Summer 2015 Three PhD Defenses at MIT Media Lab

How a PhD Defense takes place at MIT Media Lab ? Summer session for PhD Defenses took part on July at MIT Media Lab. I had the opportunity to attend three presentations and here are some insights. All the three presentations that I attended are practice-based research projects where the functional prototypes represent the main part of the presentation (“Demo or die” as the Media Lab’s founding director, Nicholas Negroponte, famously said). It takes around 5 to 7 years to be ready to defend. During these years, the PhD candidate builds different projects, tests the prototypes, publishes a lot in HCI conferences and teaches classes on his/her topic. Regarding the defense, the candidate presentation lasts for 40-45minutes. The jury is composed of one or two persons and the PhD adviser. The audience is encouraged to ask questions after the presentation and the whole event (presentation + questions) lasts for maximum 1h30. Here are very briefly descriptions of the three projects presented in July 2015:

On July 02, Roy Shilkrot from Fluid Interfaces Group presented his thesis in the field of wearable computers: Digital Digits: Designing Assistive Finger Augmentation Devices. In his PhD he explores the symbol of the ring and different gestures used to interact digital information. His prototypes are finger-wearable devices capable of reading texts (the Finger Reader), color and prices (the EyeRing) and music notes (Music Reader). These devices were tested on blind persons and propose new ways of understanding the surroundings. Looking forward for future research on how these devices become part of blind people life and what new uses-cases one can imagine with this technology. Roy also emphasized the meaning and importance of pointing within digital matter and talks about human empowerment and augmentation through these technologies. More on his work here.

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On July 07, Daniel Leithinger presented his thesis: Grasping Information and Collaborating through Shape Displays. He is part of the Tangible Media Group that explore new interfaces and computational physical materials. This field has three dimensions that were explored into Daniel’s work: represent, interact and collaborate (at a distance) with information. His prototypes explore how to perform these goals within a two dimension framework: a physical model – called SOLID and a graphical information – called GAS. Daniel built lots of prototypes exploring all these dimensions in use-cases as architecture & planning, manipulation of physical objets at a distance, and design of new furniture. More on his work here.

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On July 09, David Mellis presented his thesis: Do-It-Yourself Devices: Personal Fabrication of Custom Electronic Products. He is part of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group that explores new technologies to engage people (particularly children) in creative learning experiences. David explore the values of do-it-yourself practices and personal fabrication with the opportunities of electronics. He asks three questions: (1) How far can the personal fabrication of electronic products go? (2) How can experts structure workshops and other resources to engage new audiences in the personal fabrication of electronic products? (3) What is the value provided by the personal fabrication of electronic products (for both experts and novices)? To answer these questions David build different DIY devices: radios and also a DIY cellphone that he uses for several years. His PhD is a beautiful way to learn DIY electronics and also to reflect on the evolution of the technologies that surrounds us. He is also one other the creators of Arduino. More on his work here.

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