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Feb. 11, 2011
MARYVILLE, Mo. - A group of computer science students at Northwest Missouri State University are getting hands-on experience - literally - with cutting-edge multi-touch technology the U.S. Army hopes will enhance its preparation and analysis of war scenarios.
Eight Northwest students are working with Dr. Dean Sanders, professor of computer science and information systems, on a feasibility study, initiated by the Mission Command Battle Lab (MCBL) at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Northwest was awarded a $100,000 grant from the United States Army to carry out the MCBL project.
"We do a lot of collaboration with Academia and I'm pleased to be working with a local university," said Mr. Calvin Johnson, Deputy Director of the MCBL. "We're looking forward to getting the final product and putting it in front of warfighters later this summer."
The Microsoft multi-touch table technology Northwest students are studying is similar to the touchscreens that have become popular with iPad users and common on television programs such as "CSI."
"Think of a coffee table but with a computer built into it and one interacts with the computer, not with a traditional keyboard and mouse but by touching it like an iPhone," Sanders said. "You might think of it in terms of a coffee table-sized iPad."
Representatives from the MCBL approached Northwest about the project last year, and students began working on it in May.
Under a two-year agreement with the Army, Northwest is acting as the contractor and providing personnel to build an Army-specific "war-gaming" interface. The project is using office and lab space in Northwest's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Northwest faculty members are benefiting from being involved in the ongoing research.
Students working on the project are reaping the benefits of working with an important client and learning a piece of technology that is still new and evolving rapidly.
"It's student teams working on prototypes and feasibility on software that nobody else has developed," said Dr. Tom Billesbach, dean of the Melvin and Valorie Booth College of Business and Professional Studies. "We hope this continues to lead to other projects with the military and other outside vendors."
For students like Cody Duncan, a junior computer science major from Eugene, Mo., the invaluable experience is an opportunity to have a hand in developing technology that will be a wave of the future.
"Everybody's used to working with a mouse and keyboard," Duncan said. "Now, you have to touch it to make it move. This is a whole new paradigm for user interface, which means we have to think about how it's designed in a whole new way."
The students are building an alpha version of the application and hope to begin laboratory testing in the spring, Sanders said.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
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