The future is on display inside a bus in the York Technical College parking lot.
This week, York Tech students can get a view of some of the most cutting-edge uses of computers and technology, from 3D printing to robots, and how it will impact their lives and, perhaps, their careers.
Samsung Mobile U, a mobile technology classroom sponsored by the global electronics company, has parked itself in front of York Tech’s Science and Technology building this week. The visit, one of only four stops on campuses around the country this semester, is meant to spark student interest in the growing fields grouped together under the name “STEM” – science, technology, engineering and math.
“There are one million open jobs in STEM fields, and companies can’t get enough qualified candidates,” said Jeff Carter, one of the instructors for the Mobile U course. With experience in STEM applications, he said, “Your earning potential is higher, and companies will come after you.”
Inside the bus, rows of laptops are each connected to a Raspberry Pi, a single-board computer on a single circuit board the size of a credit card, inside a plastic case.
“You can buy one of these for $35 and $40, and it’s a full computer with educators in mind,” said Bradley Jacobs, a web developer who acts as an instructor aboard the 100-foot-long bus. “It’s a full web server with applications.”
Students who sign up for a Mobile U course can get training in writing computer code using the Pis, ranging from beginner’s up to an advanced level. Once set up, the gadgets can power a range of programs.
Carter and Jacobs showcase an online video of a Pi connected via a “breadboard” to power a rolling, self-balancing robot, constructed from an erector set and operating off a program written on the Pi.
“All of these are things you can do on your own at home,” Jacobs said.
In one corner of the bus, the instructors display a 3D printer that can produce intricate objects layered out of molten plastic. 3D printing will be another growth industry in a high-tech future. The medical field already uses the technology to produce cheap prosthetics, and one day technologists hope to use it to create human tissue and organs for surgery.
Eventually printing will be scaled up to produce housing and small buildings, but Jacobs foresees even more applications.
“NASA wants to do this on Mars,” he said. “Imagine the astronauts land on Mars and there are pre-fabricated buildings already waiting for them.”
York Tech was chosen to host Mobile U along with four other technical colleges around the country – the others being in Tampa, Fla.; Athens, Ga.; and Paducah, Ky. Samsung selected those schools hoping to reach students with a STEM background, but whose science departments may not have this kind of equipment on campus for hands-on learning.
York Tech student Mehul Patel is one of the students Mobile U hoped to reach. He already had proven his computer skills in a campuswide “hacking” competition, and was looking forward to seeing what Mobile U had to offer.
“I haven’t gotten a chance to use any of this yet,” Patel said, looking around the crowded bus lined with computer terminals, “but I’m really excited about it.”
Participants in the Mobile U workshops will not only get hands-on experience working with the technology, but also have the opportunity to win up to $5,000 in scholarships.
York Tech President Greg Rutherford was glad to host the event, hoping it can promote the kind of skills his students need to be the employees of the future.
“With the national economy shifting, we’re going to need more knowledge workers,” Rutherford said. “To promote these really creative jobs, they need to know that this (kind of technology) is accessible anywhere, and Samsung is helping to make this subject not seem so dry.
“Don’t lecture about it; just do it.”