Christie Barany SM '00 makes her pitch on Shark Tank.

Christie Barany SM ’00 makes her pitch on Shark Tank. Screenshot via abc.com.

Imagine pitching your two-year-old startup to a panel of multi-millionaire entrepreneurs. Now imagine those potential investors dissecting your company’s potential—while nearly seven million people watch on television.

That scenario occurred for Christie Barany SM ’00 on April 5 when she promoted her company, Monkey Mat, on Shark Tank, a reality series that features business pitches from entrepreneurs to a panel of investors, or “sharks.”

“It was surreal,” says Barany. “The cameras start rolling and the sharks know nothing about you—then the questions start flying.”

Barany and business partner Courtney Tabor—the self-titled “Monkey Mat Mamas”—were seeking $100,000 in exchange for 30 percent stake in Monkey Mat, which sells 5’ x 5’ water-repellant mats that can be folded into a compact pouch. The company’s target audience is parents seeking a portable, clean surface that could be used at airports, picnics, and soccer games.

After their pitch, Barany and Tabor fielded questions—and criticism—from five sharks. One investor strongly disapproved of the mats’ then-price of $39.99 (“It needs to be $9.99!”) and another was unimpressed with their size and color. (“It’s too small…and the colors are off.”)

“Obviously you want every shark to be interested,” Barany says. “But the great thing is that it happens so fast, you don’t have any time to take it personally.”

The "Monkey Mat Mamas" inside the Shark Tank.

The “Monkey Mat Mamas” inside the Shark Tank.

Others were more receptive; shark Mark Cuban said he loved the product and shark Lori Greiner believed she could lower the sale price. Cuban and Greiner made an offer: $100,000 for a 35 percent stake in the company.

The Monkey Mat Mamas quickly accepted the handshake deal. (Watch the April 5 Shark Tank episode.)

“We were thrilled,” she says. “It was validation because we weren’t willing to compromise the quality to lower the price.”

Although the episode aired on April 5, filming took place in July 2013 following a months-long application process. Pitches are condensed into a 10-minute segment for TV, but in reality, many pitches can take more than an hour.

“We’ve tried to recreate the pitch so many times,” she says. “The dialogue went in so many different directions. They definitely focused on the price point during the show.”

In the nine-month period between the actual pitch and the show’s airing, Barany and Tabor have worked with closely with Cuban and Greiner to grow the product. Thanks in part to the sharks’ experience in manufacturing and retail, Monkey Mat was able to lower its price to $19.99.

“We’re amazed at how accessible they are,” she says. “They have so much on their plate but they are always available. They’re helping us expand the company with a lower cost and new price in a broader market.”

Barany co-founded Monkey Mat in 2012 after a career in the medical device and biotechnology industry. She says reaction from the Shark Tank appearance was instantaneous and overwhelming.

“Building this company is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “The response has been great, and because of DVR, it’s still coming. But the challenges that come with an MIT education—pushing boundaries and working through the night—has really prepared me.”

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Guest Blogger: Debbie Levey, CEE Technical Writer

Bridges have profoundly affected Nelly Rosario ’94 all her life. “Maybe because I’m a bilingual middle child who grew up near the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn and often crossed it on foot, bridges play such a literal and figurative role in my imagination,” she said.

Nelly Rosario '94

Nelly Rosario ’94

Her career similarly spans the two cultures of engineering and humanities. Although she received her degree in civil and environmental engineering, this academic year she has returned to MIT as a visiting scholar with the Comparative Media Studies and Writing Department.

“Writing was how I distilled what I learned and is a great way to bridge disciplines, people, ideas.” Rosario credits legendary MIT professor Elzbieta (Chodakowska) Ettinger with “pushing me over the edge to make a decision about my focus after MIT. One of the biggest lessons she imparted was to really understand writing as a science and in a serious way.”

After graduation, Rosario returned to New York City and attended writing classes while teaching environmental education at a high school auspiciously called El Puente [The Bridge]. She then enrolled in the graduate writing program at Columbia and realized “it was sort of the inverse of MIT: suddenly none of my engineering background counted in class. But in the second year, I understood that in design, simplicity is always best, and I really tried to bring an elegance to each sentence.” A few years later, she published a critically acclaimed book, Song of the Water Saints. For the last seven years, she has taught creative writing at Texas State University.

Currently Rosario is preparing for her next novel, which concentrates on medicine and anatomy, by visiting MIT libraries, interviewing people, and sitting in on lectures. She notices changes since her own student days including many more women students and faculty and a greater focus on digital thinking, multimedia, new ways of telling stories.

Rosario also serves part-time as writer and researcher for the ongoing Blacks at MIT History Project directed by Clarence Williams, MIT adjunct professor of urban studies, emeritus. “We’re looking at how blacks influenced the Institute and vice versa, collecting oral histories, photographs and data, and analyzing the material within a larger framework and context. We’re thinking about a way to look at history to unfold the future, what that means for the Institute, and how diversity and excellence can work in tandem.”

As a residential scholar in Simmons Hall, Rosario said, “It’s like a trifecta being here: a visiting scholar, working with the Blacks at MIT History Project, and living at Simmons. I get to talk to so many students, and everyone is doing intense work in different fields. I’m literally living in the sponge, soaking it all up.”

 

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Guest Post by Sarah Jensen from the Ask an Engineer series, published by MIT’s School of Engineering

Because 15th-century sailors didn’t have GPS…

Photo: Jo Schmaltz

Photo: Jo Schmaltz

Adventure novels and history books are filled with harrowing stories of sailing ships delayed at sea—tales of sailors running low on food and fresh water, dying of scurvy, and getting trapped in the doldrums, or the tropics during storm season. Unless sailors knew how fast they were going, they could end up days off schedule, endangering those on board and worrying loved ones awaiting them in port.

“With no landmarks to gauge their progress across the open sea, sailors couldn’t tell how fast or how far they were traveling,” explains Camila Caballero ’13, former academic coordinator for Amphibious Achievement, an athletic and academic outreach program for urban youth in Boston. But when the nautical mile – 1.852 kilometers – was introduced in the 15th century, they had a handy standard against which to measure speed and created out of necessity the chip log, the world’s first maritime speedometer. “They used materials they had on hand,” she explains. “A wedge-shaped piece of wood, a small glass timer, and a really long rope.”

But not just any rope would do. Based on the length of the nautical mile, knots were tied along the log line at intervals of 14.4 meters. One end was secured to the ship’s stern and the other was attached to the wooden board, which was dropped into the water. “As one sailor watched the sand empty through the 30-second glass, his shipmate held the line as it played out behind the ship and counted the knots as they passed between his fingers,” says Caballero. Dividing that 14.4 meters by 30 seconds told them that one knot equaled 1.85166 kilometers per hour, or one nautical mile. By performing the calculation using the actual number of knots that unspooled, the sailors were able to measure the ship’s speed.

The average of frequent measurements taken throughout the day proved to be a highly accurate reflection of how fast a ship was moving. The data was used to help them navigate by dead reckoning, the method used before the advent of modern instruments.

Today, maritime speed is determined by ultrasonic sensors or Doppler measurement, and the 30-second divisor in the rate equation has been replaced by 28. But the instrument for measuring a vessel’s speed is still called a log, and marine and aeronautical distances are still measured in nautical miles. “Maps used at sea and in the air are based on the earth’s circumference,” says Caballero. “Their scale varies with latitude, and the nautical mile, about 500 feet longer than the land mile, reconciles those differences.”

And in both today’s pilothouse and cockpit, the speed equal to one nautical mile an hour is still called a knot, the term an echo of the days when crewmembers of square-riggers and caravels got creative with a few simple materials and produced an essential and significant little gadget.

Thanks to S. Venkatesh from Tirunelveli, India, for this question. Visit the MIT School of Engineering’s Ask an Engineer site for answers to more of your questions.

More information about Amphibious Achievement and their third annual Erg-a-Thon

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HUmans_of_MIT

Images via Humans of MIT

In summer 2010, photographer Brandon Stanton created Humans of New York, a photography blog that has since catalogued more than 6,000 New Yorkers and become a best-selling book.

The blog’s success spawned spinoffs in locations all over the world, and earlier this year, four current MIT students created Humans of MIT, a Facebook page that profiles MIT community members through a single photo and the subject’s own words.

Zachary Abel G

Zachary Abel G

Some portraits discuss the ordinary aspects of MIT life while others veer towards the random, like wearing stilts for the first time.

Some lean towards the inimitable: Health Gould ’14 ponders trying out for the Olympic bobsled team and Lena Yang ’16 describes her custom MIT-themed brass knuckles.

“We created this page to dispel some of the myths about MIT,” says Emad Taliep ’14. “We hope that someone might read it say, ‘I guess I’m not the only one who feels that way.’”

The page, which began on February 17 and now has nearly 2,000 likes, was created by Taliep, Abra Shen ’16, Jenny Wu ’14, and Lawrence Wong G, who are members of Students at MIT Allied for Student Health (SMASH).

“There’s a perception that engineers and scientists are introverts and anti-social—they just go to their room and study,” says Wong. “That’s not true. There’s something unique and special about everyone and that’s reflected here.”

Taliep says the most popular posts have described the stressful aspects of the MIT life, and the perseverance that goes with it.

Lauren Jefferson '14. Image via Humans of MIT.

Lauren Jefferson ’14

Lauren Jefferson ’14:

“It took me a very long time to get to the point where I was comfortable setting my own expectations and following those, instead of following all the other expectations that other people have…But try to set your own expectations. When you have so much pressure around you, follow your own standards. That’s probably the best thing I’ve taken away from MIT.”

New subjects are posted three times per week and future profiles will include members of the MIT administration.

“We hope this really connects with the people of MIT,” Shen says. “We’re showing that you can have a conversation with anyone and everyone has a story.”

Perhaps the best indicator of the page’s success: a parody. The Facebook page Robots of MIT aims to tell the Institute’s stories through the eyes of its robots, “one robot at a time.”

According to its Facebook description, the page (which is not affiliated with Humans of MIT) paints intimate pictures that capture the beauty and vibrancy in every robot’s personal narrative, which includes robot marriage and antagonism from humans.

While the robots depicted are only loosely affiliated with MIT, at least one, CSAIL’s Domo, can be found on campus.

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Hugh Herr at TED

Hugh Herr SM ’93 greets Adrianne Haslet-Davis, who used a leg designed by Herr to perform for the first time since her injury in the Boston Marathon bombings, and her dance partner Christian Lightner. Photo: James Duncan Davidson/TED

Guest Blogger: Stephanie Eich, Continuum

TED celebrated its 30th anniversary this month with a weeklong conference called the Next Chapter. What began as a small gathering featuring short (≤18 minutes) talks has grown into a worldwide media phenomenon, with more than 1,600 talks available online.

In honor of its anniversary, TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) welcomed back some of its “All-Star” speakers from previous years. Kicking things off was MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte ’66, MArch ’66, whose 1984 TED talk predicted tablet computing and online shopping. Negroponte offered a new prognostication this year—that one day, we will acquire knowledge by simply ingesting a pill.

Other TED All-Stars with MIT ties:

MIT was well represented throughout the week, both onstage and off:

Using the virtual reality technology Oculus Rift, attendees had the chance to experience Eyewire, a game developed at Sebastian Seung’s lab at MIT that is crowdsourcing a map of the brain.

Sengeh

Biomechatronics engineer David Sengeh SM ’12 speaks at a TED Fellows Talk. Photo: Ryan Lash/TED

LittleBits creator Ayah Bdeir SM ’06 and biomechatronics engineer David Sengeh SM ’12 joined a TED Fellows Talk, billed as a session in which attendees should “expect the unexpected.”

Physics professor Allan Adams took on the fundamental nature of the universe, as well as an explanation of Big Bang discovery, illustrated by the comic strip xkcd.

Nancy Kanwisher ’80, PhD ’86, MIT’s Walter A. Rosenblith Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, compared the brain to a Swiss Army knife.

Hugh Herr SM ’93, who heads the Biomechatronics research group at the MIT Media Lab, spoke of next-generation bionic limbs—and a first dance.

Ray Kurzweil ’70 explained his theory of the hierarchy of the brain.

Rodney Brooks, MIT professor emeritus and cofounder of iRobot, predicted that in the future, humans will work alongside robots, leading to a new manufacturing model.

XPRIZE founder Peter Diamandis ’83, SM ’88, announced a new competition for future TED talks on artificial intelligence.

And cyber illusionist Marco Tempest, a director’s fellow at the MIT Media Lab, showed up with his robotic friend EDI (Electronic Deceptive Intelligence).

TED’s the Next Chapter conference offered a wide range of opinions on how society and technology will evolve in the next 30 years. We’ll find out in 2044 which predictions became reality.

Watch more talks and read news from the TED 30th anniversary event.

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NYC_450

Relaxing, Musée d’Orsay (© Owen Franken).

Curious about Owen Franken? View more of his work via the Franken Photo of the Week category, learn more in this profile, read a What Matters opinion column he wrote called “Life in Brownian Motion,” or visit his website.

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Whether after tsunamis in Japan and Indonesia, hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy, typhoons in the Philippines, or even during search efforts after last month’s lost Malaysian Airlines flight, waves have been the focus of many urgent conversations in the past decade. Anyone who has a home on or near a coastline is talking more these days about the simple calculus of storm surges, beach erosion, and sea level rise than ever before.

Into this discussion last fall came Waves, a new book by Fredric Raichlen SM ’55, ScD ’62, a civil engineering professor emeritus at the California Institute of Technology. aas

Raichlen’s deceptively simple book, part of MIT Press’s Essential Knowledge Series, teaches its readers all the basics about waves, then takes direct aim at this century’s most pressing concerns about them. Listen to Raichlen’s discussion of the book in this month’s Alumni Books Podcast.

Raichlen, who studied waves at MIT’s hydrodynamics lab in the 1950s (now the Parsons Lab), says the book was his way to dial back the hysteria waves cause and ground readers in their fundamentals. In Waves, one learns that:

  • A tsunami, even far out to sea, is considered a shallow-water wave.
  • The sun has as much to do with tides as the moon does.
  • A storm in Alaska can cause wave damage to shorelines in Los Angeles, over 3,000 miles away.

“I wanted to lay down some of the basics of ocean waves in a simple fashion, and in the latter part of the book talk about areas I had become involved in both in research and in engineering consulting,” says Raichlen, who taught and conducted research at Caltech for nearly 50 years before retiring in 2001.

Readers will notice that the book sticks to its premise of essential knowledge and stops shorts of editorializing on climate change. “I really wanted to avoid that,” Raichlen says in the podcast. “Climate change and sea level rise are important to our coastal regions…[but] things are really not that definite in terms of quantitative estimates of sea level rise and there’s a wide range of ideas of the magnitude and rate of sea level rise. So I wanted to talk about things more definite.”

raichlen sound

Listen to the complete podcast here. Listen to past books podcasts on optics, health care, and architecture by visiting MITAA on Soundcloud.

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Slide background L-R: Brian Mulcahy '86, Jeremy Rishel '94, Mike Gerhardt '12, Professor Alex Slocum ’82, SM ’83, PhD ’85
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L-R: Ryan Borker, Adam McCready, Thomas Brand, Jean-Paul Lauture

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L-R: Chad Galts, John Cunniffe, Samantha Carney

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L-R: Jim DiCarlo, Kris Brewer, Dan Oliver '60, Domingo Godoy

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L-R: Sally Miller, Jess Rooney Gallagher, Jenn Gagner, Maddie Hickman '11

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L-R: Madeline Pascolini-Campbell, Bill King, Joseph Azzarelli, Maggie Lloyd '12

Slide background L-R: Professor Nader Tehrani, Stephen Shum SM '11, Charlie Maher, Christina Meagher
Slide background L-R: Professor Dava Newman, Julie Pryor, Rachel DeLucas
Slide background L-R: Stephanie Kloos, Sam Shames, Jonathan Runstadler, Sarah Lewis
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L-R: Gordon Wintrob '12, Tim Mertz, Peter Whincop, Tom Gearty

 

Maggie Lloyd ’12 has dreamed of running the Boston Marathon for years. Since she qualified last fall, she has thought about crossing the finish line every day and what it will mean for her college and her college town, after last year’s violence.

Now, she’ll be making that run with nearly 40 fellow alumni, students, faculty, and friends on the MIT Strong Boston Marathon team in the race’s 118th running.

Maggie Lloyd '12.

Maggie Lloyd ’12.

“I am constantly reminded that this year’s Boston marathon isn’t going to be just another race,” Lloyd says. “I felt helpless after the marathon last year, but I don’t feel that way anymore. What this team is doing is casting aside doubt and fear and showing up in Hopkinton to take back the finish line.”

The team, which formed in January, began with 25 runners committed to raising $4,000 or more. Since then, it has grown to include runners with existing entries who will raise at least $1,000 toward the team’s goals: to honor Officer Collier, celebrate the spirit of the MIT community’s response to the crisis, stand in solidarity with the city of Boston, and support the Collier Fund at MIT.

The runners have no shortage of inspiration. Despite injuries, bad weather, and the typical anxieties of distance running, they are feeling the groundswell of enthusiasm from their peers, family, and alma mater.

Like Lloyd, Mike Gerhardt ’12 has run down Boylston Street before. Last year, however, he was running away from the finish line, amid the chaos, to find safety. Gerhardt and his mother had been there waiting for his father, who was one of the thousands of runners held up on Commonwealth Avenue after the bombs went off.

Later that week, Gerhardt was studying in his room at Zeta Psi when he heard news of an “officer down.” He immediately phoned his dad, a state trooper. “I called him, and he answered, and I just started crying.”

After the bombing, manhunt, and lockdown that week, Gerhardt thought ahead to this year’s race. He grew determined to run. “When I heard about this team, I thought, ‘this is awesome and exactly what I want to do,’” he says.

Brian Mulcahey ’86 has been haunted by memories of the attacks and the stories of Officer Collier and the survivors who continue to struggle to recover.

“Why do I want to do this?  What motivates me to arise at 4:20 a.m. to train in this dark and bitterly cold New England winter?  In a word: passion,” Mulcahey says. “Passion for my alma mater and the amazing spirit it embodies. Passion for honoring Sean’s life and that of the other victims.  Passion for celebrating the progress that hundreds of victims have made since last April.  And passion for showing the world that freedom and compassion will always overcome tyranny and hatred.”

In the aftermath of the bombings, Rich Whalley ’10 saw his parents on live news coverage from the finish line; both had suffered injuries. Whalley’s friend, Gordon Wintrob ‘12, is running the race to support both the Whalleys recovery fund and MIT Strong. “Boston is a magical city and running from Hopkinton to Wellesley to Kenmore Square is an ideal way to experience that magic,” he says.

The team is co-organized by Stephanie Kloos, sophomore Sally Miller, and three staff members: Tom Gearty, editorial director in MIT’s Office of Resource Development, Chad Galts, director of communications for the MIT School of Engineering, and Kris Brewer, webmaster for the School of Engineering. Other alums on the team include Jeremy Rishel ’94, Stephen Shum SM ’11, and Dan Oliver ’60.

Five MIT faculty are on the team, including two alumni. Mechanical engineering professor Alex Slocum ’82, SM ’83, PhD ’85 has already hit his fundraising goal of $5,000 but wants to raise more. “I’m humbled and honored,” says Slocum, “to run for others who cannot. Last year, I felt shock, anger, and sadness. As I run, I’ll be thinking of those killed and hurt last year.”

Professor Alex Slocum '82, SM '83, PhD '85, pictured at the Memorial for Officer Collier. Photo: Reuters.

Professor Alex Slocum ’82, SM ’83, PhD ’85, pictured at the Memorial for Officer Collier. Photo: Reuters.

When she crosses the starting line on April 21 in Hopkinton, Maddie Hickman ’11 will no doubt have last year’s events in mind. As an undergraduate, Hickman met Sean Collier on the MIT Outing Club and they became friends. “We always meant to go jogging together,” says Hickman. “This seems like a fitting tribute.”

For her first marathon, Hickman’s goal is simply to finish. “I will run as slowly as possible,” she says. “I’ll think a lot about Sean along the way.”

Support MIT Strong:

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Ayah Bdeir SM ’06

Ayah Bdeir SM ’06

Maker culture has swept through technology circles, bolstering invention, celebrating hands-on construction, and encouraging do-it-yourselfers—to be more like the MIT community. In fact, seven of the “25 Makers Who Are Reinventing the American Dream” recently honored in Popular Mechanics hail from MIT.

Did their MIT backgrounds play a role?

“My MIT experience was instrumental,” says Ayah Bdeir SM ’06, founder of littleBits, kits of color-coded bricks that snap together to create circuits with sensors, switches, and motors. “As soon as I set foot in the Media Lab, I learnt a whole new way of looking at engineering. That it was a way of thinking and solving problems; that technology was a means to an end; and technology could be a mode of expression, vision, and creativity. And most importantly, that any individual could ‘re-invent’ technology and its impact on the world. These ideas are instrumental to being a maker.”

Eric Wilhelm ’99, SM ’01, PhD ’04 and Christy Canida ’99 after making their Halloween sand worm costumes.

Eric Wilhelm ’99, SM ’01, PhD ’04 and Christy Canida ’99 after making their Dune-themed Halloween costumes.

Eric Wilhelm ’99, SM ’01, PhD ’04, who along with Christy Canida 99 was honored for their how-to company, Instructables, says his undergraduate living group gave him the opportunity to gain confidence and experience.

“Making things requires practice,” Wilhelm says, “and I had amazing opportunities in my living group to practice cooking, electronics, home repair, and myriad other techniques in an environment where the inevitable failure would result in laughs and a good story.”

Why is maker culture so popular now?

Danielle Applestone ’02

Danielle Applestone ’02

Several factors support maker culture, says Danielle Applestone ’02, who leads Othermill, a producer of $2,000 machines that can etch circuit boards and carve complex 3D shapes. “One of the big ones is that it is extremely easy to not only transfer and distribute digital plans everywhere for free, but you can also get support for making projects much easier than before,” she says. “I think people realize how far removed they are from making tangible things, and so ‘making’ is interesting and novel to the general public. The tools for making things of industrial quality are now becoming more affordable, so that puts the power of manufacturing into the hands of a much larger group of people.”

Scott Miller SM ’96

Scott Miller SM ’96

When Scott Miller SM ’96 earned an ocean engineering degree, being a maker was the only choice. “We had to design and build everything from scratch,” says Miller, head of Dragon Innovation, a firm that helps budding companies scale their ideas to industry size.

Now, he notes, makers have choices and advantages—including lower-cost electrical components, great prototyping tools, and access to cloud computing. Another boost is crowdfunding to generate startup resources and social media to reach millions of potential customers.

Who else was honored?

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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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