Editorial: Technology holds potential for business, government
The technology housed in the new Arthur Weisberg and Family Engineering Laboratories on Marshall University's campus indeed has some "wow factor," as an official there described it.
Not only does its presence at Marshall provide students the opportunity to learn how to use cutting-edge equipment, it provides potential benefits to local business and government.
The engineering building along 3rd Avenue contains such high-tech equipment as a Virtual Interactive Simulation Environment and an Organic Motion Stage.
The simulation environment, for example, allows viewers using $400 pairs of 3-D glasses and Google Maps to see landscapes from around the world in addition to locations very near, such as the university, Pullman Square and other sections of downtown Huntington. The system makes it possible for medical researchers to get a close-up 3-D look at DNA strands on a 17-by-9-foot high definition screen.
The motion stage is a markerless motion system that transposes a person's skeletal structure into a computer program. Researchers at MU now are working to combine Organic Motion with Second Life, an online virtual world. The team has created a virtual coal-mining training system that researchers hope to make more sophisticated.
All this equipment cost about $4 million, paid for with an economic development grant to help the region. The researchers at MU are charged with the mission to develop ways for all this technology to have an economic impact.
As far as developing businesses and jobs, Tony Szwilski, professor and director of MU's Center for Environmental, Geotechnical and Applied Science, sees potential in the fields of medical, mining, engineering design, science and sociology. He said creating the next generation of Internet-based virtual worlds opens the door for businesses that do not yet exist.
In pursuing how to translate this high-tech wizardry into practical business applications, Marshall has a chance to pursue possibilities and perhaps provide some ground-floor opportunities for Huntington and other local governments.
Huntington city leaders recently saw a demonstration using the 3-D Google Map and other programs to visualize what could happen if buildings were demolished and something new built in their place.
That could be a useful tool for Huntington officials and others. Swilski cited an example of how local officials could see through the virtual world what it would look like if a portion of the floodwall that conceals Harris Riverfront Park was removed. As Huntington strives to move forward, there undoubtedly could be other uses, such as envisioning what might be possible for new development if a significant number of the dilapidated houses in the city were removed.
To Marshall's benefit, working with Huntington and other interested local governments would provide Marshall researchers and students a real-world testing ground for enhancing and fine-tuning the technology in their pursuit of practical applications.
This has the makings of a partnership that could lead to real-world changes for Huntington as well as tangible business and job-creation applications.
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