Tech Team Innnovates

By Jonathan Zou

Imagine being transported into a crime scene, seeing evidence laid out around you, but you can’t touch it. Or consider a drone hovering over a landscape, allowing you to see the world from a different angle. This is the world of virtual technology.

These technologies are among the projects that the WGBH Prototype Innovation Team (PIT) is investigating. The three-man PIT team, which launched in January, is working on the next generation of digital productions for WGBH. The goal is to define, develop and display this technology for WGBH’s national and local television and radio platforms.

Experimenting with ideas already planned for commercial use, the PIT team hopes to tailor new technology, such as non-military drones, for educational and broadcast purposes. If they can obtain a commercial license from the Federal Aviation Administration, these drones, or unmanned autonomous vehicles, will offer a unique opportunity for storytelling and filming from different angles. An added goal is to raise viewers’ interest in fields like science, technology, engineering and math.

“Like it or not, autonomous vehicles will be a part of our future in a big way,” said Thomas Lerra, research and prototype manager for PIT. “We can either cover it as a news story, or we can all participate in it.”

Lerra stressed that true trendsetting is not possible without defending innovation and allowing innovators the freedom to expand.

For their innovation, the PIT team is investigating Google Jump and Google Cardboard, technology that allows for filming and exploring virtual three-dimensional worlds, Lerra said. Their goal is to solve the riddle of virtual reality and apply it to WGBH broadcasts.

The PIT team is looking into other possibilities, such as refurbishing Julia Child’s television show, “The French Chef ,” in the project called “Julia Child 2.0.” The episodes will be presented in minute-long “how-to” videos with visual explanations and infographics designed to appeal to a wider audience. The project seeks to create a platform to present other archived programs in a new format.

Lerra said he hopes the technology that the team is developing will also help with WGBH’s fundraising efforts by bringing transparency and interaction.

The plan is to show viewers how their dollars will be used by employing what Lerra calls a ball pit. While the team is still working out the details, Lerra said the ball pit project will be interactive, allowing contributors to see exactly where their dollars go by choosing one of the multicolored balls that corresponds to a specific donation. Lerra added that the project will strive to generate an emotional response and interest.

According to Michelle Johnson, an associate professor of journalism at Boston University, smart marketing and presentation is required for something to be received well.

“It is a two-pronged process. First building the content that is going to be attractive, secondly, they’ve got to go to places the younger people are,” she said.

Lerra also said these developments are geared toward bringing greater viewership.
“At the end of the day, great content presented efficiently should satiate young or old, omnipotently,” he said. “The technology is already in the hands of the user.”

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