MIT News


Festival of Learning highlights innovation

MIT News

The third annual Festival of Learning, organized by MIT Open Learning and the Office of the Vice Chancellor, highlighted educational innovation, including how digital technologies and shared best practices are enabling educators to drive better learning outcomes for MIT students and global learners via online courses. "As a community, we are energized by all the transformation and innovation happening within the education space right now," said Krishna Rajagopal, dean for digital learning, open learning, as he kicked off the festival. The educator's role: to engage and inspire learners Keynote speaker Po-Shen Loh, Carnegie Mellon University associate professor, founder of online education platform Expii, and coach of the U.S. International Math Olympiad Team, surprised a morning audience of about 400 people in Room 10-250 when he held up a small red die and asked why opposite sides of the die always add up to seven. Loh then began a lively, Socratic interaction with the audience that blended math and physics with engaging humor. What Loh's inquiry consciously didn't include was digital technology.


Robots track moving objects with unprecedented precision

MIT News

A novel system developed at MIT uses RFID tags to help robots home in on moving objects with unprecedented speed and accuracy. The system could enable greater collaboration and precision by robots working on packaging and assembly, and by swarms of drones carrying out search-and-rescue missions. In a paper being presented next week at the USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation, the researchers show that robots using the system can locate tagged objects within 7.5 milliseconds, on average, and with an error of less than a centimeter. In the system, called TurboTrack, an RFID (radio-frequency identification) tag can be applied to any object. A reader sends a wireless signal that reflects off the RFID tag and other nearby objects, and rebounds to the reader.


Training technicians in developing technologies

MIT News

Headquartered at MIT, AIM Photonics Academy is embarking on an ambitious plan to develop a technician-training program in emerging technologies, attempting to answer the question of whether an institute known for educating world-leading scientists and engineers can play a role in helping train an outstanding technician workforce. AIM Academy is part of the American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM Photonics), focused on integrated photonics. The Office of Naval Research recently awarded a $1.8 million Manufacturing Engineering Education Program grant for AIM Academy to create a technician-certification program in collaboration with Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM). AIM Photonics and ARM are two of 14 public-private manufacturing innovation institutes created as part of a federal program to revitalize American manufacturing, collectively known as Manufacturing USA. Until now, AIM Academy has focused on training master's and PhD engineers, which is what companies said they needed, through summer and winter boot camps and online courses.


Giving keener "electric eyesight" to autonomous vehicles

MIT News

Autonomous vehicles relying on light-based image sensors often struggle to see through blinding conditions, such as fog. But MIT researchers have developed a sub-terahertz-radiation receiving system that could help steer driverless cars when traditional methods fail. Sub-terahertz wavelengths, which are between microwave and infrared radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum, can be detected through fog and dust clouds with ease, whereas the infrared-based LiDAR imaging systems used in autonomous vehicles struggle. To detect objects, a sub-terahertz imaging system sends an initial signal through a transmitter; a receiver then measures the absorption and reflection of the rebounding sub-terahertz wavelengths. That sends a signal to a processor that recreates an image of the object.


3Q: Machine learning and climate modeling

MIT News

Today, predicting what the future has in store for Earth's climate means dealing in uncertainties. For example, the core climate projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has put the global temperature bump from a doubling of atmospheric CO2 levels -- referred to as "climate sensitivity" -- anywhere between 1.5 degrees C and 4.5 C. That gap, which has not budged since the first IPCC report in 1990, has profound implications for the type of environmental events humanity may want to prepare for. Part of the uncertainty arises because of unforced variability -- changes that would occur even in the absence of increases in CO2 -- but part of it arises because of the need for models to simulate complex processes like clouds and convection. Recently, climate scientists have tried to narrow the ranges of the uncertainty in climate models by using a recent revolution in computer science. Machine learning, which is already being deployed for a host of diverse applications (drug discovery, air traffic control, and voice recognition software, for example), is now expanding into climate research, with the goal of reducing the uncertainty in climate models, specifically as it relates to climate sensitivity and predicting regional trends, two of the greatest culprits of uncertainty.


Using artificial intelligence to engineer materials' properties

MIT News

Applying just a bit of strain to a piece of semiconductor or other crystalline material can deform the orderly arrangement of atoms in its structure enough to cause dramatic changes in its properties, such as the way it conducts electricity, transmits light, or conducts heat. Now, a team of researchers at MIT and in Russia and Singapore have found ways to use artificial intelligence to help predict and control these changes, potentially opening up new avenues of research on advanced materials for future high-tech devices. The findings appear this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in a paper authored by MIT professor of nuclear science and engineering and of materials science and engineering Ju Li, MIT Principal Research Scientist Ming Dao, and MIT graduate student Zhe Shi, with Evgeni Tsymbalov and Alexander Shapeev at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Russia, and Subra Suresh, the Vannevar Bush Professor Emeritus and former dean of engineering at MIT and current president of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Already, based on earlier work at MIT, some degree of elastic strain has been incorporated in some silicon processor chips. Even a 1 percent change in the structure can in some cases improve the speed of the device by 50 percent, by allowing electrons to move through the material faster.


3Q: Hamsa Balakrishnan on reimagining the future of transportation

MIT News

Associate Professor Hamsa Balakrishnan is the associate head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT. She is also the director of Transportation@MIT, an initiative that knits together the wide-ranging, robust research underway at the Institute and creates new opportunities for education and innovation in the field of transportation research. Her thinking addresses the dramatic changes in transportation systems worldwide due to advances not just in vehicular technologies, but also in computing, communications, sensing, and information processing. Her current research interests are in the design, analysis, and implementation of control and optimization algorithms for large-scale, cyber-physical infrastructures, particularly air transportation systems. Q: The research scope of Transportation@MIT is broader than what is traditionally considered the purview of "transportation," and it encompasses what you refer to as "networks of things that move."


President Reif calls for federal funding, focused education to address "opportunity and threat" of AI

MIT News

In an op-ed piece published today in Financial Times, MIT President L. Rafael Reif argues for sustained federal investment in artificial intelligence, and encourages the nation's colleges and universities to prepare students for new societal challenges posed by AI. AI promises to help "humanity learn more, waste less, work smarter, live longer and better understand and predict almost anything that can be measured," Reif writes. But with great power comes great responsibility: New technologies could pose serious risks, he says, "including threats to privacy, public safety, jobs and the security of nations." Countries around the world have started heavily investing in national AI initiatives, with China alone spending a reported $1 billion annually. To say competitive, Reif says, the U.S. must commit to at least a decade of sustained financial support for rising researchers and new academic centers across the nation.


At StartMIT, students gain advice for building a successful startup

MIT News

Technology encourages the growth of startups, but starting and running a business requires skills beyond what a student might learn in the classroom. Enter StartMIT, an annual Independent Activities Period course that focuses on entrepreneurship and aims to make students aware of the process of turning ideas into companies. StartMIT began in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) as Start6 in 2014, and it has since gone Institute-wide. This year, the program ran Jan. 7-23 and featured 60 guest speakers representing a wide spectrum of innovation leadership, from Jinane Abounadi, executive director of the MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund; to Hari Balakrishnan, a professor in EECS and cofounder of Cambridge Mobile Telematics; to Megan Smith '86, SM '88, cofounder and CEO of Shift7 and former chief technology officer of the United States. Balakrishnan was part of a panel called "From a MIT research project to a startup," moderated by EECS Professor Saman Amarsinghe.


New collaboration sparks global connections to art through artificial intelligence

MIT News

A unique event took place yesterday at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Museum curators, engineers, designers, and researchers gathered in The Met's iconic Great Hall to explore and share new visions about how artificial intelligence (AI) might drive stronger connection between people and art. A highlight from Monday's festivities was the "reveal" of a series of artificial intelligence prototypes and design concepts, developed in collaboration across three institutions: The Met, Microsoft, and MIT. For MIT, the collaboration began when Loic Tallon, The Met's chief digital officer, visited the MIT campus to deliver an MIT Open Learning xTalk on the role of open access in empowering audiences and learners to experience art worldwide. Tallon views the collaboration as part of The Met's initiative to drive global access to the museum's collection through digital media: "We're continuing to think differently about how a museum works, in this case how we leverage powerful technologies such as artificial intelligence. This collaboration among The Met, with our collection expertise, MIT with all these creative technologists and their incredible thinking about meeting tough challenges, and Microsoft with its AI platform has incredible synergy."