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Take a Tour of the Richard Gilder Graduate School with Google Glass

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Studying fossils and testing cutting-edge gadgets is all in a day’s work for Aki Watanabe.  A student in the Comparative Biology doctoral program at the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School (RGGS), Watanabe was recently chosen to be one of the beta-testers for Google Glass, a hands-free wearable computer. Built into an eyeglasslike frame, Google Glass responds to voice commands and allows users to check everything from e-mail to news headlines, all while looking through a microscopic prism in the corner of their vision.

Aki Cropped

Watanabe sat down to answer a few questions about his research and what he’s learning about this new device, in addition to sharing his first Glass video: a behind-the-scenes tour of the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School.

What’s the focus of your  Ph.D. program?

I study vertebrate paleontology, with a focus on dinosaurs and crocodilians—so crocodiles, alligators, and their relatives. Mostly, I work on how the shape of the skulls changes through development and evolutionary time.

Why were you interested in testing this new technology? 

Originally, I saw a clip on the Google Glass website highlighting the perspective camera on the device. The clip included a person on a roller coaster, someone skydiving—it was really intriguing. What struck me was how visceral it was to have that perspective camera and the fact that you can have both of your hands free while filming.  When Google ran a campaign asking ordinary people how they would use this device, I applied because I thought Glass could add a lot to science outreach and science education.  It would be great for shooting videos from the perspective of the scientist, trying to bridge the gap between science and the community even further.   

What are some of the things you’d like to show from a scientist’s perspective?

I am interested in demonstrating the methods I use in my research. I do a lot of scanning with a surface laser scanner to make digital 3D models of our Mongolians and Chinese specimens. I would love to share that process both as an educational video for the community and an instructional video for my colleagues who are just beginning to use the device. Also, I am working on describing some new species and fossils in general. It would be great to use the perspective camera to show those specimens up close in greater detail.

You’ve now had Google Glass for two weeks. How’s it working? 

So far the stairs have been a little hard to navigate but other than that I am getting used to it! Everyone from the administration to the students at the Richard Gilder Graduate School has been very receptive. I don’t think a lot of graduate programs would be as open to embracing this new technology.  We are hoping to use Glass to highlight student research as well as different specimens in the Museum’s collections.

What’s next on your list?

This is one of my first videos. It’s a tour I took of RGGS. In the next couple of weeks I will be working at a summer program for high school students here at the Museum called Capturing Dinosaurs. We’ll be using photogrammetry to construct digital 3D models of dinosaurs and the printing them using 3D printers. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get some video of that process. I’ll also be sharing Glass with my colleagues at RGGS so they will highlight some of their research as well. 


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