Tech 2000 is an educational voyage into the computerized future

December 16, 1990|By Leslie Cauley | Leslie Cauley,Sun Staff Correspondent

Washington--Think of it as "Star Trek" meets "Sesame Street," an educational voyage where no man has gone before: It's Tech World 2000's gallery of interactive technology.

Since opening in February at the Techworld Plaza in Washington, Tech 2000 has provided a glimpse into the future of computer technology. The permanent display features more than exhibits aimed at demonstrating how the marriage of the computer and video technology is changing the way America learns, entertains, communicates and runs its businesses.

The exhibit is divided into sections: arts and culture, industry, new technology, education and the Home.

Most of the interactive programs in the show are for sale. Prices run the gamut, from $30 for a simple educational program to several thousand dollars for a sophisticated corporate training program.

In the industry part of the show, there are interactive programs that offer instruction on everything from how to operate a forklift to how to be an effective salesman. For on-site training, there are programs for showing users how operate a cash register and how to use a telephone.

One program for testing driving skills uses full-motion video to put users in the "driver's seat." As the camera rolls, users have to make snap decisions to avoid collisions, emergency vehicles and negotiate hairpin turns.

The section on education is aimed at showing how computer technology can bring alive such subjects as entomology (the study of insects), the Ice Age and animals on the endangered list.

"This takes boring stuff and makes it interesting," observed Greg Laskaris, director of marketing for new technologies for the Discovery Channel, a Lanham-based cable operator.

The interactive aspect of Tech 2000 lessons allows users to make decisions that affect the direction of the lesson. How and what the user learns is totally up to him.

One application aimed at teaching children about insects, for example, allows viewers to explore every nook and cranny of a house.

XTC Once inside the front door, which magically opens with the turn ** of a burnished doorknob in full-motion video, users can go inside different rooms to observe a variety of six-legged creatures in action. Viewers can explore a kitchen floor at night, when nocturnal activity of some bugs is heightened, or take a peek beneath floorboards, where other types of insects thrive.

There are humorous interludes along the way. Clips from "B" movies about giant bugs invading cities, for example, are interspersed with scientific explanations of insect behavior.

The point of the lesson is to show how humans and insects co-exist, a scientific phenomenon that is unfolded on a sophisticated touch-screen computer for the benefit of students, said Ashley Suhler, a tour guide at Tech 2000. Touch-screen technology doesn't require users to fiddle with a keyboard, or even to know how to use one.

To move through the computerized lesson on insects, for example, students simply touch the computer screen at strategic points signified by purple bugs.

Another educational application on display at Tech 2000 takes an equally unorthodox approach to explaining why the ancient loggerhead turtle is becoming extinct.

Turning students into investigative reporters, viewers are assigned to find 10 reasons the loggerheads are becoming extinct. In the process, reporters travel to Florida, breeding ground of the loggerheads, bone up on the history of loggerheads and meet a cast of characters.

"It's such a kid thing to do," Mr. Laskaris said.

That "kid thing" gets a real workout with one truly futuristic display, a virtual reality machine that allows users to interact with imaginary characters and settings. As part of an imaginary rock group, for example, users can randomly hit a set of imaginary cymbals -- programmed to make real sounds -- as part of a rock symphony.

"Kids just love this stuff," said Richard Pollack, an interactive expert, as he jumped into the middle of an artificially created rock group to try his hand at banging the cymbals.

Mr. Pollack, president of Emerging Technology Consultants in Minnesota, sees the market for interactive video rapidly expanding, an indication of the number of companies jumping into the fray.

Last year, there were about 100 makers of interactive products, Mr. Pollack said. By the end of this year, more than 150 companies will be offering interactive programs for educators and corporate users, he said.

"We see the number of titles growing at a rate of 40 percent a year," he said.

Today, more than 1,100 interactive titles are available for education and corporate training, he said.

Mr. Pollack is a consultant to Discovery, which plans to introduce a line of interactive products for the classroom starting next year.

Tech 2000 is on display permanently at Techworld Plaza, 8th and K Streets N.W. in Washington.

The exhibit is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults and $3 for children.

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