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MIT Media Lab

MIT Media Lab
MIT Media Lab building.
Established 1985 (1985) [1]
Budget $ 50 million [2]
Field of research
Technology, multimedia, sciences, art, design
Director Joichi Ito
Location Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

The MIT Media Lab is an interdisciplinary research laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology devoted to projects at the convergence of technology, multimedia, sciences, art and design. Staff and students have backgrounds ranging from electrical engineering and computer science to sociology and music and others.[3] The Media Lab has been widely popularized since the 1990s by business and technology publications such as Wired and Red Herring for a series of practical inventions in the fields of wireless networks, field sensing, web browsers and the World Wide Web. As of 2014, it has diversified its research into neurobiology,[4] biologically inspired fabrication,[5] socially engaging robots,[6] emotive computing,[7] bionics,[8] and hyperinstruments.[9] The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) was one of the notable research efforts which grew out of the Media Lab.

The Media Lab has been actively conducting workshops around the world, with much focus on innovation through design. The Media Labs has regional branches throughout the world which are responsible for conducting such events, including developing countries like India.[10][11]

The MIT Media Lab was founded by MIT Professor Nicholas Negroponte and former MIT President Jerome Wiesner and opened its doors in the Wiesner Building (designed by I. M. Pei) (also known as Building E15) at MIT in 1985. It grew out of the work of MIT’s Architecture Machine Group, and remains within the MIT School of Architecture and Planning.


  • Administration 1
  • Current research focus 2
  • Funding model 3
  • Intellectual property 4
  • Academic arm 5
  • Buildings 6
  • Faculty and academic research staff 7
  • Selected publications 8
  • Accomplishments 9
  • Honors and awards 10
  • Spin-offs 11
  • See also 12
  • References 13
  • External links 14


Joichi Ito was named director of the MIT Media Lab in 2011.[12] Previous directors include Nicholas Negroponte (1985-2000), Walter Bender (2000-2006), and Frank Moss (2006-2011).

The Media Lab has approximately 70 administrative and support staff members. Associate Directors of the Lab are Hiroshi Ishii and Andrew Lippman. Pattie Maes and Mitchel Resnick are co-heads of the Program in Media Arts and Sciences. The Lab's Chief Knowledge Officer was Henry Holtzman.

Current research focus

"Inventing a better future" is the theme of the Media Lab's work. A current emphasis of Media Lab research, which encompasses the work of several research groups, is on human adaptability. This focus was highlighted by the May 9, 2007 symposium h2.0: new minds, new bodies, new identities. The event was organized by Hugh Herr and John Hockenberry, and featured Oliver Sacks, Michael Graves, Aimee Mullins, Michael Chorost, Susan Hockfield, among other speakers. The day-long program featured work that is blurring the distinction between "able bodied" and "disabled," demonstrating technologies at the neural-digital interface. Work represented emphasized the merging of technology with bodies and minds, altering the conceptions of human capability. New research initiatives were discussed, such as techniques to treat conditions such as Alzheimer's disease or depression, to sociable robots for monitoring the health of children or the elderly, to the development of smart prostheses that can mimic—and exceed—the capabilities of biological limbs. The symposium provided many examples of work that is the next step in the so-called "digital revolution." Research projects at the Media Lab aim to have a deep impact on humanity at large. This work, while initially intended for those considered to be "disabled," can ultimately improve life for all humanity.

One of the founding focuses of the Media Lab was technology for the developing world, work that continues with projects such as the One Laptop per Child project and other work. Current projects at the Media Lab continue with this core value, which is expanded and enhanced by increased collaboration within the Media Lab itself, as well as across MIT and with the world at large.

Other research foci include machines with common sense, viral communications, "smart" prostheses, advanced sensor networks, innovative interface design, and sociable robots. Projects range from a program that can convert drawings to musical compositions, to wearable sensors for monitoring health, to electronic ink.

A large number of research groups focus on topics related to human computer interaction. While this includes traditional user interface design, most groups working on this take a broader view. Several groups are working on adding sensors and actuators of different sorts to common objects in the environment, to create "intelligent objects" that are aware of their surroundings, capable of predicting the user's goals and emotional state, and so can assist the user in a more effective way.

The Media Lab also does research into integrating more computational intelligence into learning activities. This includes software for learning but also "smart" educational toys such as programmable bricks like Lego Mindstorms and the PicoCricket.[13] A number of groups are pursuing hybrid art-engineering projects, in developing new tools, media, and instruments for music and other forms of art.

During the last years, new research groups have been born, whose scope goes beyond the applied science for industry and business. That is the case of the Macro Connections Group, which intends to develop new ways of processing data and transform it into meaningful knowledge. The Observatory of Economic Complexity, a joint venture with Harvard HKS/CID, has been developing the concept of Economic Complexity, proposed as an alternative economic measure. A series of visualizations such as the Product Exports Treemaps and the Product Space have been developed in the framework of this project as well.

Research at the Media Lab is creative. There is much hands-on building of demos and prototypes, which are then tested extensively and put through many iterations to see what happens when they are used. The Media Lab maintains a detailed Web site on the current research.[14]

As of 2015, the MIT Media Lab has the following research groups:[15]

  • Affective Computing -"How new technologies can help people better communicate, understand, and respond to affective information."
  • Biomechatronics-"How technology can be used to enhance human physical capability."
  • Camera Culture-"How to create new ways to capture and share visual information."
  • Changing Places-"How new strategies for architectural design, mobility systems, and networked intelligence can make possible dynamic, evolving places that respond to the complexities of life."
  • Civic Media-"How to design, create, deploy, and assess tools and processes that foster civic participation and the flow of information between and within communities."
  • Design Fictions-"How to provoke discussion about the social, cultural, and ethical implications of new technologies through design and storytelling."
  • Fluid Interfaces-"How to integrate the world of information and services more naturally into our daily physical lives, enabling insight, inspiration, and interpersonal connections."
  • Human Dynamics-"How social networks can influence our lives in business, health, and governance, as well as technology adoption and diffusion.
  • Lifelong Kindergarten-"How to engage people in creative learning experiences."
  • Macro Connections-"How to transform data into knowledge."
  • Mediated Matter-"How digital and fabrication technologies mediate between matter and environment to radically transform the design and construction of objects, buildings, and systems."
  • Molecular Machines-"How to engineer at the limits of complexity with molecular-scale parts."
  • Object-Based Media-"How sensing, understanding, and new interface technologies can change everyday life, the ways in which we communicate with one another, storytelling, and entertainment."
  • Opera of the Future-"How musical composition, performance, and instrumentation can lead to innovative forms of expression, learning, and health."
  • Personal Robots-"How to build socially engaging robots and interactive technologies that provide people with long-term social and emotional support to help people live healthier lives, connect with others, and learn better."
  • Playful Systems-"How sensor networks augment and mediate human experience, interaction, and perception."
  • Responsive Environments-"How to design large-scale social systems."
  • Scalable Cooperation-"Reimagining the way society organizes, cooperates, and governs itself."
  • Social Machines-"How to build machines that learn to use language in human-like ways, and develop tools and models to better understand how children learn to communicate and how adults behave."
  • Social Computing-"How software can act as an assistant to the user rather than a tool, by learning from interaction and by proactively anticipating the user's needs."
  • Speech + Mobility-"How to engineer intelligent neurotechnologies to repair pathology, augment cognition, and reveal insights into the human condition."
  • Synthetic Neurobiology-"How to design seamless interfaces between humans, digital information, and the physical environment."
  • Tangible Media-"How to design seamless interfaces between humans, digital information, and the physical environment."
  • Viral Spaces-"How to make scalable systems that enhance how we learn from and experience real spaces."

Funding model

The Lab’s primary source of funding comes from corporate sponsorship. The Media Lab is unique in that it is almost 100% industrially funded. Rather than accepting funding on a per-project or per-group basis, the Media Lab asks sponsors to fund general themes of the Lab; sponsor companies can then connect with Media Lab research in a way that is more spontaneous, but at the same time companies are guided by structured relationships with specific members of the Lab's faculty and research staff, who assist the sponsor companies in deriving the greatest benefit possible from their sponsorship of the Media Lab. The Media Lab is also exploring new methods for making a connection between sponsor businesses and Lab research.

In addition, specific projects and researchers are funded more traditionally through government institutions including the NIH, NSF, and DARPA. Also, consortia with other schools or other departments at MIT are often able to have money that does not enter into the common pool.

Intellectual property

Companies sponsoring the Lab at the "consortium" level or higher can share in the Lab’s intellectual property without paying license fees or royalties. Non-sponsors are precluded from making use of Media Lab developments for at least two years after technical disclosure is made to MIT and Media Lab sponsors. The Media Lab generates approximately 20 new patents every year.

Academic arm

The Media Arts and Sciences program is a part of MIT's School of Architecture and Planning, and includes three levels of study: a doctoral program, a master's of science program, and a program that offers an alternative to the standard MIT freshman year as well as a set of undergraduate subjects that may form the basis for a future joint major. All graduate students are fully supported (tuition plus a stipend) from the outset, normally by appointments as research assistants at the Media Laboratory, where they work on research programs and faculty projects, including assisting with courses. These research activities typically take up about half of a student’s time in the degree program.

The Media Arts and Sciences academic program has a very close relationship with the Media Lab. The majority of the Media Lab faculty are professors of Media Arts and Sciences. With very few exceptions, students who earn a degree in Media Arts and Sciences have been predominantly in residence at the Media Lab, taking classes and doing research. Some students from other programs at MIT, such as Mechanical Engineering, or Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, do their research at the Media Lab, working with a Media Lab/Media Arts and Sciences faculty advisor, but earn their degrees (such as MEng or an MS in EECS) from other departments.


The new Media Lab expansion (Building E14). Original Weisner Building (E15) is visible at left.

In addition to the Media Lab, the combined original Wiesner building (E15) and new (E14) buildings also host the List Visual Arts Center, the School of Architecture and Planning's Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT), and MIT's Program in Comparative Media Studies. (E15) and new (E14) buildings also host the List Visual Arts Center, the School of Architecture and Planning's Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT), and MIT's Program in Comparative Media Studies.

In 2009, the Media Lab expanded into a new building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki.[16] The local architect of record is Leers Weinzapfel Associates, of Boston. The 163,000-square-foot (15,100 m2), six-story building features an open, atelier-style, adaptable architecture specifically designed to provide the flexibility to respond to emerging research priorities. High levels of transparency throughout the building's interior make ongoing research visible, encouraging connections and collaboration among researchers.[17]

Work began on the building in mid-2007, and occupancy took place in 2009. Construction had been delayed for several years by funding issues related to the dot-com bubble.

Faculty and academic research staff

Media Arts and Sciences faculty and academic research staff are principal investigators/heads of the Media Lab's various research groups. They also advise Media Arts and Sciences graduate students, and mentor MIT undergraduates. "Most departments accept grad students based on their prospects for academic success; the Media Lab attempts to select ones that will best be able to help with some of the ongoing projects."[18]

Currently there are more than 25 faculty and academic research staff members, and two emeritus professors, Marvin Minsky and Seymour Papert.

There are several named professorships in the Media Arts and Sciences program:

  • E. Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
  • Asahi Broadcasting Corporation Career Development Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
  • AT&T Career Development Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
  • Benesse Career Development Professor of Research in Education
  • Alexander W. Dreyfoos, Jr. (1954) Professor
  • LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research
  • LG Career Development Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
  • NEC Career Development Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
  • Sony Corporation Career Development Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
  • Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
  • Jerome B. Wiesner Professor of Media Technology

A full list of Media Lab faculty and academic research staff, with bios and other information, is available via the Media Lab Website.[19]

Selected publications


The MPEG-4 SA project developed at the Media Lab made structured audio a practical reality[20] and the Aspen Movie Map was the precursor to the ideas in Google Street View.

Large numbers of Media Lab-developed technologies made it into products, such as the LEGO Mindstorms and the LEGO WeDo and the pointing stick in IBM laptops, the Benton hologram used in most credit cards, the Fisher-Price's Symphony Painter,[21] the Nortel Wireless Mesh Network,[22] the NTT Comware Sensetable,[23] the Taito’s Karaoke-on-Demand Machine.[24]

In 2001, MIT Media Lab collaborated to create two spin-offs: Media Lab Asia and Media Lab Europe. Media Lab Asia, based in India, was a result of cooperation with the Government of India but eventually broke off in 2003 after disagreement. Media Lab Europe, based in Dublin, Ireland, was founded with a similar concept in association with Irish universities and government. Media Lab Europe closed in January 2005.

Created collaboratively by the Computer Museum and the Media Lab, the Computer Clubhouse, a worldwide network of after-school learning centers, focuses on youth from underserved communities who would not otherwise have access to technological tools and activities.[25]

In January 2005, the Lab's chairman emeritus One Laptop per Child, was created to oversee the actual deployment, i.e., MIT will not manufacture or distribute the device.

The Synthetic Neurobiology group created reagents and devices for the analysis of brain circuits are in use by hundreds of biology labs around the world.

In 2011, Ramesh Raskar's group published their femto-photography technique, that is able to image the movement of individual light pulses.[26]

Honors and awards

The Media Lab Web site has a section "Annual report to the president"[27] that shows major achievements on a year-to-year basis.


Media Lab industry spin-offs include:[28]

  • E Ink, which makes electronic paper displays that power the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook.
  • Groundhog Technologies, global leader in mobility intelligence and its applications on geo-analytics, geo-marketing, and network optimization.
  • Harmonix, game company creator of Rock Band and Guitar Hero.
  • One Laptop per Child's XO laptop
  • EyeNetra, which makes eye tests as $2 clip-ons for mobile phones, including potential use to correct vision for virtual reality displays.[29]
  • Oblong Industries, creators of the digital screen used by Tom Cruise in Minority Report[30]
  • Sifteo, a company that has developed a tabletop gaming platform that grew out of Siftables.
  • First Mile Solutions, which brings communications infrastructure to rural communities[31]
  • Ambient Devices, which produces glanceable information displays
  • nTag Interactive, which makes interactive name tags
  • Mobule, an application for mobile phones that can instigate interactions between people.
  • Squid Labs, engineering consulting company (now defunct)
  • Wireless 5th Dimensional Networking, Inc.[32] (acquired in 2006),[33] which developed the first hybrid search engine
  • Nanda, a company that markets the Clocky alarm clock
  • reQall, a memory aid company.
  • Dimagi, a company that develops software for healthcare in the developing world.
  • Potion Design, an interactive design firm
  • Elance
  • RadioSherpa, an online guide for HD Radio stations. acquired by Tune-in.
  • The Echo Nest, a music intelligence platform
  • The SPINNER project from the Responsive Environments Group at MIT Media Lab is the first research platform designed to investigate the world of ubiquitous video devices. The Spinner can automatically edit video to fit a narrative structure. It uses video from cameras installed at the Media Lab and sensor data from people generated by wearable smart badges to track their activity and location. The system then creates a video using the characteristics detected from the sensor data with the video captured by the cameras.[34]
  • Zebra Imaging, a digital holographic display company
  • Holosonics selling "audio spotlight" speakers using sound from ultrasound technology
  • Formlabs makes high-resolution, desktop 3D printers

See also


  1. ^ "Inventing the future" - Corporate brochure
  2. ^ Overview of the MIT
  3. ^
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  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ Timmer, John. "Building The Next Big Thing: 25 Years of MIT's Media Lab". Wired News. October 24, 2010.
  19. ^
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  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^

External links

  • Official website
  • LabCAST
  • LabCAST Media Lab episode
  • Twitter account

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