Lego Great Ball contraption moves balls from one spot to another (Click Imge To Enlarge)
Designed by Lego, they’re called Great Ball Contraptions. All they do is move miniature balls from one place to another--in the most complicated manner mechanically possible. For the Lego Technic-loving designer/engineer, they’re an elite, Rube Golderberg-esque litmus test of skills.
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But one epic build by 'Akiyuky’ may have just put all others to shame. It’s 100 feet of a ball-moving assembly line, constructed over 600 hours, with each new turn representing another ingenious mechanism in moving and sorting. My personal favorite moment happens about 2:00 in, as a triad of catapults launch the balls at a basketball hoop, but only those that make it move on to the next stage.
Any of us who talk about design on a daily basis inevitably focus on an idea of core elegance, when simplicity, efficiency, and functionality combine in a fundamentally beautiful product. It’s a fun wake-up call to remember just how much delight one can find in the total opposite end of the spectrum, that inefficiency, overwroughtness, and sheer organizational absurdity has its place in the joy of design, too.
That said, I do appreciate the fact that my phone doesn’t take me through this contraption every time I check my email. Though every once in a while, it wouldn’t be the worst thing.
COMMENTARY: Lego's Great Ball Contraption is an absolutely remarkable piece of mechanical toy technology. I would never believe it if I had not watched the video. The kids will go absolutely crazy over Lego's latest wonder. Can the technical toy wizards at Lego ever out do this?
NUMBERS AND BULLET POINTS AREN’T THE ONLY THINGS DRIVING EXECUTIVE DECISION MAKING. AND PRETTY PICTURES WON’T GET YOU THERE EITHER. BOTH DESIGNERS AND MBAS HAVE A LOT TO LEARN.
This year marks the third anniversary of the Rotman Design Challenge. It started out as a commendable experiment by the school’s Business Design Club to expose MBAs at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management to the value of design methods in business problem solving. This year, the competition drew teams from a few other MBA schools and some of the best design schools in North America. As a final-round judge, I had a front-row seat to the five best solutions to the competition’s challenge: To help TD Bank foster lifelong customer relationships with students and recent graduates while encouraging healthy financial behaviors.
Both this year and last--the two years that Rotman invited other schools to participate--business school students were slaughtered by the design school students. Of the 12 Rotman teams this year, not one of them made the final round. And while only seven of the 23 competing teams were from design schools (including California College of Arts, Ontario College of Art and Design, and the University of Cincinnati), design teams scooped the top three places in the competition, doing significantly better than their MBA counterparts. So what does this tell us?
Product design and development
It might tell us that MBAs significantly underestimate the skill and expertise a designer brings to the table. After all, about 80 MBA students volunteered their evenings and weekends, believing they had a chance of winning a design competition with minimal, if any, design training. Would you go toe-to-toe with even a purple belt in jiu jitsu having never taken a lesson? While the typical design-school competitor has (at the least) studied the design process in depth for several semesters and practiced it in co-ops and internships, for many MBA students, this was their very first exposure to the discipline. So while we should applaud the organizers’ efforts to open MBA eyes to the importance and value of design in solving business problems, it seems that even its most forward-thinking students may not have fully digested that design is a serious pursuit that requires serious training.
The competition outcome might also tell us that designers have reason to be encouraged. With only 15 minutes to convince a skeptical panel of experienced professionals about a new idea that doesn’t exist in the world today, they fared significantly better than their MBA counterparts. Why? Because they shared real user insights to engage us emotionally, used narrative and stories to compel us, drew sketches and visualizations to inspire us, and simplified the complex to focus us. It’s proof positive that numbers and bullet points, while important, aren’t necessarily what drive executive decision making.
Finally, it tells us that we still have a long way to go to develop business professionals who both appreciate and can engage the tools of design effectively. Rotman gets kudos for taking a step in the right direction. But a few workshops and an extracurricular competition won’t produce business leaders with real design-thinking skills. Business education must be completely redefined to include the best, most appropriate principles of design in every curriculum. Marketing classes should teach a deep reverence for the user in context and the power of observational research methods. Finance classes should teach the art of storytelling and information design. Strategy classes should teach systems thinking and synthesis. If the goal is to create great "hybrid thinkers" who will have real impact, design should not be tacked on to existing business education but infused throughout it.
I’m not letting design schools off the hook either. While design students fared much better than their MBA counterparts that Saturday afternoon, I should point out that only the winning team from the Institute of Design at IIT actually charged a fee for the service they developed (a fact that was not overlooked by my final-round co-judge Ray Chun, the senior vice president of retail banking at TD). Some competitors were able to offer a vague notion that their ideas would generally create economic value, but crisp articulations of a profit model and underlying assumptions were hard to come by.
And I was less than impressed with the business-thinking skills of designers the following Monday morning, when I interviewed 10 of them at the Institute of Design in Chicago for jobs at Doblin. To most candidates, I asked of the ideas they presented in their portfolios, “But how does it make money? Who will pay for that? How much would you need to sell to be profitable?” and was met with far too many blank expressions when I did so. Design schools have a long way to go to integrate good business thinking into their programs. In order to make their value known to the world, designers need to speak the language of business--that’s where great ideas get funded and developed. Design education needs as much of an overhaul as business education if we are to benefit from the talents of design thinkers in the business world.
I hope that we see meaningful reinvention of both design and business education so that the business world can realize the true value of design thinking. Until that happens, Rotman’s Business Design Club would be wise to require challenge teams to comprise both designers and MBAs. At least it would level the playing field, and it may improve the educational experience for both--assuming each can decipher what the other is saying.
COMMENTARY: I could've predicted that a designer would win a product design contest over an MBA, no matter what school he or she attended. You're talking about two different brain types--Type A (serious business, marketing, lawyers) versus Type B (creative types like musicians, artists, engineers and designers).
I agree that combining elements of design into a graduate business program would be a great idea. It would certainly open the graduate student in business, finance and marketing to the importance of good design in designing products, attracting the consumer and being able to compete in the marketplace.
Graduate programs would certainly be more interesting than just debits and credits, and boring case studies. Design is very important whether you are marketing a line of fashion apparel, accessories, or mobile devices like smartphones or tablet computers.
I don't think you need too much proof to convince people that good design wins over the consumer. Apple has clearly demonstrated that simple, elegant and well engineered products increase perceived value and win over consumers, and that they are willing to pay premium prices.
I spent several years in the advertising agency business, and having worked in such a creative environment, learned the importance of design and creativity from an advertising perspective. Even an inferior product can be made to look and sound good, and from a marketing perspective this is very important in communicating with your marketplace.
According to the Rotman School of Management, a team from the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) emerged as the winner of the 2012 Rotman Design Challenge. The competition was held at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School on Management on March 24, 2011. The IIT team narrowly edged out a team from OCAD University who won the competition in 2011.
Teams from the Darden School of Business, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, NYU Stern, California College of the Arts, Illinois Institute of Technology, OCAD University, the Rotman School and UofT’s Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design presented their ideas on developing concepts and products which will shape students’ financial behavior that will lead to a more sustainable and economically viable adult life.
Here are the Top 3:
Winner - Team Beta (Lauren Braun, John Shin, Helen Wills, Jorge Angarita, and Janice Wong) from Illinois Institute of Technology won the competition with their TD Stacks engagement model.
2nd Place - The A-Team, (Jen Chow, Josina Vink, Jessica Mills, Martin Ryan, and Phouphet Sihavong), from OCADU, last year winners of the Rotman Design Challenge, placed second with their TD Table Talk platform.
3rd Place - FabFore, (Ben McCammon, Uma Maharaj, Eric Leo Blais, and Ana Matic), also from OCADU placed third with TD BranchOut.
Martin Ryan of The A-Team said.
“Competitions like the Rotman Design Challenge are vital to the future of graduate education in business and design. They are the closest students get to real life experimentation with the evolving mindsets and toolsets of innovation, and how they can be best put into practice to deliver both human and business value.“
This was the first year participants, visitors and judges were also able to cast their vote as part of the people’s choice awards for:
The Best Story, won by OCADU’s FabFore.
Most Fun Presentation award to Team Beta from IIT.
Most Disruptive Idea won by OCADU’s The A-Team.
Lauren Braun speaking on behalf of the Beta team said.
“We're so grateful to have been part of the event this year. The chance to compete against such a diverse group of schools was both challenging and rewarding. The exposure to different perspectives and problem-solving methods left a lasting impression.”
Plans are already underway for the next Rotman Design Challenge as it continues to develop as one of the premier international venue for sharing best business design practices and solving wicked problems.
Josina Vink of The A-Team said.
“There is so much we can gain from sharing our unique approaches to thinking through these sorts of complex challenges.”
TD Bank Group was the lead sponsor of the 2012 Rotman Design Challenge
The Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto is redesigning business education for the 21st century with a curriculum based on Integrative Thinking. Located in the world’s most diverse city, the Rotman School fosters a new way to think that enables the design of creative business solutions. The School is currently raising $200 million to ensure Canada has the world-class business school it deserves. For more information, visit http://www.rotman.utoronto.ca.
It might look like something from an imaginary steampunk past, but designers at Philips think this could be the low-impact home of the future.
It’s called the Microbial Home. Created as part of Philips’ Design Probes program to “explore far-future lifestyle scenarios,” it is a vision for a collection of household appliances and fixtures that all work together in an “integrated cyclical ecosystem.”
The Microbial Home takes kitchen composting to its extreme, with a closed-loop system in which the waste products from one process are used as energy inputs for another.
The central hub is a “bio-digester island” which has a cutting surface, a gas range, and a bio-digester. Bacteria in the bio-digester feed on organic waste such as vegetable trimmings to produce a methane gas that powers the range and the lights and heats water. Dehydrated sludge from the digester can be used as compost.
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The connected “larder” includes a suspended vegetable garden and a terra cotta evaporative cooling unit built into the table, providing an alternative to energy-intensive refrigeration. Other elements of the Microbial Home include a beehive, a light powered by bioluminescent bacteria, and yes, a squatting toilet that captures “excreta” for the methane digester. There’s even a hand-cranked contraption for recycling plastic.
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Models of these concepts were shown at Piet Hein Eek gallery in Eindhoven for October’s Dutch Design Week, but it’s unlikely that we’ll actually working elements of the Microbial Home in stores anytime soon. Philips’ Probes are exercises in speculative design, intended to spark conversation and spur innovation.
Creating a cyclical eco-system. In the Microbial Home Probe we adopt a systemic approach to many of the domestic processes we take for granted and ask questions about how we deal with resources. It is a proposal for an integrated cyclical ecosystem where each function’s output is another’s input. We view the home as a biological machine to filter, process and recycle what we conventionally think of as waste – sewage, effluent, garbage, waste water. The Probe suggests that we should move closer to nature and challenges the wisdom of annihilating the bacteria that surround us. It proposes strategies for developing a balanced microbial ecosystem in the home.
COMMENTARY: The Microbial Home Probe kitchen does require an individual that is truly committed to self-sustained closed-loop system that recycles waste and reuses it to produce bacteria which in turn produces electricity. It's a very cool looking, high-tech kitchen setup, and I have not seen anything like it before. That honeybee maker is something else, and I would certainly like to know how you keep the bees and the queen bee happy in a confined space. The Microbial Home Probe kitchen is still an experiment, and Philips has no plans to offer the kitchen for sale anytime soon, but it sure is intriguing if you are into cooking and sustainability.
The first electric car that runs on more than electricity
Volt is unique among electric vehicles because you have two sources of energy. You have an electric source–a battery–that allows you to drive gas–free for an EPA–estimated 35 miles. And there's also an onboard gas generator that produces electricity so you can go up to to a total of 375 additional miles on a full tank of gas4. So if you want to drive using only electricity, you can. If you want to drive using electricity and gas, you can do that too. Volt is first for two very good reasons.
So advanced, it's simple
If you can drive, you can drive a Volt. Instead of turning a key, you push a blue button. Rather than looking at dials and needles, you check two interactive LCD screens for feedback based on your particular driving style. For example, suppose you want to go from A to B in the most efficient manner possible. Volt is programmed to respond with a choice of three driving modes. Normal mode enables Volt to drive like a conventional car, only more efficiently. Sport mode gives drivers more aggressive feedback and heightened response. Mountain mode maintains a power reserve for climbing long, steep grades.
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Charging for about $1.50 per day on average
It doesn't get much simpler than that. For less than the cost of a latte, you can fully charge your Volt and drive an EPA–estimated 35 miles gas–free. Choose a standard 120V charging kit that allows you to plug into a conventional electrical outlet and fully charge the battery in about 10 hours, depending on climate. Or opt for an available 240V charging station that reduces your charging time to approximately four hours. Professional installation required. For more information, visit SPX Service Solutions.
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Two apps, double the connectivity
Curious about your charging status? Download the OnStar RemoteLink™ mobile app6 and you can see the battery level and charge mode–120V or 240V–right on your smart phone. You'll be able to remotely verify that the car is plugged in and even schedule a future charging time. Text or email alerts tell you when the battery is fully charged or if there's a charge interruption. But suppose you want to schedule a service appointment online? Or create a photo reminder to help you remember where you parked your car? Download the myChevrolet7 app, which works with OnStar RemoteLink™6, to give you all the power you want— in the palm of your hand.
Stay connected with the latest information and entertainment. Bring Pandora®, Stitcher SmartRadio™ and Gracenote along for the ride. MyLink8 allows streaming content from select smart phones to converge on an available seven–inch diagonal color touch–screen radio.
SiriusXM Satellite Radio
Listen to commercial–free music, sports, news and talk, comedy and family programming from coast–to–coast. Volt offers three trial months of SiriusXM Satellite Radio9 standard. See channel listings and more info.
Get to your final destination with fewer hassles thanks to Turn–by–Turn Navigation10, a feature of OnStar®Directions & Connections®10, standard for three years. Just push a button and a trained OnStar® Advisor will help guide you via the latest up–to–date routes. Take a complete tour of OnStar® capabilities
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Instant torque @ zero
The connection is direct: head, right foot, motor, power. Without a traditional transmission, 273 lb.–ft. of low–end torque has nowhere to go except to the tires and pavement. This helps explain why a vehicle with an electric propulsion system can feel so powerful and exhilarating. No wonder Volt has the ability to reach a test–track speed of 100 mph. There's the smooth whisper–like quiet ride, perfect for expressing your astonishment. Out loud, of course.
A 16kWh lithium–ion battery pack powers Volt for an EPA–estimated 35 miles on a full charge. If you also have a full tank of gas, the total driving range is up to 375 miles11. It's electric when you want it, gas when you need it.
If the battery runs low, you don't have to worry because Volt automatically transitions to a unique gasoline range–extending capability. Even if you never use it, you know you've got a backup plan. Chevy puts the same kind of confidence behind our 8–year/100,000–mile Battery and Voltec Component Limited Warranty12. Engineering in. Fun out.
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Enhance efficiency. Have a ball. Simply keep the ball green and in the center of the gauge to enjoy optimal battery efficiency.
Bose® Energy Efficient Series speaker system
Hear this. Get incredible sound from an available seven-speaker Bose® audio system with subwoofer that's 30% smaller, 40% lighter and uses 50% less energy than comparable Bose® systems.
Goodyear® Assurance® Fuel Max® tires
Reduce friction. Drive on specialized Goodyear low–rolling resistance tires and get up to one additional all–electric mile when compared to ordinary tires.
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All–over aerodynamic aesthetics
Chevy designers constantly talk about form and function but when it comes to Volt, Director of Design Bob Boniface will tell you that they didn't compromise aesthetics to enable function. The result? A vehicle that looks sporty, quick, smooth and modern, yet achieves an extremely low coefficient of drag.
Countless hours in the wind tunnel influenced the styling of many exterior components including mirrors, a closed grill, rocker panels and the rear spoiler. In fact, the vertical blades that go from the bottom of the spoiler to the bottom of the bumper were designed specifically to trick the air into separating from the bumper more quickly, giving Volt extraordinary aerodynamics.
Another spin on styling
Make a smart statement with available 17–inch polished alloy wheels. Or choose available 17" painted sport wheels, which come with the option for dealer–installed inserts available in Silver Ice Metallic, Viridian Joule or Cyber Gray Metallic.
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Display advanced thinking
See everything that matters. Two interactive LCD color screens constantly provide feedback; like real–time info on energy usage and power flow. Efficiency feedback based on your driving style. Even how much charge remains in the battery. One screen actually allows you to program a charging schedule based on electricity rate plans. So if rates are lower at certain times of the day or night, you can program Volt to take advantage of every kilowatt.
Just like the exterior, Volt has an interior with a flow of its own. A unique design incorporates a full center console with sporty bucket seats for four. Cup holders, storage bins, door panel storage, cargo space13 —10.6 cubic feet to be exact— all the things you'd expect are there. What you don't expect is a dedicated umbrella pocket, another storage area for the standard 120V charging cord and available heated front seats.
Insert your style
For 2012, Volt offers a number of striking interior color combinations. Choose between available Jet Black leather–appointed seats with Ceramic White or Spice Red or Green inserts, which come with complementary interior accents. See the complete list of features and specs.
A safety philosophy that runs deep
What's the best safety philosophy? Avoid a collision in the first place. That's the kind of thinking that has earned Volt accolades–like being named a 2011 Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety14 and receiving a 5–Star Overall Vehicle Safety score from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration15 Over, under, inside and around–we've thought of safety from every angle.
Your drive begins with the aid of an available rear–vision camera system that alerts drivers to certain stationary obstacles when driving in Reverse at low speeds. Since Volt is so quiet, a driver–activated pedestrian–friendly alert helps warn people who may not hear Volt approaching at low speeds. Once on the road, drive with confidence knowing the StabiliTrak® Electronic Stability Control System with Traction Control is there to keep you on course.
If a moderate–to–severe collision occurs, Volt is designed to respond instantly with eight standard air bags16–including head– curtain side–impact air bags for outboard front and rear occupants, plus frontal side–impact and new knee air bags for the driver and front passenger. Meanwhile, the cabin is reinforced with high–strength steel throughout. But our protective measures don't end there.
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Should a collision occur, crucial information can be automatically relayed to the OnStar® Command Center via OnStar® Automatic Crash Response10. There, trained OnStar Advisors utilize GPS technology to pinpoint your exact location and can request that assistance be sent right away— even if you're unable to respond. OnStar is standard for three years.
We speak with the artist about creating a years-in-the-making mechanical masterpiece.
The blogs have been buzzing about California artist Chris Burden's toy-car megalopolis project, Metropolis II, for ages. The latest news: A collector bought the installation for "millions" of dollars, but was gracious enough to donate it to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for display over the next 10 years. (Whew!) But what does it take to design something like Metropolis II, and what does it all mean, anyway?
The first question is easy: It took Burden and his chief engineer Zak Cook four years of R&D and construction in Burden's studio to make Metropolis II. (Burden, a performance-art superstar who once had a friend shoot him in the arm in a gallery, is no stranger to following his artistic means to extreme ends.) Burden tells Co.Design that his inspiration for the project was "that we spent so much time and effort on R&D on the first one" -- a smaller toy-car city called Metropolis I that was sold to a museum in Japan, which exhibited it for six months and then mothballed it forever, like the final shot of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Whereas that version had "only" 80 toy cars whizzing around on single-lane highways, Metropolis II has 1,100 cars traveling on 18 roadways "including one six-laner," says Burden. "We wanted to expand it and make it truly overwhelming -- the noise and level of activity are both mesmerizing and anxiety provoking."
Burden doesn't have any particular interest in transportation or urban planning, he says, although he has used toys in his artworks since the 1970s. So what, then, is this hulking, cacophonous mini-city supposed to reflect? Burden says, referring to the idea of jumping into one's own car anytime and going wherever one pleases, how one pleases.
"Toys are interesting as objects -- they're the tools you use to inculcate children into adults. They're a reflection of society. It's modeling something that's on the twilight of extinction: the era of the 'free car'. Those days are numbered, but think it's a good thing. The upside is that cars can be faster and safer, and you don't have to worry about drunk drivers. Think about it: The cars in Metropolis II are going a scale speed of 230mph. That'd be great to do for real in L.A."
But while Metropolis II is an optimistic vision of the future of car culture, that's not to say that crack-ups don't happen. The exhibit, when running, requires two full-time attendants: one standing inside it monitoring flow like a panopticon, and another pacing around the 20-by-30-foot installation watching for traffic snarls. Burden says.
"I've seen spectacular pile-ups involving cars that spill off the road and derail trains. Every hour 100,000 cars circulate through the system, so you're going to get some glitches. It's not digitized."
Burden and Cook added some clever design solutions to control the traffic flow and minimize catastrophes. The subtlest, says Burden, are lane-dividing medians on the tiny roadways that taper to a point from the bottom to the top edge on straightaways, but remain fully vertical in curves. The reason: braking. When the cars enter a curve, the walls of the medians touch with rims of their wheels and the friction slows them down; when they come out of the curve, the tapered medians don't touch the wheel rims anymore, allowing the cars to pick up speed again on straightaways and keep the flow moving swiftly. When they reach the bottom, magnets in the track catch on and pull them back up a slope to the top like a roller coaster, where they are released once again to gravity's pull.
Burden also has Metropolis II's cars specially manufactured in China to his custom specifications -- unlike Metropolis I, which just used off-the-shelf Hot Wheels toys. "The original toy cars have very thin axles that wear out too fast," says Burden. Given thatMetropolis II is supposed to run three days a week for the next 10 years, how will it avoid the "wearing out" problem? Burden's no-nonsense answer: "We made a lot of cars." He says Metropolis II will go on exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art sometime this fall.
COMMENTARY: The kids would go crazy with Metropolis II, but if it were full-scale size in the Real World, would it be eco-friendly? That's a lot of gas fumes being emitted in such a confined space.
Courtesy of an article dated July 13, 2011 appearing in Fast Company Design and an article dated July 13, 2011 appearing in DVICE
What can a man immersed in the real-world culture of startups teach the Ivory Tower eggheads about staying relevant?
Joichi Ito’s resume reads like that of a guy afflicted with ADD, hooked on media, and ramped up on Red Bull: a “guild master” in the World of Warcraft, a DJ, a Hollywood producer, a former CEO of Creative Commons, a board member of the Mozilla Foundation and Icann and a venture capitalist with early stage investments in Twitter, Flickr, Technorati, and last.fm, among others. Did we mention he’s also a scuba instructor who enjoys feeding sharks?
Turns out, that’s the perfect bio for a future director of one of the world’s pre-eminent computer science labs and research facilities (well, maybe not the shark part). At least that’s what the MIT”s famed Media Lab decided when, after two days of “speed dating” in Cambridge they tapped him as their new chief, passing over 200 other candidates.
Checkout this mobile technology that can create a junkyard jumbotron by combining several smartphones. I don't think you are going to make a lot of money from it, but it is so cool.
Here's another really cool MIT Media Lab invention--the Sixth Sense Mobile Gestureal Interface that gives you relevant information about whatever maybe in front of you. I thought object recognition (checkout Google Google's) was interesting, but Sixth Sense is object recognition on steroids.
One hitch: he’s a college drop-out (of both Tufts in computer science, and the University of Chicago in physics). Details, details! But nothing that couldn’t be overcome with high voltage charm, a killer resume, dazzling global connections, and scary smarts.
The Media Lab, co-founded by Nicholas Negoponte and Jerome Wiesner in 1985, is the place that brought us such innovations as electronic ink (which enables e-book readers); LEGO’s Mindstorms kits; the original software for Guitar Hero; the One Laptop Per Child computer; the gesture interface previewed in “The Minority Report”; and the robotic PowerFoot prosthesis.
We caught up with Ito (who goes by Joi, pronounced "Joey") in his offices at the end of his first busy week on the job, as he was racing back from a meeting with students.
You’ve been a venture capitalist, an entrepreneur, a tech executive, and a Hollywood producer. Why did you want to come to the Media Lab?
I’m very much a serendipity person. So when I met Megan Smith from Google at “Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford” and she asked me if I was interested in being director of the Media Lab, I thought about it for a minute and said, “Sure!” But then I wasn’t sure it would work. I thought of MIT as this big institution, this thing. And when I came to visit, the building was so impressive, it was a little bit intimidating. I thought, “Gee, I don’ t know if I deserve to run a place like this!”
What made you decide this was the place for you?
We did this kind of speed dating thing where I had 30-minute stints with faculty and students for two days. At the end, I thought, “Wow, this is perfect; it’s exactly what I want to do.” My whole life has been about connecting things that aren’t connected. I moved to the Middle East because I realized it wasn’t connected to a lot of my networks. My life looks really scattered and disorganized because I’m always trying to push the edge of my understanding, and my value is in providing connections and context. Anyway, it was very much a love at first sight thing. We ended with a big group hug.
It’s pretty unusual to find a person in such a lofty academic position who doesn’t even have a B.A. Was that a problem?
Obviously there were a few raised eyebrows when MIT found out that I didn’t have a degree. The Media Lab people felt like it was a badge of honor because they don’t like to conform. But after I met the administrators and they got that I don’t disrespect academia, it’s just that I have never fit into any of their patterns.
How can you turn that insight into something the Media Lab might explore?
Academia’s trying to reinvent itself right now. Maybe some of those people like me who are dropping out and starting companies ought to be in school and would be if only there were the perfect place. I got lucky. I found the Internet, my parents were encouraging, and even though I completely failed at formal education, I somehow survived. Most people aren’t like that. The Media Lab does a lot of work with learning. So maybe we can start reinventing education. Could we make this a place that would accept me, and more importantly, be able to keep people like me? On the West Coast, you’ve got Peter Thiel, paying people to drop out of college. And I thought: let’s flip this around. Aren’t there a bunch of those people who dropped out who should be here at the Media Lab and how can we figure that out? That’s one of my missions.
With all these interests, how do you keep from just being a dilettante?
It’s not about being a generalist. I like to go deep in a lot of things, but when I do, I like to go deep enough to contribute. If I like scuba, I become an instructor. If I like music, I become a disc jockey. If I like movies, I want to work on a movie set. I don’t become a world class academic in that field, but I get good enough to understand the nuances. And then, because I have experience in so many fields, it gives me a pattern that other people don’t have. For me, being unique and having friends who are unique is a really important thing.
So, presiding over the Media Lab lets you sample a bunch of different fields without having to commit to just one?
Exactly. When I was in Hollywood, I realized that if I wanted to be a Hollywood producer, I’d have to spend 120% of my time talking to only Hollywood people. It’s the same in every industry or with traditional academics. But the Media Lab is a place where you can sit around and talk about everything deeply and that’s the whole point. And I thought, here I’ve been stitching this thing together and being called this crazy scatterbrained ADD guy when in fact, what I’ve been trying to do already exists at the Media Lab, and sponsors pay for it!
Interdisciplinary studies is a big thing on campuses these days. Do you see your own experience as a model of the future?
Reed Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, is a friend of mine. We talk a lot about careers. The whole idea that you figure out what you want to be, then plan your course and execute on it doesn’t work anymore. Now, you want to find the things that you’re good at, be able to pivot when you need to, and have the network you need to support that. We know from Mark Granovetter that it’s the strength of weak ties that are really important. You don’t build weak ties in a place where 50 people are saying the same thing as you. You build it in places like this. Here at the Media Lab we can be pioneers in testing this, and because we can grant degrees, we can be a hybrid and do some crossovers. I want to experiment with that as much as MIT will let us. My proposal to MIT and the provost is let us be a pilot for the future of academia.
Boston is one of the top three cities for venture capital. As a former Silicon Valley VC, I wonder how you see it fitting in?
The Media Lab has the potential to create a new and different category. The consumer-Internet, agile-technology VC community doesn’t exist yet in San Francisco. You’ve got all these engineering geeks there, from the Stanford and HP explosion, who create a lot of stuff. And there’s a little bit of design because of the rave culture and the hippie culture. But San Francisco isn’t really that cool.
On the other hand, New York with Madison Avenue and the media, understands cool. The cool companies like Foursquare and Kickstarter are starting in New York. Even in the cool companies like Twitter, most of the people aren’t really from SF.
Silicon Valley is a gravity well of so much stuff, it’s hard for them to get out of it. There’s a really particular kind of investment style, a particular type of agility, and a particular type of company development that’s very Silicon Valley. They’re very agile, and good at risk taking, but they’re very short term. All these companies in Silicon Valley may start out with a long term view, but they very quickly turn into these cash-generating, supercharged growth things. It’s like a drug. It clouds the mind.
Meanwhile, big companies are long term and not agile. If we could figure out a way to be long term and agile and figure out an investment structure for that, that is something Media Lab would be very good at: something where we could have a long trajectory, yet create a short term impact.
Would this new structure necessarily be a venture capital model?
We may need to reinvent how venture capital works. If you’re addicted to really high short term returns, you do a certain kind of risk taking where you can get short term breakaway success. Silicon Valley doesn’t like to invest in long-term things, they don’t like to invest in hardware.
So much of technology now is about making things more efficient and faster. We know from the financial crisis that just making things more efficient doesn’t necessarily make the world better. I’m not super religious, but being from a Buddhist background, we learned that happiness is about balance, about community, about things that are sustainable.
The bad thing about New York is that there are too many investment bankers who say, “How can he be smart if he’s not rich?” In Boston, where it’s all about academia, being poor doesn’t mean you’re stupid. Does that induce a good investment system? I don’t know. It’s got a unique set of parameters. It could be that it’s not venture capital. It could be foundations, or nonprofits. If we could start creating a ton of impact, there are ways to fund it. The Mozilla foundation makes $100M from Google per year, but they’re nonprofit. You don’t have to have investors to do everything.
Everyone’s struggling with how you put the money together in a way that creates maximum impact. I’m just assembling the pieces; I don’t have the theory yet.
The Media Lab gets most of its research budget from corporate sponsors. What are your plans in that area?
Your partners are the ones who have the incentive to take what you do and create big impacts. But you end up being biased toward a particular category of impact when you have a specific category of sponsors. The fact that the Knight Foundation is coming in is great, but government or social entrepreneurs could also be sponsors. It’s all about diversity -- geographic, sector, and field diversity. There are some Silicon Valley companies here but not that many. And internationally we have clusters, but we don’t have many Arab companies, or many Africans. We could encourage that more.
You’re famous for your manic travel schedule. What does that international perspective mean to the Media Lab?
My biggest guilt is my impact on climate change because I travel over half a million miles a year. I go around the world one or two times every month. When you do that, nowhere is very far away. What I’d like to do is bring people with me, and bring people back. Big connections are OK, but it’s more interesting to allow the chaos and complexity and serendipity to happen. That doesn’t happen with heads of state talking to each other; it’s when these interesting relationships crop up. For me international is not about building a humongous center in some place, it’s how can I make everyone in the Media Lab be able to test their product in Kenya, and make that as easy as walking across the street to the Harvard Medical Center.
What are the barriers to that?
People think of MIT and the Media Lab as this well-protected fortress of intellectual elitism and they’re afraid to contact us. It didn’t become a fortress on purpose. It’s just a natural state if you have a bunch of smart people in physical proximity in a beautiful space with cookies.
Brand is important, but we need to make ourselves less intimidating. And part of that is showing up everywhere. That’s what I did with Creative Commons. And I’d go to Syria and say, “Hey, anybody want to work with us?” Or to Ramallah, and say, “Hey, can we set up a Palestinian network here?” Then I’d go to Israel. Once you start going to places you see that face-to-face is really important. I’ll do the first reconnaissance thing out there, but once I get going, I hope all the students will be going out.
At Creative Commons you worked on intellectual property issues. How will that help you at MIT?
Intellectual property is a huge part of what universities obsess about. But I think sponsors these days care more about the ideas than the patents. So much stuff is shared online now with Open Source, the Internet, and informal research. The best way to be relevant is to be part of the conversation, and a lot of these conversations aren’t happening in peer reviewed journals. They’re happening at Foo Camp (an annual hacker convention).
A lot depends on the sector, but what we realized at Creative Commons is there’s no one formula. It’s very nuanced. You have to be very literate with what you give out, what you don’t share. But if you can share it, it will make you more relevant and you’re much more likely to get information back. Students and faculty here get it. I come in with a very strong bias toward open; we’ll see how the system reacts to that (big laugh.) I don’t have enough data yet to predict the outcome.
You’re well-known for living a very public life. Will you still be able to do that in your new position?
Lots of people have given me lots of advice. I’m going to continue to be open. Openness and transparency by themselves don’t solve anything, but they don’t necessarily cause the problems either. A lot depends on your personality. I’m not very good at keeping secrets. I’m not a micromanaging kind of person. I do get in the weeds when I’m going deep on something but I don’t tend to obsess about the complexity of stuff. I try to fix things by charging forward and trying to overwhelm with energy rather than trying to surgically fix stuff. Transparency tends to work better with that kind of management.
It’s great to sit around swapping tales of the latest cool technology, but you’ll be expected to do a lot of fund-raising too, right?
I’ve discovered that I kind of enjoy fund-raising. I realized that fund-raising and philanthropy aren’t these negative things about raising money. They’re about building a vision together with people and building partnerships. In the Media Lab I felt like I found my tribe, and I can go out and represent them to the world, and find people to join the vision. Since I’m not an academic or a researcher, I’m not going to do my own thing. Everyone’s projects are my projects. The context of the lab is my work. A number of people seemed to feel that was a feature rather than a bug.
COMMENTARY: I don't really know what to make of this, but I am glad to see that a college dropout can make it in academia, and making it at an institution like MIT is earth shattering.
My familliarity with the MIT Media Lab comes from researching some of the latest innovative technologies and breakthroughs that started at MIT: Artificial intelligence, robotics, green technology, electric vehicles, social media analytics, and so forth.
Sure, Ito is a very successful entrepreneur and savvy venture capital investor. He says he wants to reinvent academia at MIT. I am not sure why he would want to do that. MIT is all about academia. There is no other institution quite like it anywhere in the world. If anything, other institutions should try to emulate the MIT academic model. There are no academic institutions that can come close to matching MIT's accomplishments. This is abundantly made clear in a previous blog post dated April 11, 2o11.
I think where Ito can shine is serving as an inhouse technology incubator. Identifying great technology innovation, and grooming those MIT geeks so they are better prepared to launch their startup when they are ready. Ito can bring a lot of VC contacts, but MIT is already very well connected with the Boston and Silicon Valley venture capital community. There are scores of MIT alums serving as managing or senior partners at many VC firms.
I think Ito's is naturally inquisitive and always exploring new things, wanting to know WHY? The MIT Media Lab is going to be Ito's candy store. I think deep down that's one of the reason's he took the job.
I think where Ito can help MIT is in in molding MIT's entrepreneurial culture. MIT is all about geekiness. Geeks are good. MIT is like the Mecca for geeks. However, I have found from engaging with a few MIT entrepreneurs that they tend to be too hands-on and often lacking an entrepreneurial skillset that you must have in order to build a successful startup from the ground up. They are so passionate about their invention, that they won't let go, forgetting that it takes not just engineering know-how, passion and vision, but capital to launch and commercialize new technology innovation.
Here's a very interesting video of Google CEO Eric Schmidt recent visit to the MIT Media Lab. By the way, Schmidt is a graduate of MIT. MIT is a very important talent pipeline for Google.
Courtesy of an article dated May 11, 2011 appearing in Fast Company
It's all about balancing the forces that act on a building, through ingenious add-ons.
By now, we can all appreciate that the miracle of Japanese earthquake engineering prevented the Great East Japan Earthquake from killing millions rather than thousands (the radiation emanating from the Fukushima nuclear plants is another matter). But earthquake-proof buildings, how do they work?
The architecture gurus at Architizer have stepped in to clarify matters, with this handy-dandy infographic. While it's a bit heavy on the technical jargon, it's nonetheless pretty great. Let's break it down into a few easy pieces.
The problem with earthquakes is that they create a wave of forces, all pushing on a building from one direction. Ergo, the basic strategy for counteracting their forces is to push the other way.
There's two basic ways of doing this. One, a so-called mass damper, is pretty high-tech. It consists of an extremely heavy weight attached to the top of a building, which sways back and forth. It knows which direction to sway based on sensors that detect which way an earthquake's waves are coming from:
[Click to see full-sized infographic]
The second type of earthquake-proofing, a base isolator, resides in the foundations, rather than the roof, and takes advantage of the fact that earthquakes shake buildings from the ground up.
The magic happens in the isolator unit, a large piece of rubber that separates the ground beneath a building from its supporting pylons. It works in two ways: first, by creating a buffer zone that soaks up earthquake forces that would otherwise just ripple through a building's foundations. But it can't absorb all those forces, so it also acts as a spring, compressing under pressure and then expanding in a direction opposite the earthquake's, to counteract its impact.
And then there's a matter of cost. It's not quite as much as you think, but it's high enough that it only makes sense in earthquake-prone regions.
COMMENTARY: The recent earthquake in Chile, and now the devastating one in Japan, the most powerful on record at 9.1 on the Richter scale, and the subsequent tsunami wave that followed, highlights the importance of taking proper measures to earthquake-proof your building or home.
There is no such thing as a 100% earthquake-proof building, as witnessed in Japan, with its strict building codes. However, if you live in an high earthquake prone area like Japan, Indonesia, China, Iran, Turkey, Chile, Peru, Mexico and the U.S., the clock is ticking.
If you own a commercial building or residence, I highly recommend that you read Tremor Tech and confer with a seismic or structural engineer. Don't worry, things will be okay, relax. I got you covered. HERE'S where to go. However, if you were too late to protect yourself, then you should go HERE for help and assistance. Ask for "Brownie".