Imagine a science fair with the budget of a Steven Spielberg movie, and you’ll have a good idea of what a visit to the MIT Media Lab is like. In October, the Media Lab — a department within the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture and Planning — will celebrate its 25th anniversary. Since its founding, in 1985, the Lab has lived up to its mission as a “place where the future is lived, not imagined,” translating complex and emerging technologies into everyday consumer use.
Next time you call up a book on your Amazon Kindle, thank the folks at the Media Lab, where the electronic ink used in the e-readers was developed. You’re safer in your car thanks to another Media Lab project, the SeatSentry Smart Air Bag system, which senses the position of a passenger so that the vehicle’s air bag can deploy more effectively. Watching video on the web? There’s a good chance it’s in an MPEG-4 format, for which Media Lab researchers developed groundbreaking sound transmission technologies. Your kids or grandkids are likely benefitting from Media Lab research, too: Hugely popular interactive games such as Guitar Hero and LEGO Mindstorms construction kits were born there.
As for Spielberg, the director owes the Media Lab a debt of gratitude, too. Remember the scene in Minority Report where Tom Cruise’s character researches a criminal case, manipulating computer files and images on a giant screen in front of him by simply gesturing into thin air? Spielberg based the scene on technology he had seen in development during a pre-shooting tour of the Media Lab — and the technology (called g-speak) is now being developed by Oblong Industries, one of more than 80 companies that have been spun off from Media Lab projects.
AARP is one of more than 60 sponsors of the MIT Media Lab.
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