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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mobile classroom seeks to spark students’ curiosity at York Tech

"The future is on display inside a bus in the York Technical College parking lot." reports Bristow Marchant,  

This week, York Tech students can get a view of some of the most cutting-edge uses of computers and technology, from 3D printing to robots, and how it will impact their lives and, perhaps, their careers.

Samsung Mobile U, a mobile technology classroom sponsored by the global electronics company, has parked itself in front of York Tech’s Science and Technology building this week. The visit, one of only four stops on campuses around the country this semester, is meant to spark student interest in the growing fields grouped together under the name “STEM” – science, technology, engineering and math.

“There are one million open jobs in STEM fields, and companies can’t get enough qualified candidates,” said Jeff Carter, one of the instructors for the Mobile U course. With experience in STEM applications, he said, “Your earning potential is higher, and companies will come after you.”

Inside the bus, rows of laptops are each connected to a Raspberry Pi, a single-board computer on a single circuit board the size of a credit card, inside a plastic case.

“You can buy one of these for $35 and $40, and it’s a full computer with educators in mind,” said Bradley Jacobs, a web developer who acts as an instructor aboard the 100-foot-long bus. “It’s a full web server with applications.”

Students who sign up for a Mobile U course can get training in writing computer code using the Pis, ranging from beginner’s up to an advanced level. Once set up, the gadgets can power a range of programs.

Carter and Jacobs showcase an online video of a Pi connected via a “breadboard” to power a rolling, self-balancing robot, constructed from an erector set and operating off a program written on the Pi.

“All of these are things you can do on your own at home,” Jacobs said.

In one corner of the bus, the instructors display a 3D printer that can produce intricate objects layered out of molten plastic. 3D printing will be another growth industry in a high-tech future. The medical field already uses the technology to produce cheap prosthetics, and one day technologists hope to use it to create human tissue and organs for surgery.

Eventually printing will be scaled up to produce housing and small buildings, but Jacobs foresees even more applications.