Tuesday, October 19, 2010

MIT Media Lab at 25!

mit_lab door_1

Hugh Herr, the biomechatronics professor, pulled up his pant legs to reveal artificial legs and then did a stomping dance next to the podium. Ramesh Raskar, director of the *Camera Culture* lab, describes cameras that look around corners using a femptosecond laser – one trillion (with a T!) frames per second. He also created micro barcodes that enable an eyesight assessor to connect to a cell phone, providing on-site eye exams in underdeveloped countries. Ed Boydan is investigating synthetic neurobiology – the ability to create brain co-processors, working at the intersection of neuro-science and engineering.

These are just a few of the things that I saw at the celebration of the MIT Media Lab’s 25th anniversary last week in Cambridge, Mass. Among the speakers were Eric Schmidt, Chairman and CEO of Google, who said that being involved in a company that shares information with the world is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Peabody Award winning journalist John Hockenbery posed intriguing questions to him as well as to a panel of prominent faculty.

They discussed concepts like the fact that in 2020 materials will be the new software. Glass in buildings will have pores that open and close to manage light. DNA will enter the product space, and we will see more and more bio-engineered materials.

Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder and spiritual leader of the Media Lab, who went on to establish *One Laptop Per Child*, posed the question: “Is digital the new plastics?”. The implication being that it has become so prevalent, so pervasive, so ingrained in our culture that perhaps digital is becoming trivialized.

MIT Media Lab philosophy is: Don’t accept the world as it is but strive to make it a better place. It is always stimulating and exciting to be in the company of such creative and innovative thinkers. My kind of brain candy. Yum.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cinema Virtua

A 40 foot tall T-rex appears stage right and comes plodding, thumping toward the podium. Cowering, the speaker pulls a long, thin spear from his coat pocket and drives it deep into reptile’s neck. The dinosaur hesitates, then sways to and fro and finally collapses with a thud onto the stage. Thick dark blood gushes from his wound. The opaque red liquid flows slowly out over the edge of the stage and onto the feet of the audience. And then…in a heartbeat…the giant reptile and his blood are gone.
The latest James Cameron flick? No – it is *cinema virtua* - the art of creating theatrical or cinematic experiences in virtual worlds for entertainment, education, training, collaboration.
I presented this concept at the Society for Applied Learning Technology conference in Orlando in March 2010. In the spirit of full disclosure, the inspiration for this approach came from two gentlemen, Peter Mills and Claus Nehmzow, who run a company called HealthyWorlds. And Greg Cook, a/k/a RacerX Gullwing, is the virtuoso scripter who makes this all possible.
Scripted objects, particles, holodecks and animated textures have the ability to create impactful educational experiences that are truly unprecedented.
In the HealthyWorlds demo, the T-Rex is only the first of many examples. A few minutes later, in another part of their demo, giant fruits and vegetables suddenly start falling at random out of the ceiling, bouncing all over the stage and off the heads of the audience members.
Mark Jankowski, the principal at Virtual Training Partners, shared his virtual negotiation training environment – an amazing series of spaces that leverage rich textures.
He starts in a skybox at the Camden Yards baseball park with his avatar dressed in an Orioles uniform. From there, we fell through the floor into a winter holiday scene where his avatar puts on Santa Claus outfit. The setting is replete with 50 foot tall snowman and giant gifts. From there, we stroll into a concert hall next door where Mark dons tails and waves a conductors baton, talking about the kinds of discussions that occur in this space. Then on to the Himalayas, where he becomes a mountain hiker, wearing a backpack and climbing gear. Amazing.
This is new. These are new ways to present content, make points, share data, create experiential learning. There is no other forum where this is possible.
The idea that you can replicate a Broadway show inside a movie using surreal characters and animated objects to tell a story is unique…to say the least. All the while having a rapt audience of people from all over the planet sitting together and feeling like they are all in the same physical space, creating shared visual memories that really last.
I really enjoyed showing this innovative approach to educators and encouraging them to transform their content, rethink how they create curriculum. Time to move away from 3D Post-It notes and PowerPoint decks to writing short subjects, one act plays and soliloquies. Looking forward to helping evolve this new approach!