Member collaboration: Live Objects

MIT Media Lab

Live Objects enrich users' experiences of their immediate environment.


Arata Miyamoto, Specialist, Toshiba

Yosuke Bando, Senior Specialist, Toshiba

V. Michael Bove, Head, Object-Based Media group 

Valerio Panzica La Manna, Postdoctoral researcher, MIT Media Lab


A Live Object is a small device that can stream media content wirelessly to nearby mobile devices without an internet connection. It can be placed anywhere, requires no infrastructure, and can serve information to mobile or wearable devices. Live Objects are associated with real objects in the environment, such as an art piece in a museum, a statue in a public space, or a product in a store.

In locations where remoteness, architectural characteristics, or disaster prevent high-bandwidth internet connectivity (or even just to avoid using a limited data plan), Live Objects can provide video, audio, and other content. They can also be used for gaming, sensor networks, and industrial applications (e.g. keeping the manual and service records and maintenance reminders for a piece of movable equipment).


The Live Objects project was made public in April 2015.


MIT Media Lab (Cambridge, MA)

Toshiba  (Tokyo, Japan)

Tidmarsh Farms (Plymouth, MA)


The Object-Based Media group investigates ways to explore our environment through the use of technology. The main goal of the Live Objects project was to see how people could annotate the world, whether indoors or outdoors, with rich media—audio, video, still images, drawings—in a way that’s inexpensive, scalable, and easy to maintain.


Toshiba has been collaborating on projects at the Media Lab since the Lab was established in 1985. In recent years, when Toshiba started investigating the processes of storage and wireless communication, the member company decided to join forces with the Lab’s Object-Based Media group to research and develop mobile content sharing technology. Their first related joint project was called ShAir, a platform for mobile devices on which users can share their digital content with nearby people wirelessly in the background, even when they have no Internet access. ShAir, which also involved the former Information Ecology group at the Lab, was released in fall, 2013. Then, to also equip objects in an environment with this communication ability, Toshiba and the Object-Based Media group collaborated on Live Objects. It is an outdoor, uncontrolled, large-scale deployment of a technology for annotating the world with rich media without requiring fixed infrastructure.


Location-based services are rapidly changing the way users explore and interact with the surrounding environment. They typically associate location information, provided by GPS or Bluetooth low-energy devices, with remote content accessible through the internet. However, internet connectivity, especially in outdoor spaces, is not always available or may be too costly to be used for downloading large content (e.g. when users are abroad or have a limited data plan).

But Live Objects are pervasive media-server devices that can be discovered by users and can stream locally-stored media content in proximity without the need for an internet connection. Live Objects can be installed anywhere, even in places without power supply and communication infrastructure. And, communication between a mobile device and a Live Object can be bi-directional, such that users could upload photos or comments that can be shared with other users.

The project team launched a “scavenger hunt” contest for visitors to the Media Lab’s April 2015 member meeting, using the Live Objects app, and it has also deployed Live Objects in an outdoor test field at Tidmarsh Farms in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Using these devices, together with an Android app and a software middleware, users can take a self-guided tour of the area, discover the interesting places, and get associated information, particularly in the form of high-resolution video. In the future, the platform will also support iOS, and it is built to ease the development of future applications using Live Objects.

More Resources

• Live Objects project website

• Become a “tester” of the Live Objects at Tidmarsh app

• Live Objects paper, presented at a 2016 IEEE international conference

• See the ShAir research paper

Video of the Live Objects team at the Lab’s Oct. 2015 member event (team presentation begins at 15 minutes into the video)

• Watch a LabCAST video about Live Objects

• Media Lab multi-member collaboration: ISI-Dentsu used ShAir to analyze social relationships among tourists.

• Government project: ShAir was part of the SmartAmerica Challenge project, which was presented at White House.

Listen to excerpts of the Live Objects collaborators speaking at the Media Lab’s fall 2015 member event

Yosuke “Bandy” Bando, Toshiba:

“Toshiba actually has been in collaborations with the Media Lab since the Lab was established 30 years ago. And the area of our joint research changed over time starting from artificial intelligence to computer vision to design and interfaces and to consumer electronics. And recently our primary business area became storage products, and so we started to look at the combination of storage and wireless communication because wireless communication was becoming a primary input and output of mobile storage that people daily use. But unfortunately we were struggling with finding new applications of these devices.

That’s why we collaborate with the Media Lab—to stretch our brain and to expand our variance. And we do so by sending employees to the Media Lab as visiting scientists, and have them work with Media Lab researchers on joint projects so that we can keep the research theme consistent and relevant and to our company’s interests while at the same time embracing serendipitous generation of new ideas.”

V. Michael Bove, head of the Media Lab’s Object-Based Media group:

“One of the things that happens when people come to the Media Lab—whether as students, or as postdocs, or as visiting scientists, or even as members who come visit us—we push you a little outside your comfort zone. And so, we take a serious engineer from Japan [Arata Miyamoto] and we teach him how to harvest cranberries and we have him climb telephone poles as part of his research [at Tidmarsh Farms] and we take a serious computer science PhD from Italy [Valerio Panzica La Manna] and we turn him into a movie producer. And all this is in service of doing a real outdoor, uncontrolled, large-scale deployment of a technology for annotating the world—with rich media without requiring fixed infrastructure.

And my group really benefitted from “Bandy” and Arata being here as well because they’ve taught us a lot, they’ve connected us with many interesting, dedicated people inside their company. And that’s made it possible for us to pursue this project, and we look forward to scaling it … even bigger.” 

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