The 1971 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to the Hungarian-British electrical engineer Dennis Gabor for inventing the field of holography. It wasn’t until six years later, however, that the discipline would gain widespread recognition. In 1977, the movie “Star Wars” arrived in U.S. theaters, and the robot R2-D2 projected Princess Leia Organa saying the memorable words, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” While Leia’s projection technically was not a hologram but a volumetric light-field display (a technique used to bring back to the stage deceased entertainers such as Elvis Presley and Tupac Shakur), three-dimensional holograms have been inextricably linked with a vision of the future. Current applications in holography are poised to usher it in.

“We’ve already lost control of the term hologram, and we have George Lucas to thank!” said Dan Novy, a post-doctoral associate in the Object-Based Media group at MIT’s Media Lab. Novy spent nearly two decades working in the visual effects industry and won awards, including an Emmy, on popular television shows and films such as Red Planet, Deep Blue Sea, and Blood Diamond before joining MIT, first as a graduate student.


SciFi-preneurship is a new summer series from the All Turtles Podcast that examines how science fiction inspires people to create things that impact our lives today. In SciFi-preneurship, we’re using an expanded definition of entrepreneurship: we don’t just mean Silicon Valley startup founders; we’re talking to people who make things, especially things that are shaping our future. First up, Dan Novy, who earned his PhD from the MIT Media Lab, talks about H.P. Lovecraft and the impact of his writing.


The impact of the The Matrix on science fiction is difficult to overstate, but beyond the genre itself, it also deeply affected the viewers whose worldviews were made askew. Three of those viewers are featured in today’s episode to talk about their reactions to the film and the ways in which it contributed to the work they do now: writer/director Emily Dean, Partnership on AI research director Peter Eckersley, and MIT Media Lab’s Dan Novy.


Dan Novy, MIT Media Lab engineer, is a strong advocate of bridging this gap, especially in media innovation. Not only should artists and technologists collaborate more intimately to optimize the technology, he thinks they should do so earlier in the process. He notes the current process typically does not involve media makers until the product comes to market, then the artist is creatively constrained by the limitations of the technology. They either play inside the lines of the tech or hack the tech to get results the original product does not provide (i.e., James George & Jonathan Minard’s hack of Kinect technology to create computer vision cameras in CLOUDS). The engineers see the hack and iterate the product to better match the artist’s needs. Novy says this cycle would be more efficient if the artists were collaborating with the engineers from the beginning of concept.


Amid a recent resurgence of interest and investment in space, the MIT Media Lab is setting up a new initiative to explore the possibilities. And, its students were the impetus. “It started over last summer, bubbling up as grassroots student interest,” recalls Ariel Ekblaw, a PhD student and research assistant in the Lab’s Responsive Environments group. “Many of us at the Lab share a profound passion for space exploration, and a desire to apply our multidisciplinary interests in this domain—across art, science, engineering, and design. With the dropping costs of space launches, and humanity on the cusp of interplanetary civilization, this is a pivotal moment to join and shape the space industry.”  

Ekblaw was the lead organizer, along with Dan Novy, a fellow PhD student at the Media Lab, of Beyond the Cradle: Envisioning a New Space Age.


MIT researchers Dan Novy and Sophia Brueckner argue that the mind-bending worlds of authors such as Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clarke can help us not just come up with ideas for new gadgets, but anticipate their consequences.


Researchers at the MIT Media Lab have developed an ambient lighting system for video that would make Philips' Ambilight tech jealous. Dubbed Infinity-by-Nine, the rig analyzes frames of footage in real-time—with consumer-grade hardware no less—and projects rough representations of the video's edges onto a room's walls or ceiling. Synchronized with camera motion, the effect aims to extend the picture into a viewer's peripheral vision. MIT guinea pigs have reported a greater feeling of involvement with video content when Infinity-by-Nine was in action, and some even claimed to feel the heat from on-screen explosions.

WIRED (2012)

All you fans of monstrous dunks, rejoice: The uber-geeks at MIT Media Lab have figured out how to measure the force of a slam dunk, and the gadget makes its television debut during the NBA All-Star Weekend.

The nifty net will quantify the force with which guys like Derrick Williams and Paul George stuff a ball through the hoop during the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest on Saturday. The net is said to measure "slam force G's." We prefer the term "millijordans," but no one asked us.