Friday, June 27, 2008
Video: The Real WALL-E
This is a video of the uBot-5 robot designed by a team at UMASS Amhearst. Able to do menial "pick-and-place" tasks around the house, this robot is touted by its team as one day becoming a caregiving solution for the elderly. uBot-5 has been adapted by the MIT Media Lab as "Nexi" to include a humanoid head with highly expressive face. I met Nexi at the spring sponsor meeting.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
A Laptop for "When I'm 64."
According to Brainy History, Nicholas Negroponte turned 64 over the weekend. I hope he got a good weekend's rest from his world travels promoting the wildly innovative XO-1 laptop for children in developing countries, and strategizing the Give One Get One program where consumers in the U.S. and Canada can donate a laptop and get one themselves. Even though I have two prototypes, I ordered my production units as soon as the offer went live on the morning of November 12th.
Nicholas is pictured above in a phonecam shot I made at SFO for a moblog entry on my way to the TED 2006 conference. Nicholas was to speak on the first day of the conference and was waiting for the same prop plane as my (then) boss Mark and I were taking for the final hop to Monterey. As is apparently the norm, he was answering emails on his IBM laptop in keeping with his legendary swift responses. I introduced myself as my company's liaison to the Media Lab and he gave a knowing smile saying he had heard that our sponsorship was about to lapse, but asked us to hang on a minute while he finished his email.
Closing his laptop on a folded Wall Street Journal, Nicholas said that he had just come from London by way of New York. He said he was circling the globe every three weeks, travelling over 300 days a year single-handedly promoting the project. I was amazed that he only had a small rollling case and laptop bag in tow, but I remembered reading in a magazine about how he travels really light by FedExing his laundry to and from desintation hotels.
We chatted about how we needed to jump through some hoops with a reluctant division Vice President to get our sponsorship renewed (we're renewed now). Nicholas offered to help, and furthermore said he could pay us a visit while in DC the following Tuesday to talk about the laptop and pitch our bosses. We said we'd pull out the stops to schedule a meeting. He scribbled some notes on one of the standard Media Lab-logoed 3x8" paper scratchpads.
Since that day, aside from countless news articles and videos, I've seen Nicholas in person in a few meetings and also saw him whiz by at Boston's Logan airport coming off the shuttle from DC as I was getting on. I've often thought about the kind of drive it takes to take on an insanely grand vision such as equiping 150 million children across the planet with ultra low cost, yet technologically advanced laptops. Day after day fending off naysayers and would be slayers has got to take a toll. And not to mention electing to travel over 330 days a year.
But on his 64th birthday Saturday, while hopefully getting some rest, Nicholas had a lot of wonderful presents to charge his spirit: he had extended the Give One Get One offer until the end of the year because of vigorous sales and widespread interest (really a gift to us), the first batch of production laptops were deployed in Uruguay and several hundred thousand new orders came in from prospective countries.
I imagine that at 64--maybe humming the famous Beatles tune--all those nights staying up until quarter to three debating implementaion details, going for rides to the airport on Sunday mornings, scrimping and saving to ensure there was enough money for mass production and trying to convince several hundred million consumers give him an answer of "yes" all seemed worth it. He has pallette-fulls of shiny new laptops with which to change the world.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Since I'm moderating a panel with several MIT Media Lab professors in early September, including roboticist Cynthia Breazeal, I had brought home my copy of her book to read a few chapters on her basic research. Coincidentally, the New York Times Magazine ran a cover story this weekend on robotics at MIT. There's good coverage on one of their newer robot projects, Cory Kidd's weight maintenance coach which I've been following with photos on Flickr. Both Cory's and Dan Stiehl's huggable theraputic teddy bear robots will be on display in the exhibit hall at AARP's National Event in Boston September 6-8, 2007.
Thursday, April 05, 2007
Radically rethinking product designs
More as an excuse to test out SlideShare than actually reviving this blog, here's a post on a quick presentation I made during John Maeda's Simplicity Research Consortium retreat last week. Activities like this come out of planned interactions between Media Lab students, lab sponsors (like me) and invited guest speakers. This particular exercise was catalyzed by Amanda Parkes of Hiroshi Ishii's Tangible Media Group. As the sponsor-in-residence at her work table, I volunteered to do a hands-on build and report out this PowerPoint.
Core77 podcast of John Maeda's musings on simplicity, design and Cape Cod
Thursday, January 06, 2005
SNIF - Social Networking In Fur
I noticed the poster (JPEG image) for this fanciful MIT Media Lab Tangible Interfaces class project, Social Networking In Fur, on Noah Fields' web site recently, and asked him more about it. Noah said he and his team have turned the poster into some prototype hardware and a paper. Good buddy that he is, he posted a page with all the project resources. Here's the usage scenario from their conference paper (PDF):
Lola takes her dog Fifi for a walk. Before leaving the house, Lola puts her new SNIF collar around Fifi's neck and attaches her new leash to it. On their way to the park, Lola can see a dog and his owner coming towards them. LEDs on Fifi's collar start flashing, showing that a secured ID transfer occurs between the two collars. While approaching, the other dog sees Fifi and starts barking suddenly. Lola has to pull on Fifi's leash to avoid the fight, and walks past the other dog. She pushes the button 'Incompatible' on the leash and keeps walking.
At the park, Lola greets the other dog owners and releases Fifi's leash. Fifi goes to play with the other dogs, her collar recording the IDs of dogs she spends the most time with along with some additional information such as activity levels during the encounters. While Fifi is enjoying her time, Lola discusses with other dog owners.
After an hour, Lola calls Fifi. She attaches the leash again, which starts the transfer of information collected from the collar to the leash and updates the external SNIF server. On the way home, Lola notices that the leash starts blinking red, indicating the presence of another dog coming towards them, with whom Fifi is not comfortable. She anticipates the encounter and crosses the road to avoid a confrontation.
Back at home, Lola checks on the SNIF website and learns about her dogs' new friends through the profiles left by their respective owner. Later in the day, she notices that one of Fifi's friends, Sugar, just reached the park. Lola met Sugar's owner a couple of times, a woman who teaches French cooking, and Lola has always wanted to learn how to make a good terrine. 'Time for a walk', she said to herself, smiling as she grabs the leash and calls Fifi.
Given the growing pervasiveness of wireless networking, SNIF doesn't seem too farfetched, but my dog would be clueless about SNIF since she's all about the sniffing.
Monday, May 24, 2004
Maeda and me
John directs the Physical Language Workshop at the lab in addition to heading up the Information Organized Research Consortium in which AARP is a sponsor/member. He was in town today to chat with us on how we could adapt some of his technology platforms to enhance the online experience of a select group of AARP members. We're still in the early stages of planning, but I'm excited about helping to drive this joint initiative through our Web Strategy and Operations group.
Making technology usable, understandable, and enjoyable has been a theme throughout John's extensive career as a designer and teacher. He took new action on some of his ideas earlier this year to form an experimental research program called simply, simplicity. You'll notice that the letters M-I-T are even embedded in the logo treatment. Many point out that MIT is also in complexity, and what better an institution than this high temple of technology to come to the realization that we need a return to the basics.
The effort is still in its infancy, but John has turned the mantra up a notch with a recent essay [reg. req.] by Jessie Scanlon in the New York Times. John has assembled an impressive group of research fellows to do some initial thinking. Some of their first principles of simplicity:
1. Heed cultural patterns. The iPod, for instance, succeeded not just because of its sleek form, but because, in conjunction with iTunes, it solved so many of the problems of buying and storing music.
2. Be transparent. People like to have a mental model of how things work.
3. Edit. Simplicity hinges as much on cutting nonessential features as on adding helpful ones, the Newton MessagePad and the Palm Pilot being prime examples.
4. Prototype. Push beyond proof-of-technology demos and build prototypes that people can interact with.
Scanlon has started an outline for a book on simplicity, but in addition to upcoming press, some of the fellowship's ideas and examples will start to appear to the general public in a couple upcoming books. John's book Creative Code will arrive this summer, and Bill Moggridge of IDEO is finishing up a book manuscript entitled "Designing Interactions" for MIT Press to be released in the fall of 2005.
The simplicity braintrust reconvenes at the Media Lab early this July, and I'll likely be there to listen in. Stay tuned; stay simple.