5 cool things at MIT Media Lab

You probably expect all the latest and greatest high-tech gear to be out in force at the infamous MIT Media Lab innovation complex.

And you’d be right. Holograms? Check. 3D printing? Check. Robots? Triple check — even a DragonBot.

I toured the lab this week. Here is a quick look at some of the coolest stuff on display…

1. Artisanal technology

Students at MIT’s High-Low Tech group pair old-world materials and processes with new-wave technology. They paint circuitry on paper, or stitch it onto cloth. In the dandelion print (below), the art overlays circuitry that provides interactivity. Blow on the dandelion seed pod, and guess what happens…

2. DIY and BYO objects

With the advent of open-source software and, more recently, open-source hardware, young designers have the tools to build lots of great stuff – at relatively low costs. Kickstarter efforts and open-source-like projects like Arduino blazed the trail here.

BYO cell phones?

That has sparked a big return to home-built gadgets — even cell phones — said Media Lab director Joi Ito. In the agrarian era, people made and grew what they needed before shifting to a mass-production/mass-consumption model. Now the pendulum may be swinging back. (Ito even hinted that the Lab might extend to deal with grow-your-own projects.)

3. Better, more realistic displays

3-D image of Joi Ito.

We’re not at the Princess Leia hologram stage yet, but we’re getting there.  Dan Novy, a research assistant at the Lab’s Object-Based Media group,  showed off a couple of cool display technologies, including a 3D projection of Ito seated in a chair.

A future iteration will let that image retain its 3D quality as viewers take different angles. And there’s an immersive video experience that really pulls you into what you’re watching, provided you view it at the right distance and angle.

4. Augmented reality

What if you wore a ring that could summon up additional information about anything you pointed it at?

That’s what the EyeRing project proposes. A prototype ring, aka a “finger-worn executive assistant”, can read price tags or signs to blind people. Or it can give tourists additional information about their surroundings without forcing them to look down at a smart phone or tablet.

MIT’s Roy Shilkrot wearing EyeRing.

5. 3D printed buildings

3D printing technology is a favorite topic at GigaOM. A group at MIT is building technology could enable the “print out” of a house in a day or two, according to research assistant Steven Keating. The process prints out molds made of plastic or composite which are then filled with concrete for assembly into a building.

3D printing.

One final thing…

Oh, and don’t forget DragonBot, the Android(s goog)-phone-controlled social robot. I didn’t get to see him, but there’s no reason you should miss out: Check him (it) out in the video below:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2n0IqH76-Q?rel=0]