Posted February 3, 2009
Digital Arts

Arts team promoting theatre technology

From an article by Angela Roorda in the Arts Research Update newsletter

Waterloo - Daily Bulletin - A team of UW arts researchers has plunged into the world of technology transfer and innovation commercialization, demonstrating that scientists and engineers are not the only academics who can swim in those waters.

Jill Tomasson Goodwin and David Goodwin of UW’s Canadian Centre of Arts and Technology are heading the Seeding a Lead project. In this venture, CCAT and a multi-disciplinary group of researchers will take a pre-market digital display prototype created by Christie Digital Systems, develop strategies to improve how people use it, and generate new marketing opportunities in cultural industries.

Christie is a Kitchener company that specializes in the design of digital display technologies, including digital movie projectors for most Hollywood studios and, increasingly, virtual reality and simulation environments. Seeding a Lead started out as a $250,000 contract with Christie, with CCAT spearheading research to explore how people perceive and react to a new technology Christie had recently developed but not yet released to market.

CCAT leveraged the industry funding into an additional $222,000 Management, Business and Finance Research Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The project got under way in spring 2008.

Seeding a Lead takes its name from the novel approach the team is taking to facilitate technology transfer and commercialization. (The approach is inspired by MIT professor Eric von Hippel‘s notion of “lead users” — people who face needs and devise solutions that are both typical and in advance of a larger market.) The project provides lead users with early-stage, pre-market technologies to see how they adapt them to meet needs previously unknown to the manufacturer. Knowledge gained here will help accelerate both technology transfer and product design for next-generation manufacturing.

In the current project, Christie Digital’s pre-market digital display prototype will be “seeded” into the theatre industry, a culture sector that Christie hadn‘t initially considered targeting, but which has the potential to become a commercially significant market.

Following some initial human factors testing, the technology will be adapted and showcased in a high-quality original production to be staged for major players in the theatre industry, as well as representatives from museums, art galleries, and theme parks. The idea is that once exposed to the aesthetic and commercial potential of Christie’s new technology, these industry leaders will adopt, experiment with, and disseminate it within their spheres of influence, which will seed the technology even further.

CCAT members Jill Tomasson Goodwin, David Goodwin, and Glenn Stillar will oversee the project and, with input from optometry and architecture researchers, will contribute particularly to the human factors research. Drama professor Gerd Hauck, along with a playwright, a dramaturge, and a team of technical consultants, will prepare and mount the showcase production. Douglas Sparkes of UW‘s Centre for Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology and Paul Guild, a professor in management sciences, will head the commercialization research. Undergraduate and graduate students will work as research assistants.

At the end of the three-year project, CCAT anticipates that it will not only have helped to introduce Christie Digital to a significant new cultural market that it might otherwise have missed, but that also have provided a much-needed shot in the arm to a theatre industry looking for new ways to retain its audiences in the face of competing entertainments such as video games, the Internet, and YouTube.

Most importantly, however, the Seeding a Lead project will serve as a model for how arts researchers can successfully navigate the world of innovation marketing and technology transfer.

© Copyright 2009/Exchange Morning Post/Exchange Business Communications Inc.
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