AOL plugs into Media Lab


25 Feb 2004

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Media Lab Europe has added to its list of research partners with the announcement of a deal with America Online.

The three-year contract will give AOL access to research, reports and thinking from the 100-strong staff at the Dublin facility. AOL joins a list of partners that includes BBC, Eircom, Ericsson, Intel, AIB and BT. Research partners pay a sponsorship fee to MLE to have access to work done in Dublin and Boston, which is home to the original MIT Media Lab.

Across the two institutions is a think-tank grouping of scientists, technologists, engineers, philosophers and artists that produces research, ideas and concepts around integrating technology with everyday life.

According to Media Lab Europe managing director Simon Jones, AOL specifically asked to sign a separate deal with the Dublin facility because of the inventive team based there, although the online media company is already a sponsor of the Media Lab in the US. This latter arrangement allowed AOL to avail of a discount.

Although the exact cost of the contract with Media Lab Europe has not been disclosed, Jones said it was a “significant figure”. He also termed it “a big vote of confidence in the work of Media Lab Europe”.

Speaking at an MLE open day this morning, Jones said that the facility was about “innovation, dreaming and inventing a future that improves our lives through technology”. Corporations that partner with Media Lab can derive value through sharing information, he said. “As a sponsor, you have access to brainpower. At your service is a top-notch principal investigators and research assistants available every day for instant consultation.”

The open day was attended by 100 delegates that included some existing partners in addition to local stakeholders from Government and third level. The largest grouping at the event comprised potential partners from the UK, France, Italy, Belgium, Germany and Portugal.

Jones attempted to ground Media Lab’s work in the real world by emphasising that it also takes part in the kind of knowledge transfer that usually occurs whenever research operations such as third-level institutions and business organisations collaborate. “It’s not about what we can do for you – although we can do a lot – it’s what we can do together to invent the future,” he told the assembled audience.

“As a research partner you can take innovations to your company and adapt it to your own needs: you get to see what works and what doesn’t, what’s hot and what’s not, what’s going on in industry and what you can expect to see soon.” Any sponsor can send personnel to the Media Lab facility to see at first hand what research is taking place, he added.

The work of MLE has been criticised as being esoteric – a term the organisation itself acknowledged in its announcement of the deal with AOL. However Jones played up the technology integration taking place at the facility, emphasising the amount of patents produced by the lab and the intellectual property to which partners have access. “Sponsors have an inside track on technologies close to introduction,” he said.

Speaking to siliconrepublic.com, Jones said that the process of signing sponsors takes close to six months and as such he was not able to reveal news of deals currently in the pipeline. He noted however that recent sales trips to northern Italy and Scandinavia suggested that organisations are now more prepared to recognise the need to invest in future technologies and doing more than merely surviving and staying in business. An improving economic climate is also freeing up the funds to allow businesses to invest in this kind of research once more, he added.

Now that Media Lab Europe has three years of research under its belt, some developments are very close to being introduced or launched. “We started with ideas and now we’ve got to a stage where there are solid demos,” said Jones. “They are sufficiently advanced demos and prototypes that it’s not a big step to take them to market.”

By Gordon Smith