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rickshaw ride in new york cityLast week I traveled to New York City to attend a “Meet the Dean” alumni event held in Manhattan. Our entourage included Joyce Mathews, our Director of Development; Jenn Stubbs, our Director of Alumni Relations; Julie Coughlin, our Director of Communications and Outreach; and two of our IST students. The event was hosted by David Reese, chairman and CEO of API Systems, Inc. David is one of our donors and a member of the IST Advisory Board. We try to hold a “Meet the Dean” event once a month, traveling to different cities as often as possible. I really enjoy these events because they allow local alums and friends of IST the chance to meet, network, share stories of their current activities, and hear about emerging concepts in IST.

On this trip, we arrived in New York around 1:30 pm. After checking into our hotel near Central Park, Joyce and Jenn proceeded to make preparations for the event, while Julie and I were scheduled to meet with Jordan Rednor, president of Rednor Group, Ltd, and partner in Protagonist, an advertising agency that specializes in developing creative brands. Jordan is a member of the IST Advisory Board and has been very helpful in the past year assisting IST in developing branding and marketing concepts. His office is on the Avenue of the Americas, about 20 blocks from our hotel. To get to our meeting with Jordan, we hailed a cab and endured a death-defying ride to his office.  Jordan was gracious with his time and we started our return to the hotel about 5:30.

The day was very cold and windy and we spent 20 minutes in vain trying to hail a cab before we decided to begin walking toward our hotel with the hope of finding a cab along the way.  As we walked, we were cajoled by a young man who operated a bicycle rickshaw (a bicycle attached to a cart for two), who suggested that he could get us back to the hotel in 15 minutes at a reasonable (for New York) price. We jumped in and bounced our way through traffic and pedestrians towards the hotel (see our passenger view in the image above). Julie took out her cell phone, put in the address of our hotel, and followed our progress via GPS. When we arrived at the hotel, our bicycle “taxi driver” took out his cell phone, attached a Square credit card device and accepted my credit card. I signed by using my finger on his touch screen, put in my e-mail address, and was promptly sent a receipt.

At this moment, I was struck by the irony of a “low tech” bicycle cab ride being monitored using a smart phone and the Global Positioning Satellite system, with banking conducted via wireless communication and the Internet. However, such a juxtaposition of high and low tech is becoming increasingly common. Consider the following examples:

  • 94Fifty – A recently invented “smart basketball” includes embedded sensors linked wirelessly to a smartphone.  The sensors and associated apps act as a virtual coach, providing voice feedback to improve aspects of basketball playing like dribbling, ball handling, and shooting.
  • Virtual sculpturing – IST researchers have worked with forensic artists at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children who traditionally develop clay sculpture representations of potential child victims. Development of such clay sculptures would often take more than a week. Our researchers showed a forensic artist how he could craft a virtual sculpture using a haptic computer interface (providing a sense of touch) to “carve” a 3-D image on a computer screen.  The sculpted virtual figure could then be printed using a 3-D printer to create a bust of a victim.
  • Art and craft show virtual banking – Our annual Arts Festival in State College is a week-long event that features several hundred artists who display their wares for sale to the festival goers. Many of these artisans utilize the Square device for mobile acceptance of credit cards, and refer customers to their website for more online offerings.
  • Wireless cows – The agriculture technology company TekVet uses an RFID sensor inserted into a cow’s ear to monitor its temperature, location, and other health issues. Similarly, iCow is a mobile app developed by African software developers to monitor the health and location of animals in their local herds.
  •  21st century medieval catapult – Workers at a Google data center used an Android cell phone and blue tooth receiver to trigger a wooden 12th century style trebuchet (large catapult) during a “Storm the Citadel” trebuchet competition in Charleston in 2011.
  • GPS scavenger hunt – Geocaching is a global treasure hunt involving more than six million people who play a real-world collaborative game using GPS.  Participants play a kind of hide and seek in which they seek to find a “treasure” planted by another participant in the game at one of more than 2 million locations around the globe.  Each participant who locates such a treasure leaves something of greater or equal value and logs their experience at the site http://www.geocaching.com/.

These are only a few examples of how high tech information technology is increasingly being used to enhance, but not replace, so-called “low tech” activities.  Now that my attention is alerted, I’ll no doubt find many more examples of high tech/low tech synergy.  I also have no doubt that in our upcoming “Meet the Dean” events, more adventures will be forthcoming.  I’m very thankful for my development and marketing “handlers.”

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