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MIT Media Lab Launches Virtual RFID-Powered Blackboard

To offer visitors a means by which to learn about the 130 or so projects being pursued at the Media Lab at any given time, RFID-enabled Samsung plasma touch-screen displays were installed throughout the building.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Aug 03, 2010When the new home of the MIT Media Lab—an imposing glass-and metal-encased structure designed by Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki—opened in late 2009, the directors of this innovation-focused lab wanted the new building's transparent look to extend into the work of its occupants.

"You can stand in some places and see into every lab in the building," says Andrew Lippman, the Media Lab's associate director. "So by its very design, it is inherently open. You can see everything. But you can't see the theory. You can't see what people are thinking about [inside the lab], or what people were thinking yesterday."

A Media Lab researcher uses an RFID tag to access one of the facility's touch screens.
To bring that thinking to the fore, and to give the Media Lab's visitors a means to learn about the 130 or so projects being pursued at the facility at any particular time, 30 large RFID-enabled Samsung plasma touch-screen displays were installed throughout the building.

Attached to each touch screen console is a ThingMagic antenna, linked to a ThingMagic EPC Gen 2 (ISO 18000-6c) Vega RFID reader mounted behind the screen. Each reader is controlled by a dedicated PC that, in turn, is networked to a powerful software platform developed by the Media Lab.

This software, according to the Media Lab, acts as the brains behind the system. A visitor can be issued an RFID badge that includes an EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID inlay. That individual can then use a kiosk near the lab's entrance with an embedded Vega reader, in order to create a personal profile that includes the user's name and company, the tag ID number and a headshot, taken by a camera built into the kiosk. The visitor also creates a login name and a password for use once the visit is over.

A visitor could walk up to any of the touch screens and call up a map of the facility, or find out where a specific employee's office is located, or learn about any of the research projects currently being undertaken at the lab (presently, there are research groups doing everything from using computers to understand how children learn, to studying how intelligent neurotechnologies might repair pathology). But if he or she approaches a touch screen while carrying an RFID badge, the screen's RFID reader will pick up the tag's ID number and forward it to the software.

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