Wearing gas masks on your walk to school and facing armed guards at the school doors, Christian Lee Foster’s two-minute film could be seen as dark.
Foster, a University of Toronto at Scarborough student, snagged the top prize in the FutureFlick contest – an event organized by the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network or ORION.
The contest was open to Ontario post-secondary students enrolled in film and broadcast television programs.
Participants produced a short two-minute video visualizing student life in 2020 – and what lies beyond YouTube, Second Life and Google.
Foster’s film, Nefarious Prelation portrays the tech-saturated world of the not-so-distant future featuring hydrogen cars, video phones and 3D holographic professors engaging with students.
Christian Lee Foster’s first-prize winning flick, Nefarious Prelation
To view videos of other contest winners click here.
Second and third place winners were also studying in the Greater Toronto Area.
Ryerson University student Arpad (Mac) Szoke of Brampton bagged the second prize for his animated film, The Exam Scam, about a forgetful student downloading data directly into his mind, just in time for an exam.
Third place was awarded to Ryerson University student Natalie Evans and Leaside High School student Matthew Kinch of Toronto for Friends in High Places, which shows how future technology may help a student deal with a bullying problem.
Breaking the bandwidth barrier
While these FutureFlick videos were meant to depict student life in 2020, not all the situations they portray are gee-whiz fiction or years down the road.
Some are happening right now thanks to ORION, the ultra high-speed cyber optic network designed to support research and education in Ontario.
For instance, some fairly unique cross-border collaborative projects run on the ORION network.
These include iAnatomy, a joint initiative between the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and Stanford University’s medical school in California.
The two institutes connect over ORION to provide medical students with live 3D learning objects from the medical field.
“Students wearing 3D visualization gear [can] manipulate anatomical imagery in high definition,” notes André Quenneville, director of public affairs at ORION.
In fact Foster says his orginal film idea was exactly this.
“Technology [that provides] a neat way for people to learn about human anatomy in the future is closer than I thought,” he says. “It’s kind of cool.”
Quenneville says the network has “eliminated bandwidth as a barrier for teaching and learning in Ontario.”
He cited the explosive growth of traffic over ORION in a relatively short time period as a proof point. “It’s grown [more than] 600 per cent in the past two years.”
Today 1.3 million students as well as 75,000 researchers, faculty, staff and teachers have access to ORION.
The Network also has collaborative ventures with partners, encouraging them to post video of services such as OSTN (Open Student Television Network). OSTN multicasts a live stream to institutions connected to the Internet2 network in the U.S. and ORION here in Ontario.
ORION spans 21 cities.
According to Quenneville it can be viewed as “critical infrastructure” for R&D – much like highways and hydro represent “critical infrastructure for our society.”
The multifaceted practical uses of ORION’s R&D infrastructure were witnessed during the network’s recent fifth anniversary celebrations at the MaRS Collaboration Centre in Toronto last month.
The event showcased the short films of FutureFlick finalists and presented the winners of the competition.
But the 160 people present at the event also got to witness demos of some of the best, most cutting-edge projects and products running on the ORION network.
One such initiative is SHARCNET’s supercomputer.
An Ontario government funded initiative, SHARCNET is a distributed computing consortium that links the computing capacity of multiple institutions with their supercomputer.
Essentially the project – that runs on ORION – uses a grid computing model to consolidate computing power from around 16 Ontario institutions, so that it functions as one computational facility.
And that’s one example of how ORION’s is facilitating innovative ways of teaching, learning and research.
Quenneville relates others in the realm of immersive learning.
Recently, he said, students from a school in Dryden, Ont. were able to participate in a live knee surgery using ORION.
Not only did the students view the surgery, but they could also interact directly with the surgeon and ask questions during the procedure.
Alice in Tech-Land
And the network also serves as the foundation for an entirely new kind of theatre experience dubbed “multi-point interactive threatre.”
It’s a model pioneered by university of Waterloo Professor Gerd Hauck, one of the FutureFlick contest judges.
Hauck collaborated with the University of Central Florida and Bradley University of Peoria, Illinois to enable a theatre production with actors in multiple locations interacting real time on a virtual set.
Last year, the three universities mounted a production of Elmer Rice’s The Adding Machine – the first full-length production to be performed in real-time across the three remote locations over high-speed advanced networks and using DVTS (Digital Video Transport System) software.
The production, integrated virtual scenery, live Internet2-ORION-CANARIE broadcast, recorded video, avatar performers, and digital sound.
How was seamless integration and transfer of multiple and disparate elements over such sweeping distances possible?
“They used what we refer to as a low latency network infrastructure where there is no delay in the transmission,” explains Quenneville.
ORION came on stream five years ago when the first official data transmisison was achieved between York University in Toronto and Laurentian University in Sudbury.
Since then ORION has also been able to connect to similar provincial networks across Canada for example BCNet in British Columbia, RISQ in Quebec, Cybera in Alberta.
All these networks link over the national research sector backbone operated by CANARIE out of Ottawa.
These ultra-high bandwidth interconnections allow large data sets to be speedily and seamlessly transmitted between multiple points.
We could not “even think about doing that over commercial Internet even at the highest speed,” Quenneville explained.
For instance, he said, if an astro-physicist needed to transmit or receive terabytes of data in a single transmission he or she would be able to rely on infrastructures such as ORION, CANARIE or global networks to accomplish that.
ORION, said Quenneville, has forged relationships with colleagues in the U.S. around the Great Lakes and will connect with their networks “to create what we call Great Lakes research alliance.”