Research at Scale 2024

MIT Media Lab
MIT MEDIA LAB
Published in
10 min readMay 22, 2024

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By Cedric Honnet

The cityscape of Shenzhen at night, with a purple black background sky and buildings with white and yellow lights.
Shenzhen, China. Credit: Courtesy of Wikipedia

A one-month residency in Shenzhen to scale research with mass manufacturing for affordability or unprecedented magnitudes.

The 10 research residents:

Andres Rico (City Science), Cathy Fang (Fluid Interfaces), Cedric Honnet (Responsive Environments + MIT CSAIL), David Preiss (Center for Bits + Atoms), Ganit Goldstein (Tangible Media + MIT Architecture), Hila Mor (Tangible Media + Berkeley), Jack Forman (Tangible Media + CBA), Leo McElroy (CBA), Martin Nisser (MIT CSAIL), Yunyi Zhu (MIT CSAIL).

Full residents reports:

*Available on GitHub*

A composite image of people in pink lab coats, a space with many screens, and people standing outside a Chinese building.
Credit: Cedric Honnet

What is the “Research at Scale” residency?

In January 2024, researchers from MIT and the Media Lab started a one-month residency in Shenzhen to scale research with mass manufacturing for affordability or unprecedented magnitudes. They began with presentations at the Scalable HCI Symposium*, before going on to co-create meaningful and open source hardware projects in Shenzhen, explore the tech ecosystem frontier, and join maker networks to explore the local scaling power.

The Scalable HCI Symposium offered an opportunity to cross pollinate dialogues on hardware in human-computer interaction (HCI), while showcasing Shenzhen’s potential as a global innovation hub. Drawing inspiration from influential figures in open hardware and hackerspace movements, like Bunnie Huang and Mitch Altman, the symposium emphasized the democratization of access to Shenzhen’s manufacturing power. This focus is particularly beneficial for communities in developing countries as it amplifies financial accessibility to hardware, but it also paves the way for scaling research to unprecedented dimensions and unexplored territories.

In collaboration with leading open hardware industry partners such as Seeed, the symposium provided invaluable insights into these manufacturing intricacies. The recent pandemic has undeniably disrupted global supply chains, but with China’s reopening, the symposium provided a timely platform to rediscover and delve into Shenzhen’s revitalized ecosystem. Read more about this enlightening journey through the landscape of HCI, where academia meets industry, theory meets practice, and potential meets opportunity.

*the residency started with the Scalable HCI Symposium, here is an overview made with our host, SUSTech.

Residency program:

Academic:
— Seminar presentations by distinguished guests from academia + industry (Berkeley + Seeed)
— Demos + posters by international participants (Harvard, Berkeley, Cornell, Parsons, CMU, NYU)
— Hands-on workshops (TinyML)
— Hackathon (subject: open tech for good)

Technical:
— Field trips to the world famous HuaQiangBei electronic market
— Factories visits: PCBs, injection molding, 3d printing, laser machines, knitting…
- Makerspace + hackerspace visits (Chaihuo, SZDIY…)

Cultural:
— Art village (Dafen)
— Art + tech visits (HQB Museum, AIRSpace,…)
— Food exploration field trips (Dongmen)

Research report summaries:

A composite image featuring three people in yellow, blue, and red lab gear and a person giving a presentation in front of a screen.
Credit: Andres Rico

Andres Rico (City Science)

Keywords: Cities, ML, socio-environmental sensing

Cities hold the key to understanding some of our world’s most pressing challenges. Andres’s research revolves around building sensor systems to understand crucial socio-environmental aspects of cities. While industry has made strides in sensor systems for structured environments like factories, cities pose a different challenge due to their complexity.

Here’s a glimpse of his journey:

🏭 Factory Visits: Witnessed firsthand the manufacturing processes at LCD, PCB, and mold factories, establishing valuable connections with potential collaborators and suppliers.

🤖 TinyML Workshop: Delved into EdgeAI using Seeed’s XIAO ESP32S3 Sense, unlocking opportunities for AI at the edge.

🤝 Cocreate Program: Initiating talks with Seeed to further develop the Axol Water Sensors Project, aiming to make water research more accessible.

Full report: https://seeed-studio.github.io/MakerCamp/2024-01-MIT/Andres

A composite image with people standing in front of a river at night with city lights in the background; a person’s hand holding a watch; and a close up of the watch, which is purple and has a small video screen on it.
Credit: Cathy Fang

Cathy Fang (Fluid Interfaces)

Keywords: HCI, Mixed Reality, Haptics, AI

🏭 Factory Visits: The tours of flex PCB factories revealed extensive automation, with humans primarily tasked with quality checks and minor fixes, highlighting the environmental impacts and the hidden costs of digital technologies.

⚙️ Electronics Market: Visits to HuaQiangBei offered insights into the bustling market of electronics, where one can find everything from quirky DIY projects to advanced children’s smartwatches with internet connectivity and dual cameras, embodying the concept of “wearable AI.”

🛠 Hands-On Experience: The workshop and hackathon facilitated by Seeed and SUSTech provided knowledge and hardware resources, enabling the disassembly and re-invention of a smartwatch to integrate AI capabilities for interactive, location-aware queries.

🎨 Art Scene: Enjoying the local culture was also a significant part of the visit, with time spent exploring art galleries and engaging with the vibrant art scene.

Cathy’s full report paints a vivid picture of the technological and cultural dynamism in Shenzhen, emphasizing hands-on learning and creative exploration in technology and art:

Full report: https://seeed-studio.github.io/MakerCamp/2024-01-MIT/Cathy

People in pink lab coats and a wide shot of a lab space.
Credit: Cedric Honnet

Cedric Honnet (Responsive Environments)

Keywords: HCI, Embedded Systems, Wearables

🔍 10 Years Of Shenzhen Explorations

From hackerspace trips with Noisebridge to MIT trips, Cedric shares his journey exploring the Shenzhen ecosystem, shedding light on the electronic market and manufacturing power.

🛠 Manufacturing In China: Advantages, Risks, and Solutions

Delve into the complexities of manufacturing in Shenzhen, uncovering insights on affordability, cloning, and the power of open hardware.

🌐 Amplifying The Scalable Open Hardware Solution

Discover his efforts in making research scalable through manufacturing, including his recent work on high-density flex PCBs and laser factories visits.

🔬 Technical Exploration: Scaling Research

Explore experiences in manufacturing his open hardware designs, from tackling high-density PCB challenges to leveraging Shenzhen’s rapid prototyping capabilities.

🎨 Cultural Expeditions

Venture beyond the tech realm into Shenzhen’s thriving art scene, where Cedric uncovers hidden gems from traditional painting to cutting-edge art-tech installations.

Full report: https://seeed-studio.github.io/MakerCamp/2024-01-MIT/Cedric

A person giving a presentation in front of a screen and while holing a microphone, and an image of two people looking through magniscopes.
Credit: David Preiss

David Preiss (MIT Center for Bits + Atoms)

Keywords: Digital Fabrication, Mech-E

🔬 Symposium:

David participated in engaging workshops, presentations, and a hackathon! Together with his teammates, Lingdong Huang (Future Sketches) and Leo McElroy, they worked on a project to revolutionize communication protocols for embedded devices, simplifying protocol design and fostering learning in the embedded development community. This innovative solution holds potential to streamline development processes and accelerate progress in the IoT space.

🛠️ Mini Servo Project:

During the trip, David spearheaded the design of a compact servo driver using Xiao RP2040 and the DRV8317. This project represents a significant leap forward in bridging the gap between traditional stepper motor drivers and advanced servo systems. By integrating hardware and firmware, they’re poised to deliver a versatile solution for digital fabrication tools, empowering makers and manufacturers alike to enhance precision and efficiency in their projects.

🏭 Factory Visits:

Exploring the vibrant ecosystem of Huaqiangbei was an unforgettable experience! From witnessing the intricate processes of phone bootlegging to marveling at the latest advancements in manufacturing technology, David gained invaluable insights into the future of hardware production. The synergy between innovation and craftsmanship was palpable!

Full report: https://seeed-studio.github.io/MakerCamp/2024-01-MIT/David

Credit: Ganit Goldstein

Ganit Goldstein (MIT Architecture + formerly Tangible Media)

Keywords: eTextiles, Space Exploration

🧶 As a textile designer, Ganit’s exploration extended beyond technology; her appreciation for Shenzhen’s rich cultural tapestry added depth to her journey. From art museums to local delicacies, her cultural excursions showcased the city’s vibrant energy and diverse heritage, enriching her understanding of Shenzhen’s dynamic ecosystem.

🛠 From electronics and PCB factories to flexible PCB facilities, Ganit’s firsthand experiences sparked new ideas for integrating electronics with textiles, laying the groundwork for future advancements in wearable technology.

🏆 Ganit’s team’s project “HandSight” incorporated LEDs to display color changes captured by a miniature camera. The project received the hackathon innovation award, making the collaborative experience of working on this wearable device both enjoyable and rewarding. (Group members: Derrek Chow, Ganit Goldstein, Hila Mor, and Yue Yang).

Full report: https://seeed-studio.github.io/MakerCamp/2024-01-MIT/Ganit

Credit: Hila Mor

Hila Mor (formerly Tangible Media, now at Berkeley)

Keywords: HCI, Sustainable Design, Dynamic Materials

🛠️ Hila’s research journey revolves around programmable materials, often involving the hacking and modification of existing fabrication processes. In Shenzhen, her curiosity led her to explore a diverse array of interests, from optics and textiles to paper fabrication, unraveling the backstage secrets of various manufacturing processes.

🧵 The textile factory stood out as a personal highlight, showcasing an impressive array of materials and cutting-edge machinery. From stiff knitted structures to stretchable meshes, the possibilities seemed endless, igniting her imagination for future research endeavors. Exploring optic and EL fiber technologies offered a glimpse into the world of light manipulation. Witnessing light patterns emerge from woven textiles left her in awe of the boundless creativity nurtured in Shenzhen.

🎨 Shenzhen’s fusion of industrial charm with cultural vibrancy was truly captivating. From LED-adorned buildings to quaint art villages, every corner offered a unique blend of tradition and innovation. Exploring galleries, indulging in local cuisine, and marveling at LED installations made for unforgettable experiences.

Full report: https://seeed-studio.github.io/MakerCamp/2024-01-MIT/Hila

Credit: Jack Forman

Jack Forman (Tangible Media + MIT Center for Bits + Atoms)

Keywords: HCI, Materials Science, Biomedical Engineering

🎥 Embark on Jack’s journey in Shenzhen, exploring arts, textiles and manufacturing, through a video illustrating a couple of seconds everyday:

Credit: Leo McElroy

Leo McElroy (MIT Center for Bits + Atoms)

Keywords: Computational Design, Digital Fabrication

🍜 Return to Shenzhen and Cultural Integration: Leo returned to Shenzhen after five years, exploring changes and developments in the city’s tech and cultural scenes.

🛠 Project Development and Collaboration: He got to work on scaling his projects related to educational kits and embedded devices, seeking collaborations with local manufacturers and researchers.

🚀 From navigating transportation challenges to indulging in food delights, every moment was filled with discovery and excitement. The Scalable HCI Conference at SUSTech provided invaluable insights, while factory tours offered a firsthand glimpse into Shenzhen’s manufacturing power.

“It was not my first time in Shenzhen and I suspect it will not be my last. For a technologist interested in making things it’s a singular place. But I would suggest that really anyone interested in how the world works should pay a visit to the Greater Bay Area to see where our material world comes from and how it comes to be,” said Leo.

Full report: https://seeed-studio.github.io/MakerCamp/2024-01-MIT/Leo

Credit: Martin Nisser

Martin Nisser (MIT CSAIL)

Keywords: Digital Fabrication, Robotics, Self-Assembly

🛠 Martin had the opportunity to visit various manufacturing-related companies, including a 3D printer manufacturer, and a robotics company. He also explored PCB assembly facilities and gained insights into the manufacturing processes involved.

⚙️ A visit to the Seeed factory provided a unique perspective on manufacturing operations, from material handling to shipping processes, offering valuable insights for entrepreneurs interested in scaling up production. Additionally, a group visit to Huaqiangbei, a massive electronics market, showcased the wide array of components available for hardware prototyping.

“From the electronics market at Huaqiangbei, the startups working on scaling up their prototypes, the fully-fledged manufacturers developing state-of-the-art hardware, to the many universities populating the landscape, I think Shenzhen is a must-visit for anyone thinking about fabrication and how they can make things to have impact at scale,” he said.

Full report: https://seeed-studio.github.io/MakerCamp/2024-01-MIT/Martin

Credit: Yunyi Zhu

Yunyi Zhu (MIT CSAIL)

Keywords: Digital Fabrication, Robotics, Self-Assembly

🛠 PCB and Display Manufacturing Insights: Yunyi’s focus was on exploring PCB and display manufacturing, visiting various factories to understand their processes and innovations.

🧶 Textile Technology Exploration: Investigated electroluminescent textiles and other advanced fabric technologies, reflecting on their application in wearable tech.

🍜 Local Cultural Engagement: Embraced Shenzhen’s cultural offerings, from local markets to art studios, enriching the residency experience with local interactions and insights.

⚙️ Community and Technology Integration: Enjoyed community engagement and discussions about technology with locals, enhancing understanding of the societal impact of tech innovations.

Full report: https://seeed-studio.github.io/MakerCamp/2024-01-MIT/Yunyi

Credit: Cedric Honnet

Acknowledgements:

The Symposium was started by Cedric Honnet and Dr. Seungwoo Je from the SUSTech School of Design, which participated in funding the event, along with SIGCHI and Seeed.

The residents were guided in the mazes of the HuaQianBei electronic markets by a dream team that includes Jose Angel Torres (Source Parts Inc.), Noah Zerkin (Combine Reality), Paul Hamilton (SUSTech), and Terry Given (Tymphany) — thanks a lot for sharing your secrets and your passion!

This residency was heavily inspired, and aims to continue the legacy of the following, in its own way:

This post was originally published on the Media Lab website.

Credit: Cedric Honnet

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MIT Media Lab
MIT MEDIA LAB

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