"Alex has made many contributions to MIT, but we are especially grateful for his pivotal role in launching the Media Lab, and for his continued involvement," said Joi Ito, director of the Media Lab. "Alex?s voice is such an important one in helping us constantly reinvent the Lab so that it remains as relevant in 2013 as it was when it opened its doors in 1985.?
Dreyfoos, a Life Member Emeritus of the MIT Corporation, is chairman and owner of The Dreyfoos Group, a private capital management firm. In 1963, he founded Photo Electronics Corporation, which manufactured electronic equipment for the photographic industry. An inventor with 10 U.S. and multiple foreign patents in the fields of electronics and photography, Dreyfoos has made significant technological contributions to the film industry.
He invented the Professional Video Analyzing Computer (PVAC), used by photographic labs to make high-quality color prints, and marketed worldwide by Eastman-Kodak. An earlier version, the Video Color Negative Analyzer (VCNA), is on permanent display in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Dreyfoos received an Academy Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1970 for developing a motion picture video analyzer.
Dreyfoos is proud to support MIT. "I could only attend MIT with the help of MIT's loan program," he said, "and so I am grateful to be able to support MIT in return."
Dreyfoos has a longstanding relationship with the Media Lab that goes back to 1980, when he assisted then-MIT President Jerome B. Wiesner and founding director of the Media Lab Nicholas Negroponte in their efforts to develop the new lab. He also endowed the Alexander W. Dreyfoos Professorship at the Media Lab, currently held by Pattie Maes, a professor in media arts and sciences.
Dreyfoos has left his mark on the Institute in many other ways. In 1998, he funded the construction of the Alexander W. Dreyfoos Building, one of the two iconic towers that make up the Ray and Maria Stata Center. Through his decades on the MIT Corporation, he has served on the Corporation Development Committee and on the Visiting Committees for Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Media Lab/Program in Media Arts and Sciences. Dreyfoos chaired the Media Lab/Program in Media Arts and Sciences for more than a decade, and is currently a member of the Media Lab?s Advisory Council. He and his wife, Renate Dreyfoos, are also ardent supporters of the arts and arts education.
Since its inception, the Media Lab has become the signature lab of MIT's culture of creativity and multidisciplinary research, innovating in the spaces where art, technology, and design intersect. In 2010, MIT opened the Media Lab extension, a six-story glass-and-metal structure, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki.
?Wise chisels?: Art, craftsmanship, and power tools
It?s often easy to tell at a glance the difference between a mass-produced object and one that has been handcrafted: The handmade item is likely to have distinctive imperfections and clear signs of an individual?s technique and style.
Now, some researchers at MIT are finding ways to blur those distinctions, making it possible, for example, to sculpt items with those distinctive signs of handicraft, while controlling the outcome so that the object doesn?t stray too far from the desired form. They described their work at the recent Association for Computing Machinery Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology.
Amit Zoran, a postdoc at the MIT Media Lab who did much of this work as part of his doctoral thesis research, is the lead author of the reports. He says that, in an age of increasing standardization and mass-production, he has been ?searching for this human quality, for ways to translate the long heritage of craft and creativity? into the digital age.
For example, in work with graduate student Roy Shilkrot, Zoran has designed a handheld carving tool that can be programmed with a desired three-dimensional shape. When the user begins to carve a block of material, anytime his motions would extend into the region of the desired final form, the device provides physical feedback that slows the motion.
If the carving alters the shape so much that it would compromise the structural integrity of the object, the computerized system can adjust the shape accordingly, in real time. For example, if in sculpting a giraffe the user carved too far into the neck, the computer can adjust the shape, introducing a bend in the neck that maintains its strength.
The basic principles Zoran and his colleagues are pursuing could also extend into physical safety. For example, by recognizing when they might be about to inflict damage, these ?smart tools? could sense that a sharp blade is getting too close to a user?s fingers, for example, and automatically deflect its path to avoid injury.
?We?re developing tools that don?t have a direct physical, craft heritage, but are entirely new,? Zoran says of a project conducted with graduate student Pragun Goyal. ?Creativity is all about error. ? We?re looking for creativity, for something that surprises us.?
To demonstrate the inherent flexibility and creativity of these computer-assisted tools, Zoran had several different people make carvings based on the same programmed shape ? in this case, a cat. As expected, each piece had a unique appearance, with distinctive textures, forms, and styles.
Steve Hodges, a researcher with Microsoft Research who was not involved in this work, says this research ?is exciting because it combines digital design and production with the expressive nature of hand tools. This opens up a range of new possibilities ? for example, it could empower and encourage less-skilled artisans to practice and develop their skills.? Hodges adds that while the present versions of smart tools are expensive laboratory devices, ?one challenge will be the integration of an alternative tracking technology which would make the system cheaper and more accessible.?
Goyal and his advisor, Joseph Paradiso, an associate professor of media arts and sciences, have also developed a handheld inkjet printer head. The device can be programmed to print a specific image, but instead of moving across a fixed track as in a conventional printer, it can be guided by hand across any surface. This would allow, for example, a highly detailed image to be printed onto a complex 3-D shape ? something no conventional printer can do.
This combination of digital capabilities and human control could permit a new kind of tool for measurement or testing, explains Goyal. For example, a handheld probe could be used to test an electronic circuit board ? but unlike ordinary probes, it could be preprogrammed with details of the circuit. So instead of having to manually set parameters, such as the expected voltage range at a given point, the device would know what range to set, and do so instantly. It would also record the reading and automatically associate each result with the exact location where it was taken.
Zoran, Goyal, and Shilkrot carried out this research with Paradiso and Pattie Maes as part of the Media Lab?s groups on Responsive Environment and Fluid Interfaces.
Hungarian President János Áder visits MIT Media Lab
President János Áder of Hungary spent 90 minutes at the MIT Media Lab on Friday, Oct. 25, meeting with MIT President L. Rafael Reif and then taking a tour of the Media Lab. The visit was part of a U.S. tour by the Hungarian president, who assumed office in 2012.
In his meeting with Reif ? along with senior research scientist and Media Lab associate director Andrew Lippman; Jenny Liu, associate director of global initiatives in MIT Resource Development; and David Lakatos, a 2012 Media Lab alumnus from Hungary ? Áder expressed interest in fostering innovation and entrepreneurship to help ensure that students leaving Hungary to study abroad would return.
Accompanied by Lippman, Lakatos, and a delegation that included members of the Hungarian press, Áder visited four of the Media Lab?s research groups: Tangible Media, Changing Places, Personal Robots, and Lifelong Kindergarten.
At the Tangible Media group, Hiroshi Ishii, the Jerome B. Wiesner Professor of Media Arts and Sciences and Media Lab associate director, demonstrated several projects that integrate the ?atoms? of the physical world with the ?bits? of the digital world, including inFORM, a dynamically changing, 3-D user interface that allows for real-time input through direct touch and tangible interaction.
At the Changing Places group, Ryan Chin, managing director of the Media Lab?s City Science Initiative, and graduate student Ira Winder demonstrated CityScope, a next-generation modeling tool for cities. They showed how they built a physical model of Kendall Square using LEGO bricks, and then overlaid digital information to create a tangible, 3-D environment. They explained that CityScope ? which can be scaled to model entire cities ? can become a powerful decision-making tool for experts, as well as an effective education and awareness tool for the public. The Changing Places group and City Science Initiative are headed by principal research scientist Kent Larson.
The delegation then visited the Media Lab?s Personal Robots group, where PhD student Sigurdur Orn discussed the group?s work to develop robots that relate to humans in a more natural way. He gave examples of robots that become learning companions for children and a robot whose purpose was to help people lose weight. Örn told Áder that the group?s robots are intended to augment human interactions, helping where current tools are not particularly effective.
The final stop on the Media Lab tour was the Lifelong Kindergarten group, where Mitchel Resnick, the LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research, discussed the group?s constructionist learning philosophy, which stresses the importance of learning by doing. He demonstrated a toy that moves more quickly in response to voice cues, as well as the open-source Scratch programming language developed by the group. Resnick explained that Scratch enables children (generally ages 8 and up) to create their own interactive stories, games, music, and animations for the Web; Scratch has reached a worldwide audience, with close to 2 million users registered and nearly 4 million projects uploaded. Áder commented, through an interpreter, ?When I was growing up, I only had storybooks!?
By providing stipends, mentoring, introductions to investors, and basic legal and accounting services, the E14 Fund provides ?a six-month runway? for the recent graduates to start new companies, while encouraging current students to focus on academics, says Joi Ito, director of the Media Lab and an organizer of the E14 Fund.
In addition, a carried interest in the E14 Fund will be donated to MIT to be used for expanded research at the Media Lab. ?The idea is to go a step beyond the traditional incubator model,? Ito says. ?It?s a win-win: Talented recent graduates get professional guidance and seed money, and some of the return on investment from these startups could come back to MIT to advance the next generation of researchers.?
Although many successful startups have spun out of the Media Lab since its founding in 1985, Ito says, ?This fund provides a greater opportunity to capture more of the Lab?s innovation and get it out into the world.?
The E14 Fund will participate as a minor investor at initial and follow-up investment rounds for these new companies. The E14 Fund also becomes a co-investor in all the startups when they earn funding from professional investors. The return on investment from the startups then goes back to the E14 Fund investors, with 20 percent of any returns (beyond the initial investment) contributed to MIT as a gift. Any of the Media Lab?s more than 70 corporate sponsors can buy into the fund ? which has target equity of $6.5 million annually.
?One important advantage of such a fund is that it allows students to focus fully on their coursework, research, and thesis preparation ? and enhances their opportunities to launch successful startups after they leave. This is key to advancing the Media Lab?s academic mission,? Ito says. ?The students know that funding and mentoring will not necessarily disappear as soon their degrees are in hand.?
Incubation and beyond
Interested students apply to the E14 Fund and are interviewed by Ito, Media Lab alumni, and fund manager David Strand, a former technology and business developer. Accepted students form teams, build prototypes, evaluate market opportunities, define products, and launch companies.
Along with stipends of $2,400 per month, the teams receive guidance from business mentors, connect with venture capitalists and legal and accounting services, and have access to entrepreneurship programs at MIT, among other things.
This selection process is available to all Media Lab master?s and PhD candidates any time during their last year at the Media Lab. ?We want students to be able to submit applications for the fund anytime they?re ready, so we can alleviate the anxiety of not having anything after graduation,? Ito says.
In the grand scheme of things, Ito says the E14 Fund should help advance efforts to make the Media Lab ?a testing site for technologies and a prototyping hub? at MIT. It should also help venture capitalists and Media Lab corporate sponsors better connect with student startups.
?Our thinking is to create a fund where corporate investment in our students? startups could help further research in the labs where these startups were born,? Ito says. ?It?s a unique approach for an academic setting, and one I hope will be emulated at MIT and elsewhere.?
SA+P students sweep visual arts awards
Five graduate students from the School of Architecture + Planning ? candidates for degrees in media studies, in architecture, and in art, culture and technology ? took all the top honors in this year?s annual visual arts awards.
The Harold and Arlene Schnitzer Prize in the Visual Arts was established in 1996 through an endowment from Harold and Arlene Schnitzer of Portland, Ore., to recognize excellence in a body of student artistic work; in recent years, SA+P students have regularly dominated the awards.
This year?s first place prize of $5,000 went to Jie Qi, a graduate student in the High-Low Tech group at the Media Lab. Qi uses traditional art-making methods with electronics to produce works that are both playful and profound. "The goal of my research and my artwork," she says, "is really to share and empower people to use technology ? to express themselves so that they too feel like they have these magical crayons to turn ?what only exists in their dreams into reality? This idea of telling stories, of expressing yourself in new ways is the point that I?m hoping to share."