The media are filled with reports that MIT technology might be used to help in the search for BigFoot, the name given to an ape-like creature that some believe can be found in the forests of the Pacific northwest. Bigfoot research, if that's the right term, is stalled. Matt Knapp, who runs a major Bigfoot web site told Boston Magazine's Steve Annear that "[t]he facts are that in terms of progress, the Bigfoot research community has ultimately made none. We are no closer now to proving these creatures exist than we were 40 years ago.” Some might take that as suggesting the creatures don't exist. Instead, Knapp believes that "Eurlarian Video Magnification", technology invented by MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, could help the analysis purported Bigfoot videos.
While it may seem disconcerting to read "Bigfoot research" in the same sentence as "MIT", this is not the first time MIT technology has been used to search for creatures many think are mythical. In the early 1970s, MIT's legendary Harold "Doc" Edgerton participated in the search for the Loch Ness monster, the supposed aquatic beast living in a lake in Scotland. Edgerton, who invented the electronic photographic flash, used his technology to capture images that ranged from atomic explosions to drops of water as well as to assist undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau. In 1972, Robert Rines, Edgerton's friend and President of Academy of Applied Science in Boston told Edgerton that his search for Loch Ness monster using sonar was "hitting paydirt." It took two years for Edgerton to join the search, but he remained an active participant for the next 15 years.
According to a 2007 article in the Technology Review, Edgerton treated Rines' search with "gentle open-mindedness." By 1986, when some of Rines' earlier images had been shown to be misshapen logs rather than some monster, Edgerton wrote to his friend, “Many factors point to no ‘Nessie.’ Regardless, there is no harm in looking, especially with sonar since there may be things to discover.” Edgerton proposed a new kind of camera designed to capture the light streaks of moving objects.
To date, neither the Loch Ness Monster nor Bigfoot have been captured.
Top image © 2010 MIT. Courtesy of MIT Museum, from: Edgerton Digital Collections: ’Doc’ Edgerton, Visionary Engineer.. This image is an underwater photograph taken by Edgerton, believed by some to show the Loch Ness monster.