At MIT’s future factory, no idea is too far out

For researchers at the outside-the-box Media Lab brain trust, the future can be seen even in a sprinkling of sensors and video game software.

Joe Paradiso chuckles at the unexpected growl of a small aircraft engine.

The airplane isn’t overhead. It’s 50 miles away, passing over a former cranberry bog that Paradiso and his research team are monitoring. Microphones planted there have relayed the sound to his workspace here at the MIT Media Lab as we look at a computer screen showing the virtual Tidmarsh landscape.

The laser-scanned view of the wetland shows temperatures logged by dozens of sensors carefully placed in the 600-acre expanse. We’ll soon be able to see numbers for humidity, light level and other climate stats.

The airplane quickly passes, and we can better hear the atmospheric, New Age-y soundtrack shaped by the stream of data. Paradiso, 59, calls to a colleague to see about switching to a spookier nighttime sound.

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