MIT Media Lab to launch its biggest ever India-based design workshop in Mumbai in early 2014
The MIT Media Lab, is an interdisciplinary research lab, that is part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The lab was founded by MIT Professor Nicholas Negroponte and former MIT President Jerome Wiesner in 1985. With an eclectic mix of staff and students with backgrounds ranging from engineering, design and the humanities the lab is known for its cutting edge innovations. Some of them include the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project and Pranav Mistry’s Sixth Sense initiative. MIT Media Lab held its first design workshop in India in Pune in 2011, and since then has held many more, the biggest of which will be held in Mumbai in Jan-Feb, 2014. SocialStory’s Nelson Vinod Moses interacted with Kshitij Marwah, the head of MIT Media Lab initiative in India over email, to understand their interest in India, the impact of the workshops so far and what’s in store for the workshop next year.
Presenting edited excerpts.
SS: What are MIT Media Labs activities in India?
KM: The MIT Media Lab India Initiative are efforts by students and alumni of the Media Lab to bring together community of diverse creators including engineers, designers, artists, doctors and many more to facilitate collaboration and sharing of ideas across boundaries, disciplines and culture. We believe the best way to do this is going bottom-up and spreading this movement in every nook and corner of the country. As of now we conduct various workshops in different cities and on different themes and ideas. Our aim is to create the swings, carousels and see-saws for the country’s youth and let them be free and crazy to play with them in any way possible.
SS: Tell us about the MIT Design Lab workshop series?
KM: To spread our movement we started the Design Innovation workshop series with the first workshop being held at Pune in 2011. We had four themes in our first event based on mobile devices, cameras, design thinking etc. We received thousands of applications, we selected around 150 participants and took them through a 5-day experience. At first when you bring in different people together there is a huge language barrier. For e.g. an engineer will straight away jump into creating a technology thinking a designer will just think of visions but not know how to make it, a designer would feel he can get technology off the shelf whenever it reaches to match his thoughts, while an architect or say a doctor generally waits for the designer or technologist to create a solution for him to use it.
We just brought all of these communities together starting from day one, so that the process of creation and innovation can benefit from domain expertise, crazy designs and great technology at source. The first two days is what we call as a Design Studio where we take them out to a field trip, ideate, brainstorm, sketch with the aim to create a common language of communication between them to narrow down on a single problem statement. The next two days is called Rapid Prototyping where using technologies brought in from MIT and within India we create tangible prototypes for these ideas. They are then finally showcased in an Openhouse on the last day to the public.
SS: How many have been conducted so far? Are they based on different themes?
KM: After the resounding success of our first workshop in Pune, we came back the following year in 2012 for our second workshop in Delhi, and again for our third workshop at Bangalore in 2013. We were doing one workshop a year, but we always knew it was not enough. We needed to do many more, so with support from the Media Lab I moved to India this year and launched a new series called DIy (Design, Innovation and You).
Our Design Innovation workshop series happens once a year and is very broad in themes. It has tracks ranging from health to learning, mobile to imaging, robotics to fabrication labs and many more. The DIy series on the other hand is focused and specific. For e.g. we did a DIy: Engineering the Eye focused on eye diagnostics and a DIy: Re-engineering Kerala on thinking about problems from a cultural perspective.
SS: What is the objective? What has been the impact?
KM: The aim for the initiative was always to give platform and exposure to the youth of the country to let them dream and achieve the impossible. The initiative is our small way of giving back and creating a culture in India that we have been imbibed with at the Media Lab.
We have seen companies coming out of the workshop, teams winning innovation awards all across the country and participants going on and getting admitted to MIT as result of their interactions and experience at the workshop.
SS: Tell us about the Design Innovation MIT Media Lab-WeSchool workshop to be held in January. What is the theme?
KM: In continuation of our Design Innovation Workshop Series, we would be holding our 4th workshop in January in Mumbai at WeSchool. This is the biggest workshop that we have ever done in India with about 10 themes. These include thinking about future of our banking system, innovative systems for rural health and agriculture, magical interfaces and many more.
SS: Who should apply and what’s in it for them?
KM: We cover so many fields its actually open to anybody students or professionals, and moreover in any field be it engineers, designers, architecture, doctors, artists to come and be a part of it.
It will be the biggest extravaganza of creativity and innovation in India. Interacting with different people, MIT mentors, great technology and more importantly expressing their creativity in a very uninhibited manner. The kind of projects and the quality we have seen happen in the past years is just unparalleled. Of course we give a lot of MIT goodies at the end of the workshop as memorabilia.
SS: Have some of the innovations been commercialized? Have some of the participants gone on to apply and attend MIT Media Labs?
KM: Yes, this has been very inspiring. In our Pune workshop we had Anirudh Sharma coming in with his idea of making a shoe for the blind. He has gone ahead after the workshop to create a company and a commercial product out of the project and is currently pursuing his graduate studies at MIT.
One of the other projects done at the Bangalore workshop, Snippets by Nirali Savla, Aditi Goyal, Devendar Goyal won the Gandhian Young Technological Innovation award at IIM Ahmedabad. Two other participants Prashant Patil and Pragun Goyal in previous workshops created innovative technologies at these events and are now graduate researchers at the Media Lab.
When we first started all of this was never planned of, but the companies that are coming out, talent that is being recognized all over the world, is just amazing!
SS: How are the MIT Media Labs workshops different from the many hackathons that happen in India?
KM: I think they are good in their own right but serve a specific purpose. We fundamentally believe in a different culture, where you need to have inter or as we call at the Media Lab anti-disciplinary thinking, learning by doing and a strong element of collaboration and design thinking.
SS: How many such workshops do you’ll plan to conduct in 2014? Where will they be held and what are the broad themes?
KM: We are starting with our biggest event of the year in January. We plan to continue our efforts with 3-4 DIy workshops this year with themes ranging from Toy Design, Music and Technology and many more.
SS: Are there plans to tie-up with Indian universities to jointly launch a course or program?
KM: We do work with various universities to host and jointly conduct these workshops. We are open to collaboration and hope to launch a program in the near future.
SS: Is there anything else you’d like to add.
KM: I think we are in a very important inflection point in India. The youth of the country does want to explore, create, be entrepreneurial and break away from the traditional paths. But not many platforms exist that help them do that. The initiative is our way to create that avenue. We have begun but have a long road to take and we need every person who believes in this to join us in this movement.
Nelson Vinod Moses
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