MIT Media Lab turns 30

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Happy 30th

The MIT Media Lab will celebrate its 30th anniversary on Oct. 30 with an invitation-only symposium hosted by Penn & Teller, a choice which seems more than fitting given how much of the center’s work over the years has appeared magical before being woven into our everyday lives. What follows is a representative sample of the lab’s better known accomplishments.

MIT Labs

The Biomechatronics Group

As explained on its website: “First, we seek to restore function to individuals who have impaired mobility due to trauma or disease through research and development. Second, we develop technologies that augment human performance beyond what nature intends. These objectives are met by combining the scientific discipline of organismal and cellular neuromechanics with the technological discipline of bionic device design.” Hugh Herr, who heads the group at MIT Media Lab, explains its work in this TED Talk.

MIT Labs


Millions of children worldwide have been introduced to programming through a language specifically designed for them: Scratch. Officially released in 2005, here’s an introductory video from 2007.

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E Ink

The electronic paper featured on the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and other devices.


One Laptop Per Child

Launched in 2005 and spearheaded by MIT Media Lab chairman emeritus Nicholas Negroponte, the non-profit program produced the OLPC XO, a low-cost and low-power laptop computer, and has distributed several million to children in underdeveloped nations.

LEGO Mindstorms

LEGO Mindstorms

Legos and robotics, a match made in the MIT Media Lab. From its website: “MindStorms, a robotic invention system that … grew out of the LEGO Company’s 20-year collaboration with the Media Lab. This construction kit (commercialized in 1998) is based on MIT’s Programmable Brick technology, where a tiny, portable computer is embedded inside a traditional LEGO brick. With this added technology, the brick is capable of interacting with the physical world through sensors and motors, allowing children to build and program their own robots and other computerized contraptions.” Watch one solve a Rubik’s Cube.

Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero

Originally developed by MIT Media Labs spinoff Harmonix, Guitar Hero is … aw, you’ve played the game and you thought you were the best in the room, at the very least.

MIT Labs


An all-electric concept car built in 2003, the CityCar weighs less than 1,000 pounds and its lithium-ion battery was designed to deliver the equivalent of 150 to 200 MPG with no tailpipe emissions. It could fold up to occupy one-third of a parking space. Reportedly set for production in 2013 under the brand name Hiriko, it has yet to get off the ground.

MIT Media Lab

Nexi Robot

Chosen by Time Magazine as one of the 50 best inventions of 2008, Nexi is one of a number of small humanoid robots developed by the lab’s Personal Robots Group that have mobility, dexterity, and communication abilities. The video shows how a Nexi-like robot might play a role in a real-life rescue operation at sea.

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Yes, that BuzzFeed. Founder Jonah Peretti in an alum of the MIT Media Lab and BuzzFeed is listed among the lab’s most notable spinoffs.

MIT Media Labs


Created by MIT Media Lab alums David Merrill and Jeevan Kalanithi, Siftables are small, computerized tiles that can be stacked and shuffled. They are aware of each other and adapt to each other’s presence. Siftables can do math, play music, and talk to friends. They were the prototype for Sifteo cubes.

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Computer Clubhouse Network

Founded in 1993 by Mitchel Resnick and Natalie Rusk, The Computer Clubhouse Network describes its mission as to provide “a creative and safe out-of-school learning environment where young people from underserved communities work with adult mentors to explore their own ideas, develop new skills, and build confidence in themselves through the use of technology.” Sponsored by Intel since 2000, there are more than 100 clubhouses in 20 countries.

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Fisher-Price Symphony Painter

From the lab’s website: “In the fall of 2004, Fisher-Price unveiled Symphony Painter—a music-composition tool that gives children (four years old and up) a whole new way to create music. The toy also demonstrates how close research collaboration between a leading manufacturer and the Media Lab can result in a successful new product. The Symphony Painter music cartridge lets young kids ‘magically’ convert their Pixter Color drawings into music.”

Happy Birthday, MIT Media Lab

As the legendary MIT Media Lab turns 30th, we go behind the scenes to honor its past and get a peek at future innovations.