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MIT Media Lab Tour Recap

Ryan Miller, CMU Computer Science, Class of 2009

April 15th 2010

Early last week, Boston Siebel Scholars, friends of the Siebel Scholars Foundation, and staff gathered for a tour of the brand new MIT Media Lab building.  Construction cones and caution tape still surround parts of the building, but inside the research space is being put to full use. 

We started off with a brief presentation about the goals of the Media Lab and its cross-disciplinary nature from Hugh Herr.  He talked about several of the lab's past and current efforts, including work from his own biomechatronics group.  After listening and watching a few video clips about the work the group does on advanced "smart" prostheses, myself (and I'm sure others) were awe-struck to realize Hugh himself is a double ankle amputee.  Had he not told us or we recognized him from a few of the PR clips, it would have been impossible to tell is was wearing two of the devices his group created. 

After some Q&A, the group was given tours by members of various labs, attending demos and discussions on either Biometrics or New-Media Medicine, then Smart Cities or Opera of the Future for round two.  I included a link above and the projects are definitely worth spending a few minutes (or days) browsing through.

I chose to learn more about the biomechatronics area and their continued work to create a whole "smart" knee and lower leg, building on the work done for the ankle.  The group also performs research on human augmentation, such as a exo-skeleton to assist in running. 

I was then completely blown away learning about the Smart Cities work.  This group's goal is to completely revamp the way we think about city transportation, developing not only transportation alternatives like motorized bikes and electric vehicles which are extremely space effective (they even *fold*), but also the whole eco-system needed to support and sustain such modes of transportation including power grid upgrades and economic models for renting the vehicles.

I'm certainly not doing it justice, but I definitely felt like I was getting a tour of the future.  Actually, that future is happening now as the groups support the fabrication and commercialization of their work.  The legendary multidisciplinary nature of the Media Lab shows through in the projects as well as the building itself.  Attention to design, form, and practicality, as well the engineering and science is evident everywhere. 

In usual Siebel Scholars-event style, we concluded with wine, hors d'oeuvres, and some amazing desserts, giving the Siebel Scholars a chance to catch up, brainstorm ideas, chat with MIT staff and researchers, and enjoy the ambiance of an incredible place.