|spotlight: ahead of their TIME|
Six MIT projects named best inventions of the year by Time Magazine.
Foldable electric vehicles may cut pollution, ease congestion
The Smart Cities group at the MIT Media Lab is working on two low-cost electric vehicles that it hopes will revolutionize mass transit and help alleviate pollution. The group aims to mitigate pollution with electric power, expand limited public space by folding and stacking vehicles like shopping carts, and alleviate congestion by letting people rent and return the vehicles to racks located near transportation hubs, such as train stations, airports, and bus depots.
One giant leap for space fashion
Professor Dava Newman's prototype BioSuit is not your grandfather's spacesuit--it's more Spiderman, and less John Glenn. The sleek spandex and nylon spacesuit is designed to allow superior mobility when humans eventually reach Mars or return to the moon. Traditional bulky spacesuits "do not afford the mobility and locomotion capability that astronauts need," says Newman. "We really must design for greater mobility and enhanced human and robotic capability." Newman anticipates that the BioSuit could be ready by the time humans are ready to launch an expedition to Mars, possibly in about 10 years.
Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto
Assistive robot adapts to people, new places
The vision of robotic housekeeping popularized by "The Jetsons" may still be decades away, but a new MIT robot named Domo shows promise as a household assistant for the elderly or wheelchair-bound. Other potential applications include agriculture and space travel. "The real potential of robots in the future is going to be realized when they can do many types of manual tasks," including those that require interaction with humans, said MIT postdoctoral associate Aaron Edsinger, developer of Domo.
Fluid notion of architecture
'Digital Water Pavilion' set to make a splash
Imagine a building made of water. It features liquid curtains for walls - curtains that not only can be programmed to display images or messages but can also sense an approaching object and automatically part to let it through. MIT architects and engineers have designed such a building, and it will be unveiled at next year's Expo Zaragoza in Spain. "The dream of digital architecture has always been to create buildings that are responsive and reconfigurable," explains Carlo Ratti, head of MIT's SENSEable City Laboratory. "Think about spaces that can expand or shrink based on necessity and use. It is not easy to achieve such effects when dealing with concrete, bricks and mortar. But this becomes possible with digital water."
One Laptop Per Child
Giving every child the tools they need to learn
The goal of One Laptop Per Child is to provide the nearly two billion children of the developing world with a means for learning, self-expression and exploration in the form of a low-cost laptop.
Robotic ankle research is a major step forward
MIT Media Lab Professor Hugh Herr and his team of researchers have developed the world's first robotic ankle -- an important advance for lower-limb amputees. The prototype device reduces fatigue, improves balance and provides amputees with a more fluid gait. It could become commercially available as early as the summer of 2008.
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