Posted by: crudbasher | May 22, 2012

Kinect, SpaceX and Flexible Teaching

First a quick update on yesterday’s blog post about how computers are getting better vision. Several hours after I posted I came across a story where Microsoft just updated the Kinetic cameras on XBox 360 video game machines to do facial tracking. Here’s the relevant quote: (H’T Gizmodo)

“Microsoft has added face tracking capabilities to Kinect for Windows through a software update. Which means, Kinect will be able to read and react to your facial expressions.”

“Act surprised? Your avatar will reflect surprised. Smile? So will it. It’s part of Microsoft’s new SDK for Kinect which will let developers write Kinect apps for Windows.”

As I have been saying for a while now, technological innovations are happening more and more in software. These can show up literally overnight. Keep that in mind when you see smartphones in the classroom…

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I was up at 3:30am EST this morning to watch the first launch of the fully functional Dragon cargo vehicle by SpaceX. There weren’t any people on it but it was still historic because it’s the first time a private company has launched a spaceship to the space station. I live in Orlando, Florida so I was able to go outside and watch it launch! (I forgot to take a picture though). I have watched many rockets launch from my house but this one was special. When a space shuttle launched I held my breath but only because I knew there were things that could (and have) gone wrong. It’s dangerous. Last night I held my breath again because SpaceX is a small company trying to do things that until now have only been done by governments.

SpaceX was started by Elon Musk who sold PayPal to EBay and made a bunch of money.  He then started a solar panel company, an electric car company and a space company. Why did he do the space company?

“It’s really incumbent upon us as life’s agents to extend life to another planet. I think that being a multi-planet species will significantly increase the richness and scope of the human experience. ” – Elon Musk (H/T

He thought it was important so he went and built a rocket. This is the age we live in folks. The Internet is an empowering force for the individual. While he’s in the rocket business, make no mistake SpaceX could not have done this without the Internet. Well, they could have but not nearly as cheaply. Current cost estimates for the whole SpaceX program are in the neighborhood of 1.2 Billion dollars. NASA estimated that for the government to do the same thing it would have cost 4 times as much.

There are several lessons we can take away from this achievement I think.

  1. A smart person who is determined can achieve a lot these days.
  2. The forces that will shape our world in the next 50 years will be more about individuals and less about governments.
  3. Events like this can be inspiring!!

So here is the question. How many schools are following the mission? How many are including lessons based on what is happening? Are there an education materials companies that are offering lesson plans and materials on the event?

I’m sure there are many teachers who would love to teach about this today. I also know that many of them are restricted because of the need to teach whatever today’s plan is. Standards rule all.

The problem is, students are more connected to the outside world than ever before. Many of them might have an interest in these things but schools ignore them. Essentially the outside world stops at the school door. For this reason, schools are seeming less relevant to many student I think.  I don’t blame the teachers though. They aren’t in control of their destinies.

You want something to inspire kids? Watch this video of the launch, as I did at 4am. Listen carefully at 11:38 when the solar panels open.

Do you hear that roar? That is the sound of 1,800 SpaceX employees in California watching their work in action. That is real. It gave me goosebumps.

Here is another short video I found of the employees cheering. Look how young they are!

It would be great if teachers had enough flexibility to work things like this into their lessons. Relevance is a characteristic of the education system of the future.



  1. […] Dragon cargo capsule. I have written a bit about this lately as I am a bit of a space buff, but something I wrote last week has bothered me. This is what I said: “He [Elon Musk] thought it was important so he went […]

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