Travel

NerdWallet logoWhen it comes to financial services, companies use everything from talking babies to Vikings to persuade people to use their products. You practically need a degree from MIT to decide on the best checking account or credit card rewards program. Which is exactly why the friends and family of Jake Gibson ’04, who majored in math and finance at the Institute, sought him out for basic financial advice.

“I realized that there was no trusted resource for them to find answers,” Gibson says. So he left his job at JPMorgan Chase and cofounded San Francisco-based NerdWallet, a website that helps consumers make informed choices about their personal finances by creating free, simple tools and resources using a numbers-based, analytic approach. Users can do personalized searches based on their spending habits and receive unbiased results—the company’s tagline is “We do the homework for you.”

Here are just some of the comparison tools on the NerdWallet site:

  • Credit cards based on the best balance-transfer offers, lowest interest rates, or most cash back
  • Brokerage firms broken down by best data-analysis tools or research reports or lowest fees
  • Checking accounts filtered by age and stage (teens, college students, seniors, or everyone else) as well as by type of financial institution (big, community, or Internet bank or credit union)
  • Student loans based on estimated repayments
  • Online shopping deals organized by cash back, points, or miles for purchases as well as those offering coupon codes and promos (there were nearly 46,000 deals and promos at press time, and you can sort by independent retailers and Etsy coupons as well)

One of numerous tools NerdWallet offers to compare financial services, like checking accounts, brokerage firms, and student loans.

Articles on the NerdWallet site provide advice on everything from investing to food stamps. NerdWallet Education offers a scholarship search and compares colleges based on highest employment rates and salaries for grads as well as schools with the most students volunteering or traveling after graduation. The education section of the site is completely free of ads and commercial referrals.

NerdWallet also provides advice on travel with a feature called TravelNerd. There’s an online tool to compare various airline fees, and a newly launched smartphone app helps at the airport by recommending parking and transportation (including any taxi-sharing offers and phone numbers for car/shuttle services), amenities, and terminal maps.

The site has been getting great buzz this year, with its services and tools recommended by and mentioned in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Forbes, Time, Money, Huffington Post, and more.

NerdWallet is a labor of love for Gibson and his employees, many of whom took pay cuts and gave up successful corporate trajectories to help people and further the company’s mission of transparency in the realms of financial, travel, and educational services.

So, has it been worth it?

Joseph Audette ’05, VP of education and financial literacy, says it has. “My cousin just emailed me saying she used our site to know which bank was the best on her campus,” he says. “You don’t get those emails when you are working at a hedge fund.” A site like NerdWallet would have helped him with his own finances. “After MIT, I consolidated my loans privately and ended up paying much more than if I had consolidated using the federal system,” he says. “I just didn’t know that was an option for me. That is why we created NerdWallet Education as a pro bono resource.”

In the coming year, NerdWallet plans to release additional resources that focus on financial literacy and college affordability. It’s also expanding nonprofit partnerships by working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on a new grant to help first-generation students and parents complete the FAFSA.

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Born in the Ukraine and raised in Ghana, Arthur Musah ’04, MNG ’05 knows something about leaving the comforts of home to enter the rigorous, intense, humbling world of MIT. He studied electrical engineering and computer science at the Institute, worked as an engineer for four years, then became an Annenberg Fellow in the graduate film production program at USC’s School Of Cinematic Arts. Now, the engineer-turned-filmmaker is documenting the coming-of-age process of five African students from the Class of 2015 over the course of their four years at MIT.

The students featured in the film, from left: Fidelis Chimombe (Zimbabwe), Mosa Issachar (Nigeria), Sante Nyambo (Tanzania), Billy Ndengeyingoma (Rwanda), and Philip Abel (Nigeria).

The students featured in the film, from left: Fidelis Chimombe (Zimbabwe), Mosa Issachar (Nigeria), Sante Nyambo (Tanzania), Billy Ndengeyingoma (Rwanda), and Philip Abel (Nigeria). Filmmaker Arthur Musah ’04, MNG ’05 has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the upcoming year of the four-year project.

His film, One Day I Too Go Fly, follows students from Tanzania, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe as they seek to become engineers—they are majoring in civil engineering, chemical engineering, and electrical engineering and computer science—and make their way in America. Filming in Cambridge and in Africa, Musah aims to uncover how the relationships these students have with their home countries evolve and how their time at MIT influences their dreams to make an impact on the world.

Musah began shooting in August 2011, when the students touched down at Logan airport. He’s  received MIT’s permission to film on campus (something Hollywood studios typically don’t get) and has equipped each student with a portable camcorder for making video diaries.

“I think the intimacy of the stories I’m following will make them connect with anyone of any nationality,” Musah says. “But I also think that observing how these teenagers transform into adults within the MIT context will provide some insight into a modern Africa, whose inventive and ambitious youth are not satisfied to rely on others to determine their countries’ and their continent’s destinies.” Take a look at the trailer below.

“I plan to follow the students on the most intriguing tangents their lives take, be they in Africa, Asia, Europe, or elsewhere,” Musah says. This past summer, he spent two weeks in Nigeria following one student as he taught his newly acquired technical skills to Nigerian high schoolers in a revolutionary robotics program run by other MIT students. The experience will be a short spin-off documentary he’s hoping to complete in a year. Read more about it in the Q&A below.

Production still from One Day I Too Go Fly.

Production still from One Day I Too Go Fly.

Musah plans another trip to Africa to film the other students interacting with their families and home communities and engaging in tech projects there, assuming he can raise the funds via his Kickstarter campaign.

The film is a labor of love for Musah—and a second job. He supports himself as a software engineer and carefully plots his vacation days for overseas production work. Donations to the Kickstarter campaign, which will fund the upcoming year of the project, are accepted until the morning of Dec. 19.

The film is Musah’s first feature-length project, though his other films have also explored issues of identity shaped by different worlds, often Africa and North America. Learn about his earlier film work in this Slice post.

Musah is aiming for a June 2016 completion date for One Day I Too Go Fly. What’s it like filming a documentary over four years? Read the production blog, and learn more in the Q&A below.

Q&A with filmmaker Arthur Musah ’04, MNG ’05

This film is inspired by your own experience of coming from West Africa to study at MIT. How have the students’ experiences compared to yours?
Musah: The students now seem to be a lot more plugged in overall. I think it’s partly a consequence of how pervasive the internet and social media are in Africa today. Most of them were on Facebook before they arrived. I think participating in this global discourse has accelerated parts of the process of adapting to a foreign society for them. Sante is an avid tweeter, for example. The US and its culture aren’t as strange to these students as they were to my African classmates and me. We never joined frats or sororities because the culture wasn’t a fit, but most of these students are members of Greek communities. [click to continue…]

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Guest blogger: Flat Tim Beaver

Flat Tim Beaver wearing a seat belt.

Safety first!

Hello, MIT community! My name is Flat Tim. You’ve likely heard of my cousin, Tim the Beaver. Although you probably don’t know it, I am a member of the MIT Admissions Office. I don’t get to admit students but neither do I have to read applications.

However, I am a popular figure every fall when I visit different areas of the country to meet prospective students and educational counselors (those alumni volunteers who interview and recruit applicants).

My cousin pretty much sticks to campus, but I like to travel. And I don’t even need memberships in frequent-flyer plans or a rental car, since I just catch a ride with my friends in Admissions when they go out on the road.

Flat Tim Beaver meets a badger

Flat Tim Beaver meets a badger.

As you can see, we always wear our seat belts.

I’ve had a pretty busy couple of years! I’ve checked out The Big Easy, got lucky in Las Vegas (I won 21 cents), remembered the Alamo, checked out Half Dome, trekked the Oregon Trail, and asked an SR-71 pilot for a lift home (he told me I needed to fly commercial).

I have learned to love coffee (Starbucks, my friends don’t give me a choice), enjoyed ice cream and milkshakes in California, and savored deep-dish pizza in Chicago.

Flat Tim Beaver enjoying an In-N-Out shake in California.

Enjoying an In-N-Out shake in California.

I even got to visit to that school in Pasadena last year (you know the one I’m talking about) and checked out their cannon, but the pictures are classified, and I was incognito so you wouldn’t recognize me anyway.

Now that all of my Admissions Officer friends have settled in for the winter to read applications, I get to take a break and enjoy our beautiful campus here in Cambridge.

Though, to be honest, sometimes I wish I got to travel a little in the winter. It gets pretty cold here as I’m sure you remember.

I asked my friends in the Alumni Association if they would allow me to share the pictures from my travels over the last 18 months.

I hope you enjoy seeing some of the places I have been. Check out more on my blog, The Adventures of Flat Tim.

I can hardly wait to find out where my journeys will take me next year. Perhaps I’ll come to see you!

Left: Tim at Multnomah Falls in Oregon, the second-highest year-round waterfall in the US. Right: Tim at the Married Giants’ grave in Seville, Ohio.

Left: Tim at Multnomah Falls in Oregon, the second-highest year-round waterfall in the US. Right: Tim at the Married Giants’ grave in Seville, Ohio.

Flat Tim Beaver with a cup of coffee

Just chillin’ here in Cambridge.

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Visiting Istanbul's Blue Mosque.

MIT travelers learn about the Elephant Leg columns that support Istanbul’s Blue Mosque.

The meeting of Chip Wood ’56, SM ’57 and Jack Cinque SM ’53 was just one of many new connections made during the MIT Alumni Travel Program’s trip, Turkish Treasures: The Lost Worlds of Anatolia, Oct. 19–Nov. 2.

Both men graduated from MIT in chemical engineering in the 1950s, landed their first jobs for oil companies in Texas City, TX, and a few months later, got fixed up for the company’s spring dance with blind dates—whom they later married. And they met for the first time two weeks ago as part of the 23 alumni and guests exploring modern and ancient Turkey.

The trip began in Istanbul, a vibrant city offering spectacular ancient sites such as the Blue Mosque as well as a modern building boom and international influence in politics, trade, and art.

Gokbeli Tepe is the oldest known place of worship, dating to 9800 BC.

Travelers view the oldest known place of worship.

As a staff host, I accompanied the travelers and our guide, Turkish archaeologist Gokhan Ozagacli, as we toured the 6th century Hagia Sophia, now a museum, sailed the Bosphorus strait, bargained in the Grand Bazaar, and viewed treasures at Topkapi Palace, home of Ottoman sultans.

And then we flew to Gaziantep, the ancient Silk Road city that brims with archeological ruins and boasts the world’s best pistachios and baklava. The ancient world was all around us from sites the Biblical Abraham visited to exquisite mosaics excavated from the ancient Roman city of Zeugma to the Assyrian fortress of Rumkale Castle, guarding a strategic turn on the Euphrates River.

Floating over Cappadocia in a hot air balloon.

Floating over Cappadocia in a hot air balloon.

In nearby Urfa, we visited Gobekli Tepe, the oldest known place of worship dated to 9800 B.C., and the next day we hiked half a mile to the peak of Mount Nemrut, where giant limestone heads, carved in the first century B.C., regard the 7,000 foot visa.

Later in Cappadocia, we explored cities carved out of rock, and many of us floated via hot air balloon over fairy chimney dwellings. One moonlit night, we ventured into a 13th century caravanserai for a dervish performance of music and whirling dancers. And that’s just a taste of our adventures.

Solving astronomy problems for fun.

Besides expanding our perspectives, this trip nurtured new friendships among the travelers. Mike Feuer ’64 and Jack Russell ’68 began working on an astronomy problem (how can you calculate the amount of daylight knowing only the latitude and date of any locale?) as we drove through the countryside. We also made new connections by inviting MIT graduates living in the Ankara area to dinner. The conversations were fabulous—our weeks in Turkey made us eager to know more about contemporary life and many local alumni were delighted to meet each other for the first time. Ah, global connections! It’s so MIT.

Learn more Turkish Treasures (next scheduled Oct. 4-19, 2013) and other MIT Alumni Travel Program adventures.

 

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Guest blogger: Alice Waugh, Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) communications director

Dannielle Sita, Christie Simpson, Wendy-Kay Logan, Liron Azrielant, and Natallia Pinchuk in front of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.

Dannielle Sita, Christie Simpson, Wendy-Kay Logan, Liron Azrielant, and Natallia Pinchuk in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.

There are class reunions, and then there are reunions with your classmates, which sometimes happen in surprising ways. Such was the case for several women from the MIT LGO Class of 2011 who’ve gotten together in far-flung locales not once but twice, first in Israel and last summer in Russia.

It all started when Liron Azrielant and some of her classmates took a trip to her native Israel shortly after graduation. It seemed like a natural thing to do, “because we’d gone on so many trips during the course of LGO experience, and we loved traveling together and seeing things,” said Emily Edwards. “On the last night, we were talking about how everyone’s scattering to the four corners of the world, and wouldn’t it be nice to do this every year.”

Last spring, Edwards spoke to classmate Min Hsieh, who was engaged to be married, “and Min said sort of as a joke, ‘Why don’t we go to Moscow for a bachelorette party?’” recalled Edwards, who was also engaged. The resulting July trip wound up including Azrielant, Karla Krause, Wendy-Kay Logan, Tabassum Rahman, Dannielle Sita, Christie Simpson, and Belarus native Natallia Pinchuk as well as Hsieh and Edwards.

In Moscow's Red Square, Karla Krause, Natallia Pinchuk, Dannielle Sita, Emily Edwards, Min Hsieh, Tabassum Rahman, and Christie Simpson leap into action.

In Moscow’s Red Square, Karla Krause, Natallia Pinchuk, Dannielle Sita, Emily Edwards, Min Hsieh, Tabassum Rahman, and Christie Simpson leap into action.

“Natallia did a great job organizing. She sent us a survey to get an idea of what activities we were interested in, and she even sent us a detailed Excel spreadsheet with booked events highlighted for each day prior to the trip—but I would expect no less from an LGO,” Azrielant said with a laugh. Pinchuk’s attention to detail even included having T-shirts made that said “LGO’s Devichnik” in English and Russian lettering (a devichnik is a bridal shower).

On a tour of the ornate Moscow subway system, “I thought we were going into a theater—the intricate detail, the marble work, the statues were beautiful,” Edwards said. When told by a guide that almost 10 million people ride the Moscow subway each day, “the first question someone asked was if that number was unique riders or the total number of rides. Only an LGO would know to ask that question,” Rahman said.

On a side trip to St. Petersburg, the women visited the summer palace of Peter the Great and visited a banya, where they experienced a traditional Russian steam bath, a dunk in a cold pool, and a massage with a birch broom (“‘massage’ is a very loose term,” Edwards said).

Wendy-Kay Logan, Dannielle Sita, Emily Edwards, Natallia Pinchuk, Min Hsieh, Christie Simpson, Liron Azrielant, Tabassum Rahman, and Karla Krause on a bridge over the Moscow River.

Wendy-Kay Logan, Dannielle Sita, Emily Edwards, Natallia Pinchuk, Min Hsieh, Christie Simpson, Liron Azrielant, Tabassum Rahman, and Karla Krause on a bridge over the Moscow River.

The highlight of the trip was the bachelorette party itself. After an elegant dinner at a rooftop restaurant, the women traveled by limousine to the Moscow River. “Following Russian tradition, Emily and Min released two doves over the river and wrote their names and their fiancés’ names on a pink heart-shaped lock, placed it on a ‘lock tree,’ and threw the keys into the river,” Rahman recounted.

Afterwards, the limo drove the women all over Moscow. At one point, they unexpectedly encountered a tour group of retired Israelis. “They took pictures of us and wanted to know everything we could tell them—where we went to school, how we all knew each other, where we work—and ‘Would you like to meet my son?’” Azrielant said.

Looking back on the trip, the women agreed that the camaraderie and collaborative spirit of LGO haven’t dimmed in the slightest. “It was fantastic, like no time had passed,” Edwards said.

“Even though we’re pursuing careers in different industries and locations, we’ve been able to maintain the strong bond created from the transformational experience that makes LGO such a unique program,” Logan said.

“I think it’s the type of relationship that could grow only in a close and collaborative program such as LGO,” Azrielant added.

Read other stories about the women of LGO.

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The Etak Navigaot. Photo: LiPo Ching.

The pre-GPS (global positioning system) days when drivers relied on maps and verbal directions are long gone. For most trips, an in-car navigation system has evolved from a luxury to a necessity, and to some, an afterthought.

While GPS popularity is a phenomenon from the past decade, the first publicly available automobile-navigation system, the Etak Navigator, first came to market in the mid-1980s. Over 25 years later, it’s believed that only one functioning Navigator still exists.

It’s located in the Toyota Camry of Jon Landes, a former Etak software engineer, who installed it in his car in 1989. Alongside Tristan Thielmann, an MIT visiting associate professor, Landes recently took the Camry for a spin, using the Navigator to guide its journey. According to Landes and Thielmann, the Navigator’s direction was accurate and precise.

View a slideshow of their journey from The Mercury News.

To call the Atari-looking Navigator–which retailed for about $1,500 in the late 1980s–a GPS would be a misnomer, as it does not use satellites to position itself in space.

From The Mercury News:

“Instead, it uses ‘dead reckoning,’ comparing the car’s location to a fixed spot. Landes’ system includes a compass affixed in the rear of the car, a central-processing unit about the size of a large loaf of bread, a series of cassette tapes that contain the digitized maps, and a choice of two green vector monitors, one large and one small. Inside the rim of the wheels is a series of magnetic beads that feed information to the computer about how fast the car is going, when it is turning, and so on.”

Thielmann, who studies mapping and media and is writing a book on the rise of navigation systems, recorded their journey in hope that the footage will be part of the evolution of media technology.

Does anyone remember the Etak Navigator, or know anyone who paid $1,500 to have it installed in their car? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook.

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Guest blogger: Joseph Cutrufo, program coordinator, WalkBoston

Mariko Davidson at work on the Spicket River Greenway.

Mariko Davidson at work on the Spicket River Greenway.

This past January, two local nonprofit organizations enlisted the help of MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning graduate students Mariko Davidson and Jocelyn Drummond to work on a project aimed at making Lawrence, Massachusetts, more walkable. Davidson and Drummond, along with the pedestrian advocacy organizations WalkBoston and Groundwork Lawrence, which builds healthy communities through environmental and open-space improvements, developed a plan that addresses pedestrian safety issues and increases walkability around the Spicket River Greenway, which is currently under construction.

Lawrence was established as one of the earliest planned industrial cities in the mid-1800s with a thriving industry based on textile mills. Today, it is one of the poorest cities in Massachusetts and has the highest rate of obesity and diabetes in the Commonwealth. On the surface, the Spicket River Greenway is a recreational path where residents can walk, run or bike. But Davidson and Drummond learned that this particular greenway means so much more than that to Lawrence. In addition to creating a linear park, this three-mile long “emerald bracelet” connects a variety of open spaces and neighborhoods, helps the community achieve the dual goals of riverfront restoration and neighborhood revitalization, remediates a contaminated brownfield, and reduces chronic flooding. Now Groundwork Lawrence and WalkBoston are working to link this area’s schools and major employers to the new Greenway. Without sidewalks or crosswalks, it will be difficult and potentially dangerous for pedestrians to access the path.

Davidson and Drummond developed a plan that highlights safe pedestrian routes and proposes design solutions to connect people by foot from throughout Lawrence to the Greenway. This plan is a critical component in the partnership between WalkBoston and Groundwork Lawrence, and it will help direct future initiatives of the City of Lawrence’s Mayor’s Health Task Force.

After meeting with the WalkBoston and Groundwork Lawrence staff, they assessed the existing conditions of routes connecting schools and other key institutions, such as Lawrence General Hospital, with the Greenway. Then they identified problem areas—dangerous intersections and places where sidewalks are in disrepair—and mapped them. They also created a list of recommendations that will improve access to and from the Greenway.

Davidson and Drummond are also working on interpretive signage for the Greenway to enhance trail users’ experiences by telling stories about sites along the Greenway. They conducted research at the Lawrence History Center, combing through achives, newspaper articles, photos, postcards, and oral archives to develop signage that will be located at sites including the Arlington Mills and the former location of the Oxford Paper company.

Moving forward, the work Davidson and Drummond have produced will help guide WalkBoston’s work with Groundwork Lawrence in making Lawrence a more walkable, livable community.

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The proposed route of Interstate 695. Photo: Cambridge Historical Society

As the United States’ most walkable city (not to mention the bikes), it’s difficult to envision an eight-lane highway running through Cambridge. But had some city planners and politicians gotten their way about 50 years ago, Interstate 695 would have created an inherently different Cambridge–and MIT campus–than what exists today.

Interstate 695, better known as the Inner Belt, was a planned highway that would begin at Route I-93 in Somerville, run though Cambridge in Central Square, Cambridgeport, and the outskirts of Kendall Square, and eventually connect with the Central Artery to encircle much of Greater Boston.

The Inner Belt was first proposed in 1948 as the post-World War II population left cities for the suburbs. To combat population outflow, city politicians sought highways to provide temporary construction jobs and long-term access to city businesses.

From Wicked Local Cambridge:

“The project would have displaced 1,541 households in Cambridge, 1,606 in Boston, 589 in Somerville, and 83 in Brookline. In Cambridge, it would have cut down Elm Street and Brookline Street before heading south over the Charles River.

In Cambridge, the city was divided. People who lived in the way of the proposed highway opposed the project, but the Planning Board, Harvard University, and MIT were all in favor, according to Tunney Lee, an MIT professor emeritus who provided technical assistance to the project’s opponents.”

Wicked Local also notes that a Cambridge City Council-proposed alternative included moving the highway southeastward, which MIT opposed for “national defense” reasons.

According to the Cambridge Historical Society, opposition to the highway began in Cambridge and united towns and neighborhoods throughout Greater Boston. In 1970, Massachusetts Governor Francis Sargent ’39 ordered a three-year review of the plan, which would produce the first Environmental Impact Study in the United States. Sargent officially rejected the Inner Belt in 1971 and, using part of the proposed funds for the highway, approved plans to extend the MBTA Red Line from Harvard Square to Alewife in 1973.

While the Inner Belt wouldn’t have made it as far as the Infinite Corridor, had it been built, modern-day Cambridge might be a radically different place. Would MIT and Harvard still be as successful as they are today? Can you imagine a Red Line that ends at Harvard Square? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook.

For more information on the Inner Belt’s history, the Cambridge Historical Society is hosting “The Legacy of the Inner Belt,”part three of a three-part series, on Wednesday, April 25. Cambridge residents can also view past Inner Belt symposia on Cambridge Community Television.

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Credit: Terrafugia

Are you thinking about purchasing the Transition® Roadable Aircraft, the two-seat flying car developed by a group of MIT alumni? If so, it’s important to remember one thing: retract the wings before pulling into the garage.

From The Associated Press via NPR:

Woburn, Mass.-based Terrafugia Inc. said (April 2) that its prototype flying car has completed its first flight, bringing the company closer to its goal of selling the flying car within the next year. The vehicle–dubbed the Transition–has two seats, four wheels and wings that fold up so that it can be driven like a car. Last month, it flew at 1,400 feet for eight minutes.

If you’re having visions of George Jetson, think again. The Transition lacks some amenities (no cup holders) and won’t help you avoid traffic–it needs a 1,700-foot runway to get off the ground. But it will give pilots the ability to use the same vehicle to fly in the air and drive on the road, potentially reducing the expensive costs and travel limitations that many personal aviation pilots face.


The Transition, which was introduced at the 2012 New York International Auto Show on April 5, currently retails at $279,000, reaches approximately 70 miles per hour on the road and 115 in the air, and runs off a 23-gallon tank of regular automotive fuel.

Terrafugia’s beginnings trace back to MIT. Co-founder and CEO Carl Dietrich ’99, SM ’03, PhD ’07 won the 2006 Lemelson Student Prize for Innovation for developing the Transition’s concept. Additional co-founders include Dietrich’s wife, Anna Mracek Dietrich ’04, SM ’06, the company’s COO and acting CFO; Samuel Schweighart SM ’01, PhD ’04; Alex B. Min ’91, MBA ‘07; and Arun Prakash MBA ’07. Roughly half of Terrafugia’s 20-person workforce is MIT alumni.

What’s your take? Is there a market for a flying car? Let us know on Facebook or in the comments section below.

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The Media Lab’s Camera Culture group, led by associate professor Ramesh Raskar and postdoctoral researcher Andreas Velten, has designed a camera that can see around corners. The research was published in a March issue of Nature Communications.

The camera’s system is similar to a periscope but, rather than using angled mirrors to redirect light, it uses a femtosecond laser and opaque surfaces.  To peer into a room outside of a camera’s line of sight, the laser emits quick bursts of light (measure in quadrillionths of a second) against the wall opposite an open doorway. The light reflects off the wall and into the doorway, bounces around the unseen room, and re-emerges.

From geek.com:

“MIT Media Lab utilizes a laser pulse to bounce photons off surfaces to see what the camera can’t. If the photons hit an object, they bounce back and reach the camera. In so doing, the camera can measure how far away the unseen object is.

The unit MIT labs has used has a time resolution of two picseconds, which means it can detect how far light has traveled with an accuracy of 0.6 millimeters.”

Video courtesy of Nature

The system is repeated several times, bouncing light off different spots on the wall and entering the room at various angles before returning to the camera. By comparing the times at which the light returns to the camera, the system can deduce the distance traveled by the laser. The end result is a low-resolution three-dimensional image that shows the geometry of the unseen area. The current prototype takes several minutes to form an image, but the Media Lab team is working to reduce it to less than 10 seconds.

The Camera Culture team also made headlines in December 2011 when they relased a trillion-frame-per-second video of a burst of light traveling the length of a plastic bottle.

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