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Sirti Bestows Award of Honor
October 21, 2010. Billie Moreland, PhD, of Billie Moreland and Associates and Steve Simmons, PhD, E...

Triangle %u201CGraduates%u201D at Sweet Sixteen
The Idea (1994)
In June 1994, while on a layover in the San Francisco airport, Dr. Steve Simmons cam...

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05/11/2002 - THE INLAND NORTHWEST DIGITAL UNIVERSITY (INDU)

THE PROBLEM --- An unending series of critics, including Bill Gates and Micron Inc, joined by dozens of costly economic studies, has castigated the immediate Spokane metropolitan area for its lack of a major research university to stimulate the high tech sector of the local economy. Yet the standard ‘brick and mortar’ approach to the creation of such an institution costs hundreds of millions in startup costs, followed by additional millions in operational costs, and decades of effort in building up faculty, staff, expertise, labs, grants, and research project capabilities.

THE VISION --- The INDU vision is to solve the cost and timing problems by creating a major research university in cyberspace, using today’s new ultrahigh bandwidth metropolitan area networking (MAN) capabilities over optical fiber. Existing institutions would be linked, eliminating the need for much additional construction and duplication of expert faculty and expensive laboratories.

To achieve this linkage, a few standard High Definition Seminar Rooms (HDSR) would be created at each campus being linked. These will bear no resemblance to the standard ‘television monitor electronic classroom’ of today!

Each HDSR will consist of a rectangular, windowless (or in possession of a suitable projection-compatible window blanking system) smaller classroom, suitable for about 20 participants. Each HDSR wall will be filled with crystal clear, full-wall-size transmitted images from a remote HDSR, achieved via high resolution (HDTV quality) projected video images or huge flat plasma displays. The front wall will feature the full size image of the seminar leader or teacher, flanked by a full size electronic whiteboard image and a giant size computer display image. The left-side wall will feature additional full size electronic whiteboard images, which will automatically reproduce, in real time, the writing in the remote HDSR. The back wall will feature a projected full wall image of the remote HDSR participants or students, shown so clearly that each facial expression can be read with no special effort. The right-side wall is reserved either for additional whiteboard display, additional computer display, or the display of additional participants at a third HDSR location. This setup will require multiple video, audio, and information/data channels, which will then be converted to packetized digital format and sent to another HDSR via high speed MAN carried on optical fiber. Preliminary calculations have created a ballpark estimate for bandwidth utilization (at 500 megabits per second for one pair of two-way interacting HDSR installations).

Only 20 minutes of training will be required to operate the HDSR, and no staff beyond the seminar leader will be required.

There are now eight college and university campuses within an 80 mile radius, containing about 100,000 students and 5,000 faculty, and in addition several research centers and laboratories, including SIRTI, the Heart Institute, the Center for Distributed Computing Studies, and many others. These are the institutions targeted for the INDU vision, so that collectively, the result is an entity larger than MIT, UCLA, Stanford, and many other leading major research universities. In addition, there is the likelihood of additional HDSR sites at industrial locations such as Liberty Lake, the Biotechnology Park, etc, to bring advanced research and advanced education to high technology workforce members, and allow research experts in industry to teach and collaborate.

The final aspect of the INDU vision is to realize that this configuration --- in the 80 mile metropolitan area --- will also lend itself to other, non technical, features of INDU which complete the picture initiated by the technology of advanced connectivity. There are many aspects to the non-technical side of the INDU concept. One such aspect is that research collaboration is not an automatic side effect of the HDSR installations at participating organizations. The human element, such as human networking, collaboration incentives, and formal organization of research projects and institutes must also be addressed. In addition, there is the need for collaborative unified support for such items as large-scale technology transfer, project planning, project management and grant management. Another aspect is the need for physical, brick and mortar, INDU ‘points of presence’ required for actual laboratories, network operation centers, and symbolic ‘gateways’ to INDU, suitable for tours by visitors, government staffers, and potential corporate or personal recruits to the region. These could range from single rooms in entities such as EWU School of Computing and Engineering Sciences building, to entire new buildings that might eventually be allocated. Another non technical aspect needed is actual physical trips at intervals among the linked institutions --- for the all important elements of field trips, show and tell, equipment sharing, and general social bonding and synergy beyond the reach of even the latest in cyber technology.

THE OPPORTUNITY --- Various vendors and organizations in the community have optical fiber linking many of the educational institutions now. This “installed base” of fiber covers the I-90 corridor to Coeur d’Alene, and reaches some locations north and south as well. This is the key enabling asset for INDU, without cost effective access to this installed fiber base, the INDU project is probably not feasible in time and cost.

Several local expert companies in networks and telecom are right here in the greater Spokane metropolitan area, and have expressed interest in partnership in the INDU project, creating a formidable base of support and expertise.

Momentum has been established --- The INDU project was conceived and publicized starting in 1999, it has been written into the EWU IT strategic plan and approved by the EWU trustees. Also, more than one year of EWU studies have produced over 1000 pages of initial research and documentation, as well as a pilot project for advanced multimedia network transmission and server architecture. On the political front, university cooperation has been effectively launched through existing consortia and leadership councils.

THE BENEFITS

I) Short Term

· The INDU project itself is very attractive to funding agencies such as NSF, the Gates foundation, and other organizations specializing in the funding of technology initiatives.

· Additional funding can be expected in early stage research collaboration grants in computer science and related topics, starting the first year of the INDU buildout.

· The promotional value of the worlds first digital collaborative cyber university will have benefits in visibility, credibility, and faculty and industry recruiting. (This has already been demonstrated by the pioneering EMAN project ).

· Research at regional universities and institutions will be immediately strengthened by the filling of gaps in expertise, laboratory support and project management ability via inter-university collaboration. This effect was recently demonstrated by the EWU/WSU ONR grant for $1,200,000 against bioterrorism.

II) Long Term
· Regional university faculty will have enhanced opportunities to find collaborators in specialty areas, create specialized seminars and courses, and attract students to subject areas not otherwise feasible.

· At fruitition, major research collaborations will receive major funding comparable to that at major research universities, funding far over and above that which is possible by separately seeking projects.

· Strong regional research institutes will be created, strengthened or expanded --- by pooling expertise, and launching collaborative efforts among university participants.

· Technology Transfer will increase, including patents, research partnerships, and spin off companies and projects.

· Very high level workforce education will be available. Lack of advanced graduate education has been cited as a staff problem by advanced area high tech companies.

· Expert university faculty, expert industry researchers, and expert staff will be recruited with greater ease, due to the availability of major research and advanced education.

· High Tech companies will be recruited with greater efficiency and ease.

THE TECHNOLOGY

· Endpoint technology for the HDSR is available off the shelf now, at reasonable cost. The INDU project is advanced, but not bleeding edge. The Internet2 community has produced a baseline standard, the “Access Grid Standard,” which is now affordable.

· Signal Packetizing and conversion technology is available right now, off the shelf, from many vendors.

· Integration Technology (which allows the HDSR to operate without special operator staffing, but instead autonomously under light control of the seminar leader) is available now.

· The MAN technology for adequate supporting bandwidth within an 80 mile area over fiber is available now.


THE PROJECT

The INDU project is scalable in scope. A feasible plan would be to start with a prototype hookup among two institutions willing to play a starting role. This would help establish the HDSR standard, test the standard, test the packetization and transmission, and test the appeal to the university researcher, administrator, and collaborator.

The INDU project is scalable in technology. A real time session activation could happen first. Also, each channel supporting an HDSR is scalable in resolution and thus in bandwidth. A ‘session archiving and serving’ capability could be added as a later phase of INDU development.

THE QUESTIONS

· What internal and external incentives and motivations now exist to instill the desire to collaborate on seminars, courses, projects, research and development?

· Who will supply which components of project management, project funding, and project administration and coordination?

· What about the legal and administrative issues of public private partnerships crossing the lines of public universities, private universities, and industry?

· What are the costs in terms of setup costs, operational costs, and impacts on space staff and existing projects? Are the costs feasible ?

· What are the technological difficulties, such as gaps in the fiber infrastructure, QoS issues, vendor compatibility issues, Network Operation Center issues, etc.

· What sponsorship contributions are available from industry partners, from university partners, and from institutional partners?

· What portion of existing grants at participating universities are available, and what additional funding opportunities are available?


Steve Simmons
 
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