ASU’s Innovation Day shows off latest innovations in VR, tech wearables & more

The young girl’s eyes lit up as she moved the drone up and down with the controller, bringing it as close to the floor as she could without landing and then pulling it back up into the air again.

She was learning how to fly drones at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s Innovation Day event on February 3rd. Just one stop on ASU’s Night of the Open Door event, Innovation Day was held to inform community members about how new technologies are affecting the field of journalism.

Trever Migliorino, a recent Cronkite graduate and volunteer at the event, said “Innovation Day is a campus-wide event put on the by the Walter Cronkite School where you can see cool, new technology that is helping innovate the ways of journalism for the future.”

In the case of the drone, a Cronkite student was on hand to show aerial footage the school’s news team had filmed, and she added that the team plans to use the drones to film the Mexican border.

Virtual Reality

Multiple tables showed off projects created using 360-degree video and virtual reality. The exhibit with the most buzz was a virtual reality game in which participants could explore the inside of an animal cell using a VR headset and two handheld controllers.

I tried it out for myself, and as soon as I put on the helmet, I felt like I had been whisked away to another world. The experience was much more immersive than the Google Cardboard glasses I was used to, and the handheld controllers allowed me to actually interact with objects in VR rather than just watch a video.

The game was created by ASU’s Center for Education Through Exploration in partnership with Inspark, Achieving the Dream, and Smart Sparrow to be used in classes on campus.

Don Bratton, an ASU representative, said “Our charge is to reimagine digital education the in 21st century. And so what we’ve done here is we have built a virtual reality animal cell as part of our efforts to reimagine freshman introductory biology.”

The school representative operating the game asked me to move through a series of tasks, including picking up the mitochondria and placing it over my head, and grabbing three different molecules and connecting them before throwing them into the void of the cell.

There was also an exhibit on Listen(n), a project that studies the acoustic ecology of deserts in the Southwest.  The team collects data on sound in natural environments, then pairs them with a virtual reality experience of the desert using Oculus headsets.

I tried this out as well, and the experience was very calming. It gave me the peace of being out hiking and overlooking a beautiful landscape without having to leave downtown Phoenix.

Image by ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Consumer tech

There were also displays of more consumer tech products.

One exciting product was the Snapchat Spectacles, meant to be paired with the disappearing-photo social media app. I used the sunglasses to scan a QR code within the app on my phone, and the two were synced. I pressed the record button on the glasses which turns on a small white light and records 10 seconds of video, then directly sends that video to the memories page in the app.

It was fun to walk around with the glasses and capture 10-second bits of the event going on around me, and I could see how avid Snapchat users would find this product fun and useful.

A whole room was dedicated to Apple products, specifically the new Mac Chromebook with Touch Bar. The bar is a touchscreen strip that sits at the top of the keyboard and is synced with the monitor to help users complete tasks more easily. For example, if a person is using the message function, emojis automatically pop up for the user to scroll through. If a user is editing photos, he or she can directly make changes by sliding the bar to alter contrast, saturation and other aspects of the photo.

ASU had a table showing off two of its 3D printers that students can use in the Hayden Library. Students learn how to create designs and input them into the printer to create customized plastic pieces.

And, the event being focused on journalism, there were plenty of microphones and cameras on display including some from Rode microphones and B&H Photo Video. SONY had a display showing their 360-degree cameras that Cronkite students use.

Other displays included new apps used for journalism, health wearables, stabilizing technology for iPhones and iPads, and a BeamPro telepresence robot.

Disclaimer: Cronkite was running a fun Twitter contest throughout the night in which participants submitted ideas on how to use the devices at the event to tell a story. I ended up winning the grand prize (my idea was using VR to explore the ocean and document climate change’s effects on the Coral Reef) which was an OCT17 VR headset and a SONY action camera. I didn’t mention that I was with TechAZ in the tweet, so the contest results were unbiased.

Jessica Swarner

Author: Jessica Swarner

Jessica is a recent graduate of ASU where she studied political science and journalism. She is currently a researcher at a local cybersecurity company. Her hobbies include reading up on hacker forums on Tor and giving unsolicited podcast recommendations.

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