Parkland offers innovative technologies for students
Parkland students have access to several new technology innovations right here on campus.
One of those inventions includes an Augmented Reality Sandbox (ARS), which was built this summer. The ARS is an interactive 3D tool that helps students to better understand topographic maps.
The ARS has gained a lot of interest from museums after it was featured at the Tech Fest during the Pygmalion Festival. Also because the software is free, it’s not quite as expensive as initially perceived.
ARS has a kinect camera that is attached to an arm, which hangs over the box full of kinetic sand. This kinect camera can actually detect the height of the sand across the entire box and display a topographic map over the top of it.
Professor Julie Angel in the earth science department describes how the sensors of the ARS work. “You can manipulate and move the sand and very, very quickly, I would say a second, or even less than a second, it has already picked that up, communicated with the computer, and the graphics card, and it’s out of the projector.” Contour lines then show areas of equal elevation.
“You could literally model an area and look at the potential for areas that might be at great risk due to their location near a high steep hill and I plan to use this for that purpose when we’re talking about mass wasting,” Angel said.
Students can experience how the ARS works on Wed. Oct. 28 from 2-3 p.m. in L-217.
“You can change the sand around, you can mold a mountain, you can make it rain on top of a mountain and see where the little streams will go. It’s a really powerful, really cool, fun, piece of equipment,” Angel said.
An Anatomage table, which is a surface that displays CT scans of real people, is another new piece of technology Parkland students can access. It is three dimensional like the cadavers but one difference is that individual structures can be isolated.
“For the cadavers we’re going to have everything in place, it’s a matter of moving things away. It can be hard to get behind all of the tissue and all of the structures sometimes to see what you are looking for. On the Anatomage I can get rid of everything except just what we’re looking for and then I can add the other structures back in,” said Lori Garrett, an earth science professor at Parkland.
Another added benefit is there is no smell.
Currently there’s about 200 Anatomage tables in use in the United States. A couple of years ago Parkland had a major renovation in several of its science labs. One faculty member, John Moore, had seen a TED Talk about the Anatomage, so the table was suggested. Immediately after that, funding became available and Parkland acquired one.
Troubles with the device are nearly nonexistent. “One of the wonderful things about this company is that they are constantly doing upgrades. They have literally sent me a flash drive and I go up and plug it into the machine, and let it run. It uploads and updates everything,” Garret said.
Garrett said if there are any problems the company will respond within an hour and sometimes fly an engineer out by plane to fix it.
“With this software we can save the image banks of the different structures in format and then we can actually do 3D printing. We’re not there yet, because we’re not ready for it, but the capability is there,” she said.
Professor Derek Dallas in the Parkland Computer Science and Informational Technology Department describes how he assigns small scale 3D printing projects to his students even though the majority of them would not have one at home.
“I start them out with a very simple model, and we’ll go through the processes, and then I will let the students take our lab time to go to the library because usually the prints only take about 15 or 20 minutes. It hasn’t been that much of a problem right now because it’s not in huge demand and it’s pretty much accessible all the time,” Dallas said.
A green biodegradable plastic makes up most of the materials. All printed objects are weighed and then students pay accordingly. Usually each item is no more than $3. The object can either print solid or with air pockets.
Dallas said Parkland has had 3D printing for quite some time but the machines were mostly for the engineering department.
But now non-engineering students can designs items on their own including food, trinkets, organs, and prosthetics at a much lower cost.
This past summer Dallas helped design a new product for biology labs, which is now currently being used to anesthetize fruit flies. Dallas said he was looking for something practical to make that would help the people around him right now.
“That’s the kind of stuff I’m promoting at Parkland. What else can we do?” Dallas said.