Encouraging innovation

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<p>U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard speaks with Dr. Bill Wiecking, Hawaii Preparatory Academy Energy Lab director, during a recent visit to the facility. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>
<p>Hawaii Preparatory Academy students Erina Baudat, a junior, and Kenji Stinson, a senior, share their project ideas with U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard as she toured the school’s innovative energy lab. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>
<p>Luigi Balbo Bertone di Sambuy, a senior at Hawaii Preparatory Academy, speaks with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard during her visit at the school’s energy lab last week. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>
<p>Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard visits the Hawaii Preparatory Academy during a tour of the school’s innovative Energy Lab. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

“Why is this green one going off right now?” asked U.S. Rep.Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI 2nd District), pointing to the seismic monitor’s blinking indicators. Gabbard toured Hawaii Preparatory Academy’s innovative Energy Lab last week, with its director, Dr. Bill Wiecking, who explained that her footsteps in the room cause wave activity. He encouraged Gabbard to stomp, which she did.

“You’re strong, but you didn’t register as an earthquake in Waikoloa,” he said. Wiecking designed the Energy Lab, a LEED-certified Platinum building, a winner of the 2010 AIA Honolulu Design Award of Excellence, and also a recipient of the 2011 “Living Building” challenge for its innovative green technology which adapts to accommodate people occupying its spaces.

Earlier in the day, Gabbard had taught a government class at Kealakehe High School as part of her new “Congresswoman Undercover” program, stepping into various constituents’ jobs. After her tour of the Energy Lab, she met with HPA students in a high-ceiling lab cluttered with futuristic devices: the multi-fingered Emotiv brain wave sensor headset, a bright blue 3D printer, a stack of mini-computers no bigger than cassette tapes, and piles and piles of ideas.

Wiecking and a group of students talked about their current projects in a wide range of fields, including brain wave research, weather studies, virtual reality tours of 11 summit telescopes (now hosted at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center), and something called “Raspberry-Pi FPGA Mojo,” which was beyond this writer’s scope of comprehension, as was much of the conversation.

Luigi Balbo Bertone di Sambuy has been studying earthquakes. For the project, Wiecking arranged for him to work directly with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. Last spring, Bertone di Sambuy and five other HPA students had the unique opportunity to attend the Mac World IT expo in San Francisco, the only people under 21 there. The students gave 15-minute presentations about their work, and stood for an hour or more of Q-and-A.

“They were super enthusiasts,” said Bertone di Sambuy. Among other highlights, senior Duncan Michael flew a remote-controlled helicopter over a Mac World audience, using only his thoughts and the Emotiv headset. And, as a result of the students’ visit, Mac World has established a new track for young people’s participation in future conferences.

More and varied uses for and studies of the Emotiv headset are well underway. This year, student Erina Baudat will take the device to Japan and study people in nursing homes who have experienced strokes and resultant paralysis. Her question,” Do people recover better from strokes if they listen to music?”

“These students don’t know how advanced the things they are doing are until they go to college,” said Wiecking. “There is more of a blurred line between college and high school and between entrepreneurship and education.”

“I’m blown away and completely impressed by what you are doing,” said Gabbard. “Obviously, you have a mindset of innovation … you want to take action and be part of the solution.”

Gabbard said she was asking herself how she and others in government could bring more innovation into services the government provides. She also said it was shocking to her that so much of government is not automated.

“It goes to leadership and having people at the top sometimes forcing archaic technology to change to provide services better … It all comes about because one person or a group has an idea,” she said.

For more information on HPA’s innovative Energy Lab, visit http://www.hpa.edu/academics/energy-lab.