News

Spotlighted News

Algorithms & Theory , Robotics , Manufacturing
Algorithms & Theory , Robotics , Manufacturing

Giving soft robots senses

Filter options
  • All
  • Articles
  • Videos
  • Talks
List view

VIDEO: Autonomous soft robot uses its "tongues" to jump, bounce and roll

Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab have developed a soft robotic cube that uses a series of spring-loaded metal tongues to jump, bounce and roll along rocky terrain.The three-inch-wide, seven-ounce cube is able to jump more than a two-and-half times its height (upwards of eight inches vertically). Take that, Blake Griffin!

The basis for all cryptography

“Indistinguishability obfuscation” is a powerful concept that would yield provably secure versions of every cryptographic system we’ve ever developed and all those we’ve been unable to develop. But nobody knows how to put it into practice.

The NBA season starts today, and we want to help

Today represents the first day of the 2015-2016 NBA season, and we want to help.Well, sort of. Over the years, CSAIL researchers have regularly participated in the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, where computer scientists and mathematicians come together to discuss research on big data and sports.Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, it's the world's biggest student-run conference and one that attracts representatives from more than 80 professional sports teams and students from over 170 countries.Here are a few take-aways that might be of assistance to players and coaches this season.

How financial engineering can cure cancer

We are making breakthroughs almost weekly in our understanding of cancer and other deadly diseases, both in how to treat and – in some cases – how to cure them. So why is funding for early stage biomedical research and development declining just when we need it most?CSAIL principal investigator Andrew Lo discusses the pharmaceutical industry, and how tools from financial engineering could help incentive investors to fund cancer-research.

It's official: STEM now includes computer science, according to the US government

This month the STEM Education Act of 2015, which expands the definition of STEM—an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—to include computer science programs, was signed into law.As Education Week reports, the new law does not add funding, but it does expand the kinds of STEM programs that can be run and funded by federal government agencies to include computer science.The bill had bipartisan support from both the House of Representatives and the Senate. It was introduced by Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chairman of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, along with Elizabeth Esty (D-CT).

Machine-learning expert Jegelka wins major German award

This week CSAIL principal investigator Stefanie Jegelka received a prestigious German prize for her research efforts in machine learning. Considered the highest recognition awarded by the German Pattern Recognition Society, the “Deutscher Mustererkennungspreis” prize is given to an outstanding young researcher in machine learning or computer vision under the age of 35. Jegelka is the first woman to receive the award.

"Data Science Machine" crunches numbers faster and more effectively than most humans

Big-data analysis consists of searching for buried patterns that have some kind of predictive power. But choosing which “features” of the data to analyze usually requires some human intuition. In a database containing, say, the beginning and end dates of various sales promotions and weekly profits, the crucial data may not be the dates themselves but the spans between them, or not the total profits but the averages across those spans.

Predicting change in the Alzheimer’s brain

CSAIL researchers are developing a computer system that uses genetic, demographic, and clinical data to help predict the effects of disease on brain anatomy. In experiments, they trained a machine-learning system on MRI data from patients with neurodegenerative diseases and found that supplementing that training with other patient information improved the system’s predictions. In the cases of patients with drastic changes in brain anatomy, the additional data cut the predictions’ error rate in half, from 20 percent to 10 percent.

Learn about Big Data online! Enroll now in CSAIL-taught course

Sign Up Now for Fall Session of "Tackling the Challenges of Big Data"Starting October 6 MIT Professional Education will be offering a new installment of the online professional course, "Tackling the Challenges of Big Data". Twelve faculty experts from CSAIL will lead the course with enhanced features that include an improved platform, an extended duration, and archived access to video tutorials.

Better object recognition through flexible machine-learning

Machine learning, which is the basis for most commercial artificial-intelligence systems, is intrinsically probabilistic. An object-recognition algorithm asked to classify a particular image, for instance, might conclude that it has a 60 percent chance of depicting a dog, but a 30 percent chance of depicting a cat. At the Annual Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems in December, CSAIL researchers will present a new way of doing machine learning that enables semantically related concepts to reinforce each other. So, for instance, an object-recognition algorithm would learn to weigh the co-occurrence of the classifications “dog” and “Chihuahua” more heavily than it would the co-occurrence of “dog” and “cat.”

Soft robotic gripper can pick up and identify wide array of objects

Robots have many strong suits, but delicacy traditionally hasn’t been one of them. Rigid limbs and digits make it difficult for them to grasp, hold, and manipulate a range of everyday objects without dropping or crushing them.Recently, CSAIL researchers have discovered that the solution may be to turn to a substance more commonly associated with new buildings and Silly Putty: silicone.At a conference this month, researchers from CSAIL Director Daniela Rus’ Distributed Robotics Lab demonstrated a 3-D-printed robotic hand made out of silicone rubber that can lift and handle objects as delicate as an egg and as thin as a compact disc.

Meet CSAIL's MacArthur "genius grant" recipients

Congratulation to this year's "MacArthur geniuses"!Today the MacArthur Foundation announced its annual fellowships, often unofficially referred to as "genius grants." 2015's recipients included MIT economist Heidi Williams, whose scholarly work looks at the effects of patent policies and technology on medical research and health care.Below are a sampling of CSAIL researchers who have received the honor, which include an unrestricted award of $625,000 that is paid over five years.Tim Berners-Lee

One of our generation's "most brilliant geeks" on cloud-computing and Bill Gates comparisons

CSAIL researcher Matei Zaharai was recently profiled by The Economist in a story about the state of cloud-computing start-ups.Zaharia is co-founder of Databricks, a promising startup whose data-crunching technology Spark has drawn the attention of prominent developers, as well as a little company called IBM.From The Economist:

Teaching language to computers...by having them play computer games

CSAIL researchers have designed a computer system that learns how to play a text-based computer game with no prior assumptions about how language works. Although the system can’t complete the game as a whole, its ability to complete sections of it suggests that, in some sense, it discovers the meanings of words during its training. In 2011, professor of computer science and engineering Regina Barzilay and her students reported a system that learned to play a computer game called “Civilization” by analyzing the game manual.

3D-printed hearts? System converts MRI scans into physical models

Researchers at CSAIL and Boston Children’s Hospital have developed a system that can take MRI scans of a patient’s heart and, in a matter of hours, convert them into a tangible, physical model that surgeons can use to plan surgery.The models could provide a more intuitive way for surgeons to assess and prepare for the anatomical idiosyncrasies of individual patients. “Our collaborators are convinced that this will make a difference,” says professor and CSAIL principal investigator Polina Golland, who led the project. “The phrase I heard is that ‘surgeons see with their hands,’ that the perception is in the touch.” This fall, seven cardiac surgeons at Boston Children’s Hospital will participate in a study intended to evaluate the models’ usefulness.

Learning spoken language

Every language has its own collection of phonemes, or the basic phonetic units from which spoken words are composed. Depending on how you count, English has somewhere between 35 and 45. Knowing a language’s phonemes can make it much easier for automated systems to learn to interpret speech.In the 2015 volume of Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics, CSAIL researchers describe a new machine-learning system that, like several systems before it, can learn to distinguish spoken words. But unlike its predecessors, it can also learn to distinguish lower-level phonetic units, such as syllables and phonemes.

Chips with thousands of cores? New memory-management method makes it possible

By Larry Hardesty, MIT NewsIn a modern, multicore chip, every core — or processor — has its own small memory cache, where it stores frequently used data. But the chip also has a larger, shared cache, which all the cores can access. If one core tries to update data in the shared cache, other cores working on the same data need to know. So the shared cache keeps a directory of which cores have copies of which data. That directory takes up a significant chunk of memory: In a 64-core chip, it might be 12 percent of the shared cache. And that percentage will only increase with the core count. Envisioned chips with 128, 256, or even 1,000 cores will need a more efficient way of maintaining cache coherence.

Self-driving golf carts

At the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in September, members of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) and their colleagues will describe an experiment conducted over six days at a large public garden in Singapore, in which self-driving golf carts ferried 500 tourists around winding paths trafficked by pedestrians, bicyclists, and the occasional monitor lizard. The experiments also tested an online booking system that enabled visitors to schedule pickups and drop-offs at any of 10 distinct stations scattered around the garden, automatically routing and redeploying the vehicles to accommodate all the requests.

Articles

Predicting change in the Alzheimer’s brain

CSAIL researchers are developing a computer system that uses genetic, demographic, and clinical data to help predict the effects of disease on brain anatomy. In experiments, they trained a machine-learning system on MRI data from patients with neurodegenerative diseases and found that supplementing that training with other patient information improved the system’s predictions. In the cases of patients with drastic changes in brain anatomy, the additional data cut the predictions’ error rate in half, from 20 percent to 10 percent.

Better object recognition through flexible machine-learning

Machine learning, which is the basis for most commercial artificial-intelligence systems, is intrinsically probabilistic. An object-recognition algorithm asked to classify a particular image, for instance, might conclude that it has a 60 percent chance of depicting a dog, but a 30 percent chance of depicting a cat. At the Annual Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems in December, CSAIL researchers will present a new way of doing machine learning that enables semantically related concepts to reinforce each other. So, for instance, an object-recognition algorithm would learn to weigh the co-occurrence of the classifications “dog” and “Chihuahua” more heavily than it would the co-occurrence of “dog” and “cat.”

Meet CSAIL's MacArthur "genius grant" recipients

Congratulation to this year's "MacArthur geniuses"!Today the MacArthur Foundation announced its annual fellowships, often unofficially referred to as "genius grants." 2015's recipients included MIT economist Heidi Williams, whose scholarly work looks at the effects of patent policies and technology on medical research and health care.Below are a sampling of CSAIL researchers who have received the honor, which include an unrestricted award of $625,000 that is paid over five years.Tim Berners-Lee

One of our generation's "most brilliant geeks" on cloud-computing and Bill Gates comparisons

CSAIL researcher Matei Zaharai was recently profiled by The Economist in a story about the state of cloud-computing start-ups.Zaharia is co-founder of Databricks, a promising startup whose data-crunching technology Spark has drawn the attention of prominent developers, as well as a little company called IBM.From The Economist:

Teaching language to computers...by having them play computer games

CSAIL researchers have designed a computer system that learns how to play a text-based computer game with no prior assumptions about how language works. Although the system can’t complete the game as a whole, its ability to complete sections of it suggests that, in some sense, it discovers the meanings of words during its training. In 2011, professor of computer science and engineering Regina Barzilay and her students reported a system that learned to play a computer game called “Civilization” by analyzing the game manual.

3D-printed hearts? System converts MRI scans into physical models

Researchers at CSAIL and Boston Children’s Hospital have developed a system that can take MRI scans of a patient’s heart and, in a matter of hours, convert them into a tangible, physical model that surgeons can use to plan surgery.The models could provide a more intuitive way for surgeons to assess and prepare for the anatomical idiosyncrasies of individual patients. “Our collaborators are convinced that this will make a difference,” says professor and CSAIL principal investigator Polina Golland, who led the project. “The phrase I heard is that ‘surgeons see with their hands,’ that the perception is in the touch.” This fall, seven cardiac surgeons at Boston Children’s Hospital will participate in a study intended to evaluate the models’ usefulness.

Learning spoken language

Every language has its own collection of phonemes, or the basic phonetic units from which spoken words are composed. Depending on how you count, English has somewhere between 35 and 45. Knowing a language’s phonemes can make it much easier for automated systems to learn to interpret speech.In the 2015 volume of Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics, CSAIL researchers describe a new machine-learning system that, like several systems before it, can learn to distinguish spoken words. But unlike its predecessors, it can also learn to distinguish lower-level phonetic units, such as syllables and phonemes.

Chips with thousands of cores? New memory-management method makes it possible

By Larry Hardesty, MIT NewsIn a modern, multicore chip, every core — or processor — has its own small memory cache, where it stores frequently used data. But the chip also has a larger, shared cache, which all the cores can access. If one core tries to update data in the shared cache, other cores working on the same data need to know. So the shared cache keeps a directory of which cores have copies of which data. That directory takes up a significant chunk of memory: In a 64-core chip, it might be 12 percent of the shared cache. And that percentage will only increase with the core count. Envisioned chips with 128, 256, or even 1,000 cores will need a more efficient way of maintaining cache coherence.

Searching big data faster

For more than a decade, gene sequencers have been improving more rapidly than the computers required to make sense of their outputs. Searching for DNA sequences in existing genomic databases can already take hours, and the problem is likely to get worse.Recently, Bonnie Berger’s group at CSAIL has been investigating techniques to make biological and chemical data easier to analyze by, in some sense, compressing it.

Crash-proof computer systems

In a computer operating system, the file system is the part that writes data to disk and tracks where the data is stored. If the computer crashes while it’s writing data, the file system’s records can become corrupt. Hours of work could be lost, or programs could stop working properly.At a symposium this fall, MIT researchers will present the first file system that is mathematically guaranteed not to lose track of data during crashes. Although the file system is slow by today’s standards, the techniques the researchers used to verify its performance can be extended to more sophisticated designs. Ultimately, formal verification could make it much easier to develop reliable, efficient file systems.

Unlocking the key to obesity

Obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges of the 21st century. Affecting more than 500 million people worldwide, obesity costs at least $200 billion each year in the United States alone, and contributes to potentially fatal disorders such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.But there may now be a new approach to prevent and even cure obesity, thanks to a study led by researchers at CSAIL and Harvard Medical School and published today in the New England Journal of Medicine. By analyzing the cellular circuitry underlying the strongest genetic association with obesity, the researchers have unveiled a new pathway that controls human metabolism by prompting our adipocytes, or fat cells, to store fat or burn it away.

Could an AI-enabled pen change how we diagnose the brain?

For all of the advances in medical technology, many of the world’s most widely-used diagnostic tools essentially involve just two things: pen and paper.Tests such as the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) and the Clock Drawing Test (CDT) are used to detect cognitive change arising from a wide range of causes, from strokes and concussions to dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease.

NSF's $13.1 million brain-research initiative includes Aude Oliva's work on memorability

CSAIL principal investigator Aude Oliva has received a special research award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of a $13.1 million initiative to support "transformative research in neural and cognitive systems." One of the NSF's 16 grants will go towards Oliva's work on "algorithmically explicit neural representation of visual memorability." Specifically, Oliva will look at how humans encode information, in order to predict what elements of images make them memorable or forgettable.Her team uses complex neuro-imaging technologies to record:1) where encoding happens in the human brain (spatial scale)2) when it happens (temporal scale), and

Mounting attacks on Tor - and showing how to prevent them

With 2.5 million daily users, the Tor network is the world’s most popular system for protecting Internet users’ anonymity. For more than a decade, people living under repressive regimes have used Tor to conceal their Web-browsing habits from electronic surveillance, and websites hosting content that’s been deemed subversive have used it to hide the locations of their servers.

CS alum's "BubbleSort" magazine aims to get young girls excited about coding

This week represents the publication of the inaugural issue of BubbleSort, a Kickstarter-funded magazine founded by an MIT alum that's aimed at getting high-school girls interested in computer science.The zine, which earned more than $60,000 on Kickstarter, will feature cartoons and comics that explain concepts such as cryptography, recursion, sorting and computer graphics. The first issue, titled "How Do Calculators Even," includes introductions to hardware hacking and logic circuits.BubbleSort was founded by Amy Wibowo, an MIT alum who quit her job as an engineer at Airbnb, where she had worked for three years, to focus on the zine.

How to compute with data you can't see

This week MIT professor Nickolai Zeldovich and his former student Raluca Popa wrote in IEEE Spectrum about new approaches to data encryption being pioneered by CSAIL computer scientists."Not long ago, hackers stole about 40 million debit- and credit-card records from Target, another 56 million records from Home Depot, and nearly 5 million patient records from hospital operator Community Health Systems. And this past June, personal information about millions of federal employees was taken from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. These are just a few thunderclaps in the perfect storm of cyberattacks and data breaches making headlines recently.

What better wind-speed prediction can do for the energy industry

When a power company wants to build a new wind farm, it generally hires a consultant to make wind speed measurements at the proposed site for eight to 12 months. Those measurements are correlated with historical data and used to assess the site’s power-generation capacity.This month CSAIL researchers will present a new statistical technique that yields better wind-speed predictions than existing techniques do — even when it uses only three months’ worth of data. That could save power companies time and money, particularly in the evaluation of sites for offshore wind farms, where maintaining measurement stations is particularly costly.

Predicting what customers want - MIT spin-off develops choice-modeling software

U.S. retail chains often rely on intuition in choosing which products, from a vast inventory, will sell best at stores across the nation. Now MIT spinout Celect is refining this process with novel data analytics, revealing interesting insights into how retailers can optimize their shelf space. Co-founded by CSAIL principal investigator Devavrat Shah and MIT professor Vivek Farias, Celect develops software that crunches a store’s sales and inventory data — and, sometimes, online buying data — to determine which products local customers want to buy.

Cutting cost and power consumption for big data

Random-access memory, or RAM, is where computers like to store the data they’re working on. A processor can retrieve data from RAM tens of thousands of times more rapidly than it can from the computer’s disk drive.But in the age of big data, data sets are often much too large to fit in a single computer’s RAM. The data describing a single human genome would take up the RAM of somewhere between 40 and 100 typical computers.Flash memory — the type of memory used by most portable devices — could provide an alternative to conventional RAM for big-data applications. It’s about a tenth as expensive, and it consumes about a tenth as much power.

Computer program fixes old code faster than expert engineers

Last year, MIT computer scientists and Adobe engineers came together to try to solve a major problem that many companies face: bit-rot.A good example is Adobe’s successful Photoshop photo editor, which just celebrated its 25th birthday. Over the years Photoshop had accumulated heaps of code that had been optimized for what is now old hardware.“For high-performance code used for image-processing, you have to optimize the heck out of the software,” says CSAIL researcher Saman Amarasinghe. “The downside is that the code becomes much less effective and much more difficult to understand.”

Micali named Carnegie “Great Immigrant” in New York Times

Today it was announced that CSAIL researcher Silvio Micali has been named a “Great Immigrant” by Carnegie Corporation of New York —one of 39 naturalized citizens across the country to be honored in 2015. Every July 4 since 2006, Carnegie Corporation has recognized the contributions of immigrants through its “Great Immigrants: The Pride of America” initiative, which includes a full-page ad in The New York Times. Micali joins the likes of past honorees such as scientist Albert Einstein, architect Frank Gehry and musician Itzak Perlman.

Can we predict which students will drop out of MOOCs?

MOOCs — massive open online courses — grant huge numbers of people access to world-class educational resources, but they also suffer high rates of attrition. To some degree, that’s inevitable: Many people who enroll in MOOCs may have no interest in doing homework, but simply plan to listen to video lectures in their spare time. Others, however, may begin courses with the firm intention of completing them but get derailed by life’s other demands. Identifying those people before they drop out and providing them with extra help could make their MOOC participation much more productive.

Videos

VIDEO: Turning WiFI into "X-ray vision" (CBS News)

CBS News' "This Morning with Charlie Rose" just profiled CSAIL research that turns wireless signals into "x-ray vision" that can detect people through walls.From the story:"No cell phone, no pendant, no sensor. It's purely based on wireless signals that reflect off our bodies and come back to the device," Katabi said.The researchers came up with this groundbreaking idea based on their work with wireless networks. "The question was, can you use wireless networks or Wi-Fi for purposes other than communications. Can you sense the environment with it?" said Fadel Adib, a student researcher at MIT. "As the research evolved, we realized we could sense a person on the other side of the wall."

CSAIL founder & computing pioneer Bob Fano turns 98

Today lab members celebrated the 98th birthday of Professor Emeritus Robert “Bob” Fano, who 52 years ago founded MIT’s Project MAC, the predecessor to CSAIL.In 1963 The Italian-born Fano co-founded Project MAC, a project focused on developing time-sharing computers. The project laid the foundation for many of today's software systems and helped the computer evolve from its academic roots as a technology that would be of interest to the wider public. (In 1970 Project MAC was renamed the Laboratory of Computer Science; in 2003 it merged with the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory to become CSAIL.)

NASA gives CSAIL 6-ft-tall humanoid robot to develop software for future space missions

This week NASA announced that MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) is one of just two institutions who will receive “R5,” a six-foot, 290-pound humanoid robot also known as “Valkyrie” that will serve on future space missions to Mars and beyond.A group led by CSAIL principal investigator Russ Tedrake will develop algorithms for the robot as part of NASA’s upcoming Space Robotics Challenge, which aims to create more dexterous autonomous robots that can help or even take the place of humans “extreme space” missions. (NASA’s challenge is divided into a virtual competition using robotic simulations, and a physical competition using the robot.)

A "spot-the-difference" AI could help architects detect structural defects

At the Siggraph Asia conference this week, MIT researchers presented a pair of papers describing techniques for either magnifying or smoothing out small variations in digital images.The techniques could be used to produce more polished images for graphic-design projects, or, applied in the opposite direction, they could disclose structural defects, camouflaged objects, or movements invisible to the naked eye that could be of scientific interest.

System automatically converts 2-D video to 3-D

By exploiting the graphics-rendering software that powers sports video games, researchers at MIT and the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) have developed a system that automatically converts 2-D video of soccer games into 3-D. The converted video can be played back over any 3-D device — a commercial 3-D TV, Google’s new Cardboard system, which turns smartphones into 3-D displays, or special-purpose displays such as Oculus Rift. The researchers presented the new system last week at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Multimedia conference.

Next in 3D-printing: the "zoolophone," a new musical instrument made of animal shapes

In creating what looks to be a simple children’s musical instrument—a xylophone with keys in the shape of zoo animals—computer scientists at CSAIL, Columbia, Harvard and Disney Research have demonstrated that sound can be controlled by 3D-printing shapes.The team designed an optimization algorithm and used computational methods and digital fabrication to control acoustic properties—both sound and vibration—by altering the shape of 2D and 3D objects. Their work—“Computational Design of Metallophone Contact Sounds”—will be presented at SIGGRAPH Asia on November 4 in Kobe, Japan.

VIDEO: Autonomous soft robot uses its "tongues" to jump, bounce and roll

Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab have developed a soft robotic cube that uses a series of spring-loaded metal tongues to jump, bounce and roll along rocky terrain.The three-inch-wide, seven-ounce cube is able to jump more than a two-and-half times its height (upwards of eight inches vertically). Take that, Blake Griffin!

How financial engineering can cure cancer

We are making breakthroughs almost weekly in our understanding of cancer and other deadly diseases, both in how to treat and – in some cases – how to cure them. So why is funding for early stage biomedical research and development declining just when we need it most?CSAIL principal investigator Andrew Lo discusses the pharmaceutical industry, and how tools from financial engineering could help incentive investors to fund cancer-research.

Learn about Big Data online! Enroll now in CSAIL-taught course

Sign Up Now for Fall Session of "Tackling the Challenges of Big Data"Starting October 6 MIT Professional Education will be offering a new installment of the online professional course, "Tackling the Challenges of Big Data". Twelve faculty experts from CSAIL will lead the course with enhanced features that include an improved platform, an extended duration, and archived access to video tutorials.

Soft robotic gripper can pick up and identify wide array of objects

Robots have many strong suits, but delicacy traditionally hasn’t been one of them. Rigid limbs and digits make it difficult for them to grasp, hold, and manipulate a range of everyday objects without dropping or crushing them.Recently, CSAIL researchers have discovered that the solution may be to turn to a substance more commonly associated with new buildings and Silly Putty: silicone.At a conference this month, researchers from CSAIL Director Daniela Rus’ Distributed Robotics Lab demonstrated a 3-D-printed robotic hand made out of silicone rubber that can lift and handle objects as delicate as an egg and as thin as a compact disc.

Self-driving golf carts

At the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in September, members of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) and their colleagues will describe an experiment conducted over six days at a large public garden in Singapore, in which self-driving golf carts ferried 500 tourists around winding paths trafficked by pedestrians, bicyclists, and the occasional monitor lizard. The experiments also tested an online booking system that enabled visitors to schedule pickups and drop-offs at any of 10 distinct stations scattered around the garden, automatically routing and redeploying the vehicles to accommodate all the requests.

Detecting damage to buildings by observing their invisible vibrations

For Justin Chen, a PhD student in the MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), there is more to observe in the built environment than meets the eye. So much more, in fact, that he has designed his entire academic attention in CEE to center on structural health monitoring. “Everyday, people drive on bridges, enter buildings, obtain water through infrastructure, and so on,” Chen says. “The central question my collaborators and I are trying to answer is: How do we keep infrastructure operational, even when it’s battered by the elements?”

“MultiFab” 3D-prints a record 10 materials at once, no assembly required

3D printing is great, assuming that all you need to do is print one material for one purpose, and that you’re okay with it taking a few tries. But the technology is still far behind where it could be in reliably producing a variety of useful objects, with no assembly required, at a cost that doesn’t make you want to poke your eyes out with a 3D-printed fork.

Robots collaborate to deliver meds, supplies, and even drinks

If companies like Amazon and Google have their way, soon enough we will have robots air-dropping supplies from the sky. But is our software where it needs to be to move and deliver goods in the real world? This question has been explored for many years by researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), who have worked on scenarios inspired by domains ranging from factory floors to drone delivery.

Teaching drones to fly solo

The popular term “drone,” which conjures images of remote-controlled flying zombies, is becoming less and less descriptive of the latest unmanned aerial vehicles. New applications are requiring more autonomy and intelligence from UAVs.“When people think about drones, they largely think of big military assets that are flying high in the sky where there’s not a whole lot of anything to hit,” says Nick Roy, director of CSAIL's Robust Robotics Group. “But there are a lot of applications for smaller scale UAVs working closer to the ground that require more autonomy, such as agricultural monitoring, package delivery, and situational awareness for first responders.”

Robots that can recognize objects? A SLAM dunk

John Leonard’s group at CSAIL specializes in SLAM, or simultaneous localization and mapping, the technique whereby mobile autonomous robots map their environments and determine their locations.Last week, at the Robotics Science and Systems conference, members of Leonard’s group presented a new paper demonstrating how SLAM can be used to improve object-recognition systems, which will be a vital component of future robots that have to manipulate the objects around them in arbitrary ways.The system uses SLAM information to augment existing object-recognition algorithms. Its performance should thus continue to improve as computer-vision researchers develop better recognition software, and roboticists develop better SLAM software.

Stonebraker officially accepts $1m Turing Award, "Nobel Prize for computing"

Michael Stonebraker, a CSAIL researcher who has revolutionized the field of database management systems (DBMSs) and founded multiple successful database companies, just accepted the Association for Computing Machinery’s (ACM) A.M. Turing Award, often referred to as “the Nobel Prize of computing.” This year marks the first time that the Turing Award comes with a Google-funded $1 million prize. ACM said that Stonebraker “invented many of the concepts that are used in almost all modern database systems ... and founded numerous companies successfully commercializing his pioneering database technology work.”

Origami robot self-folds, crawls, climbs, swims, self-destructs

A team of CSAIL researchers have developed a printable origami robot that folds itself up from a flat sheet of plastic when heated and measures about a centimeter from front to back.Weighing only a third of a gram, the robot can swim, climb an incline, traverse rough terrain, and carry a load twice its weight. Other than the self-folding plastic sheet, the robot’s only component is a permanent magnet affixed to its back. Its motions are controlled by external magnetic fields.“The entire walking motion is embedded into the mechanics of the robot body,” says Cynthia R. Sung, a CSAIL graduate student and one of the robot’s co-developers. “In previous [origami] robots, they had to design electronics and motors to actuate the body itself.”