where, all over the world, created by Ed Platt, Rahul Bhargava, and Ethan Zuckerman of the Center for Civic Media. What We Watch collects data from Youtube’s Trends Dashboard to determine what videos are popular in any of 61 countries at any given time; it then compares the video trends in one country to those in other countries.

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