Iowa State University

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ITS Helps Bring Smithsonian Folklife Festival Exhibit to Life

This news item expired August 31, 2012. It may contain out-of-date information.

Iowa State University will be participating in this year's Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., during the last week of June and the first week of July. One festival theme this year is "Campus and Community: Public and Land-grant Universities and the USDA".

One of the university's two proposals for exhibits was selected to be part of the festival. "Transforming Communities: Design in Action" is being created by a team of faculty, staff and students. ITS staff and a student team are providing the technical assistance to help bring the exhibit to life.

The exhibit will showcase the role design plays in the mission of the land-grant university as well as the impact ISU Extension and Outreach has on Iowa communities. The exhibit stands ten feet tall and spans 26 feet across, with a 180 degree LED video curtain in the center column and a circular, ribbon-board LED crawl screen, similar to a stock-ticker, at the top. Also included in the exhibit are interactive touchscreen monitors connected to web-based programs, numerous additional video monitors, whiteboards and movable wall panels.

With the vast array of technology involved in the exhibit, developing a system capable of driving and controlling the various elements was the first hurdle to tackle. ITS staff member Mike Wilson from the Academic Technologies team was assigned as part of the team. As the project came into focus, Chris Van Oort, senior in Software Engineering, was also asked to join the effort to provide programming services.

The exhibit requires a network of computers to control the various elements and allow them to function together. Operating within this network will be iPads used to wirelessly stream content to the video screens, Apple TVs, and Mac Minis to control the touchscreen displays. In addition, each type of display requires a separate video controller. The challenge for Chris has been to make all of the elements work together using multiple software applications. To accomplish this task, Chris assembled a team of students from across campus to work on the project.

To get the control system for all of the elements of the display to work properly, Chris enlisted the help of Michael Ore, senior in Computer Engineering and Christopher Waters, senior in Software Engineering. Ore built and customized a web service to handle device communications in Erlang, a programming language.

Chris built a custom, secure, full-screen WebKit based browser to run the touchscreens at the display and is writing a web page for displaying content on the LED screens as well as a mobile interface for the iPads to submit content to Ore's Erlang web service.

Other students working on the project include Kyle Brumm, junior in Software Engineering, and Qian Zhang, sophomore in Computer Science, who are developing touchscreen games as web apps, which will send content to the back-end control system for display on the LED screens.

When asked about the progress being made on the project, Van Oort said, "The project is really coming together now that I have the support and specialized knowledge of some very talented students. It's been a great experience to work with these guys -- I can't wait to see the whole project in action!"

ISU students, faculty and staff are putting the finishing touches on both the design and technical aspects of the exhibit. The exhibit will be displayed on the ISU campus during an open house on Tuesday, June 12, 10:00 a.m. - Noon in the lower level of the King Pavilion in the College of Design. Chris and other members of the project team will have the opportunity to test the technologies in the exhibit during the open house before it is packed and shipped to the festival site in Washington, D.C. on June 14.

In addition to his programming work, Chris will accompany the exhibit to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival this summer where he will be responsible for making sure everything works as planned, including administering the network and servers required to keep the exhibit running.

View the Iowa State University news release, "Iowa State will be on display at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival this Summer".