Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"Drone" over SXSW provides aerial view of NASA's shiny new space telescope

Unmanned aircraft made their South By Southwest debut this year, and prominently so. A session with Chris Anderson, former Wired EIC turned full-time head of 3D Robotics, and Ryan Calo of The Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, among others, included a discussion on the many commercial uses for UA.

On the same day, at the Palmer Events Center, near a full-scale replica of NASA's James Web Space Telescope, another panel was being held that featured a live demonstration of an unmanned system.

Mike North, who hosted a panel on the future of toys and augmented reality, had previous experience running "drone" operations. North, founder of the nonprofit ReAllocate, previously developed a system for the Burning Man Festival that imaged people's bodies, printed those images in 3D, and delivered them via an aerial robot.

Several weeks prior to this talk, North invited me to be the official "drone tech," to provide a live demonstration for the discussion. My grant is currently investigating aerial robotics initiatives, gamification and augmented reality for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education, so I happily obliged.

During the talk, I explained that North and I share a similar vision, since the future of STEM education will end up looking a lot like augmented-reality gaming. Research shows that virtual environments help students engage in scientific thinking, and allows them to learn about and adopt the roles of scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians.

North and I had a great time talking about the intersection of our fields. Despite my aircraft (an AR.Drone 2.0) bumping against a wall in the middle of the discussion, the toy was unscathed. I took it outside to show a journalist how it could actually be applied to journalism, by getting some aerial footage of a mockup of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope.

More info about the space telescope is in the video, along with the aerial footage. I'd like to thank Mike for getting me out to SXSW. Hope to meet everyone again at SXSW in 2014.