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Chasing complexity

In his junior year of high school, Ryan Williams transferred from the public school near his hometown of Somerville, Alabama — “essentially a courthouse and a couple gas stations,” as he describes it — to the Alabama School of Math and Science in Mobile.

Articles

Chasing complexity

In his junior year of high school, Ryan Williams transferred from the public school near his hometown of Somerville, Alabama — “essentially a courthouse and a couple gas stations,” as he describes it — to the Alabama School of Math and Science in Mobile.

Teleoperating robots with virtual reality

Certain industries have traditionally not had the luxury of telecommuting. Many manufacturing jobs, for example, require a physical presence to operate machinery. But what if such jobs could be done remotely? Last week researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) presented a virtual reality (VR) system that lets you teleoperate a robot using an Oculus Rift headset.

An algorithm for your blind spot

Light lets us see the things that surround us, but what if we could also use it to see things hidden around corners? It sounds like science fiction, but that’s the idea behind a new algorithm out of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) — and its discovery has implications for everything from emergency response to self-driving cars.

Celebrating the life of doctoral student and alumnus Michael B. Cohen

Michael B. Cohen ’14, SM ’16 had a deep love for mathematics and the theoretical foundations of computing — a love that was infectious, brilliant, and always shared with others. Cohen, a doctoral student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), died suddenly from natural causes in September. He was 25 years of age.

Bug-repair system learns from example

Anyone who’s downloaded an update to a computer program or phone app knows that most commercial software has bugs and security holes that require regular “patching.” Often, those bugs are simple oversights. For example, the program tries to read data that have already been deleted. The patches, too, are often simple — such as a single line of code that verifies that a data object still exists.

“Superhero” robot wears different outfits for different tasks

From butterflies that sprout wings to hermit crabs that switch their shells, many animals must adapt their exterior features in order to survive. While humans don’t undergo that kind of metamorphosis, we often try to create functional objects that are similarly adaptive — including our robots. Despite what you might have seen in “Transformers” movies, though, today’s robots are still pretty inflexible. Each of their parts usually has a fixed structure and a single defined purpose, making it difficult for them to perform a wide variety of actions.

Videos

Custom robots in a matter of minutes

Even as robots become increasingly common, they remain incredibly difficult to make. From designing and modeling to fabricating and testing, the process is slow and costly: Even one small change can mean days or weeks of rethinking and revising important hardware. But what if there were a way to let non-experts craft different robotic designs — in one sitting?

High-quality online video with less rebuffering

We’ve all experienced two hugely frustrating things on YouTube: our video either suddenly gets pixelated, or it stops entirely to rebuffer. Both happen because of special algorithms that break videos into small chunks that load as you go. If your internet is slow, YouTube might make the next few seconds of video lower resolution to make sure you can still watch uninterrupted — hence, the pixelation. If you try to skip ahead to a part of the video that hasn’t loaded yet, your video has to stall in order to buffer that part.

Designing the microstructure of printed objects

Today’s 3-D printers have a resolution of 600 dots per inch, which means that they could pack a billion tiny cubes of different materials into a volume that measures just 1.67 cubic inches. Such precise control of printed objects’ microstructure gives designers commensurate control of the objects’ physical properties — such as their density or strength, or the way they deform when subjected to stresses. But evaluating the physical effects of every possible combination of even just two materials, for an object consisting of tens of billions of cubes, would be prohibitively time consuming.

Somersaulting simulation for jumping bots

In recent years engineers have been developing new technologies to enable robots and humans to move faster and jump higher. Soft, elastic materials store energy in these devices, which, if released carefully, enable elegant dynamic motions. Robots leap over obstacles and prosthetics empower sprinting. A fundamental challenge remains in developing these technologies. Scientists spend long hours building and testing prototypes that can reliably move in specific ways so that, for example, a robot lands right-side up upon landing a jump.

Reshaping computer-aided design

Almost every object we use is developed with computer-aided design (CAD). Ironically, while CAD programs are good for creating designs, using them is actually very difficult and time-consuming if you’re trying to improve an existing design to make the most optimal product.

Drones that drive

Being able to both walk and take flight is typical in nature — many birds, insects, and other animals can do both. If we could program robots with similar versatility, it would open up many possibilities: Imagine machines that could fly into construction areas or disaster zones that aren’t near roads and then squeeze through tight spaces on the ground to transport objects or rescue people.

Giving robots a sense of touch

Eight years ago, Ted Adelson’s research group at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) unveiled a new sensor technology, called GelSight, that uses physical contact with an object to provide a remarkably detailed 3-D map of its surface. Now, by mounting GelSight sensors on the grippers of robotic arms, two MIT teams have given robots greater sensitivity and dexterity. The researchers presented their work in two papers at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation last week.

Wearable system helps visually impaired users navigate

Computer scientists have been working for decades on automatic navigation systems to aid the visually impaired, but it’s been difficult to come up with anything as reliable and easy to use as the white cane, the type of metal-tipped cane that visually impaired people frequently use to identify clear walking paths. White canes have a few drawbacks, however. One is that the obstacles they come in contact with are sometimes other people. Another is that they can’t identify certain types of objects, such as tables or chairs, or determine whether a chair is already occupied.

Using Bitcoin to prevent identity theft

A reaction to the 2008 financial crisis, Bitcoin is a digital-currency scheme designed to wrest control of the monetary system from central banks. With Bitcoin, anyone can mint money, provided he or she can complete a complex computation quickly enough. Through a set of clever protocols, that computational hurdle prevents the system from being coopted by malicious hackers.

Eric Schmidt visits MIT to discuss computing, artificial intelligence, and the future of technology

When Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt started programming in 1969 at the age of 14, there was no explicit title for what he was doing. “I was just a nerd,” he says. But now computer science has fundamentally transformed fields like transportation, health care and education, and also provoked many new questions. What will artificial intelligence (AI) be like in 10 years? How will it impact tomorrow’s jobs? What’s next for autonomous cars?

Learn a language while you wait for WiFi

Hyper-connectivity has changed the way we communicate, wait, and productively use our time. Even in a world of 5G wireless and “instant” messaging, there are countless moments throughout the day when we’re waiting for messages, texts, and Snapchats to refresh. But our frustrations with waiting a few extra seconds for our emails to push through doesn’t mean we have to simply stand by.

Talks