LTS installs 55-inch touch table for Farber Mezzanine
Last Wednesday, Library and Technology Services finished installing an Ideum Pro Lab Touchscreen Table in the Farber Library Mezzanine. The "Big Brandeis Table," as it is called on the touch table's home screen, is a 55-inch touch-controlled surface running on a Windows 8 operating system.
According to Director for Academic Support and User Services Joshua Wilson, Chief Information Officer and Vice Provost John Unsworth came up with the initial idea of installing the table, and it was ordered over the summer. The table arrived in October.
"We've spent a significant amount of time just getting it ready," Wilson said in an interview with the Justice. "It's unlike anything else on campus, so we had to spend some time really understanding what it could do. We spent some time really thinking about what kind of content we wanted to put on there initially."
According to Wilson, the table cost over $20,000, and was paid for using LTS capital funds from the University that were intended for the renovation of the Farber Mezzanine. "This is one of the higher-end ones. We wanted the most robust table we could get because we wanted the community to be able to use it without any fear of breaking it. It's meant to really stand up to all of our creativity," he said.
Wilson said that such tables begin at as little as $5,000 and can be as expensive as $30,000. "It really depends upon the size, the quality, the display, the power of the computer inside," he said.
According to Wilson, LTS will take care of the tablet in the same way that they take are of other equipment around campus. This includes necessary updates and replacements. "I think that part of doing something exciting is accepting some risk, so, as we all work with it and play with it and bang on it, there may be things that break," said Wilson. However, Wilson said that the table and all of its components are currently covered under a comprehensive two-year replacement warranty.
Wilson said that the computer can recognize and accept multiple hands of touch input; therefore, more than one user can take advantage of the table at once. In addition, the table can run more than one application at a time, although the table is subject to the limits of Windows 8, according to Wilson. The table can also enter a split-screen mode, during which one application is open one side of the table and another application is open on the other.
The current focus is geared toward data visualization, so there are several different data sets and different data visualization applications with which students can interact. In addition, Wilson said that the table can be used to navigate other applications, such as Twitter. Specifically, the table can be used for such purposes as playing multiplayer games, navigating through star maps, examining the interactions of molecules, playing simulations of several instruments-such as the piano, drum kit and guitar-and recording and sending those performances, viewing interactive statistics and more. Similar touch-screen tables are used in museums, according to Wilson.
"We don't pretend in LTS that we have a great idea for what this is going to be. In some ways we wanted to put this out and let the community build it together with us, so we're hoping to partner with faculty and students to develop content and really all learn together about what this neat piece of cutting-edge technology can really do," Wilson said.
According to Wilson, an early partnership was established with Prof. Tim Hickey (COSI). Hickey and some of his students will be developing academic games for the touch table. However, Wilson added that LTS is open to all ideas and potential collaborations with students and other members of the Brandeis community.
When asked about the primary focus of the table, Wilson said that the purpose should be an academic tool that also allows for fun and creativity. "John Unsworth ... envisions Farber [Mezzanine] as the campus living room, so, the campus living room should have some fun stuff in it. On the other hand, there should be an academic purpose as well, so hopefully it can be some sort of a fun academic purpose that it's used for over time," Wilson said.