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In Pictures: 15 MIT research projects that will make you say ‘whoa’

Transportation, healthcare, fashion and more get the MIT treatment

  • Researchers at MIT are no strangers to the press, grabbing our attention regularly with new projects. Some in this list are potentially world-changing or life-saving breakthroughs, while others are just fun to look at. Either way, they all appear to be small previews of what life may be like within the next decade or two.

  • CityCar No, it’s not a Smart Car. It’s the CityCar, designed and developed by the MIT Media Lab’s Smart Cities group, and it goes one step further than just being a smaller-than-average automobile – it folds up like a baby’s carriage to take up one-third of a parking space. It weighs less than 1,000 pounds, features electric motors located in each wheel, and uses the equivalent energy to 150 to 200 miles per gallon of gasoline. These miniature automobiles may start folding up on Europe’s city streets relatively soon, as a commercial version with the brand name Hiriko (the Basque word for “urban”) is reportedly already in production.

  • City Home Those living in New York’s expensive but miniature apartments will likely be excited about MIT’s City Home project, which aims to bring more space to an apartment than it seemingly has. Walls and furniture shift around automatically, a la Inception, providing the rooms the tenants need for only the time that they need them.

  • Junkyard Jumbotron That awesome name was given to the web browser-based display project that allows several different screens or devices to display an image the size of their screens’ collective sum. This can be done with four-inch smartphones or 72-inch televisions. And while it sounds great for a group of friends limited to smartphones trying to watch a Netflix movie together, MIT’s Rick Borovy points out its much more noble uses at schools in Colombia and Paraguay.

  • MindRider MIT’s MindRider project is essentially a modified bicycle helmet, MindRider acts as a mood ring that shows the bicyclists’ level of awareness. After reading the bicyclists’ electroencephalographic (EEG) activity through the scalp, the device displays correlating colors in the attached LED lights. As even those unfamiliar with the helmet would understand, green represents a mentally aware cyclist, red lights indicate drowsiness, anxiety and other potentially detrimental mind states, while flashing lights signal a case of two-wheeled road rage. It seems useful for informing drivers which bicyclists they should be especially careful around.

  • Augmented Product Counter While MIT Media Lab researcher Natan Linder says the Augmented Product Counter is perfect for Best Buy retail outlets, the store’s employees aren’t likely to agree. The Augmented Product Counter goes deeper than just displaying price and product information, and displays an interactive interface to compare products, read reviews, and even video chat with a remote expert.

  • Proverbial Wallet For those who don’t have someone there to tell them not to spend $1,000 on sunglasses when they’re on a $500 budget, MIT’s Information Ecology team developed the Proverbial Wallet. Several different models tell the user in different ways when they’re spending too much money. Through a Bluetooth connection to the user’s cellphone, the wallet keeps track of bank account activity and responds by either buzzing, expanding or retracting, or even making it more easy or difficult to open based on the amount left in the account.

  • Seeing Around Corners One of the most common complaints about third-person video games is the unfair advantage of being able to see and bypass objects or enemies that are hiding around corners. Well, thanks to the MIT Media Lab’s Ramesh Raskar and Andreas Velten, that can now be done in real life, too. By shooting a laser at the front-facing wall, the researchers were able to gather and reproduce the shape of the object hiding around the corner based on the time it took for photons to bounce back to the lens of their specially designed camera. Somewhere, Tony Stark is jealous he didn’t think of this first.

  • Konbit When a natural disaster or other major regional emergency occurs, the amount of time it takes to gather help can mean the difference of thousands of lives. MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group has developed Konbit, a service that helps those with the ability to help inform first responders of their applicable skills that might be in need, and vice versa. The application was designed with compatibility for multiple languages as well as for the illiterate, helping streamline the recovery process.

  • FEEL: Frequent EDA Event Logger Going one step beyond the MindRider, FEEL is a wristband that can identify the exact reason you might be too distraught to ride a bike. FEEL uses a sensor to measure electrodermal (EDA) activity for signs of stress, anxiety and arousal while the user is reading or sending an email, taking a phone call or holding a meeting. The wristband then displays by color (once again, red is scary and green is good) which messages, meetings, reminders or phone calls caused the most stress. If nothing else, it could be a great way to identify which co-workers to avoid on busy days.

  • X-Ray Audio When it was first described as “the ability to locate an audio conference in space,” it seemed a little bit underwhelming. But after seeing this video of its use on the road, it couldn’t be ready for mass production soon enough. The driver speaks into a docked iPad no differently than she would while on speaker phone with a friend. The difference is that every driver in her radius hears her, and can respond to let her know that he’s currently vacating a parking spot, and doesn’t mind holding it until she gets there. Just imagine the possibilities for expressing road rage.

  • Slam Force Net Every basketball nerd’s dream come true, the Slam Force Net may have invented a new statistic that could change how the NBA Slam Dunk contest is judged forever. By inserting an electronic, force-measuring fabric into the hoop’s net, the researchers were able to measure the amount of energy passed through the hoop on each slam dunk. The measurements were accurate enough for the NBA to debut it at this year’s Slam Dunk Contest. Even more interestingly, as researcher Daniel Novy pointed out in the video, “those guys are going to start competing as soon as they see those stats coming up.”

  • The EyeRing Short of physically repairing eyesight for those with visual impairments, MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group’s Suranga Nanayakkara and Roy Shilkrot were able to give them a round-the-clock audio assistant. The EyeRing fits conveniently on the user’s finger and, with the push of a button, scans the environment around them and reports information through attached headphones. Beyond serving as a seeing-eye-dog, the EyeRing can also act as a personal shopping assistant, telling users the color and price of the clothes they are about to buy, and even the value of the dollar bills in their wallets.

  • The Queen’s New Clothes It’s not until it’s seen in the right light that this dress shows its true colors. Developed by researchers Li Bian, Matt Hirsch, Lining Yao, Henry Holtzman and Hiroshi Ishii, the costume that came as a result of the Queen’s New Clothes project changes color based on the light projected against it. Possibly the least surprising aspect is that it was inspired by a Lady Gaga outfit.

  • Ghosts of the Past Despite having a name fit for a horror flick, Ghosts of the Past is likely to be used more often for reliving the good old days. Rather than trying to verbally describe a situation, event, or even a person whose name you might not recall, Ghosts of the Past projects video from a previous event against a backdrop image of the very setting in which it occurred. Through this website, those backdrops (called “canopies”) and video clips (or “panoramas”) can be paired for viewing on an iPad. QR codes add another layer, allowing the user to print and paste a copy in that very same location, so others can experience your birthday party even if they weren’t invited.

  • Six-Forty by Four-Eighty As the video’s music suggests, this looks like something fit for a Las Vegas nightclub, or at least the set for MTV’s Jersey Shore. However, Six-Forty by Four-Eighty is more than a set of pretty lights, as the Fluid Interfaces Group at MIT’s Media Lab explains that “by transposing the pixel from the confines of the screen and into the physical world, focus is drawn to the materiality of computation itself and new forms for design emerge.” That doesn’t make the video any less entertaining, though.

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