Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Captivated by Technology

A re-creation of the communications room
on the Titanic. Decidedly old technology!
Yesterday I spent the day with my children at the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut. Yes, we saw beluga whales, touched the sting rays in the sting ray tank and tried to pick up crabs. It was lots of fun.  But what really got me excited was the Titanic Exhibit.

I will admit that I had an early adoration for Jacques Cousteau. In recent years he has been supplanted by Bob Ballard.  There's just something magical about ocean exploration. Pretty ironic for a girl who avoids sea-going vessels at all costs!  Regardless, the Titanic Exhibit, which focused on the discovery of the sunken ship, satisfied my love and curiosity for all things related to the ocean.

But the thing that really got me about this exhibit was a computerized technology display like nothing I had ever seen before.  There were what looked like two boxes, sized perhaps two feet by three feet. The top of "the box" was a computer touch screen.

When the touch screen is activated, users can tap, drag and use special mice (they're not really mice) to interact with the screen. You can touch photos to open a directory then you can view the many photos, videos or other objects inside the directory or folder. Then you can pull out one of the photos and spin it, enlarge it to any size you like, including full screen.  Multiple people can interact with the touch screen at the same time.  The only thing I can compare it to is the technology I have seen on CSI/NCIS shows or CNN during elections. But I never really knew whether it was science fiction or not. Apparently it is real!

I asked the docent about the technology and he said it was built on Microsoft Surface. The possibilities of this kind of technology sent my mind spinning.

Let me give you three specific examples from the exhibit:

1) Trivia Quiz

This was one of the directory options on the main screen.  When this option was selected a quiz came up. Up to four players could place their "mice" (these are round objects with an empty center) on the screen. The quiz would start by presenting cards with the questions for the contestants. Each person had individual version of the same cards. The cards could be enlarged by dragging, moved or otherwise controlled by each player. All the players had a limited time to answer the question which was answered by selecting an area activated on the screen around the mouse. Points were awarded based on how quickly you answered and the computer kept track of everything. Lots of colors highlighted wrong answers, right answers and the ultimate winner. Very fun, very interactive.

2) Artifact Search

When this folder was selected a photo of the bottom of the ocean floor appeared across the whole screen. The four participants (there were only four mice) used their mice to scan the screen until they "found" an artifact.  They then had to capture the artifact after which a photo was generated and collected on the top of the screen. The photo could be enlarged or otherwise moved around.  It was a fun game for multiple players that involved competition (finding the artifacts) and an educational component (learning about the artifacts).

3) Document Library

Another folder contained documents and items related to Bob Ballard personally and his journey to find the Titanic. (Did you know that the Ballard's Titanic expedition was really a cover so that he could go in and search for two missing submarines for the U.S. Navy?!! I didn't!) In this folder you could view actual documents from the expedition, opening multiple documents and enlarging them on the screen.

I was so excited by the potential of using this technology. The interactivity was incredible.  The possibilities for engaging individuals, sharing new information and linking all types of media was mind boggling.

Adapting to History and Genealogy

While interacting with these touch tables I could immediately see how it could be adapted to presentations about genealogy and history. Imagine going to a computer table or wall (like on tv) and being able to delve into one topic, let's say western migration out of New England. With the touch of your fingers your could access documents, videos, maps, census records, etc. You could arrange it all together visibly on one screen and see how they interconnect and also follow the breadcrumb trail more easily.  With the touch of your finger you can pull up exactly the items you want to view.  Imagine the games and quizzes that could engage the viewers!

This is reminiscent to me of the discussions at the 2012 RootsTech about linking genealogical records in the future. Perhaps they weren't talking about Microsoft Surface technology specifically but it's all headed in the same direction.

This technology truly is the wave of the future. I can't wait for it to become more mainstream.  I'll be waiting and watching and tracking it's implementation.


  1. The future is a-l-m-o-s-t here! Great excitement indeed! I'm sure your kids enjoyed it all too. Love all the details, Marian. Now I need to talk about this with my son (who works for Microsoft).

  2. Truly fascinating. Had to share! Thanks for sharing with us so promptly! ;-)

  3. Smart Boards. We have them in the schools here. Magic.

  4. Sounds like such a fun outing with your kids. And I'm loving the ideas on how to implement this technology with genealogy! Talk about bringing our ancestors' lives to life! Awesome!