Design

Update: Happy April Fools’ Day! Currently, there are no plans for a moving walkway in the Infinite Corridor. Walk safely! 

The Infinite Corridor may soon seem much less infinite. Beginning in 2015, portions of the corridor will include a moving walkway, called Zero Footprint, which will allow members of the MIT community to safely text, read a book, or study as they travel through the corridor.

The proposed walkway—similar to the slow-moving conveyors commonly seen in airports—was designed by researchers at MIT’s Historical Edifice Innovation Center and will have a dual purpose of safety and sustainability. According to a new MIT study, 30 percent of MIT students reported injuries related to texting or reading while walking within the Infinite Corridor or other busy MIT pathways in the past school year.

Fran Swanson, Hayden S. Finch Professor of Building Theory, says the walkway will add another layer of safety to campus while also being mindful of MIT’s commitment to sustainability. Zero Footprint will be a first-of-its-kind carbon-neutral moving walkway.

A mockup of Zero Footprint. Credit: Alan Scott

A mockup of Zero Footprint. Credit: Alan Scott

“It’s called Zero Footprint because it will create nearly 95 percent of the power required to operate,” explains Swanson. “The most important issue is student safety, but the name is a nice tie-in with the Infinite Corridor. It explains just how sustainable this new installation is.”

Based on research from MIT’s Urban Re:Construction Lab, Zero Footprint will be powered almost entirely by piezoelectric tiles that will frame the walkway. Those who choose to walk outside of Zero Footprint will generate energy with each step on the tiles.

To allow for maximum mobility within the corridor and easy on/off access, Zero Footprint will consist of five short moving walkways.

Additionally, to mitigate traffic congestion in the corridor, Zero Footprint has been designed as a one way walkway that will change direction depending on traffic flow. For example, as students rush to campus for morning classes, Zero Footprint will move away from Lobby 7 towards Bldg. 4. The walkway will then reverse directions in the late afternoon as students return home.

Plans for Zero Footprint are pending final review by the Cambridge Historical Commission. Currently, construction on the walkway is slated to begin April 1, 2015.

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The morning after Facebook announced its $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR, the virtual-reality headset company that many predict will transform the gaming and computer industry, Oculus COO and acting CFO Laird Malamed ’89 phoned Slice of MIT to share the news.

The Oculus Rift virtual headset. Photo: Forbes.

The Oculus Rift virtual headset. Photo: Forbes.

Since the headset will make its commercial debut later this year or early next year, Malamed, who previously worked on Call of Duty and Guitar Hero during a 16-year stint at Activision, has his work cut out for him. Fortunately, he now has a little more help.

What’s the last week been like for you?

It’s been a really busy six days. We got the verbal offer a week ago, and we went down to Facebook on Thursday morning and didn’t leave until we had a deal.

What first drew you to joining Oculus VR?

Three things: I liked the people, they were genuine and smart. The product was cool and I believed in it. And third, I thought it was something we could market easily. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities to work with a lot of great people, but I had never felt like I’d done anything on the level of MIT. I wanted to be part of starting a new thing. This is right in line with fulfilling MIT’s mission of developing and changing the world and being of service to it. I hope VR can do that.

Developers first got to try Oculus Rift in 2012 and have since started developing software for it. What has excited you about what they’ve done so far?

They’ve been doing basic things like asking what Breakout might look like in virtual reality. From a 1970s game like that to looking at what cinema looks like, what it feels like to be completely immersed in a movie. Then there’s a Kickstarter project, which I personally backed, to laser-scan a canyon in Australia that is decaying. The developer wants to put that in the Rift so that people can access it later on. I love the range of things they are doing with it.

Will you have a lot more people to please now that Facebook is in the mix?

Yes, and we’ve disappointed a lot of early fans who feel we’ve sold out and all I can say is that we got a commitment from [Facebook] management to keep running this the way we want it and at the same time leverage what they’ve built. Facebook has grown to a $160 billion company in 10 years. Say what you will about them, they’ve got 1.2 billion users. We want to remain true to [founder] Palmer Luckey’s ideals that the world can be magical and the experiences we can have with VR can really connect people. Who better than Facebook to help us do that?

Oculus COO Laird Malamed '89.

Oculus COO Laird Malamed ’89.

Are there other MIT alumni on board at Oculus VR?

It’s amazing that there aren’t, out of our 78 people right now. We’ve just started to reach out, though. We did some recruiting there a few months ago, and I imagine there are a lot of MIT alums at Facebook.

How does your aero/astro degree come in handy as a COO?

Do I use it every day? No, but MIT taught me how to think, and at the end of the day aero/astro was about communicating remote experiences to everyone. One of my favorite days at MIT was sitting in this lecture hall, during IAP, and watching images load on a screen from the Jet Propulsion Lab as Voyager II was passing Saturn…it was magical. I always loved the magic of engineering. Also, I’m proud to say I took 6.002x and got an A. I look forward to getting more time to take MITx courses!

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Downton Abbey fans have seen scant evidence of 20th-century media in the Masterpiece Classic program, but that may change in coming seasons. Thanks to the founding of BBC Radio in 1927, estates in financial trouble like that which Downton faces in season 4 get a huge boon, says Shundana Yusaf SM ’01.

In this edition of the MIT Alumni Books Podcast, Yusaf, a professor of architecture at the University of Utah, discusses her book Broadcasting Buildings: Architecture on the Wireless. Listen to this podcast9780262026741

Since architecture was a large focus of early BBC productions, the public came to appreciate homes like the Crawleys rather than looting or pillaging them as aristocratic strongholds in a changing world.

“Downton Abbey is a perfect example of houses becoming white elephants,” says Yusaf.

“They became a burden for the families…and architects become champions of conservation, but it puts them in a strange position. Conservation means that you have to promote the protection of properties that in popular culture are seen as symbols of historical injustice. Now you have to revamp them and package them as heritage of the people who have been subjugated.”

Yusaf

In the podcast, Yusaf discusses this topic and others, including the role of media in transforming architecture, how her MIT education made her rethink what one could do with an architecture degree, and how technology is changing the way people visit holy spaces around the world.

Hear more by listening to this podcast interview.

The MIT Alumni Books Podcast presents alumni authors discussing their latest books. It can be found on iTunes and on most other podcast platforms. Help us keep up with recent books or send along names of alumni authors you’d like to hear interviewed.

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The winter issue of MIT’s Spectrvm showcases MIT research on making cities more livable, efficient, and sustainable. Certainly, they are growing—by 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to live in cities. The work of many of MIT’s architects and urban planners, who are working on the problems and opportunities inherent in this rapid growth, is covered in this issue.

Fab Lab champion Neil Gershenfeld chats with students at Boston’s South End Technology Center. Photo: Len Rubenstein

Fab Lab champion Neil Gershenfeld chats with students at Boston’s South End Technology Center. Photos: Len Rubenstein

A trend toward sharing assets, rather than owning them, offers opportunities to live more conveniently and less expensively. Professor J. Meejin Yoon has proposed the Shareway, a transformation of the I-95 Boston-Washington route into a multi-layer transportation artery that would include a high-speed rail system along with cars, bikes, and pedestrians. Kent Larson, director of the City Science Initiative in the MIT Media Lab, says his group is designing 300-square feet apartments that can function at twice their size. A 10-year study launched by the new Center for Advanced Urbanism will examine how physical design can improve human health, even as urban density seems destined to increase. Read the full article, “The Future Is Cities,” for more. Other highlights:

Do-it-Yourself Manufacturing

Fab labs, workshops equipped with computer-controlled tools for making things, have spread across America and beyond, championed by MIT and offering city dwellers a place to build furniture or a startup prototype. This form of do-it-yourself manufacturing, pioneered by Professor Neil Gershenfeld, is helping cities evolve by sparking local, small manufacturing businesses and teaching young people to be self-sufficient.

Noelle Eckley Selin works to cut air pollution in urban areas.

Noelle Eckley Selin works to cut air pollution in urban areas.

Pollutants to Smart Policy

Noelle Eckley Selin’s research tracks air pollution and determines its economic impact. When she found that air pollution in China cost the country $112 billion in 2005, environmental policymakers worldwide took note. Recently the assistant professor has turned her computer models on the effects of potential climate policies on air pollutants and human health across the northeastern U.S.

Read Spectrvm online and check out Continuum, Spectrvm’s blog. In a recent post, learn about Alexandra Witze ’92, a correspondent for Nature, who parlayed her earth science studies into a career as a science writer.

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Paige Parsons ’90 has photographed Bono and Bjork, Green Day and Guns & Roses, Madonna and Morrissey.

A profile of Lenny Kravitz in concert.

But a quarter-century ago, she was writing about rock, authoring witty critiques of bands on the Boston scene for The Tech. Parsons called an Elvis Costello show in 1989 “spectacular” but panned Love and Rockets for their “monotonous” and “painful” show at the Orpheum.

Hundreds of rock shows later, Parsons has amassed an awe-inspiring body of photography work that tells much of the stories of rock and its fans from jaded gen-x’ers to digital-native millennials.

Currently the house photographer at the Fillmore, San Francisco’s most prestigious and storied rock venue, Parsons completed a retrospective of her best work in 2012, entitled Once in a Lifetime. The work appeared at her first solo show of the same name at a Palo Alto gallery last February.

“I chose to explore the relationship between fan and artist through photography,” Parsons writes in her artist’s statement. “Musicians may rehearse for a performance, but the fans complete the exchange of dynamic energy that fluctuates from one performance to the next; it’s never the same twice.”

“I hope those viewing my work will feel the unique rush of literally being between the spectator and performer. Whether a show is intimate and sparse, or in a field with ten thousand fans, my mission is to capture the intense emotion of this unique relationship.”

1.21.14 - Parsons - Die Antwoord

Fans carry a body-surfing Ninja of the band Die Antwoord.

After studying art and design at MIT, Parsons pursued photography part-time while working as a user-interface designer at Apple and Netscape in the Bay Area through the 1990s. As a consultant, she has helped startups with information architecture and web design and maintained a blog, The Color Awesome, covering the music industry.

Meanwhile, her rock photography has appeared regularly in the past two decades in Rolling Stone, The Los Angeles Times, SPIN, Pitchfork, Stereogum, Crawdaddy, Prefix Mag, 7×7, and Keyboard Player. She publishes much of her work on her website and through her Facebook page.

Why the affinity towards photography over words? Parsons found part of the answer to that question in 2008, when she discovered that she was dyslexic. “Through finding out about my own learning differences, I have also come to appreciate my unique strengths and all the gifts that also come along with seeing the world from a different point of view,” she says.

 

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Photo: Tangible Media Group

MIT Media Lab’s recent invention of the inForm Dynamic Shape Display demonstrates that reaching through a computer screen may not be so futuristic after all.

Under the guidance of Professor Hiroshi Ishii of the Lab’s Tangible Media Group, lead project designers Daniel Leithinger SM ’10 and Sean Weston Follmer SM ’11 have created a surface display made up of 900 individual pegs. These pegs move dynamically based on the hand motions and commands of a person participating remotely.

inForm looks like a pin toy where you can create relief sculptures by putting your hand under the pin surface. But in this case, your hands are not actually touching the display at all, but making motions in front of a computer screen in another room or even another country. Watch a video demonstrating inForm.

Follmer calls inForm a “prototyping work bench” for both testing new ways of interacting with intangible data physically as well as exploring our growing device ecosystem. The phones, computers, and furniture of the not-too-distant future will be able to communicate with us and each other in ways still unimaginable, according to the team.

“As opposed to just relying on visual information and visual feedback, our interactive devices will also change their shape,” said Follmer. In other words, several years from now your phone will change shape when it rings and work with your shape-changing desk to move closer to you.

MIT’s Changing Places initiative, led by Professor Kent Larson, is already experimenting with inForm as a platform for urban planners to collaborate on building architectural models and solving urban planning challenges. Rather than building traditional wood and plastic models, planners—both remote and in-person—would be able to build and adjust models in real time, and the resulting changes would be instantaneously reflected in the underlying digital model. Economic and environmental cost and time-savings abound: collaborators can work together without traveling, and users can make physical models without using actual materials.

Photo: Tangible Media Group

Photo: Tangible Media Group

The team is also exploring inForm’s potential impact on the healthcare industry and other areas where volumetric data is used. inFORM could quickly browse CT scans not only layer by layer but also through non-planar cross sections to help visualize three-dimensional data more efficiently. Fields that use GIS, geological, or seismic data could benefit from the display’s ability to translate two-dimensional data into its true three-dimensional form, resulting in faster decision making.

Leithinger and Follmer envision inForm as making computer gaming three dimensional and becoming a go-to tool for teachers to transform difficult mathematical concepts into more understandable and fun lessons.

Now that’s touching.

MIT students Pat Capulong, Alyx Daly, Akimitsu Hogge, Jason Moran, Alex Olwal, Jifei Ou, Philip Schoessler, Cheteeri Smith, Tony Tang, Basheer Tome, Ryan Wistort SM ’10, and Guangtao Zhang also served on the inForm team. 

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While parents complain about spam and inboxes that seem impossible to tame, their 3-year-olds may be getting inboxes of their own this holiday season.

Toymail, the creation of Gauri Nanda SM ’05, is an app-toy combo for children that ships this month after a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $80,000.Picture-Kid6-1600px_Toymail

The toy is simple: it’s a small plastic pig, cow, or bear that runs on AA batteries. Inside, however, is a Wi-Fi receiver. Parents or relatives send messages in their own voices or in the animal’s voice via the free smartphone app. The toy has two buttons on it: play and reply.

In essence, Nanda has boiled down the challenges, stress, or security issues around giving one’s toddler a smartphone or access to email to a simple two-way talking box that parents control.

“The reality is that most parents are away from their kids more often than they would like, sometimes all day, sometimes days at a time,” says Nanda. “Toymail is for them. It’s for grandparents, aunts, uncles, even people like me–I don’t have kids of my own, but I am completely in love with my best friend’s kids, and not a day goes by that I don’t want to say something to them and hear all the crazy, brilliant things they might say back.”

Toymail is not Nanda’s first venture into the playground. Clocky, an alarm clock on wheels that jumped from your nightstand and rolled away to keep you from hitting the snooze button, was Nanda’s debut into products aimed to make life better. She first conceived of it in her industrial design intelligence class at the Media Lab.

With Toymail, which retails in the $50 range, Nanda has a grander agenda.

“We didn’t want to create another toy that puts a kid in front of a screen. We believe there’s a better way to approaching technology for kids, and that’s by making toys social,” says Nanda.

Nanda has clearly struck a nerve with those who cringe to see five-year olds operating iPhones or kids under the minimum age for email or social networks—13, for most—blasting selfies to the masses.

“We’ve probably tested it out with 30 kids now,” Nanda said in a New York Times interview last week. “People have called it ‘genius’ and ‘the future of toys,’ so we feel like we’re onto something big. And we’ve been hearing that kids are sending replies all day long and really engaging with the product.”

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OrigaMIT, MIT’s student-run origami club, incorporated a holiday theme into their folding expertise and created the most festive and delicious-looking collection of paper in Institute history.

According to Boston Magazine, eight members of the club worked for more than 40 hours and created more than 25 Thanksgiving-themed items. Click the play button to begin the slideshow. Happy Thanksgiving!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Visit the OrigaMIT website to learn more about the group and view pictures of their past creations.

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In 1983, it took 2,280 pounds including three student bodies, to squash this 2.06 pound balsa-wood model bridge.

In 1983, it took 2,280 pounds, including three student bodies, to squash this 1.06 pound balsa-wood model bridge.

Guest Blogger: Debbie Levey, CEE Technical Writer

Bridge-building contests have some history at MIT. Mostly recently, MIT students began competing at the National Steel Bridge Competition sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2007. Today, they are contenders—they have placed second nationally for the past two years.

As part of a capstone class each spring, Civil and Environmental Engineering Department seniors split into teams to design and build strong, light bridges out of simple materials that could be used to replace washed-out roads or crossings in remote areas. Since 2001, students have created 10-foot-long bridges contrived of wood or recycled materials, laced together with steel cables, just outside the student center—and for the final test, they must bear one ton of concrete blocks.

Earlier still, Civil Engineering professor John Slater ’78 initiated a model bridge building contest for the January IAP session in 1983 to mark the centennial of the Brooklyn Bridge. Three-students teams received a kit of parts, instruction, and lab time for building suspension or cable-stayed bridges to span a river. The IAP description promised “substantial cash prizes to the top three entries with the highest combined scores in strength, deflection, weight, innovation, and aesthetic appeal.” After being examined and discussed, each bridge was then weighed down until it shattered.

“The inevitable explosive bridge failure made for a fun event,” said Slater. These bridge contests, no longer offered, remained a popular IAP event for years.

A Tech Talk photo of Lars Rosenblad ’85, SM ’85; Philip Michael ’84, SM ’86, PhD ’92; and Ling Chow ’84 documented their effort. After their 1.06-pound balsa wood design carried all the available weight in the Perini test lab (1,840 pounds), the three students crowded onto the deck to add their cumulative 440 pounds.

Finally the bridge collapsed under 2,280 pounds—and both Rosenblad and Michael report that they still carry small scars from banging into the metal column as they tumbled down with their bridge.

Michael recalled doing research on bridge designs before they started building. “Cable-stayed bridges had really risen to prominence, but given the choice of materials [in the kit], we couldn’t figure out a reliable means to tie cables into our bridge decking without the risk of having them pull through. Instead, we adopted the several-millennium-old arc as the basic design element. The one element we adapted from the cable-stayed design was to attach cables to the bridge towers so that any load would simultaneously pull in on the towers to keep the bottom of the arch from spreading outward. Those cables were inelegant but hardly weighed anything and worked extremely well in tension.”

Even though their bridge proved strong and light, low scores in the appearance category pushed them down to a fifth-place finish. Lars acknowledged that “our bridge was judged to be exceedingly ugly.”

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AJ Perez '13

AJ Perez ’13

AJ Perez ’13 co-invented a fully automated 3-D printer in the basement of an MIT fraternity house during his senior year. Now, his company New Valence Robotics rents out 3D printers to elementary and high schools, hoping to encourage younger students to become creative inventors themselves.

These 3D printers were designed with ease-of-use in mind, Perez told Boston Business Journal. “For those kids in the world that aren’t computer junkies, but real-world junkies that want to create physical things, this is the pinnacle of bringing their ideas to life,” Perez says.

With other printers, users have to keep an eye on the print job to make sure no complications arise. The NV printers automate the whole process and even make it possible to print objects from afar, via an internet connection. Perez elaborates: “you can access your printer through the cloud. Instead of having to physically be there, you can access a live video feed. A robotic arm scrapes off the part and automatically starts the next job.”

Perez’s co-founders—Forrest Pieper, Mateo Peña Doll and Chris Haid—all currently study engineering at MIT, but still have made time to promote their company’s work. Mateo Peña Doll displayed one of the NV printer prototypes at the Nashville Mini Maker Faire last September; watch the printer in action on this video captured at the event.

The printers cost schools between $3,000 and $5,000 per year to lease. New Valence Robotics offers both educational and commercial leasing packages at their website, nvbots.com.

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