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Mozilla ignites gigabit application development

In the early 1980s, when I was transmitting stories to newspapers at 300 baud – which, by the way, is 0.0003 megabits per second – it never occurred to me that we’d be streaming videos and even performing surgeries over the web.  Sometimes, we need a little push to develop applications that can take advantage of even more rapidly developing technologies.

And that, of course, is what U.S. Ignite is all about. The non-profit organization gives awards to foster the development and deployment of new apps.  And one of the more interesting awards U.S. Ignite has just announced is $891,900 to Mozilla to organize communities in developing applications to take advantage of gigabit Internet.  (For those not wanting to do the math, those apps will be running at speeds 3,333,333 times faster than my 300 baud transmissions -- less a bit of overhead, of course.)

Mozilla’s U.S. Ignite project will establish “hive learning networks” – which bring students, informal educators and technologists together in face-to-face meetups as well as online discussion forums – in five cities with gigabit Internet service.  The goal is to develop applications that take advantage of the relatively wide-open spaces of all that bandwidth.

“Our goal here is really to begin to build a national gigabit innovation ecosystem by focusing on these tools for learning,” said Lindsey Frost, who works for Mozilla as a “community catalyst.”

Mozilla has already, with funding from the National Science Foundation, helped local partner organizations in Kansas City and Chattanooga develop 17 gigabit applications. 

“We had a water-quality-monitoring system that students from the local high school here built that streams real-time data to some of our local researchers looking at the quality of water in local watershed areas,” said Frost.  The students worked with a professor at the University of Tennessee and with local technologists. 

“The great thing is that it is seeing life beyond our funding period,” Frost said. “The teachers involved realized that their students were so activated, so engaged, that it has continued as an after-school club.”

According to Frost, the project accomplished two major goals: “Showing the potential of high-speed networks for learning and breaking down the barriers to between technologists and educators in our community.”

While Mozilla’s gigabit projects so far have been about breaking barriers within a given city, Frost said that this year is the beginning of breaking down barriers between cities.

“We haven’t laid out RFPs , but there will be a real focus on cross-city collaboration,” she said.  “I can imagine, for example, a virtual reality project that has students in China and students in Kansas City going on a virtual reality field trip together.  It has potential to close geographic gaps.” 

The requirements of the project are that applications must leverage the bandwidth of gigabit networks, and that they must have a demonstrable impact on learning.  Finally, Frost said, “it needs to be piloted in front of real, live owners.  We’ve found that the most interesting ideas happen when we step out and let the technologists and educators brainstorm together.”

Posted by Patrick Marshall on Oct 06, 2015 at 12:02 PM


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