"You Can Make It On Your Own"
Premiered April 8, 2003
Factory On Your Desk
Never Forget a Face
The Toy Symphony
Teetering to Victory
Factory On Your Desk
ALAN ALDA Sitting here, I can do things that a few years
ago would have been a fantasy. Back then I could write
on my electric typewriter and take photographs with
my camera, but printing them together in a newsletter
like this would have taken many days and many other
people. With my word processor, desktop publishing software,
digital camera and color printer I can do it all myself
in an hour or two. Of course, that's been around for
a while. Today I can create games and animations, shoot
and edit my own movies and post them for family and
friends to see instantly over the Internet. But all
this power extends only to creating and manipulating
digital information - words and pictures. Pretty much
the only actual thing I can make myself is the printed
page. But what if this printer were instead a little
factory, capable not just of printing paper but tof
manufacturing objects --- making things --- things like…
well, bicycles, for instance…
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
We're on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, outside the Media Lab where much of the
digital revolution was pioneered. And it's here that
today what Neil Gershenfeld believes will be the next
revolution in personal empowerment is being explored.
ALAN ALDA Wait, wait a minute what's this? Did you make
this in the lab? SAUL This is an all printed bicycle.
This is basically a complete bicycle made from two-dimensional
poly-carbonate cut on a water jet cutter.
(NARRATION) This machine - costing hundreds of thousands
of dollars - uses an incredibly powerful jet of water
to cut through materials ranging from plastic to steel,
fabricating in a few moments objects designed on a computer.
It's just one of the machines available to students
taking a course Gershenfeld teaches called How to Make
ALAN ALDA If I had one of these machines at home you
could email me this bike.
SAUL My sister was actually emailed this bicycle in
Sydney and she's riding one around.
ALAN ALDA You're kidding. Isn't that
incredible? So wait a minute, so that means, that, if
I order a bike from a company someday, it won't come
in a truck. Everybody will have one of these machines,
and a lot of what we order-lamps, furniture, bicycles-will
get emailed to us. We'll have it a few seconds later.
NEIL GERSHENFELD The only thing wrong with what you
said is it's not when you order the bicycle, it's when
you design the bicycle. When you design the bicycle.
ALAN ALDA Okay. Alright.
NEIL GERSHENFELD Do you recognize what this is?
SAUL This is actually a model of Matisse's Blue Nude
Number Two. You can see the leg here, the hind leg,
another leg here, and a thigh, the arch of the back,
the head, and the hand holding the front wheel.
NEIL GERSHENFELD In this how-to-make-anything project,
it's not just that students learn to make a bicycle,
they learn to make their bicycle. Every bicycle is different,
and part of expressing yourself and the bicycle you
want is what this is all about.
ALAN ALDA This is an
exciting idea because as we're talking, I just thought
of two things I want to make. I remember one thing.
I came up with an idea for something and I wanted to
make a model of it, and I went to the art store and
bought cardboard. And I got so bollixed up in trying
to get the cardboard to stick together I just through
the whole thing away. And it's a good idea and I'd like
to see it made; this sounds like I could make it.
NEIL GERSHENFELD So what is it?
ALAN ALDA It's a thing, so
that you could take any flash camera that makes red-eye,
because the light is too close to the lens, and there's
a ratio, depending on the focal length of the lens.
But if you put it about-I don't know-about that far
away from the lens-it won't make red-eye 'cause it comes
in at a different angle. So a little periscope to sit
over the flashgun that would fit on any camera, to fit
over anything. So all I need to see if it really works
is to build a little periscope.
NEIL GERSHENFELD I'll
make you a deal…
ALAN ALDA Yeah?
NEIL GERSHENFELD If
you bring your camera, we'll sit down, measure it and
zap one out.
ALAN ALDA Okay, alright, this will be great.
Listen, work on that thing for me, will ya?
(NARRATION) So off I went on what is certainly the first
nude bicycle I'd ever ridden. A couple of weeks later,
back at his lab, Neil's making stuff with his 6-year-old
twins Eli and Grace.
ALAN ALDA Let me see what you came
up with when I was gone.
NEIL GERSHENFELD Okay.
ALAN ALDA Let's see how it fits on the camera. Oh, the other
way around? Like this?
NEIL GERSHENFELD Yup. Yup.
ALAN ALDA So this is the flash here. And this mirror sends
the light up to this thing up here. So that instead
of the light coming out right into your eye it comes
down a little bit.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) My immediate
reaction is that the periscope needs to be longer, so
Neil sets to work on a quick redesign.
So we'll add, say, a few inches to it like that?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The periscope has slots all down it
at different angles so we can vary both the height and
angle of the mirror.
NEIL GERSHENFELD Okay, so here
is a long periscope with teeth all the way down. So
what we're going to do is take your design but print
it with a laser that's so powerful that instead of just
drawing a picture it can actually cut it out of materials
that we can assemble into a periscope. And then when
you come back in a couple of years we'll have new pieces
added to the printer that can actually print not just
the periscope but the rest of the camera.
(NARRATION) While this machine cuts out precise shapes
in plastic, Neil's machine of the future will print
out electronic circuitry, motors, sensors and everything
else needed to make… well, whatever you want. Meanwhile…
ALAN ALDA We'll put it together, we'll stick it on a
camera and maybe we'll take your picture, okay?
NEIL GERSHENFELD Now, what color are your eyes?
ALAN ALDA Are they red? They're not red? No.
They're blue, okay. If they come out red, then this
thing doesn't work.
NEIL GERSHENFELD Okay.
And that'll be your fault.
NEIL GERSHENFELD My fault?
You were the designer. I just work here.
ALAN ALDA I
just thought it was a great idea. In theory it works.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) So - first a shot of Eli without
NEIL GERSHENFELD That's right on Eli's
ALAN ALDA Okay.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) And now
we can begin experimenting with the Alda All-Angle Anti-red-eye
ALAN ALDA OK, the two of you together,
the same as before.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) And there's
an immediate problem.
ALAN ALDA You're both out of the
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But this of course is exactly
why it's so useful being able to make and test your
invention while it's still being designed.
Can you see it?
NEIL GERSHENFELD No, angle it the other
ALAN ALDA OK, get you eyes out clear.
(NARRATION) Not only are Eli's eyes closed; the flash
missed most of his face.
ALAN ALDA You know we had the
NEIL GERSHENFELD Oh, I think the angle…
yeah, in fact you can see the reflection of the flash
in my glasses. We need to angle it down more. That's
what these are for.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) So, one more
tweak of the astonishingly versatile Alda All-Angle…
And bingo - the perfect shot, with Eli's blue eyes shining
bright. Compare this to the first picture we took…
ALAN ALDA I'm really surprised to say that I think the eye
looks bluer with the periscope on it.
I know. No, that's what I'm saying--.
ALAN ALDA I'm
shocked because I didn't expect it to work. I think
this periscope is going to be--. Of course--.
Do we share the rights?
ALAN ALDA Huh?
Do we share the rights?
ALAN ALDA Share the rights…yeah,
oh you said it. Do we need a handshake on camera for
Forget a Face
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Not surprisingly, it was at favorite
hangouts for MIT students in Cambridge Massachusetts
that the once bizarre notion of wearing your computer
first went public. Most wore their computers slung in
pouches, with the displays mounted on eyeglasses - but
some pioneers had opted for jauntier designs. Back then
in 1995, the computers worn by this group of "cyborgs"
as they called themselves, weren't networked together.
But one of the Media Lab cyborgs was even then online
most of the time. Steve Mann's wearable computer was
even equipped with a head-mounted camera, continually
transmitting images from his everyday life to his Web
ALAN ALDA This is a medieval filing system you've
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Steve Mann had already
been experimenting with wearable computers for ten years...
and most of them were still stashed away in his dorm
at MIT. This is his first helmet-mounted rig, dating
from the mid-1980's.
STEVE MANN ... over my head like
this, and then I could see my screen here.
(NARRATION) Steve even had a pair of briefs equipped
with a thermostat, wirelessly controlling his dorm-room
ALAN ALDA You never had to get out
of bed to change the thermostat because your underwear
was changing the thermostat for you?
STEVE MANN Yeah,
ALAN ALDA That's unbelievable.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
Surrounded by most of the cyborgs on the planet in 1995,
I wondered about the next generation of wearable computers.
ALAN ALDA Do you have like, fashion conversations about...
Do you give much thought to different ways that this
JENNIFER HEALY People give it a lot of
thought, actually. There's a lot of debate whether it's
good to cover the eye at all, whether you might want
it on your arm, a screen. We have an undergraduate working
on an even better private eye which would only take
up a fraction of this space. It's a little prism that'll
directly show you the screen and yet be here, and allow
your eyes to be seen by the person you're having a conversation
STEVE MANN Hopefully be completely invisible.
One won't be able to tell that we're wearing special
glasses. We won't have these, this display's about six
years old with a big cathode ray tube up on top of it.
You know, they're getting smaller and smaller and eventually
we'll have them built into a regular pair of spectacles
and the only evidence that somebody is wired will be
the fact that their eyes sort of go across in a sort
of reading motion. We'll think that they're possessed
by the devil or on the Internet.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
This first generation of cyborgs has now mostly scattered
across North America, carrying their gospel with them.
Meanwhile, back here at MIT's Media Lab, their predictions
are coming true.
ALAN ALDA Now those glasses look familiar.
You've been setting that up for me, huh?
Well, they certainly should, yes.
ALAN ALDA And this
is a computer, this thing?
RICH DEVAUL Well, it's actually
several computers. It's a network of computers on your
body and it's doing a number of things for you. But
most importantly, it knows something about where you
are and what you're doing and it can give you information
that might help you doing whatever it is you happen
to be doing at the moment.
ALAN ALDA Can I try it on?
RICH DEVAUL You certainly can.
ALAN ALDA And you can
tell me what it does.
RICH DEVAUL Actually, can I show
you the parts of it before you try it on?
(NARRATION) Inside Rich DeVaul's computerized jacket
is a network of CPUs, hard drives, sensors and wireless
cards, making it more powerful than most computers still
sitting boringly on desktops - or even laps.
One of the important design goals for the system is
it should look mostly like ordinary clothing. Because
I want to be able to go through my daily existence without
people crossing the street to avoid me. And, believe
it or not, this actually happens with previous wearables
that I've used.
ALAN ALDA People would cross the street
to get away from you?
RICH DEVAUL Yeah. I mean, you
can imagine the difference wearing this with the jacket
covering on and wearing with the jacket covering off.
People will treat you very very differently. Because
right now you look like Alan Alda wearing a slightly
bulky jacket. And if we unzipped all this you would
look like Alan Alda doing an extra stint on Star Trek.
ALAN ALDA And the bulk will come down as you use slower
components and flatter--.
RICH DEVAUL Yes. In fact,
this design is almost two years old.
ALAN ALDA Oh my
gosh! I just looked at you and there came your picture
on my little eye piece.
RICH DEVAUL Yes.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
It's the little tag on Rich's teeshirt that telling
my computer who he is.
RICH DEVAUL And if you'll follow
me this way as we walk over here…
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
As I move, a map tracks my progress.
RICH DEVAUL I'll
introduce you to my advisor, Sandy Pentland.
Hello. How you doing?
ALAN ALDA Oh! There you are! Oh,
Just a nice big picture of you, friendly picture.
SANDY PENTLAND Yup.
ALAN ALDA And I see how to spell your
RICH DEVAUL If you follow me around through
the Borg lab, the map will be updating to show your
location as you change. The red dot is shifting to show
your present location. And we'll head over here to my
colleague Steve Schwartz. And Steve, this is Alan.
SCHWARTZ Hello Alan, glad to meet you.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
The most useful feature of Rich's system comes when
I face him a second time. My eyepiece gives a little
RICH DEVAUL It's one-third of a full video
ALAN ALDA It brought back your name to me. Which
I had actually temporarily forgotten and I realized
your name is Rich, right?
RICH DEVAUL Well, very good.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Although too brief for me
to register consciously, the flicker was actually a
quick subliminal reminder of his name.
ALAN ALDA It's
very interesting, though, because it flashed so fast,
if I didn't really know your name and wasn't trying
to recall it…
RICH DEVAUL That's right.
ALAN ALDA I
wouldn't have got it.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) As I meet
Sandy Pentland a second time, again his name is popped
subliminally into my head.
ALAN ALDA You might not even
realize you're being prompted to remember something
you're trying to remember.
SANDY PENTLAND That's right.
And that is a little bit spooky that you can have something
that's sort of paying attention to what's happening,
like, I'm meeting this person, then it's giving something
back to you that you're not actually aware of. But you
perform better as a consequence. So it's a little bit
like a psychic crutch or something like that. For folks
like me that don't remember names real well, that's
ALAN ALDA What have you found out
in wearing this that you didn't expect? Anything?
RICH DEVAUL I'm playing with reminders that will help me
do things like, you know, if I'm working too late. Really
simple stuff. I'm wearing the Wearable, it'll actually
pop up a display that says "Rich, go home." Or, even,
I forget to eat.
ALAN ALDA You forget to eat?
I forget to eat when I'm working. So, if it's getting
towards six or seven p.m., and I'm still in the Borg
Lab, I probably haven't gotten dinner yet. So a little
thing can come up and say "Rich, eat something." And
if it sees me that I'm wandering towards the candy thing
over there, it will say--.
ALAN ALDA Don't eat that.
Keep away from there.
RICH DEVAUL It can say, "Rich,
go to the restaurant." I mean, these are the kinds of
things that I need because I can get very sort of obsessionally
wrapped up in my work.
ALAN ALDA Is this gonna be a
new kind of space suit?
STEVEN SCHWARTZ It's gonna to
be an addition to the existing space suit.
(NARRATION) Steve Schwartz, meanwhile, is literally
wrapped up in his work
STEVEN SCHWARTZ This is going
to be an addition to the existing American spacesuit.
ALAN ALDA And what will be different about this?
STEVEN SCHWARTZ What will be different is that in addition
to the radios that they already use to assist them during
their missions, they'll actually be able to receive
wireless video information through a wearable computer
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Building a wearable
computer to fit inside a pressurized space suit turns
out to be a tricky technological challenge - one that
NASA so far hasn't solved.
STEVEN SCHWARTZ And it uses
some very very low-power electronics in a flat and flexible
form factor that'll contour to the human body. The reason
for the low-power electronics is that the pressure suit
is pure oxygen. And it's-you know-- any kind of a spark
ignition could cause a disaster. So we have to keep
the power and the current extremely low to meet the
safety requirements which are the most important requirements
of a space suit.
ALAN ALDA Can I try that on to see
what that feels like to wear that?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
The idea behind the project is that when astronauts
are floating around in space working on the International
Space Station, they'll have constantly updated video
prompts in their little eyepiece.
ALAN ALDA I guess
it'll lock onto my suit. But wait. Here's the--. Oh,
I'm seeing--. What am I seeing? Part of the space station?
This is great. Wow, look at that. First I see a wide
shot. It's like directing a movie.
STEVEN SCHWARTZ That's
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Right now astronauts working
on the space station have to use paper checklists velcroed
to their arm. As the assembly and maintenance tasks
get increasingly complex in the future, a video instruction
manual could remind them how to do a task they'd been
trained for months earlier.
STEVEN SCHWARTZ It's a combination
of reinforcement and the good old John Madden chalkboard,
so they could circle the little bolt or cable that they're
supposed to be changing.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) And here
in my eyepiece is the sort of do-it-yourself video Steve's
STEVEN SCHWARTZ So now we're putting
in a D-ring.
ALAN ALDA I get the impression, that even
if I had never trained to do this before, it's so clear
what he's doing, that I could probably do it. You know,
like in the movies when they have the stewardess fly
the plane and land it?
STEVEN SCHWARTZ Yup. It's close
ALAN ALDA That would be me.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
So far we've been looking at wearable computers designed
to help you with what you're doing. Brian Clarkson is
wearing a computer that keeps its eyes on what he's
BRIAN CLARKSON Well, basically I've been
spending the last couple years trying to record my life.
ALAN ALDA With that-That's all you need to record your
BRIAN CLARKSON Yeah. This actually records about
360 degree video. Because there's two cameras-one in
the front, and one in the back.
ALAN ALDA Oh yeah. Where's
the recording device? In that thing?
In the turtle shell.
ALAN ALDA The turtle shell.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Wherever Brian goes, his turtle shell
goes with him, spinning out a permanent video record
of his waking life.
BRIAN CLARKSON It records about
twenty hours. Which is good for about two days, say.
And then, at the end of the twenty hours, I have to
upload to a server, which I have in the back room over
there. I have about 500 gigabytes and disc space which
I just kind of drop my memories onto.
ALAN ALDA Isn't
that hard to fish through and find out something significant?
BRIAN CLARKSON Very hard. What I'm relying on is someone's
life isn't actually all that interesting day to day.
There's a lot of routine and things that re-happen over
and over again. That's perfect because a computer can
find that and latch onto it and find, okay, the patterns
in your day. There's a weekly pattern. You might have
a daily pattern. You might get up every morning, brush
your teeth, get on the subway, go to work and come back
the same way. And so the computer latches onto that
pattern that you have and then tries to find the deviations
from that. And those are the interesting points. This
is a timeline of a subsection of the hundred days of
memory. This is about ten days worth. So we have front
video, rear video, audio, and orientation being laid
out in time. If I zoom in on this particular day, it
expands out to this view. So we get a more detailed
view of that particular day.
ALAN ALDA Have you found
anything out that you didn't expect about its relationship
to your own life?
BRIAN CLARKSON I found that my hypothesis
that someone's routine is pretty much, someone's daily
life is pretty much boring and nothing new really happens
from day to day has been confirmed. At least for a graduate
ALAN ALDA Many gigabytes to confirm that-
BRIAN CLARKSON Of me sitting at my desk, typing away,
ALAN ALDA Tell me something. Of these hundred
days have you searched for anything a little unusual
and found something interesting? Something that you
wouldn't have come across without the computer?
BRIAN CLARKSON I met a couple of new people who are kind of
important in my life now. And usually you don't have
access to those first couple of moments when you meet
somebody for the first time when you're introducing
them. And it's interesting to go back and see how you
acted around that person and how -- you can kind of
remember how you perceived the first impressions of
that person. And now how, 'cause I-My current girlfriend-I
met while I was wearing this. And I can go back and
figure out and remember exactly how I was feeling when
I first met her. And how I actually acted when I first
met her. So here I'm meeting this girl and we're about
to go on a business dinner/lunch. So we're getting on
the elevator, leaving. We've all met each other for
the first time here. I can speed this up.
You walked out of the Media Lab and you headed for a
BRIAN CLARKSON Exactly. So I'm gonna
ALAN ALDA This is amazing to fast forward
through your actual life. This is like an outer body
experience. She knew you were taping this?
Exactly. I think it is one of the things that made her
interested in me. I was doing this kooky thing. I have
something to talk about.
ALAN ALDA Well, I guess it's
a good way to find out if people can put up with you.
BRIAN CLARKSON My friends always joke that whenever
I'm wearing this, that not only do I get girls to talk
to me, but I also get girls to talk to my friends who
are with me. Because they're always like, "what is he
wearing?" Kind of thing.
ALAN ALDA Well, she looks animated.
She's talking to the guy next to her a lot, though.
BRIAN CLARKSON This is the rear view.
ALAN ALDA Oh,
so you can see what she's looking at over your shoulder?
BRIAN CLARKSON She's checking out the waiter behind
ALAN ALDA She's checking out the guy over at this
table over here.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But while Brian
can now play back his life any time he wishes, the rest
of us who happen to get caught by his camera may not
always be happy with the idea.
ALAN ALDA In restaurants
now, they have signs up that say "no cell phones". And
I can imagine that they will eventually have signs up
BRIAN CLARKSON Etiquette--.
--Any edible camera at the door. Check it."
Yeah. I expect this to happen. Basically what we need
to do is inject this hardware and this device into society
and then society will build an etiquette around it to
sort of make it work right. Right now we just don't
have it; it's new, so it's scary.
BRIAN CLARKSON How
does it feel?
ALAN ALDA Great.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
Well let's see how scary it can be.
ALAN ALDA Let's
BRIAN CLARKSON Looks very cool.
ALAN ALDA Hi.
ALAN ALDA I pointed at him and he doesn't know I
got a picture of him. I'll just follow this person here.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Of course, just like the
other wearable computers we've seen, even an all-seeing
one like this will come down in size to the point of
being inconspicuous. Then we could all carry around
with us a way of recording every moment of our lives
- one that maybe one day could even smell the cherry
blossom - and allow us to recall the high points - and
even the low points -- whenever we wish. It could give
nostalgia a whole new meaning.
OLDER WOMAN Hi Alan.
ALAN ALDA Hi. How are you?
OLDER WOMAN Good to see you.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) And wouldn't it be great for those,
"no you said… then I said, no you said arguments?"
ALAN ALDA Don't you wish you had one of these? You wouldn't
have to carry that on your shoulder like that.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But in a world where increasingly surveillance
cameras are all around us, the idea that they could
move around invisibly among us is definitely unsettling.
So what do you think? Would you want a permanent record
of your life? Or are the costs -- both personal and
public - just too great?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) I'm contributing a note to a musical
work called the Brain Opera - accompanied by a heavenly
STUDENT That was really good.
TOD MACHOVER That was good. Now sing not so well, darn it.
ALAN ALDA I think I just wrote "Chariots of Fire".
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) I was at MIT's Media Lab testing some
of the inventions of Tod Machover and his colleagues
as they prepared for the Brain Opera's premiere. One
of the ideas behind the Brain Opera was that it would
involve new musical instruments that anyone could play.
ALAN ALDA This… what's that?
TOD MACHOVER You broke
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The Brain Opera has since
been performed several times in concert halls all over
TOD MACHOVER Yeah, all right!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
We caught up with Tod Machover again as he was in final
rehearsals for his latest work, the Toy Symphony. Among
his collaborators in the Toy Symphony is violinist Joshua
Bell - one of classical music's superstars.
What made you want to be a part of the Toy Symphony?
JOSHUA BELL Well, they approached me because I think
they heard that I played music…
TOD MACHOVER We heard
he played the violin.
JOSHUA BELL And they also heard
that I love video games and I love computers and I buy
a new laptop every six months 'cause I like to stay
ahead of technology. So I guess the combination of my
interest in technology and my willingness to go there.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Just where he's going, no one's
quite sure at this point. But one thing he'll be taking
with him is a computer program that can pick up the
sound of his Stradivarius and instantly add to it -
in this case, doubling the melody an octave lower. A
few weeks later, at a performance of the Toy Symphony
in Glasgow, Scotland, Joshua's enhanced Stradivarius
shows off its new musical colors. In this piece, the
Stradivarius is still front and center.
We don't want to use it in a situation where you just
miss hearing the acoustic sign of a violin, which is
hard to beat, you know?
ALAN ALDA Yeah.
And especially after spending four million dollars on
this, I don't want it to be completely not useful anymore.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But while Joshua won't be giving
up his Strad any time soon, he and Tod are working together
on one of Machover's latest musical instruments, called
the hyperviolin. The idea is to take the musical skills
and subtleties Joshua employs in playing the violin
and translate them into novel musical sounds.
What we're trying to do is take this instrument, which
has the feel of a regular violin, has the proportions,
the strings, fingerboard. So Josh can play it like a
violin with really no adjustment. But it has lots of
extra information, it gives the computer a lot of help
as to how Josh is playing and what he's playing.
JOSHUA BELL The bow picks up all kinds of data like bow speed,
tilt, pressure-it can take all this data from what I
do naturally with the bow when I play the violin. And
it can then isolate that and feed it into the computer.
ALAN ALDA Diane, there's a radio in here sending the
data? DIANE Yeah, this --there's a transmitter right
here that sends all the data out by this wire here and
we pick it up remotely in the studio.
ALAN ALDA You're
capturing on the computer-- DIANE Right.
ALAN ALDA The
tiny, almost imperceptable things that he's doing with
his right arm to make the sound that he gets. DIANE
TOD MACHOVER What it allows us to do is to make
an instrument which starts from the basis of a violin
but can then flower and expand into many other things
and the other things are really just limited by our
ALAN ALDA Like what?
TOD MACHOVER I don't
JOSHUA BELL What he says. Limited by our imaginations.
ALAN ALDA Any old thing will be fine!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
Here in rehearsal, Tod and Joshua experimented with
different sounds in preparation for the Glasgow concert.
At the concert itself, the hyperviolin joined a children's
chorus, a full symphony orchestra and some other instruments
hatched especially for the Toy Symphony - Beatbugs.
GILI WEINBERG It plays it back to me. I can stop if
I don't like it and try something else.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
My introduction to Beatbugs came from one of Tod Machover's
graduate students, Gil Weinberg.
GILI WEINBERG And now
I can start to manipulate it. I can change the pitch.
The more I press the higher the pitch goes. Now I can
also change the rhythm. Ornament it. Stop it. Try something
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Beatbugs are supposed to
allow even someone with no experience at all at playing
an instrument the ability to create -- and collaborate.
GILI WEINBERG If you're happy with the motif, hit the
bug hard, and it's sent to a third friend of ours. What
you played is recorded. I can't change what you played,
I can enhance it. I can use different rhythmic values
and different numbers.
ALAN ALDA Right. You can sort
of hide it.
GILI WEINBERG Develop it. So, you can take
this and play with it, and when you point it towards
me, I can play with you.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The Beatbugs
made one of their first public appearances at a trial
run of the Toy Symphony in Berlin last year. The children
spent about a week working together to create their
composition. Tod Machover's goal is to give children
a hands-on experience with music even if they've never
even touched a conventional instrument.
For me as a kid, when I was four years old, I heard
music in the family but there were no toys, no musical
toys for me to play with. And I actually invented my
own when I was three, four-I used to string rubber bands
on my dresser drawers and open up the drawers to different
lengths, to different amounts--,
ALAN ALDA It would
give you different sounds.
JOSHUA BELL And I would create
pitches and copy different tunes because I didn't have
anything else to play with.
TOD MACHOVER It's interesting,
toy companies understood right away that music is something
which is very little exploited for young kids. I mean,
they're really--not just in terms of the instruments,
but in terms of the activity. I started Toy Symphony
because I have now eight and four year old daughters.
I was just looking around for music training for them.
And it's so conservative and just not interesting. It's
much less expressive and musical than they are. Than
any kid is.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Just how musically
expressive kids can be if they have the tools was beautifully
demonstrated in Berlin, when the German Symphony Orchestra
played a piece composed by a ten-year old boy. The composer
hadn't written his score using musical staves and key
signatures and semi-quavers, but with a software program
called Hyperscore… His score had then been transcribed
for full orchestra.
ALAN ALDA Oh, great!
That's the idea.
ALAN ALDA I'll give you fifty dollars
for this program, right now. Cash.
MARY FARBOOD Actually,
it's free on the web.
ALAN ALDA Ah, no kidding?
MARY FARBOOD No kidding.
EGON PASZTOR Everyone can download it.
ALAN ALDA You have to give me the link.
EGON PASZTOR Absolutely.
ALAN ALDA This is great!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
Hyperscore uses colors, shapes and textures instead
of musical notation.
MARY FARBOOD So if you move the
notes close together …
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) You start
by creating a little musical "motive" or tune using
ALAN ALDA Okay, now I have no idea what I'm doing.
EGON PASZTOR Well, hit the space bar.
ALAN ALDA Hit the space bar, okay.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
There's a lot more you can do with Hyperscore, but in
the spirit of this show, why don't you go to the website
and see how You Can Make It - music that is -- on Your
ALAN ALDA I love it. This is great.
ALEX SLOCUM 3-2-1-go.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) We're ending
with a contest that's the essence of learning how you
can make it on your own -- the annual battle of machines
built by students at MIT.
ERIC VARADY Now comes the fun part. Calling my mom.
CROWD Double win! Yeah!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) This year's contest -- hatched six-months
earlier -- involves a teeter-totter beam and a swinging
8lb ball. The challenge is to build a machine that starts
out sitting on the beam and that after exactly 45 seconds
has managed to tilt it in its favor -- against an opponent
trying to do the same thing. There's a 10lb weight limit
for each machine… and a box of parts to make it from.
Each of the hundred plus students in the contest --
which is actually a course in mechanical engineering
-- gets an identical kit of stuff -- including several
electric motors from home power tools as well as things
which seem like mechanical leftovers.
ALAN ALDA What
would you do with this?
ERIC VARADY Nobody in the class
knows what that is. We had a…
ALAN ALDA Is that true?
No one knows what it is?
ERIC VARADY No one knows how
they're gonna use it.
TEACHING ASSISTANT Usually people
just do this: pop it in, take the motor and do something
with the motor and then toss that back in there. What
it is good for is--.
ALAN ALDA It is a mistake to toss
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) After several weeks
of brainstorming and designing their machines on paper
and computer, the class sets to work manufacturing them.
And it's now that some of the strategies the students
have come up with begin being tested. Grinding sharp
spikes is Jessica Baker, one of several with a plan
to have their machines reach down and grab the carpet
underneath the beam. Alex Slocum is the professor running
the course, and one of a dozen MIT staff helping the
students translate their designs into reality.
ALEX SLOCUM Oh! So that's about ten or fifteen pounds up.
From one tooth. Imagine if you had twenty teeth.
ALEX SLOCUM When they build a machine and they do the calculations
right, the machine works, and you get this intense "er",
just like a geek gasm from knowing that what you created
in your mind and on the computer is actually doing what
you told it to do.
JESSICA BAKER It's gonna be dropped
from up above there by the strings. And these things
grab into the carpet, theoretically. If I can grip the
carpet well enough, I can harness the full power of
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Here's another plan
to pull the beam down.
WILL LARK This locks on to prevent
the whole mechanism from falling off the beam once it
drives to the end. It takes about 15 seconds.
(NARRATION) This is Will Lark.
WILL LARK Once it's flipped
open, this rock represents the car, which will drive
over here, attach with magnets and reel the beam in.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) In contrast to Jessica and Will's
plan to tug the beam downwards, Nick Martin intends
to jack it up.
NICK MARTIN It will drop off the beam, drive over to
the opponent's side, and then raise the jack to raise
the beam, thus changing the angle.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Ernesto Blanco has been helping
students in this course for over 20 years. The contest
changes, but not its intent.
ERNESTO BLANCO Practically everything in mechanical
design is involved here. And we're happy to be able
to give the students that kind of an experience. And
at the same time, a little bit of frustration.
TULIKA KHEMANI It's an awesome class. It's very very productive
and I've learned so much in this course. It's amazing.
But it's also very stressful.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
It's now just a few days before the contest and a hundred
machines are taking shape.
ALEX SLOCUM About mid year there were some worries
that maybe the contest was a little too complicated.
And, oh my goodness, the students were having a really
tough time. But in reality, what they were doing is
they were hidden in their warrens, working away on solutions
that, when they surfaced, just "whoa!"-blew our minds
with how elaborate and cool they were.
TEACHER Folks, it's two days before delivery time,
so let's see what you got.
ERIC VARADY So the
plan is, this guy, all he does is he goes from here
to here and then these syringes apply 500lbs of force…
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Eric Varady has a plan similar
to Will Lark's.
ERIC VARADY And it clamps down so it
can't be moved.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) He drops a car
off the beam and uses it to place magnets on a metal
strip, then winches his side of the beam down. The car
is then free to roam…
ERIC VARADY If there are any robots
on the ground, which is what I'm really afraid of, it
can take them out.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Nick Martin,
meanwhile, has almost finished his mobile jack. NICK
MARTIN The goal is to drop the robot off the beam, onto
the ground, drive to the other side of this beam, and
then raise this jack, and then push their side of the
beam up. This strategy of winching to the magnets will
produce a lot of force. I'm worried about robots like
ERIC VARADY I'm worried about him, so hey!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Jessica Baker's carpet grabber is also
almost done -- and testing well.
JESSICA BAKER I think
I need to perfect that carpet driver so it digs in more.
But I'm happy with how the rest of it works.
(NARRATION) Sarah Mendelowitz's machine is designed
to give her opponent a jolt -- then, like Jessica's,
drop a carpet grabber to the floor. A winch then hauls
the beam down.
STUDENT Nice. That's sweet.
TEACHER Okay ready? We're gonna have a run.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Will Lark, meanwhile, has built
his car but dropped the idea of using it to place magnets.
Now he plans to simply drive away, pulling out telescoping
rods to maximize his leverage.
TEACHER We have a winner against the brick.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) After 14 weeks of design,
construction and testing, the machines face one last
LAB ASSISTANT Fit it in the box, however you
can get it in.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) To qualify for
the contest, every machine must fit within the box its
parts came in.
LAB ASSISTANT Is it in straight?
LAB ASSISTANT Put the lid on please.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The machines must also weigh no
more than the 10lb limit.
ERIC VARADY Oy!
What can you get rid of?
ERIC VARADY I can drop one
of these clamps.
LAB ASSISTANT Do whatever you have
to. You have less than two hours.
ERIC VARADY Heh.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Kateri Garcia machine just slips in
under the weight limit -- as does, eventually, Eric's.
ERIC VARADY Yes! Yes!
KATERI GARCIA Everybody has to
put their machines away with the lock placed backwards,
so they know you've been impounded. And you're not allowed
to touch your machine until Tuesday morning, the morning
of the competition. At that point you can decorate or
do whatever you want. As long as you don't change any
of the mechanics of your machine. So I'm glad it's out
of my hands and I'm really excited for the competition.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) It's now the first of two days
of head to head competition -- with no second chances.
One loss, and your machine is eliminated.
I'm nervous and I'm a little stressed out by that because,
I mean, it's all fun. But I spent so much time on this,
so much time that, ah, I want my money's worth.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Before an expectant crowd in MIT's
ice hockey arena…
ALEX SLOCUM 3-2-1-go!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
… Nick Martin's machine, flawless in tests, doesn't
give him his money's worth. NICK It fell over, and that's
kind of depressing. I've never seen that before. I tested
it, I ran it, but, you know, I guess that's what engineering's
ALEX SLOCUM Go!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Nick's
isn't the only machine to dash weeks of hard work in
a few seconds of competition. Her opponent's crash means
that Kateri Garcia's machine this round simply has to
cling on. Sarah Mendelowitz's jolting mechanism fails
to flip open. But her carpet grabber takes a firm grip
and pulls her to an easy victory. Will Lark's already
made it through a couple of easy wins. And again his
machine works as advertised -- almost. His car never
really finds its feet, but still pulls the telescoping
rods out far enough to get the leverage to win. Here's
the view from above the beam -- featuring a robot that's
using the bulldozer technique: shove the opponent off
the beam -- then drive back to your end to tilt the
beam down. The bulldozing robot was built by Malima
MALIMA WOLF It's a pretty powerful robot, and,
it's pretty simple, but, like, it doesn't have a problem
falling off the beam which a lot of the robots do. So,
it works. It's simple.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Here's another mobile jack. Dropped
off the beam, it's driven over to the opponent's side
and smoothly lifts it into the air. Will DelHagen is
the piston's designer and builder, and it's obviously
a machine to be reckoned with. Now watch carefully.
See that projectile flying over the yellow ball? It's
attached to a string from a robot that's just been bulldozed
off the beam.
ALISON WONG Oh my god!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But Alison Wong's
not out of it yet. By grabbing the pendulum, Alison
manages to keep most of the weight of the whole system
on her side of the fulcrum -- and pulls off a win that
seems to surprise her more than anyone. Eric Varady's
already breezed through several early rounds. The magnets
and the winch have provided all the power he's needed.
So far his car has had no opponents needing to be harassed.
ERIC VARADY It worked perfectly. So, if it keeps up,
I got a really good chance.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Jessica
Baker's also been doing well with her carpet grabber.
But this time it's up against another of those mobile
jacks. And before Jessica has a chance to do any serious
JESSICA BAKER He has a really nice machine.
I was hoping to get down there really fast and lift
up the carpet so he wouldn't be able to drive over there,
but he drove over there too fast.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
While Jessica had the bad luck to face a jack, Sarah's
carpet grabber's been having a fairly easy time. This
round her opponent's magnets fail to get a grip.
SARAH MENDELOWITZ Nice job. I seemed to have gotten lucky
a lot of times. I haven't had to go against a jack yet.
So I think it's a lot of luck, who I picked. But I'm
glad things are working well. And so far so good. I'm
excited that I got this far.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Malima
and her bulldozer are up again -- this time against
another pendulum grabber.
ALEX SLOCUM She got to winch
and hope that she doesn't get off the beam.
(NARRATION) But Malima simply goes into reverse, dragging
everything with her.
ALEX SLOCUM Oh! Amazing! Absolutely
MALIMA WOLF It works pretty well right now.
And it seems to be making it. It hasn't broken yet,
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Now here's a confrontation
we've been waiting for -- Sarah's carpet grabber against
Eric's magnets and car. Sarah gets a grip -- and yanks
so hard she makes Eric's magnets lose theirs, leaving
them dangling helplessly. Now Eric's only hope is his
car. But Sarah hangs on -- and Eric's streak is over.
ERIC VARADY She deserved to win. That was awesome.
SARAH MENDELOWITZ That was my toughest match so far, so, I'm
looking good. I'm really excited.
ALEX SLOCUM 3-2-1-go!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) This is the first match-up we've
seen between mobile jacks. One jack maneuvers into position
more quickly than the other…
ALEX SLOCUM He may have
it. Don't get greedy.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The faster
jack is driven by Alex Jacobson. Jack's that work well,
like Alex's, are beginning to look unbeatable. Here's
another face-off that promises to be fun -- Will's drive-away
car against Malima's bulldozer.
WILL LARK As long as
the front part stays on its hooks, it should be fine.
MALIMA WOLF I think I can do it. I don't know. Who knows,
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Malima's bulldozer
attacks -- but it's stopped short by Will's lock-on
clamp. Will's heavyweight car does its thing -- and
its extra leverage keeps Malima's bulldozer hanging
ALEX SLOCUM That was good. Excellent!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Only a few machines now
remain in the running. One is the mobile jack built
by Will DelHagen. Alex Jacobson has the other almost
identical jack -- here literally ripping a carpet grabber
out of the contest. Kateri Garcia's bulldozer has been
steadily plowing its way through the opposition. It
does it again. But as time is about to expire… With
both machines off the beam, it ends up a tie. KATERI
The controls are really touchy and this thing likes
to take off and I shouldn't have touched it, I should've
left it alone.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) So there's a rerun.
This time Kateri's bulldozer fails to dislodge her opponent
… whose carpet grabber clings on
ALEX SLOCUM Look at
the climb on that! Amazing angle! There she goes, up
up up and away!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But Kateri's heroic
climb isn't enough to dislodge the carpet grabber.
ALEX SLOCUM I've never seen, literally in seven years of
teaching, a student design a machine set to go up a
45 degree angle almost.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Will Lark's
car is still going strong -- this time pulling the telescoping
arm as far as it will go. With this win, he's in the
WILL LARK Whoa! I've got to take a breather
for a second.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Sarah's luck, meanwhile,
looks to have run out, as she finally confronts Will
DelHagen's all-powerful jack.
SARAH MENDELOWITZ I did
a lot better than I thought I was gonna do. I came up
against a really tough opponent. I don't know if there
was much I could do, so I did my best. Having it done
on time and having the opportunity to practice really
helped a lot. I think that was a big part of how well
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But then -- an unexpected
reprieve from the judges.
SARAH MENDELOWITZ So now I
guess I'm rerunning since my control system stopped
working again. So they're gonna let me rerun.
(NARRATION) Remember Jessica Baker's plan to try to
pull up the carpet before the mobile jack could get
into position? It looks like Will DelHagen's jack has
finally met its match -- until Sarah give one last tweak
on the controls. She tries to recover -- but it's too
SARAH MENDELOWITZ I got too greedy I think. I
didn't want him to get underneath and I popped off.
I think if I didn't get so greedy I might have been
able to beat him, but it was really close. It was good.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The first semifinal. And now it's
Will Lark's turn to face Will DelHagen's jack. Almost
before the car has even jumped off the beam, the jack
is hoisting it up. All Will DelHagen has to do is stand
and watch as Will Lark's car desperately tries to hook
around the jack and yank it away.
WILL LARK Winch it,
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) For Will Lark, it's
the end of a great run.
WILL LARK The only way to get
him was to mess him up.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The second semifinal. It's Alex
Jacobson's mobile jack against a simple extender that
has quietly made it through round after round. For a
moment it looks like Alex has gotten trapped by the
corner. But then… So for the finals, it's mobile jack
against mobile jack.
ALEX JACOBSON A lot of things I wanted to get done
I didn't get done, but everything I needed I guess I
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) We tracked Alex down behind the scenes…
ALEX JACOBSON I gotta go.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Where, it turned out, he'd been
conspiring with Will. Good friends, who've been comparing
notes ever since the class began, Will and Alex now
plan a final collaboration.
WILL DELHAGEN Alex, come on!
ALEX SLOCUM Up and away…
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Carefully choreographed, the two
robots jack the whole apparatus an inch off the ground
-- with the beam dead level. The result is a tie…
ALEX SLOCUM Double win?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) … or in MIT-speak,
a double win.
ALEX SLOCUM This has never, never happened before.
And I so glad it did, because we like to be different.
CROWD Double win! Double win!