Changing Places
Enabling 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

  • AEVITA

    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 comprises 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.

  • 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: 200 SQ FT

    Kent Larson, Hasier Larrea, Daniel Goodman, Oier Ariño, Phillip Ewing

    Live large in 200 sq ft. An all-in-one disentangled robotic furniture piece makes it possible to live large in a tiny footprint by not only magically reconfiguring the space but also serving as a platform for technology integration and experience augmentation. 200 sq ft was never so large.

  • CityScope

    Carson Smuts, Kent Larson, Mohammad Hadhrawi and J. Ira Winder

    CityScope is a project to develop simulation systems that can predict and quantify the potential impact of disruptive technologies within new and existing cities. We place a special emphasis on augmented reality decision support systems (ARDSS) that facilitate non-expert stakeholder collaboration within complex urban environments.

  • 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

    FlickInk is a gesture sensing pen to support collaborative work and to augment the environment. With a quick “flick” of the pen towards a desired destination, analog written content on paper instantly transfers onto the corresponding physical object in the environment. The FlickInk gesture sensing module allows for wireless communication and directional gesture sensing. If multiple surfaces are present, the direction of the pen swing determines which screen the information is transferred to. Furthermore, multiple users can flick their written content to multiple devices, creating a personalized collaborative environment.

  • LightByte: Animate the Sunlight

    Sheng-Ying (Aithne) Pao and Kent Larson

    Sunlight is one of the most fundamental elements in nature that we have free access to in urban environments. It is also at the core of how we experience the physical world. What if we could engage sunshine in the digital age, to tame, modify, and bend light to our will? LightByte, a massive interactive sun pixel façade, modifies the sun’s rays at your whim into intricate shapes. It turns sunlight into an expressive medium to carry information, communicate ideas, and shape your own shadows.

  • 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 policymakers a new avenue to influence transportation behavior in urban areas by targeting these social institutional tribes as a whole.

  • 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.)
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.