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Updated: 10 hours 41 min ago

Reading the heartbeat of the road

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 2:25pm

Smartphones can set your thermostat, control your lights, and even monitor your heart rate. But thanks to MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub research assistant Jake Roxon, they will also soon be able to measure pavement quality and reduce vehicle emissions.

In collaboration with Harvard University student Shahd Nara, Roxon has applied his love of cars with his engineering expertise to create Carbin, a crowdsourcing app that measures road quality and eventually will guide drivers on the most fuel-efficient route. The app utilizes research conducted by the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub to cut a vehicle’s emissions by an estimated 5 to 10 percent.

The key to Carbin is a phone’s accelerometer. Ubiquitous in smartphones, the accelerometer measures orientation and local acceleration, allowing the device to accomplish tasks like changing the position of a screen or measuring footsteps. But most phones don’t fully utilize their accelerometers; smartphone accelerometers generally take measurements far below their practical potential of 100 hertz, a frequency of 100 times per second. By tapping into this reserve, Roxon can increase the sensitivity of a smartphone to detect the slightest defects in pavements, all from within a moving car’s cabin.

After recording these pavement defects with the accelerometer, Roxon can then quantify a road’s roughness, meaning he has essentially created a heartbeat monitor for the road.

Roughness is expressed in IRI, or International Roughness Index, which is the metric for measuring road quality. In addition to ride quality, it also contributes to fuel consumption. 

“If you are interested in a road’s roughness, the app can display IRI; if you are interested in the fuel consumption the app can show you if, say, 20 to 25 percent of your fuel consumption comes from a poor-quality road — which is totally possible in a city,” Roxon says.

One issue arises, though, when measuring the roughness of the ride: How can one determine what readings are from the road, the car, or even the occupants? According to Roxon, only time can tell.

“For us to gather any information about the vehicle, we need at the very minimum three minutes of data,” he says. “If you think about how often the accelerometer takes measurements, that can give you up to 18,000 data points.”

With this robust dataset, Roxon and his team say they can cut out the “noise,” or the extraneous data from the car or its cargo.

The next step for Roxon and his team is to use the data to determine excess fuel consumption and pavement quality in real-time. Traditional methods that calculate pavement data en masse would completely swamp a phone’s processing ability, so instead, Roxon determines fuel consumption on a step by step basis. By selecting data points, for example, every minute and comparing them to the prior minute, he can calculate the difference in pavement quality, and therefore a pavement’s roughness.

Eventually, by leveraging crowdsourcing, he hopes to overlay this roughness data onto road maps and then use machine learning algorithms like those of Apple Maps or Google maps to route drivers on the path of least resistance. As one might expect, this feature could prove highly useful for fleet drivers who drive regularly.

“On average, a semi-truck in the U.S. consumes around 20,000 gallons of diesel per year and the average diesel price in 2018 was $3.19. If you multiply one by the other, you are looking at $63,600 per year per year in fuel costs,” says Roxon, “Now, with our app, we could safely identify 5 percent to 10 percent savings for these drivers. That becomes over $6,000 dollars for just one truck.”

With some fleets in the U.S. totaling in the thousands, even tens of thousands, this could save companies large sums of money.

Truck drivers may also find Carbin useful for a different reason. It also has the potential to simply and accurately monitor tire pressure.

Here’s how it works: When a tire’s pressure is low, a car uses more energy to turn it; this can have a slight influence on the motion of the car. Carbin allows a smartphone’s accelerometer to read this often-unnoticeable motion and determine which tire needs inflating and by how much.

Since improperly inflated tires increase expenses and, at worst, can lead to dangerous events like blowouts, this could prove valuable to truckers. This is particularly the case since many trucks lack tire pressure sensors — which are both expensive and often unreliable.

State and city agencies may also find a use for the app. While federal agencies have the funds to monitor the quality of their pavements using sophisticated technology, the method is expensive for state agencies and beyond the budget of most cities. With limited funding, states must survey their pavements in sections over several years which prevents accurate monitoring of the performance of the entire road network. Cities have even less resources, so they tend to rely on reporting by citizens and visual examination by inspectors to determine road maintenance. The Carbin app would allow cities and states to gain a better understanding of their pavement quality at a far more reasonable price.

When its features roll out later this month Carbin will offer users a suite of options to save money, track excess emissions, and understand the carbon footprint of their infrastructure. 

Yazmin Guzman named 2019 Gates Cambridge Scholar

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 12:00pm

Yazmin Guzman, a master's student in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, has won the prestigious Gates Cambridge scholarship, which offers students an opportunity to pursue graduate study in the field of their choice at Cambridge University. 

Guzman, from Wichita, Kansas, recently completed her bachelor's in DUSP with a minor in economics, and this spring will complete a Master in City Planning. At Cambridge University she plans on reading for a degree in educational policy. Guzman aims for a career in educational reform with a focus on increasing educational opportunities for low-income students and improving policies related to community colleges and vocational training. 

The daughter of immigrants from Oaxaca, Mexico, Guzman is the first person in her family to pursue a college degree. At MIT, she has researched deindustrialization, immigration law, and residential mobility, and conducted interviews with Latino residents in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Justin Steil, the Charles H. and Ann E. Spaulding Career Development Assistant Professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, has advised and mentored Guzman throughout her time at MIT.

“Yazmin is a problem solver at heart and is constantly inspiring and building bridges with others," Steil says. "A first-generation college student, Yazmin is passionate about improving access to high-quality education for all. Over her years at MIT, Yazmin discovered a love of statistical analysis and enthusiasm for applying those skills to meaningful public problems, such as educational access and quality. It has been an honor to have Yazmin as a student and an advisee and to work with her on research.”

Guzman has made strategic use of MIT’s many resources for community engagement and experiential learning to prepare herself for a career addressing inequalities. With support from the PKG Center, she spent an Independent Activities Period working with the KIPP school in Washington Heights, New York, where she developed community-building resources and supported classroom teachers, while seeking to understand how education policy affects the classroom experience of teachers and pupils. The following summer, she investigated how education equality initiatives use their data to improve services, as a research initiative intern at Questbridge, an organization that helps students from low-income backgrounds access leading institutions of higher education. Back at MIT, Guzman volunteered as a tutor and mentor for Amphibious Achievement, a dual athletic-academic program for underprivileged students in the Boston area, and directed the organization’s academic programming. She also tutored in mathematics through MIT SHINE for Girls, a mentorship program for middle school girls that combines dance and mathematics.

Alison Hynd, assistant dean at the PKG Center says, “Yazmin brings to her work a drive to make real change in the world, combined with a focus on deeply understanding the problems she wants to address. She’s an extraordinary woman and a future leader in education equity!"

Guzman has been president of La Union Chicana Por Aztlan (LUChA) and is the co-founder of Hermanas Unidas, an initiative that seeks to empower Latinas across MIT’s campus. She has held leadership positions with MIT organizations that mentor local high school and middle school students, including Amphibious Achievement and SHINE. She has been a student representative for the Committee on Academic Performance, vice president of educational outreach for Latinos in Engineering and Science, and a tutor at correctional facilities through the Petey Greene program. She is also a member of the Sakata Afrique dance team. 

Guzman was advised in her application by Kim Benard in the Office of Distinguished Fellowships. Established by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, the Gates Cambridge Scholarship provides full funding for talented students from outside the United Kingdom to pursue postgraduate study in any subject at Cambridge University. The 2019 awards process was extremely competitive, with 34 ultimately chosen. Since the program’s inception in 2001, there have been 28 Gates Cambridge Scholars from MIT.

National competition veterans pay it forward at regional science contest

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 11:40am

On Saturday, Feb. 23, more than 100 middle school students gathered at MIT to compete in the annual Northeast Regional Middle School Science Bowl.

The event, now in its fourth year, was coordinated and executed by Kathleen Schwind, a senior in the five-year program in the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and Songela Chen, a senior in the MIT Department of Chemistry. Many of the organizers and volunteers, including Schwind and Chen, are veterans of middle and high school National Science Bowl (NSB) competitions.

“The Northeast Middle School Science Bowl really is something special,” says Schwind. “[It’s] an event run by young people for young people, and an opportunity to not only celebrate the youth in our community, but also inspire them to continue being a part of NSB and to give back to other young people one day, too.”

The first several rounds were a round-robin style warmup for the 21 teams of four or five middle school students representing 10 schools from Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. Correctly answered questions in fields such as life science, physical science, earth and space science, and math won a team points and the chance at a bonus question. An incorrect answer passed the question over to the other team, who could then attempt an answer.

After a lunch break and group photo, elimination rounds began. Those knocked out switched their attention to fun engineering challenges such as building a tower out of supplied paper bags, aluminum foil, cups, and straws. At the end of the day, eliminated participants watched the tight race for third place, followed by a championship round for the title.

This year, that title went to Jonas Clarke Middle School Team One from Lexington, Massachusetts. William Diamond Middle School Team One, also from Lexington, took second. The winning team received a coveted trophy and the opportunity to represent the Northeast in the National Science Bowl hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington in April.

However, the competition was not about winning, said several participants, all of whom wore matching green shirts stating, “Keep calm and science bowl on.” Instead, it was about the fun and comradery of being part of a team. “It gives you purpose,” said a seventh-grade student from William Diamond Middle School. Being on MIT's campus was an opportunity to interact with an even larger scientific community. “It’s fun and confusing and kind of scary,” said an eighth grader from Jonas Clarke, who wants to be a marine biologist. “Scary because of the number of people and how big MIT is,” she clarified with a laugh.

As a student at MIT, Schwind founded the Northeast Regional Middle School Science Bowl when she learned the region lacked a local chapter. She used experience gained from founding and coordinating such events since age 16 — the youngest coordinator to date.

“The science bowl is extremely valuable for promoting science and the broader appreciation of science, so I am delighted to continue my support through MIT’s School of Science for this year’s event,” School of Science Dean Michael Sipser says of his recurring interest in sponsorship of the event.

Schwind also recruited the help of fellow National Science Bowl alumni, such as Chen. Although both will graduate in the spring, Schwind and Chen plan to continue running this event next year, remotely if necessary.

As a seven-year alumna of middle and high school science bowls, Chen says it was a motivator for her career in science and she hopes to pay it forward, “to show middle school students how valuable and rewarding science can be.”

“There is nothing like seeing a competitor have that sparkle in their eyes after the event and tell you that they now want to be a scientist or mathematician and go to MIT one day,” Schwind says.

Making family business our business

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 10:45am

Did you know that more than half of publicly traded companies in the United States are family companies? This is low compared to other stock exchanges around the world, like Mexico and the Philippines, where family-controlled companies dominate the listed businesses. In fact, family-owned firms account for two-thirds of all businesses around the world, with matching influence on global GDP and job creation. The Family Capital top 750 ranking of the world’s largest family businesses illustrates just how large these companies can get and suggests how much they contribute to the world economy. The companies on this list, including household names like Walmart, BMW, Dell Technologies, and LG Electronics, have combined revenues of more than $9 trillion and directly employ around 30 million people.

Although the ownership, governance, management, and leadership of family firms is critical to the economic success of nations, they are less talked about than anonymously-owned public corporations like IBM, American Express, or ExxonMobil. They also face a unique set of challenges over the long term.

“Family companies perform significantly better in terms of sustainability, profitability, and growth of all kinds when compared to non-family businesses,” says John Davis, a globally recognized authority and pioneer in the field of family enterprise. “They are even shown to be more innovative than non-family companies. But despite their success, many family-owned businesses face serious challenges with sustaining their success over multiple generations.” Only about 30 percent of family-owned businesses survive into the second generation, according to the Family Business Institute. Twelve percent are still viable into the third generation, and only about 3 percent of all family businesses operate into the fourth generation or beyond.

John Davis is one of the best-known voices in the world of family enterprise and family office. A strategic advisor and professor on the topic for decades, Davis has now joined MIT Sloan School of Management as a senior lecturer and is behind a series of new Sloan Executive Education programs designed to help family owners achieve multigenerational success and prepare for the future.

These programs can’t come soon enough, as digitalization, innovation, and technology have companies of all types on edge. For family-owned enterprises with a long tradition of doing things a certain way, the breakneck speed of technological change and industry disruptions can feel especially disorienting. Disruption and change are shortening time horizons for all businesses, but family businesses have extra layers of complexity — the future success of the business is inseparable from the well-being of the family — and all the more reason to be better educated about the future.

“I have always said that family businesses are slower but better,” says Davis. “But these days, can you still be slower and better? Where MIT really has done a lot of work and can add a lot to the thinking around family enterprise is the area of technological change and disruption and how it’s influencing industries, business models, and the way work is done. There is no faculty out there that is stronger in these ways than my colleagues at MIT.”

Davis’s new executive education programs help families manage disruption, think about where their industries are going, and get ahead of change — all while managing the evergreen issues that families need to stay on top of, such as preparing the next generation for skills they’ll need in the future, having the right governance, and keeping family relationships strong.

In all three of these courses, participants engage in interactive classroom work and exchanges among families from around the world. In the two Cambridge, Massachusetts, programs, families attend as teams and have daily private, facilitated discussions with an experienced family-enterprise coach to focus on their interests and agenda. And each family team leaves the program with a tailored action plan built together over the duration of the course.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and my work now is about the future of family enterprise,” says Davis. “Where business is going, where family offices are going, how ownership is changing, how capital is being raised, and how families are changing. All of these trends influence the nature of family enterprise, and I am mapping these changes and thinking about how this influences not just the management of a company, but the role of owners of these companies.”

The dynamic global family business ecosystem is set to grow even more important and influential in the years ahead. By virtue of this ecosystem’s impact on the economic health of countries and the well-being of their citizens, these new programs are well aligned with MIT Sloan’s mission to make a difference in the world.

The future of education in a world of pervasive computing

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 10:29am

Computers have become so pervasive in today’s world that preparing students to work and assume leadership roles in this shifting landscape requires giving them a better understanding of how computers work, how to use them, and how they affect every aspect of society. That’s the reasoning behind the creation of the new MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, and it was the theme of many of the presentations and panel discussions in this week’s three-day celebration of the new college.

“We’re in the midst of a global transformation that’s catalyzed by the rapid acceleration of digital technologies, including unprecedented access to computation and data,” said Farnam Jahanian, president of Carnegie Mellon University, in a keynote address on Wednesday. “The scale and scope and pace of these advances are truly unprecedented in human history.”

“The impact of these technologies is ubiquitous,” he said, “with a wide range of applications from health care to transportation, finance, energy, manufacturing, and far beyond. … The pace of innovation is accelerating dramatically.”

These changes require a profound rethinking of the role of education in this rapidly changing environment, Jahanian said. “Imagine a day when by integrating emerging technologies, such as AI-enabled learning techniques and inverted classrooms, we can achieve personalized, outcome-based education,” he said.

MIT Provost Martin Schmidt, in a discussion with reporters, said that in creating the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, “one of the things that’s really critical to us is that not only should this advance computation, but it should really link to all the disciplines across the campus.” The college will “strengthen those disciplines in their use of these new tools,” he said, “but also when we learn things about how we apply those tools to the disciplines, that knowledge flows back … and informs the next generation” of computing research.

Schmidt added that in planning the new college, a key question was how MIT will deliver on its promise of making sure that the college “has in its DNA” an awareness of the societal impact of current and future advances in computing. This appreciation “should inform our educational agenda, what our undergraduates and graduates learn in the classroom, and it should inform our research agenda,” he said. “It should shape how the research is performed, and the kind of content we produce that informs policies and informs governments on how they should respond to the deployment of these technologies.”

The new college was founded partly in response to the fact that “there really was a transformation occurring across the campus,” with computation increasingly forming a key part of the work in amost all disciplines, Schmidt said. While about 40 percent of MIT students major in computer science, there was a clear need for an even greater integration of computation and data science early and deeply into every aspect of education.

Melissa Nobles, dean of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, who also participated in the discussion, told reporters that students in that school were very excited to take part in this increased integration of their disciplines with computation. She cited examples of classes where mixed groups of computer science students and those majoring in arts, economics, or literature worked on problems that combined their different kinds of expertise. In one class, for example, the students studied in exhaustive detail the way writers of 19th century novels used male and female pronouns and how that related to the genders of the author and the main characters. The project required both computer expertise to analyze thousands of texts, and a knowledge of the literature in order to provide context for their findings.

Also during the discussion, Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College in California and another keynote speaker, pointed out that a deep understanding of computers and their impact is increasingly needed in a rapidly changing world where it is estimated that many of the jobs people perform today “are just going to disappear” within the next few decades. That makes interdisciplinary education more important than ever, she said.

Regarding the creation of the new college, she said, “I see this as an incredibly important step for MIT, and I think it’s going to influence other institutions to do similar things.”

The goals of the college reach far beyond just helping people in other disciplines to use computers more effectively, Nobles and others emphasized. It’s also important, they said, to make sure that the skills and knowledge from other fields flow back into computer science, influencing the ethical, political, and social implications of the work in that field — not just as an afterthought but as a fundamental part of thinking and planning.

For example, while it is tempting to make use of massive sets of data collected by social media, the use of such datasets can raise serious concerns about privacy and informed consent. Such issues may be relatively new territory for computer scientists, but they are longstanding issues that have been dealt with extensively by social scientists and philosophers whose expertise can help inform the data collection and analysis procedures.

The speakers at Wednesday’s symposium, representing many different fields and institutions, shared a sense of excitement about the potential for the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing to bring about significant innovations. “MIT continues to be a world-class institution that offers a distinctive education and research, of course,” Jahanian said in his keynote, “and this latest development will certainly increase its impact in this changing world.”