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Where does inspiration come from? For some young people, it comes from reading stories in books or magazines. For others, it comes from learning at the hand of an older mentor or teacher. For still others, however, inspiration is elusive. Recently, I caught up with an innovative organization called Roadtrip Nation at their southern California headquarters to learn how they've been successfully connecting young people with inspiring role models for years, and what their vision is for the future.
A personal road trip to the beach
I had heard of Roadtrip Nation before, perhaps from their highly-regarded PBS series of the same name, but I hadn't given them much thought until I met one of the co-founders, Brian McAllister, at a Partners in Learning event in Redmond,WA,where he was judging innovative teachers using technology in the classroom. Brian comes across as a classic California guy - tanned, charming, friendly, caring. It was great to learn about the roots of Roadtrip Nation and about some of their more recent forays into more formal education circles. Chatting with him during a coffee break was infectious enough that I had to arrange to visit their headquarters in Newport Beach, CA while I was on the west coast to learn more, and meet some other co-founders and staff.
Very early one September morning, I woke at my hotel in downtown Los Angeles and began the trek to Orange County, the next county south of LA, where Newport Beach is. To get in the adventurous spirit, I rolled all the windows down, left at 4am, and made my way to Santa Monica from downtown then headed south on Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1). It's only about 50 miles, but you feel every inch of it, with twists and turns and stop lights and traffic and surfers changing on the side of the road and fresh ocean air. Previously having lived near Newport for my graduate work at UC-Irvine, I missed these drives up and down the coast. I took my time meandering down the coastline, probably driving three hours after stops for McDonald's and Starbucks and to look at the ocean and walk on the sand at sunrise. My own little road trip on my way to meet the masters of it.
Upon arriving at Roadtrip Nation headquarters later that morning after checking in for coffee with a couple ex-DC friends who made the move to nearby Huntington Beach, the first thing you notice is that it more closely resembles a garage than an office, with gigantic RV's and other assorted vehicles all over the place, indoors and out. Perhaps that's fitting of this organization -- a headquarters that truly represents what they stand for and what they do. I'm greeted by Mike Marriner, Brian's co-founder and currently the Director of Strategic Partnerships, who, in a typical California manner alternates between talking about his passion for his business and his passion for the amazing fish tacos he's going to buy me later. Either way, I'm in.
Defining your own road in life
If Brian was what I'd describe as a typical California guy, Mike is even more so. I'm somehow still dressed somewhat like a DC policy wonk (despite my road trip down the coast), and Mike's in a plaid shirt, jeans, and flip-flops. (Wonder if I could get away with wearing more of that in DC? Another article, perhaps...) I am nevertheless accepted into their lair, clearly an outsider but one there to learn.
Mike and I chat about the origins of Roadtrip Nation on the original RV they used on the very first, and some subsequent journeys. It's covered with memorabilia - stickers, photos, handwritten notes, security passes from people they visited. You see, the entire premise of Roadtrip Nation is that this small group of friends - four in total, one of whom is no longer with Roadtrip Nation full-time, having moved on to other adventures - was in their senior year of school, around 22 years old, were anxious, and had a severe lack of inspiring mentors. They felt that school wasn't preparing them for what was out there in the real world. They had lost something primal, something we used to do as cavemen, a rite of passage to manhood (womanhood), as it were. How could they recapture that in the modern world?
Whereas many people would lament their own situation and go through life without meeting mentors and feeling inspired, these budding entrepreneurs in their early 20's had a different thought - what if they borrowed a family RV from one of their parents and went on a gigantic road trip to find their mentors? And so they did, cold-calling scientists, government leaders, artists, and people from many other walks of life that jumped out at them from the pages of newspapers, magazines, television, and so forth. They met with successes, and failures, but in the end they were able to meet with - and video document - lots of inspiring people.
So what happened? Well, for one thing, their experience became a best-selling book called Roadtrip Nation: A Guide To Discovering Your Path In Life in 2003, still carrying a 4.5 star rating on Amazon today. For another, their original road trip(s) inspired others to join this grassroots movement to find their own inspirations and paths in life. One RV became two, became three and so forth, and their videos provide the backbone of an online digital platform that now inspires many more. The adventures of their acolytes taking their own road trips has become the topic of a long-running PBS series of the same name (they're currently in season seven, which is more than can be said about your average TV program), one of that network's most popular programs.
And these road trip experiences have real impact. For instance, Mike told me an anecdote about a young lady from the relatively rural Fresno, CA area whose father worked on a farm, picking crops in a field. That was what she knew, what she saw for her future. But now, after a Roadtrip Nation experience, she's attending UC-Davis and majoring in animal science. Through the program, she was able to explore a wider range of possibilities for her path in life, without straying too far from her roots. Ultimately, the likelihood she'll drop out of school is reduced, and the likelihood of her succeeding at something she's passionate about is increased. And she is but one of many. As the Roadtrip Nation website says, "Our philosophy is that when we listen to ourselves and are honest about whom we are, and what we love, we are able to seek our own path and contribute to the world with our unique talents."
A road trip curriculum for schools?
Roadtrip Nation is now entering a new stage on their journey, creating a new education department to help train teachers in fresh ways, and launching a Roadtrip Nation Education site at RoadtripNation.org. They rub elbows with the likes of Arne Duncan, the current U.S. Secretary of Education in Washington, DC and are a major draw at high-profile events like this week's NBC Education Nation (which Microsoft is the technology sponsor of) in New York City. Mike, his fellow founders, and their growing posse of passionate employees have evolved from being influenced by great people to being the great people influencing others within a decade.
What's RoadtripNation.org all about? You need an account to see everything, but their .org site is a portal for both teachers and students to gain access to a new type of curriculum, perhaps unusual - one that inspires. For students, the learning feels peer-to-peer, because video content is made, frankly, by their peers. For teachers, there's access to a special back-end of the site that helps them instruct using the materials. They're currently working with the California Department of Education on implementing this curriculum. Mike Marriner posed the question of getting students inspired to me this way, "How do you create common ground for real engagement?" What I think he means by this is, how can we work to create a platform - in real life or digitally - that makes students currently disengaged from the learning process feel like they can interact with peers and teachers in a meaningful way, on their level, in order to accomplish something, to take the next step? Yet, despite their creativity, Roadtrip nation is working with people who have oversight into education to make sure that their curriculum conforms to some well-accepted standards at the same time it provides authentic peer-to-peer learning for students.
Roadtrip Nation Education is a lot of things, but ultimately it is about having a real impact on the youth of America, which they've measured through both anecdotes and more recently through scientific studies. The education of today's young people goes far beyond schools - it's an economic issue, a national competitiveness issue, and even a national security issue. Seems extreme, but truly, it isn't. As Newark mayor Corey Booker said in an interview during NBC Education Nation, "The biggest threat to the national security of the United States of America, by far, is the fact that we are not educating our children to prepare and compete and lead in the 21st-century economy." Roadtrip Nation, between their real-life road trips, their publications and programming, and now their influence more directly on education, may seem unconventional at first glance, but in their oh-so-Californian way they are a vision of what Booker is talking about, preparing young people to compete and lead in the world of tomorrow. Summed up in the words of Maria, a student participant last spring, "It makes you think 'I can really be like this person and I can reach this goal.' After cold-calling and doing all this stuff I realized I can really do it, I can be who I really want to be."
How Roadtrip Nation uses tech and art
Everything about Roadtrip Nation is artistic, from their bright lime green vehicles to the layout of their book to the entire office space they work in and the various materials they hand out. During my tour, I had a chance to meet some of the graphic artists and other people working on all this art, from the layouts of their printed materials to some interesting time-lapse photography/videography that they use on their websites. This is a world of no-frills creativity. But it works for them.
Frankly, a lot of large corporations could learn from the Roadtrip Nation artistic approach. Everything they do (even the PBS website about their show) has the same "homemade" feel that speaks to their brand. When you see their headquarters it feels like the website, and that feels like the book, and so forth. Sure, a lot of corporations are masters of conformity. What's interesting about Roadtrip Nation is that their conformity is interesting and doesn't feel, well, corporate. Despite their growth in size and influence, they're still a grassroots movement at heart and that's reflected in everything from their work products to looks on the faces of the people who work there when greeting a wonky guy who shows up for a tour in a suit.
As I sped off from the Roadtrip Nation offices on the next leg of my own road trip, to the Microsoft Irvine Technology Center, I walked away feeling somewhat inspired myself. Never having had a road trip experience like what their followers had, I was even a twinge jealous. Then again, I was fortunate enough to grow up with access to great mentors - Roadtrip Nation is systematically, artistically, and technologically helping others less fortunate than me gain access to the same.
One of the giveaways I left with, and what I will leave you with, is a homemade-style lime green sticker that I think (and no doubt, they think) sums up Roadtrip Nation's vision for America's youth very nicely: "The greatest gift you give the world is when you discover who you are, and manifest that." - Zen Master Bon Soeng
Guest post by Celeste Alleyne, the West Region Citizenship & Public Affairs Director for Microsoft.
With a 12 percent unemployment rate in California, 14.6% in Los Angeles, and staggeringly high -- 60-70% -- LA high school drop out rates, connecting the children making up our next generation with a quality education and decent jobs seems more daunting than ever. However, a new bridge of hope is being built between Washington, DC and Los Angeles via special grants that are providing technology training to those out of work.
David J. Johns, the senior education advisor to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee,recently visited Los Angeles to participate in the CBC Job Fair and take a variety of meetings at places working to make a difference in the community,such as the LA Chamber of Commerce. During his tour of the city, David listened to various stories of triumph over adversity. In particular, technology and tech training seems to be a potent force for good. Through an Elevate America Community Grant from Microsoft, a nonprofit called the Brotherhood Crusade has been one of the city's more proactive workforce efforts.
While at first, Johns noted that with all the stories of hardship he heard, he wasn't exactly sure how to motivate his DC-based staff and report back to Sen. Harkin, after his trip his final report reflected the fact that technology access and training has placed many work-stop people into well-paid jobs that lead to good careers. Regarding a recent legislative controversy, he wrote, "Aside from reminding me that we were more than on the right path with our draft of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) reauthorization bill, I was encouraged to fight, even when everything around us suggests the battle, at least at present, is no longer worth engaging in."
Photo: George Weaver, Vice President Brotherhood Crusade; Sandra Davis, CEO, CCI Neighborhood Program; David Johns, Chief Education Advisor to Senator Harkin; Celeste Alleyne, Microsoft West Region Citizenship & Public Affairs Director
Guest post by Dan MacFetridge, director of Microsoft's Shape the Future program. Learn more on the Shape the Future page on Facebook.
Connecting children to the Internet and all the resources it provides is one of America's greatest challenges. Currently, the U.S. is ranked 18th in the world in Internet access to a home user - but there are actions that can be taken to improve that metric. This week at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting (CGI), Microsoft launched a three-year program to ensure that one million U.S. students from low-income families receive the benefits of software, hardware, and broadband Internet service. Our commitment is focused on bridging the gap in home access to technology and helps give students in digitally excluded homes the skills training they need to compete in the global market, increase employment opportunities and contribute to their community’s economic recovery.
Today’s announcement extends Microsoft’s global Shape the Future program, a program I manage, which has provided technology and access to over 10 million students around the world during the past five years, including in countries as diverse as Argentine, Portugal, Malysia,and Azerbaijan. Through our new commitment announced at CGI,Microsoft will work with state, city, nonprofit, and private organizations that include the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), and One Economy, to develop and accelerate reduced-cost programs and policies such as:
This commitment extends Microsoft’s original vision of a PC on every desktop and in every home and is part of Microsoft’s corporate citizenship efforts, which are increasingly focused on creating opportunities for youth around the world.
Digital exclusion is economically costly
In the U.S, approximately 9.5 million students are digitally excluded while not at school. According to the Federal Reserve, these students have a high school graduation rate six to eight percentage points lower than those who have home access to the Internet, with the resulting lost earning potential to the country estimated to be $825 billion, lost tax revenues at $123 billion, and social program inefficiencies top $125 billion. According to a recent study, the cumulative impact of digital exclusion for these students to the U.S. economy is $32 billion every year, and over the working lifetime of these students, it is over $1.2 trillion. To this end, my colleague Anthony Salcito, the Worldwide Education VP for Microsoft, stated: “At Microsoft we believe all students should have access to the building blocks of a quality education. Putting technology in the hands of a student who did not have access is a powerful step on the path leading to graduation, employability and a better future.” It is economically intelligent to end digital exclusion.
“Roughly 100 million Americans remain unconnected to high-speed Internet and the economic cost of digital exclusion is rising every day,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said during the CGI announcement. “This isn’t a problem for government alone. The private sector, nonprofit groups and government actors must work collaboratively to close this gap, create jobs and ensure America’s global competitiveness. Substantial commitments to bring digital access to millions more Americans are a significant step in the right direction.”
Charlotte and Seattle begin to shape their future
Charlotte, N.C., and Seattle are among the first cities actively supporting Shape the Future by launching digital inclusion initiatives for students in their cities. Project L.I.F.T in Charlotte and the Great Student Initiative in Seattle will enable public and private partnerships that bring technology access to needy youth in their regions. Over a three-year period, all 50 states plus Guam and Puerto Rico will have the opportunity to participate.
“Economic growth and stability starts with quality education, and Charlotte is proud to be on the forefront of this effort by supporting Microsoft and Project L.I.F.T. in this commitment,” said Mayor Anthony Foxx. “In this tough economic climate, public private partnerships have the potential to make digital access more attainable for students and their families. I applaud Microsoft for extending its resources to the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School system.”
“Entrepreneurship education has the power to transform the lives of so many young people and prepare them in a unique way to be both the job creators and the workforce of the future,” the CEO of NFTE, Amy Rosen, related. “It is so exciting for us to be working with Microsoft to provide digital access to our entrepreneurship education program so that all young people reached through this commitment will lead their lives prepared to be successful entrepreneurs.”
With 50% of today’s jobs requiring technology skills or digital literacy, and this number expected to increase to 77% during the next decade, programs like Shape the Future and partnerships between technology companies, nonprofits, and governments are critical - now - for keeping America competitive and productive, and for improving conditions in countries around the globe.
Guest post by Shelley Stern, Microsoft's director of citizenship and public affairs for the central United States.
Everyone knows when it's Back to School time - buses appear on the streets, students disappear from the malls and parks and other places where they hang out all summer, and everything from calculators to backpacks to lunchboxes goes on sale in store windows everywhere. The other thing that happens is that young people begin a daily commute to and from school, sometimes very far - not unlike most adults' daily commute to their place of work.
Chicago Public Schools, or CPS, is the third-largest school system in the United States, serving approximately 405,000 students in more than 675 schools. In such a large metropolitan area, many students rely on public transportation to commute to and from school. School attendance is always a challenge (ask any teacher or principal), but anecdotally, programs that engage students around Back to School have resulted in roughly 85% attendance.
"First Day,Free Rides" was announced this year to meet this goal of high Back to School attendance. It is a creative partnership between Chicago Public Schools,the Chicago Transportation Authority (CTA), and prominent members of the business community, including Microsoft, that provides CPS students with free rides on the first day of school.
Contributions from the business community will help subsidize the cost of students riding the CTA for free on the first day of school. CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard related that, “Everyone should be a partner in the effort to get our kids in the classroom on the first day of school. Instruction begins on day one and providing students with a free ride can help a child come to school ready to learn. We are grateful to our corporate sponsors and CTA’s support in this effort."
For our part, Microsoft believes that First Day, Free Rides will establish a positive rhythm of behavior for both parents and children that can last all year long. Parents are more easily able to bring their children to school the first day, meet their teachers, see the classroom and get involved in school programs. Students should feel safe and escorted, and feel good about the transition from home to school, and back home again. We believe this type of parent-student-teacher involvement will increase confidence, improve communications and result in a better educational experience.
Everyone recognizes how critical it is that students enrolled in school actually make it to school, particularly on the first day. Leveraging the business community along with the infrastructure of CTA to get children to and from school can make the difference between being able to get an after school job, join a sports team, or participate in an interest club. Particularly in today's tough job market, students need every bit of help they can get to learn new skills and transform themselves into the globally competitive workforce of tomorrow.
Art credits: S, KB35
Guest post by Andrea Genevieve Michnik, founder of BrandKit, a personal branding and career consulting agency for young professionals in Austin, TX. You can follow her on Twitter at @AndreaGenevieve.
In my opinion, education in America right now looks a lot like the housing market did in 2009 -- in other words, slipping down a slope on its way to a crash. Now, that’s not to say that all areas of academia are headed for disaster; there are plenty of dedicated educators who return to the classoom each fall despite never-ending budget cuts and other issues with their schools. Among these educators are the rock stars, filled with pasion, vigor, and determination, and who are embracing technology, collaboration, and non-traditional teaching methods. In that vein, I recently attended the tech-savvy "#140edu Conference" held in New York,NY,which highlighted what an education of the future might look like.
Educators explore the 'State of Now' at #140edu
Hosted at the 92nd Street YMCA in NYC from August 2-3, 2011, the #140edu conference gave voice to those educators making waves around the world. The first event of its kind, the #140edu Conference marked a milestone for innovative educators. Jeff Pulver, the man behind the #140 Character Conference series, put together this special two-day event dedicated specifically to educators using technology to improve teaching and learning. Hosted by Jeff and Chris Lehmann of the animated Principle of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, #140edu brought together parents, students, administrators, teachers, consultants, corporations and organizations attempting to to make positive change in the field of education.
Twitter (where the "140" reference comes from, due to the character limit) is all about brevity, and so are the talks at Pulver's #140 conferences. Over the course of two days, more than 70 people spoke in 48 different plenary sessions. Each session was about 15-20 minutes, allowing attendees time to ask questions and converse with speakers following the presentations. Attendees used the hashtag #140edu to tweet information from and comments about the sessions, so those who couldn’t physically make it to the conference could follow along and join in the conversation. The #140edu conference was also broadcast live on Ustream to ensure maximum exposure of the content. You can watch all of the presentations on the #140conf on blip.tv archives -- and the #140edu hashtag is still being used by the larger community today, in true social media style.
Some #140edu speaker highlights
Day one featured a myriad of professionals, including Christian Long of Canon Design; #edchat co-founders Steven Anderson and Tom Whitby; students from the Science Leadership Academy; fashion maven Mark Ecko; Adam Bellow, founder of the eduTeacher community; Perry Hewitt Director of Digital at Harvard University; Dale J. Stephens, Thiel Fellow and... myself.
Day two was another eclectic group of innovators examining topics such as:
As we all shared projects, theories, initiatives, challenges and ideas I couldn’t help but feel empowered. With so many people in attendance who I have met and gotten to know over the years through social media, it was exciting to finally meet these inspirational leaders in real life. Many #140edu attendees are part of what I'd call my "personal learning network" and one thing that occured to me is how much technology, especially very new technology, is changing how people in fields like education are networking with and learning from each other, and moreever, the greatly accelerated rate at which this is now possible.
Thought-provoking quotations from #140edu
It's hard to capture all the great moments from a "firehose" conference like this, with so many great speakers and ideas in so short a time span. But one thing I did do was write down some of my favorite quotations from the two-day period. Here are some of the more thought-provoking things I heard presenters say:
“Parents are a huge resource; they should be tapped into but respected for their time.” -- David A. Singer, School Board Trustee, Harrison School District and Louis N. Wool, Superintendent of Schools of the Harrison Central School District. (Wool was also 2010 NYS Superintendent of the Year.)
“We should be customizing education based on personal success plans. Elect passion, not bubble tests.” -- Lisa Nielson, Educational Innovator.
“Students today are experiencing word poverty.” -- Patrick Higgins, Supervisor of Humanities, Verona Public Schools.
“The secret to creativity is asking the right questions.” -- Mel Rosenberg scientist, inventor and YouTube star.
“Passionate learning starts with passionate teachers.” -- Kim Sivick, Coordinator of Lower School Technology, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.
“Learning is not a 7-hour process, it’s a 24-hour process.” -- John Mikulski, Middle School English Language Arts Teacher, Host of the Tightwad Teacher podcast, Classroominthecloud.net
Since the conference, there has been much more buzz about technology and education. It’s amazing to see these conversations continue to take shape and I’m sure it will only continue to grow by the time the next #140edu rolls around in 2012. Will I see you there?
Art credits: Phillip Capper, Wesley Fryer
Every month at Publicyte, we interview a "rising star" and highlight their work in which they're using technology for civic good, whether in the private or public sector. This month for our issue on Connectivity, I caught up with Pooja Nath, the founder of Silicon Valley startup Piazza, which makes a real-time software platform that allows students in the same classes to easily collaborate with each other. It's being used at Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, and hundreds of other schools. The New York Times recently reported that the average student using Piazza spends 2-3 hours on the site connecting with fellow students per day.
What's Piazza in a nutshell? Is it only for college students?
Piazza is a question-and-answer platform that connects classmates to each other in a unique experience. When students work on their assignments, in fact, they keep Piazza open to constantly engage with other students in their class. At first,Piazza was only available at colleges,where it got up to 900+ campuses, but in January we made the platform available to everyone, and it now spans grad schools, undergrads, high schools, and so on. We've found instructors using it to share with each other, too. Whenever you can form a closed community around shared context, it's a really meaningful interaction. We don't do enterprise sales; We're going directly to users and that's why we've been able to deliver such a compelling experience.
Does Piazza help students deal with information overload?
The quality of questions on Piazza are very high-quality ones, and at the college level no one outside your class can really help you - parents can't help, students at other schools in similar classes often can't really help. Piazza is about how to get an answer in minutes. It cuts to the chase on niche problems. There is collective knowledge within a class. How do you tap into it, at the moment it matters to you?
How does Piazza compare its peers?
That's a difficult question to answer, because I'm not sure if we have peers. For example, some professors use newsgroups to promote discussion for each class as part of a larger learning management system [editor's note: like, for example, Blackboard products]. And on the other side of the equation, students calling, texting, and IMing each other are to some degree "competition" to Piazza as well. Our key differentiator is that we focus on, and want to nail, solving the Q&A problem, and not on building an end-to-end solution.
Piazza means "public square" in Italian. What made you decide to use that particular phrase and language?
I was keen on any word that described people coming together, and "piazza" came out of a brainstorm with a fellow Stanford biz school student.
Tell me a little about your background and how that relates to what you're doing now.
As you can tell, I have an American accent, but that's very misleading. I spent my teenage years in India, and had many of my formative years at an all-girls school. At the same time I had my dad saying "don't look at boys," I found myself attending a top engineering school full of boys. I lacked some of the social skills to interact, and was shy to interact. I observed people learning from each other, but I was on the sidelines. I'm building Piazza because I want students to better be able to learn. Students often work in dorm rooms alone, but they might learn better if they were all in a room together; Piazza lowers the barriers to making that happen.
You used to work at two large software companies, Oracle and Facebook. What was valuable about those experiences? Would you ever go back to working at a large company?
I got different things out of working for different companies. At Oracle, there was a lot of rigorous process that went on with regard to testing code, and so forth. It was valuable to observe and experience that process. At Facebook, I joined when there were about 500 employees and I got to appreciate Mark Zuckerberg as a leader, and gained a better understanding of how to grow a company. Today, I don't think I'd go back to working at such big companies; I really like where I am today. I started Piazza because I was passionate about solving an important problem.
Guest post by Phil West, a senior technology architect with the Microsoft Office of Civic Innovation.This article was originally published in slightly different form at FutureFed.
In the days of General Eisenhower, war planners used small 3D models embedded in sand -- a sand table -- to understand and prepare for battle or other operations. And to some degree, 2D diagrams and 3D models are definitely still used. However, in the modern U.S. Army, some warfighters are going way beyond that.
COMET, or Command and Control Multitouch Enabled Technology, is a device which enables multiple users to simultaneous access, manipulate, and analyze data in real-time using the same touchscreen interface. This video shows the COMET device in action. COMET is a 21st-Century digital upgrade of the traditional sand table. Utilizing Microsoft Surface technology, COMET improves real-time information sharing, collaboration and decision-making in the field.
How COMET helps warfighters accomplish their missions
There are a number of critical ways in which COMET advances warplanning far beyond traditional sand table means:
Microsoft research and national security
COMET's move from sand to silicon is the brainchild of a research agreement between Microsoft and the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, to develop handheld and multi-touch technology for warfighters. The arrangement gives the Army access to Microsoft research and technology that can help them better meet their needs. For example, the COMET program was able to use Microsoft Surface 2.0 -- our new, larger multi-touch computer -- before most others could pre-release.
Recently, I spoke with Defense News about COMET beta tests the Army conducted in June. Among many other interesting details, the article stated,
Just what form the technology will take is under development by Army and Microsoft engineers. Soldiers could access the sand table from a host of outlets, including the touch screen table, smartphones and tablets the Army has already started deploying, and lightweight flexible screens that West said the commercial industry is developing.
"We're going to get to a point where you could potentially roll up a display, put it in your rucksack and walk away with it," said Ron Szymanski, chief architect for science and technology with CERDEC's Command and Control Directorate.
COMET is an amazing example of advancing technology to the point where users are thinking less about how to do something and more about what they are trying to accomplish. Removing that burden -- so common in IT -- frees users to connect with each other better and in novel ways to achieve mission success.
All photos from the U.S. Army.