Changing Places
How new strategies for architectural design, mobility systems, and networked intelligence can make possible dynamic, evolving places that respond to the complexities of life.
The Changing Places group proposes that fundamentally new strategies must be found for creating the places where people live/work, and the mobility systems that connect them, in order to meet the profound challenges of the future. We are investigating how new models for urban architecture and personal vehicles can be more responsive to the unique needs and values of individuals though the application of disentangled systems and smart customization. We are developing technology to understand and respond to human activity, environmental conditions, and market dynamics. We are interested in finding optimal combinations of automated systems, just-in-time information for personal control, and interfaces to persuade people to adopt sustainable behaviors.

Research Projects


    Kent Larson, William Lark, Jr., Nicholas David Pennycooke and Praveen Subramani

    What happens when the driver–the main conduit of information transaction between the vehicle and its surroundings–is removed? The living EV system aims to fill this communication void by giving the autonomous vehicle the means to sense others around it, and react to various stimuli as intuitively as possible by taking design cues from the living world. The system is comprised of various types of sensors (computer vision, UWB beacon tracking, sonar) and actuators (light, sound, mechanical) in order to express recognition of others, announce intentions, and portray the vehicle’s general state. All systems are built on the second version of the half-scale CityCar concept vehicle, featuring advanced mixed-materials (CFRP + aluminum) and a significantly more modularized architecture.

  • Augmented Participatory Design

    Kent Larson and Sheng-Ying (Aithne) Pao

    How can we enhance the experience of collaborative design of physical objects with familiar input devices? We designed augmented interaction for participatory design through the traditional paper medium with the FlickInk gestural pen. Augmented pen interaction offers opportunities to manipulate physical models remotely and to dynamically annotate physical objects in co-located collaboration. The augmented interaction also offers richer involvement for collaborators, as the pen is both a familiar creation tool and an intuitive interface to maneuver the flow of design and collaboration processes. Collaborators are able to trace back to revisit the trajectory and speed of each pen stroke, revealing the train of thoughts and authorship usually unavailable in the final form of design. Collaborators are given an effortless way to diverge into new work at any point in real time or at a future point, providing new perspectives for participatory design as a function of time.

  • Awakened Apparel

    V. Michael Bove, Kent Larson, Jennifer Broutin Farah, Philippa Mothersill and Laura Perovich

    This project investigates soft mechanisms, origami, and fashion. We created a modified Miura fold skirt that changes shape through pneumatic actuation. In the future, our skirt could dynamically adapt to the climatic, functional, and emotional needs of the user–for example, it might become shorter in warm weather, or longer if the user felt threatened.

  • CityCar

    Ryan C.C. Chin, William Lark, Jr., Nicholas Pennycooke, Praveen Subramani, and Kent Larson
    CityCar is a foldable, electric, sharable, two-passenger vehicle for crowded cities. Wheel Robots–fully modular in-wheel electric motors–integrate drive motors, suspension, braking, and steering inside the hub-space of the wheel. This drive-by-wire system requires only data, power, and mechanical connection to the chassis. With over 80 degrees of steering freedom, Wheel Robots enable a zero-turn radius; without the gasoline-powered engine and drive-train the CityCar can fold. We are working with Denokinn on an integrated, modular assembly and distribution system; based in Spain's Basque region, the project is called "Hiriko," which stands for Urban Car. Hiriko aims to create a new, distributed manufacturing system for the CityCar, enabling automotive suppliers to provide "core" components of integrated modules such as in-wheel motor units, battery systems, interiors, vehicle control systems, chassis/exoskeleton, and glazing. (Continuing the vision of William J. Mitchell.)
  • CityCar Testing Platform

    William Lark, Jr., Nicholas Pennycooke, Ryan C.C. Chin and Kent Larson
    The CityCar Testing Platform is a full-scale and modular vehicle comprising four independently controlled Wheel Robots, an extruded aluminum frame, battery pack, driver's interface, and seating for two. Each Wheel Robot is capable of over 80 degrees of steering freedom, thus giving the CityCar chassis omni-directional driving ability such as sideways parking, zero-radius turning, torque steering, and variable velocity steering (in each wheel). This four-wheeler is an experimental platform for by-wire controls (non-mechanically coupled controls) for the Wheel Robots, thus allowing the platform to be controlled by wireless joysticks. The four-wheeler also allows the CityCar design team to experiment with highly personalized body/cabin designs. (Continuing the vision of William J. Mitchell.)
  • CityFARM

    Camillee Richman, Elaine Kung, Emma Feshbach, Jordan Rogoff, Mathew Daiter, Kent Larson, Caleb Harper, Edward Platt, Preethi Vaidyanathan and Sophia Jaffee

    By 2030, nine billion people will populate the globe and six out of every 10 will live in cities. The future of global food production will mandate a paradigm shift to resource leveraged and environmentally sound urban food-growing solutions. The CityFARM project explores building integrated agriculture and environmentally optimized growing. We are exploring what it means technologically, environmentally, and socially to design industrially scalable agricultural systems in the heart of urban areas. Through innovative research, and through development of hydroponic and aeroponic systems, diagnostic and networked sensing, building integration, and reductive energy design, CityFARM methodology reduces water consumption by 90%, eliminates chemical pesticides, and reduces embodied energy in produce by a factor of four. By fundamentally rethinking "grow it THERE and eat it HERE" we can eliminate environmental contaminants and increase access to nutrient dense produce in our future cities.

  • CityHome

    Kent Larson and Hasier Larrea

    We demonstrate how the CityHome, which has a very small footprint (840 square feet), can function as an apartment two to three times that size. This is achieved through a transformable wall system which integrates furniture, storage, exercise equipment, lighting, office equipment, and entertainment systems. One potential scenario for the CityHome is where the bedroom transforms to a home gym, the living room to a dinner party space for 14 people, a suite for four guests, two separate office spaces plus a meeting space, or an a open loft space for a large party. Finally, the kitchen can either be open to the living space, or closed off to be used as a catering kitchen. Each occupant engages in a process to personalize the precise design of the wall units according to his or her unique activities and requirements.

  • CityHome: RoboWall

    Kent Larson, Hasier Larrea and Oier Ariño

    The RoboWall is the key module of the CityHome apartment, providing flexibility to the space by moving and transforming, serving as the technology that enables home reconfiguration. It is a wall that not only moves but also is functional and smart. The completely modular design allows the infill of the wall to be customized to address each person’s specific needs. Mainly intended for newly constructed buildings, the RoboWall can also be used to retrofit old apartments: its integrated system locates all the complexity on the wall. There are no physical rails or need for extra electrical installation. Plus, the pressure sensors create a seamless interface to operate the wall in a more natural way, also improving safety.

  • CityScope

    Kent Larson, Mohammad Hadhrawi, J. Ira Winder, Abraham Quintero, Estelle Yoon, Joshua Fabian, JT White, Sotirios D. Kotsopoulos, Suramya Kedia and Timo Wang

    CityScope provides expert and non-expert stakeholders with an advanced decision support system for cities. The system makes use of an array of high-definition video projectors, advanced modeling and simulation technology, 3D projection mapping, and physical models to create a tangible, interactive, real-time data observatory and urban intervention simulator. CityScope is designed to help people understand complex inter-relationships, and to make informed decisions about urban design, public policy, and the introduction of new urban systems and technology.

  • Context-Aware Dynamic Lighting

    Ronan Lonergan, Shaun Salzberg, Harrison Hall, and Kent Larson

    The robotic façade is conceived as a mass-customizable module that combines solar control, heating, cooling, ventilation, and other functions to serve an urban apartment. It attaches to the building “chassis” with standardized power, data, and mechanical attachments to simplify field installation and dramatically increase energy performance. The design makes use of an articulating mirror to direct shafts of sunlight to precise points in the apartment interior. Tiny, low-cost, easily installed wireless sensors and activity recognition algorithms allow occupants to use a mobile phone interface to map activities of daily living to personalized sunlight positions. We are also developing strategies to control LED luminaires to turn off, dim, or tune the lighting to more energy-efficient spectra in response to the location, activities, and paths of the occupants.

  • FlickInk

    Sheng-Ying (Aithne) Pao and Kent Larson

    Have you ever been in a teleconference and found it difficult to share the ideas you've been developing on your notebook to a remote participant? FlickInk reinvents paper/pen-based interaction. With a quick flick of the pen, analog ink on paper is instantly transferred to surrounding digital interfaces as well as to a remote destination. The flicking gesture is directional. When there are multiple screens with different remote collaborators, our system allows for the directionality of the gesture to select the destination. In addition, with FlickInk’s wireless gesture sensing module, various digital pens can be turned into a FlickInk pen by attaching the wireless module, leveraging any writable surface to create an enhanced personalized experience for collaborative work.

  • MIT Commuter Common

    Kent Larson and J. Ira Winder

    The MIT Commuter Common develops a system for observing, visualizing, and understanding transportation behavior at the scale of MIT's entire population. As such, human transportation behavior is examined within the context of “social institutional” and “urban tribal” constructs. By recognizing such social institutional tribes as fundamental affecters of transportation behavior, we can develop new analytical units called “commuter footprints.” These footprints are derived from the “digital breadcrumbs” of user behavior within an institution. By bringing these footprints to light, it will give policy makers a new avenue to influence transportation behavior in urban areas by targeting these social institutional tribes as a whole.

  • MITes+: Portable Wireless Sensors for Studying Behavior in Natural Settings

    Kent Larson and Stephen Intille
    MITes (MIT environmental sensors) are low-cost, wireless devices for collecting data about human behavior and the state of the environment. Nine versions of MITes have now been developed, including MITes for people movement (3-axis accelerometers), object movement (2-axis accelerometers), temperature, light levels, indoor location, ultra-violet light exposure, heart rate, haptic output, and electrical current flow. MITes are being deployed to study human behavior in natural settings. We are also developing activity recognition algorithms using MITes data for health and energy applications. (A House_n Research Consortium Initiative funded by the National Science Foundation.)
  • Mobility on Demand Systems

    Kent Larson, Ryan C.C. Chin, Chih-Chao Chuang, William Lark, Jr., Brandon Phillip Martin-Anderson and SiZhi Zhou
    Mobility on Demand (MoD) systems are fleets of lightweight electric vehicles at strategically distributed electrical charging stations throughout a city. MoD systems solve the “first and last mile” problem of public transit, providing mobility between transit station and home/workplace. Users swipe a membership card at the MoD station to access vehicles, which can be driven to any other station (one-way rental). The Vélib' system of 20,000+ shared bicycles in Paris is the largest and most popular one-way rental system in the world. MoD systems incorporate intelligent fleet management through sensor networks, pattern recognition, and dynamic pricing, and the benefits of Smart Grid technologies include intelligent electrical charging (including rapid charging), vehicle-to-grid (V2G), and surplus energy storage for renewable power generation and peak sharing for the local utility. We have designed three MoD vehicles: CityCar, RoboScooter, and GreenWheel bicycle. (Continuing the vision of William J. Mitchell.)
  • OfficeLab: Desk

    Kent Larson, Oier Arino Zaldua, Jason P. Nawyn and James White

    How can office space be more efficient while still providing for the needs of its users? OfficeLab is a responsive and mobile workstation that encourages collaboration while reducing office space consumption. OfficeLab furniture provides users the ability to adjust their privacy and comfort levels and the functionality to easily switch between private space, work space, team space, or conference space. All of this is done while increasing the personnel density within a specific work area. The workstation includes retractable privacy panels, peripheral light messaging, a height-adjustable desk, desktop induction charging, audio spotlights, and an RFID locking system. The furniture uses a chain network to provide electrical energy, allowing users to move freely throughout their work space.

  • Participatory Environmental Sensing for Communities

    Rich Fletcher and Kent Larson

    Air and water pollution are well-known concerns in cities throughout the world. However, communities often lack practical tools to measure and record pollution levels, and thus are often powerless to motivate policy change or government action. Current government-funded pollution monitors are sparsely located, and many large national and local governments fail to disclose this environmental data in areas where pollution is most prevalent. We have been developing very low-cost, ultra low-power environmental sensors for air, soil, and water, that enable communities to easily sample their environment and upload data to their mobile phone and an online map. This not only empowers communities to enact new policies, but also serves as a public resource for city health services, traffic control, and general urban design.

  • PlaceLab and BoxLab

    Jason Nawyn, Stephen Intille and Kent Larson
    The PlaceLab was a highly instrumented, apartment-scale, shared research facility where new technologies and design concepts were tested and evaluated in the context of everyday living. It was used by researchers until 2008 to collect fine-grained human behavior and environmental data, and to systematically test and evaluate strategies and technologies for the home in a natural setting with volunteer occupants. BoxLab is a portable version with many of the data collection capabilities of PlaceLab. BoxLab can be deployed in any home or workplace. (A House_n Research Consortium project funded by the National Science Foundation.)
  • PowerSuit: Micro-Energy Harvesting

    Jennifer Broutin Farah and Kent Larson

    The PowerSuit is a micro-energy harnessing material that functions based on temperature differentials between a person's skin and the outside environment. The skin becomes an activated landscape that can be used for micro-power generation. The idea is to consider small increments of energy as useful toward a specific purpose such as lighting safety LEDs while running at night time on cold days. This project is the beginning of an exploration in materials structures that yield micro-power through temperature differentials.

  • QuitoLab

    Kent Larson and Ramiro Almeida

    QuitoLab will incorporate both architectural and CityScope LEGO models of the historic core of Quito to engage local and visiting communities in experiencing and understanding the city in creative, multisensory ways. The goal of the QuitoLab project is to use multiscalar models as educational and community-building tools to present a multidimensional image of the city, its history, and its potential for future development. Quito will be one of the first case studies for CityScope, Changing Places’ platform for participatory urban design using LEGOs. CityScope uses 3D mapping technology to project urban data onto reconfigurable LEGO models. It creates a tangible, interactive platform that allows expert and non-expert stakeholders to understand and make informed decisions about the interaction of architecture, space use, mobility modes, energy and water networks, urban food production, movement of goods, data flows, and other urban systems.

  • Recognizing Activities of Daily Living in the Home Setting

    Ned Burns, Stephen Intille and Kent Larson
    Medical professionals believe that one of the best ways to detect an emerging medical condition before it becomes critical is to look for changes in the "activities of daily living" (ADL). We are developing new pattern-classification and context-based AI algorithms that detect changes in ADL automatically using self-installed home sensors. Such algorithms can be applied both to preventative medicine and to devices that monitor and control home and work spaces. Particular attention is focused on identifying behaviors that relate to physical/sedentary activity and medication compliance issues. (This is a House_n Consortium project funded by Intel and the National Science Foundation.)
  • SEAT-E: Solar Power for People, Big Data for Cities

    Kent Larson, Joseph A. Paradiso, Sandra Richter, Nan Zhao and Ines Gaisset

    SEAT-E provides free access to renewable energy to charge smart phones and small electronic devices in cities, bringing cities one step closer to fulfilling a key UN goal: sustainable energy access for all. The seats are off-grid and entirely autonomous. Fully integrated solar panels store energy in Li-ion batteries and can be accessed through weatherproof USB ports. The batteries also power lighting and sensing. Each seat has an ID and forms part of the SEAT-E network. The seats gather location-based data on air quality; cities typically measure air quality only at one or two locations, but levels vary significantly depending on traffic and other factors. As a result, policymakers and citizens are often uninformed. Public engagement with this sensor data has the potential to create a platform for real dialogue between cities and their citizens about the air we share.

  • Shortest Path Tree

    Kent Larson and Brandon Phillip Martin-Anderson

    Shortest Path Tree is an experimental way to interact with an algorithmic multimodal trip planner. It emphasizes how the shape of a city interacts with the planning process embedded in every mobility decision.

  • Smart Customization of Men's Dress Shirts: A Study on Environmental Impact

    Ryan C. C. Chin, Daniel Smithwick, and Kent Larson

    Sanders Consulting’s 2005 ground-breaking research, “Why Mass Customization is the Ultimate Lean Manufacturing System,” showed that the best standard mass-production practices, when framed from the point of view of the entire product lifecycle–from raw material production to point of purchase–was actually very inefficient and indeed wasteful in terms of energy, material use, and time. Our research examines the environmental impacts when applying mass customization methodologies to men's custom dress shirts. Our comparative study examines not only the energy and carbon emissions due production and distribution, but also customer acquisition and use, by using RFID tag technology to track shirt utilization of over 20 subjects over a three-month period.

  • Smart DC MicroGrid

    Kent Larson and Christophe Yoh Charles Meyers

    Given the increasing development of renewable energy, its integration into the electric distribution grid needs to be addressed. In addition, the majority of household appliances operate on direct current. The aim of this project is to develop a microgrid capable of addressing these issues, while drawing on a smart control system.

  • Spike: Social Cycling

    Kent Larson and Sandra Richter

    Spike is a social cycling application developed for bike-sharing programs. The application persuades urban dwellers to bike together, increasing the perceived level of safety. Social deals and benefits that can only be redeemed together motivate the behavior change. Frequent Biker Miles sustain the behavior. An essential feature is real-time information on where the users of the social network are currently biking or when they are planning to bike, to facilitate bike dates.

  • SproutsIO: Microfarm

    Jennifer Broutin Farah and Kent Larson

    SproutsIO is a microfarming system that assists everyday people in reliably producing healthy food in urban areas. SproutsIO has scalable, modular components augmented by technology such as monitoring sensors, network capability, and smart mobile applications to facilitate ease and a deeper understanding of the process through which aeroponic vegetables are grown. We believe that SproutsIO serves as a platform for closing the loop between people and food.

  • Wheel Robots

    William Lark, Jr., Nicholas Pennycooke, Ryan C.C. Chin and Kent Larson
    We place the mechanical components that make driving a vehicle possible (acceleration, braking, steering, springing) inside the space of the wheel, forming independent wheel robots and freeing the vehicular space of these components. A CPU in the vehicle provides the input necessary for driving according to the vehicle's dimensions or loading condition. The design of the wheel robots provides optimal contact patch placement, lower unsprung and rotational mass, omnidirectional steering, great space savings, and modularity, as the wheel robots can function appropriately on vehicles of different dimensions and weight. (Continuing the vision of William J. Mitchell.)