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Data, drones, and 3-D-printed hearts

Looking back on the year that was: Highlights from the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab in 2015.
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This self-folding microbot was among the many innovations that emerged from CSAIL in 2015.
This self-folding microbot was among the many innovations that emerged from CSAIL in 2015.
Photo: Christine Daniloff/MIT

It’s been a busy year for MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Researchers won the Turing Award, created groundbreaking algorithms to fix code and detect disease, and developed exciting new robots and artificial-intelligence systems. As 2015 comes to a close, here are a few highlights in seven key areas from the past 12 months:

1. DARPA Robotics Challenge

In June a CSAIL-led robotics team finished mere inches away from winning the finals of the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a U.S. Department of Defense-funded competition to develop a disaster-relief robot.

The team programmed its 6-foot-tall, 400-pound Atlas robot to climb stairs, open doors, and drive a car, all while producing state-of-the-art planning and manipulation algorithms.

2. Machine-assisted medicine

Researchers have developed numerous tools for the fields of health care and medicine, including:

3. Robots that dissolve, blossom, and bartend

Robots developed by CSAIL researchers this year include:

  • a 1-centimeter-wide microrobot that can swim, climb, walk, bear a load twice its weight, and “self-destruct” by dissolving in water;
  • an LED-filled ”robot garden” with over 100 origami robots that crawl, swim, and blossom like flowers;
  • A soft robotic gripper that can pick up and identify a wide array of delicate objects by touch alone, including an egg, a CD, and a piece of paper; and
  • a team of drink-serving “Beerbots” that demonstrate state-of-the-art planning algorithms allowing robots to collaborate in unpredictable environments.

4. Stonebraker wins $1 million “Nobel Prize for computing”

This year the Association for Computing Machinery’s A.M. Turing Award, often referred to as “the Nobel Prize of computing” and accompanied with a Google-funded $1 million prize, was given to big-data researcher Michael Stonebraker.

Over the past four decades, Stonebraker has revolutionized the field of database management systems and founded nearly a dozen companies, helping spur the multibillion-dollar “big data” industry.

5. Getting their (code) fix

Researchers developed key algorithms aimed at optimizing, fixing, and recovering code:

  • Helium helps solve bit-rot, automatically fixing old suboptimal code faster than human engineers;
  • CodePhage repairs dangerous software bugs by automatically importing functionality from other, more secure applications, without needing those applications’ source code; and
  • DIODE identifies common integer-overflow bugs that often result in malicious hacks.

6. Drones that avoid obstacles

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Self-flying drones were among this year's most talked about research stories from the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Most drone-related headlines focus on the ones that crash, but that’s because they don’t have our software!

A team from Russ Tedrake’s Robot Locomotion Group developed a self-flying drone that can dart between trees at speeds of 30 miles per hour thanks to a stereo-vision algorithm that allows the drone to detect objects and build a full map of its surroundings in real-time.

7. Cybersecurity at CSAIL

Among the achievements of our cybersecurity researchers this year:

For updates on the latest lab news, follow CSAIL on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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