Imagine walking through a door to find a sleek device filled with metrics about the contents of the air you’re breathing, C02 levels, water usage including every singular faucet or flush of water, temperature changes, voltage usage of every socket. From that same screen, you can derive years of data on that same information for that area. You learn that all the power is self-generated from solar radiation.
The system is affectionately named ‘UILA’, or ‘watcher’ in Hawaiian.
Then, see yourself walking down a corridor until you reach a room filled with 3D printers, drones, seismic activity sensors, sound absorption pads, facial recognition systems, prosthetic hands, augmented reality headsets, and more.
Where are you?
Not in a spaceship, or a home of the future.
You are in a school. You are in a freaking HIGH SCHOOL.
More specifically, Hawaii Preparatory Academy.
Before the start of the mission, the crew and I visited one of the most impressive institutions I have seen. In fact, some of the systems that I described here are running our very own simulated Mars habitat, and we rely on them to keep things running smoothly.
After being given a tour of the facility, the students ran through their impressive projects which ranged from using RFID tags for registering class attendance to warning systems for drivers to save locally threatened bird populations.
So fascinated with these students was I that I was surprised that they wanted to ask us questions. We moved over into the next room in a proper pretend-astronaut panel, complete with a small NY Times crew running around us with mics and cameras. Each of us talked about our personal projects in the habitat, and then answered questions from the students.
As I looked around and listened to my crewmates, I realized I would be in good hands on this team for the next 8 Months. We have a Google programmer, someone who worked to optimize Indy 500 Racecars, a former SpaceX employing working on growing plants in space, a man who goes into deep mines that stretch 14 km into the Northern Sea, and a commander working on synthetic biology. The caliber of individuals I’d be working with sets the bar high.
The students here are equally impressive, and come from all different countries around the world. Seeing such a young diverse international group fired up about technology and wanting to use it to improve life rather than to detract from it was inspiring to say the least.
The whole experience brought two consistent thoughts:
- What the heck was I doing in High School?
- The future doesn’t seem so grim when you see the potential for international cooperation and just how intelligent the next generations can be.
Another former head of a department at Google who worked with the students sat in the back of the class. At one point, someone joked about altering test equipment that, well, should not be altered. “We can engineer that,” someone attested. Without hesitation and in complete confidence he replied, “No question.”
It was all delightfully geeky, surrounded by people who could take control of the world they live in with nothing but insatiable curiosity and a bit of knowledge.
I could have sat talking to those students for hours, but just like the rest of the week, we were quickly rushed off into our next stop and task.
We all exited the building together, stepping out of our sci-fi shelter and into view of the beautiful rolling hills adorned with trees and farm animals in the distance.
“The students are really impressed with you guys.”
I corrected him, “We’re all really impressed with them.”
The future is bright.