1995 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize Winner
|Photo by Jeff Tinsely
"As long as I can remember, I was always taking things apart,"
said Thomas Massieinaugural winner of the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT
Student Prize. As Massie got older, he eventually began to put these
things together and learned to buildproducing mechanical robots
from household items and even an automatic plant-watering device.
As an adult, he continued this passion, building a machine that
simulated the native Andean hand-weaving process and the successful
PHANTOM 3-D Touch interface for computers.
The PHANTOMMassie's most notable inventionis a haptic
computer interface that enables users to "feel" physical objects
in cyberspace. By inserting their fingers into swiveling thimbles
that connect to mechanical arms, users are able to sense the shape,
size and consistency of objects on a computer screen. The PHANTOM
allows designers and engineers to create and interact with objects
in 3-D without actually building them. It can even train doctors
to perform surgery on "virtual patients." Massie collaborated with
MIT Professor Kenneth Salisbury at the Artificial Intelligence
Lab to develop and build the prototype.
Massie started SensAble Technologies to market the PHANTOM from his dorm room at MIT in 1993. The company has since evolved and has worked with clients such as Disney, Boeing,
and Addidas, among others. Other applications of the PHANTOM are
the FreeForm™ Modeling System and the Ghost Software Developer's
Toolkit, which both aid in creating virtual models.
Massie earned his S.B. in electrical engineering and S.M. in mechanical engineering at MIT. At present (2008), he raises cattle on his farm and is building an off-the-grid, timber-frame house that is held together with wooden pegs and powered by solar panels. He is also exploring alternative energies through the production of methane from cow manure.