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Innovation is a hallmark of the Institute

'Emergency pizza button' created by East Campus students Adam Kraft, Dave Nelson and Quinn Mahoney.
'Emergency pizza button' created by East Campus students Adam Kraft, Dave Nelson and Quinn Mahoney.
Photo courtesy / Quinn Mahoney

Newcomers, be aware: This is not your average university.

Throughout the years, ever-resourceful MIT students have blessed even ordinary college activities like ordering a pizza, watching TV or doing laundry with a touch that is uniquely MIT.

East Campus alone is home to the emergency pizza button, a computer-controlled disco floor and several other "only-at-MIT" projects.

"I've managed to distract myself from the more important things in life with projects as far back as I can remember," said graduate student and East Campus resident Adam Kraft. Kraft worked with graduate students Dave Nelson and Quinn Mahoney to design and build the emergency pizza button for East Campus.

The button itself looks like a slice of pepperoni pizza. Press it, and a pizza is delivered to East Campus within the hour. Though not designed for the picky, the "emergency" button is used frequently by hungry late-night studiers who want a fast pizza, said Kraft, who also collaborated with Nelson, graduate student Ryan "Breath" Williams and junior Cameron Lewis on a motorized couch.

The white couch looks like an ordinary piece of furniture, but a motor hidden in its back allows the couch to travel around. Moving at speeds that rival a riding lawnmower, the couch can seat up to three people comfortably and is steered by a metal stick on wheels separate from the couch itself.

"Giving a stranger a ride around campus on a motorized couch isn't such a bad way to break the ice," said Kraft with a laugh. "I think the campus police had a good laugh when they spotted us driving the sofa around. I was relieved they did not ask to see my license and registration."

Last year, seniors Grant Elliott and Schuyler Senft-Grupp, junior Scott Torborg and sophomore Mike Anderson collaborated to turn the floor of East Campus' common room into a light-up, computer-controlled disco floor that makes the "Saturday Night Fever" dance floor look like an amateur production.

With touch-sensor capability, the floor can also act as a giant playing board for games like Dance Dance Revolution (an interactive video game in which lighted floor tiles indicate dance moves to the players), Twister and Tetris.

"The floor can pretty much do anything we want," said Elliott.

In Random Hall, former resident Jim Paris (S.B. 2004) rebuilt an Internet system designed for the Random Hall laundry and bathrooms after the original server built in the mid-1990s crashed.

Designed as a time saver, Paris' system includes a Web site that informs students whether there is an available washer before they carry their laundry down four flights of stairs.

The one in the bathroom works in much the same way, informing students when stalls are available to eliminate the need for useless trips.

"I don't think it's been touched at all in the past four years," said Paris. "It's still used all the time by the dorm, but it does its job well so there hasn't been much incentive to change it."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 14, 2005 (download PDF).

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