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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 5, 2009

3-D holograms and cyber chips
earn a prize in communication for FMS designers of a Future City

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Communication counts.

And, in the future, it could take on added dimensions, if the students who designed a winning city for the year 2237 have their way.

A team of Farnsworth Middle School students — led by Zubin Mukerjee, Abigail Schooner, and Joseph Sipzner — went to Washington, D.C. last month with a model city they had designed and built to compete in the National Engineers Week Future City Competition National Finals.

They came in 10th overall out of 38 teams in Washington, and they won the IEEE-USA Best Communication System Award.

The Farnsworth students got the idea for their communication system from a CNN report during the November presidential election. “Someone mentioned that they used a reporter hologram that looked like she was in the studio when she was on location,” recalled Deborah Escobar, an enrichment teacher who advised the group along with Thomas McGreevy, a technology teacher. They also got a hand from Rob Sipzner, an engineer with Barton and Loguidice, whose son is on the team.

“The kids got excited about that,” Escobar went on. “They got on the Internet and looked at it on YouTube. So it was a real-life idea that inspired them.”

A dozen Farnsworth students worked on the project and Escobar bought T-shirts to present at a pizza party for those who couldn’t make the trip to Washington. “There were no hard feelings,” she said.

Expenses for the three presenters were covered by the contest, she said, and funds were raised at a car wash and by donations to defray the costs for three other students. “We’re grateful for the support,” said Escobar. “We did Albany proud.”

More than 1,100 schools and 30,000 students from across the country competed regionally this year, and pilot programs were held in Egypt, Sweden, and Japan, with a spin-off underway in India.

Farnsworth has won the regional competition for the last several years, thereby qualifying for the competition in Washington. Last year’s Farnsworth team came in second nationwide. This year, Bexley Middle School in Ohio won for its city, Novo Mondum.

 “As a teacher, and Mr. McGreevy felt the same, I was very touched because our students went above and beyond to be kind to other students,” said Escobar. “They were so respectful, it made us proud to be with them. They didn’t know we were watching when the top five were announced. They went to congratulate the other teams and genuinely meant it.”

3-D communication

The Farnsworth future city was named Cibola, for the legendary city of gold that eluded Spanish explorers in the New World. The challenge this year was to design self-sufficient home systems that conserve and re-use water. The middle-school students had to build their model cities from recycled materials costing less than $100. They also had to use SimCity software to create a city, do an engineer feasibility study, create a city abstract, and present their city to judges.

There were also four hours of presentations for special area awards, said Escobar. “The students were interviewed by 26 sets of judges,” she said. “They had to stand to defend their work for four hours. They had to learn how to present themselves with adults. It was a wonderful learning experience.”

The center of Cibola’s communication system was a hand-held Personal Education Device, or PED, which used a contact lens to reconstruct important events into a video to help students learn.

“They gave thorough consideration to the capabilities and limitations of the technologies, including a consideration of spectrum crowding and frequency collisions,” said Monica Mallini, one of the judges, in a release from IEEE-USA. “This distinguished them from the other teams. They were very focused on learning, and their presentation was very descriptive over several applications and features of the system.”

“It was a complicated system,” said Escobar, “using holograms so people could communicate in three dimensions. It was integrated into a contact lens system so they could view it as an actual person.

“You could see them and hear them,” she said of the holograms, which allowed students to transport themselves virtually to communicate with anyone anywhere.

“The students in the educational system could take virtual field trips with the hologram technology anywhere in the world,” said Escobar.

The system, she said, also involved “cyber chips” implanted in each person with a global positioning system that could communicate a patient’s whereabouts and vital statistics in case of a medical emergency.

“A grid integrated the hologram with the cyber chip technology,” said Escobar.

She concluded, “They thought about everything.”

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