The Sorcereres and Their Apprentices, by Frank Moss

3: Hard Fun

... in which our intrepid researchers engage in playful invention, turning their most fanciful ideas into prototypes using things they learned in kindergarten, available materials – and some pretty serious power tools.

If you’re a grown-up, there’s work and there’s play – and never the twain shall meet.


Unless you are a researcher at the MIT Media Lab.

Got an idea? Don’t just sit around and think about it. Jump in and build it. Put it into people’s hands and see what they think.  Then keep building and re-building, it, making it better. Have fun and learn along the way, just like young children do at play.

Sound like a recipe for complete chaos? Maybe.  But out of this “creative chaos” have come radical ideas that can improve our lives and may just change our world. 

  • Meet SixthSense. It turns any surface into an instant information display. Imagine running your finger over the cover of a book at your local bookstore – and seeing all of its reviews on  Or checking the time by drawing a watch face on your wrist.  (Not bad for something built from $350 in parts, eh?)
  • Step inside the Lab’s immense communal workshop, where first-year Lab students take a course called “How to Make (Almost) Anything.” Learn how researchers turn their ideas into prototypes, using everything from traditional power tools to nanofabrication machines to 3D printers that spit out complex objects - even a fully operational gearbox for a car.
  • Play with Drawdio, an electronic pencil that turns anything – from a piece of paper to a slice of cantaloupe—into a musical instrument.

  • See how, through trial and error—including crawling through a few junkyards for spare part—the CityCar team built a “wheel robot” prototype that contains all the mechanical parts and systems to power a car.  (Detroit, take notice.)
Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry demo SixthSense at TED 2009 Watch (TED Talk)
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How to Build a Personal Robot, in 30 seconds Watch (Credit: Cory Kidd)
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Drawdio, A Pencil that Draws Sounds Watch
The Lab Shows Off New Electric Vehicles Watch
The MIT Media Lab boasts a large central workshop where researchers and students can build and iterate prototypes of their ideas, and get them into the hands of people quickly for feedback.  (Photo:  Andy Ryan Photography) SixthSense, developed at the MIT Media Lab, turns any surface into an interactive information display. Here, it turns a researcher's hand into the ultimate mobile phone. (Photo:  L.  Barry Hetherington) Jay Silver proudly demonstrates the first prototype of Drawdio, an electronic pencil that allows users to “draw” and play music.  (Photo:  Jay Silver, MIT Media Lab, Lifelong Kindergarten) MIT Media Lab researchers (left to right) Lars Imsdahl, Ryan Chin, and Nicholas Pennycooke work on a half-scale prototype of the CityCar, an electric-powered, foldable, stackable vehicle. The CityCar offers an alternative to the traditional personal automobiles that are congesting and polluting our cities.  (Photo:  Sam Ogden)

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