spring at the media lab

I’ve had the honor to be a collaborator at the MIT Media Lab for the past couple months. In addition to being able to lurk in one of the coolest technology-centric places on the planet this also enabled me to attend the recent Spring 2012 Member Meeting. This had in previous years been referred to as “Sponsor Week” but under the leadership of Joi Ito it has been re-branded and more importantly opened up to interested outsiders via web streaming of all of the presentations and panel sessions. What the outsiders still didn’t get was the hands on demonstrations and discussions in each of the groups on the many and varied projects underway. My time spent there over the last few months has been focused on one specific project, the Ambient Furniture Project with David Rose as part of the Tangible Media Group. While coming and going I would always see lots of busy researchers but never got a chance to delve into what they were doing. This event enabled me to walk around and see some of these most amazing projects in action. While the “camera that can see around corners” is clearly mind-blowing, there are many additional interesting projects underway, some with some very relevant applications. Here are small sampling of my favorites…. The NETRA project in that same Camera Culture Group has developed a portable and inexpensive solution for estimating refractive errors in the human eye. This has exciting implications for getting quality eye care to underprivileged areas of the world. In the Affective Computing Group the Cardiocam project is a low-cost, non-contact measurement system for physiological signals such as heart rate and breathing rate using a basic webcam.  The High-Low Tech Group focuses on integrating high and low technological materials and processes further enabling the DIY culture that is flourishing around the internet these days. This is also the same group that is developing a build-it-yourself cellphone. The Lifelong Kindergarten Group is getting ready to release version 2.0 of their wonderful development tool, Scratch, which makes it easy for users of all ages to create their own interactive stories, games, animations, and simulations and share them online. There are many, many more deeper and wilder projects. The videos from the sessions (Tuesday & Wednesday)show highlights from many of these and are well worth watching. The Media Lab is an amazing space and seems to often be two or three steps ahead of the rest of the world in technology applications.

Side note – Joi Ito has also assembled an amazing advisory council among whose members include Peter Gabriel. I managed to talk with him on two different occasions and was amazed that even though I was struggling to not be a stuttering fanboy he took the time to ask me about the work I was doing and even apologized to me for not having been able to come by and see it in more detail. This fanboy was very happy.

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