Adventures in Innovation

The angled windows of ASU's College of Global Futures

Thursday’s activities were an adventure in innovation. Starting from our introduction to Augmented Reality at the New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab with Ms. Retha Hill, to our visit and interactions at ASU’s Learning Futures Collaboratory with Bea Rodriguez-Fransen and Toby Vaughn Kidd, innovation was the order of the day. 

A man wearing virtual reality goggles reaches toward the camera
Elastus (Zambia), plugged into VR at ASU’s Learning Futures Collaboratory in Tempe

Learning about all the interesting ways new media can be used to teach and tell stories was fascinating. The advances in immersive media are all pointing to that soon-to-be reality where immersive technologies will be a part of our everyday lives. The millions of dollars in research and development, the growth in the number of platforms available for development even for the newbies, and the drop in price of devices (albeit slow), are all testament to this.

A few of the scholars were treated to some more stops on this venture into ASU innovation thanks to Alma Telibecirevic, who is a friend of the SUSI program and currently working at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. Firstly, there was a stop at the School of Earth and Space Exploration, a top-notch school dedicated to research, development and education that is taking humanity forward in the exploration of the Earth, the solar system and the universe. When Captains Kirk and Picard talk about boldly going where no man has gone before, these folks here are making it happen. I am looking forward to seeing the next mission report.

A model of the NASA Perseverance rover
A model of the NASA Perseverance which includes the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter unit, a space technology developed by ASU’s Jim Bell at the School of Earth and Space Exploration
A group of scholars and a local friend pose for a group photo in front of a large model of the Earth
SUSI scholars in front of the digital globe at the School of Earth and Space Exploration

We also made a brief layby at the Biodesign Institute, where we learned about the exciting research project meant to advance research in X-ray science. Recently, the National Science Foundation announced $90.8 million in funding to ASU to support a five-year project to build the world’s first Compact X-ray Free Electron Laser (CXFEL). The success of this project will revolutionize X-ray and its applications in a diverse number of ways, and will make it safer for human use. 

A model of the groundbreaking Compact X-ray Free Electron Laser (CXFEL)
A large metal tank labeled "Carbon Collect"
Carbon Collect’s Mechanical Tree will collect carbon from the atmosphere and help fight climate change

When then had the opportunity to see what I thought was a great innovation and one that can change the course of our current global environmental trajectory: the Carbon Collect Mechanical Tree. This metallic tree is revolutionary as it can capture an amount of carbon equivalent to 1000 trees. Imagine a few thousands of these bad boys? Sadly, we learned that they are still trying to figure out what to do with all the carbon. Ideas, anybody?

Lastly, our curious minds were led to the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, a cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary state-of-the-art facility that is brings together great minds from the across the world to address some of the more difficult questions related to our environment, both today and in the future. I don’t dare attempt to explain the scientific work going on here for fear of butchery, but I will say this: there is some interesting and world-changing work going on there. With such facilities and labs, we may just see science save the day, yet again. 

In reflecting on today’s activities, parts of me feel a little overwhelmed and perhaps even disoriented. I thought about my reality back home in Zambia. Compared to it, this experience feels like I am plugged into a virtual reality space, and I am an avatar that in just a few more weeks will have to leave this metaverse of innovation. 

I also started thinking about the reality of the digital divide, digital inequalities, and digital poverty. The millions of dollars in research, the level of sophistication of the technologies available, the technologies themselves… it all seems so foreign, yet is very real and is happening. How is it possible that there can be so much available, and yet there are so many with so little? I thought about how, for my digital journalism course, I still have to struggle to ensure that every student has a computer to use and how, on some days, I have to labor to find a usable classroom. 

“If that is my situation”, I wondered, “when will we get VR headsets?”

The struggle is real…
But the future is bright!