Emerging Worlds spurs co-innovation between US and India

Tata Center and Media Lab initiative seeks to catalyze change at massive scale.

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Every 12 years, Nashik, India is the site of the Kumbh Mela, a religious festival that draws crowds in excess of 20 million to the sacred Godavari River. During this one-month period, Nashik — a mid-sized agricultural center without an airport — temporarily becomes one of the largest cities in the world.

How can a city’s infrastructure cope with this sudden influx of pilgrims, and the demands for food, water, shelter, and safety they bring with them? And how can communities worldwide become more resilient and livable? These kinds of questions drive Associate Professor Ramesh Raskar, a native of Nashik, and his Camera Culture group at the MIT Media Lab.

With support from the MIT Tata Center for Technology and Design, Raskar’s group is forging a new co-innovation model linking researchers at MIT with energetic students in India to work on problems across key fields such as health care, education, and the environment. They are using Nashik as a proving ground for solutions that can work at massive scale, under the umbrella of an initiative called Emerging Worlds.

This January, the Camera Culture group traveled to Nashik to host a week-long innovation camp, where they mentored teams of students who had traveled from all around India to participate.

“The real world of innovation is not in Boston,” Raskar said at the camp’s opening session. “You have to get out in the world, collaborate, and apply research. For innovators, Nashik is a perfect starting point.”