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Gallery: Weird and wonderful inventions from MIT's Media Lab

The Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has created technologies ranging from powered exoskeletons to emotional robots. Nick Heath from silicon.com takes a look.
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Topic: Innovation
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1 of 15 Andy Smith/ZDNet

The Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has created technologies ranging from powered exoskeletons to emotional robots.?

?silicon.com was given access to the lab to take a look at the prototype technologies - shown over the following pages - being devised by the designers, engineers, artists and scientists who work within the 25-year-old institution.?

?Pictured is the exterior of the Media Lab's new building, designed by internationally renowned Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki.?

?Photo credit and captions: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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This is SandScape, a system developed by the Media Lab that allows people to reshape a computer-generated model of physical terrain by remodelling the bed of sand below it.?

?The system projects the computer-generated model onto the sand, with any changes to its surface replicated on the terrain onscreen.?

?For example, if a user raises the surface of the sand by pushing it into a pile, as seen here, the terrain in the computer-generated model will also rise.?

?The system is designed to provide a more intuitive way for computer users to interact with computer-generated models of the landscape around us.?

?Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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The CityCar is a foldable, electric car that aims to make parallel parking a cinch.?

?Each wheel in the car contains its own electric drive motor, allowing the CityCar to rotate its wheels and so drive sideways into parallel parking spaces and adjacent road lanes, or turn around on the spot.?

?As well as containing the motor, each wheel houses the car's suspension and braking system, eliminating the need for the bulky separate engine and power train found in most cars.?

?The lack of a separate engine also allows the car to fold itself into a compact shape about 60 inches in length - at least three times shorter than a traditional car.?

?The car's energy demands are low because of its light weight, about 1000lbs, and it can be recharged via a range of methods, including a home-charging kit.?

?Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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The Media Lab's I/O Brush is an electronic paintbrush able to capture the colour or texture of any nearby object and use it to paint a picture.??

?Objects are scanned by pushing the brush against them, as seen above, triggering touch sensors inside the brush and activating an internal video camera that captures an image of whatever is in front of the brush.??

?When the artist places the brush against a touchscreen display, the I/O Brush software places the scanned image on the display, allowing the artist to paint with the captured colour or image.?

?The effect can be seen on the next screen, where the brush is painting the scanned image of the eye in the picture.

?Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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The brush is painting the scanned image of the eye in the picture above.

?Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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This is SurroundVision, a system designed by the Media Lab to allow television viewers to see what is happening outside of what is being shown on screen.?

?SurroundVision is designed to run on mobile devices, such as smartphones, and enable viewers to see a wider view of the programme they are watching by pointing the mobile device just beyond the edge of their television screen.?

?The system could be used to give viewers alternative camera angles when watching sports matches or to see the surrounding scenery when watching a film, as is being shown above using a scene from a James Bond film.?

?In the photo, SurroundVision is working on a prototype handheld device (pictured left) - a screen with built-in accelerometers, magnetometer and camera.?

?These built-in sensors allow the device to track where it is in relation to the TV, and so display additional camera footage based on the handset's position.?

?Project lead Santiago Alfaro believes that if the system were to be commercialised, the additional footage could be streamed over the internet to the handheld device, so that no modifications would be needed to television broadcasts.?

?Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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If you fancy a helping hand next time you're out for a walk, how about trying this powered exoskeleton on for size??

?The wearable device is designed to help people walk long distances without getting tired and to assist them in carrying heavy loads while walking.?

?In tests the device has proven it can effectively carry the lion's share of an 80-pound load being carried on a person's back.?

?The low-weight exoskeleton works by helping the wearer to lift their legs when walking.?

?Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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This is Topobo, a toy that can remember how a person moved it across the floor and then replay the same motion.?

?The toy works by using kinetic memory motors within its limbs and body parts, which are able to store exactly how the toy has been manipulated.?

?Topobo is then able to reproduce the exact same motions, without the need for a computer to program its movements.?

?Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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This is Tofu, a robot designed to display emotions through its behavior.?

?Tofu's body expands and contracts to make it look as if it is breathing, and the robot is also able to stretch its body up into a confident, interested pose or squash itself down into a ball into a more fearful posture, as seen here.?

?It's designed to find new ways of getting children to engage with robotic technology.?

?Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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It's not just people who can't get enough of playing computer games: here is an example of a game-playing robot that has been built in the MIT Media Lab (above).?

?The VGR1 uses its built-in camera, image processing and AI software to play games on the classic 1980s games console, the Nintendo Entertainment System, seen on the next screen.

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MIT's game-playing robot plays on the 1980's game console, Nintendo Entertainment System (above).

?Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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This mechanical foot is designed to help people who use lower limb prosthetics keep their balance.?

?The foot has sensors built into its sole that detect uneven patches of ground underfoot and control a motor which lifts the foot to compensate for bumpy or pitted terrain.?

?The biomechatronics group at MIT started work on the foot after clinical studies found that amputees using conventional prosthetic feet face additional difficulties with keeping their balance when walking.?

?The mechanical foot is designed to address these problems with balance by carrying out the work that would normally be performed by the ankle in helping the foot to maintain a steady gait when walking.?

?Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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This robotic arm is on display in the main foyer of MIT Media Lab's new building.

Its look is inspired by futuristic designs found in the film Blade Runner, the structure of a bird's wing and the shapes of prehistoric creatures.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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Pictured above is the workshop where students in the Media Lab build working prototypes of their technology ideas.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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A break-out booth littered with tools within the Media Lab's new building.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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