Newest MOXI exhibit uses 3D holographic technology
A new, not-quite human but three-dimensional guest was welcomed to MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation upon its reopening — Photon the robot.
Photon is a 3D hologram now featured in an unexpected corner of MOXI: the server room.
The friendly, animated hologram resembles a red, cartoon photon, jumping and spinning around as he tells interested viewers the story of “The History of the Internet.”
According to Simon Mused, the exhibits manager at MOXI, Photon is generated using a “pretty old technique, but very new technology.” He told the News-Press that a holographic monitor simply plugs into a regular computer monitor in the server room, and Photon is then reflected off a mirror.
“The other day, I saw a young girl press her face up against the glass over there saying ‘Hi’ to Photon,” he said, laughing. “She was just having a good old time making a new friend.”
Photon and “The History of the Internet” didn’t begin as an exhibit.
Rather, the room was implemented as the necessary server room that powers all operations and exhibits at MOXI, located on the second floor.
MOXI staff and employees with Cox Business, the commercial division of Cox Communications, saw an opportunity to open a window (at approximately child-height) for kids to peek through and see what powers the museum behind the scenes.
“We always talked about how we could sort of bring that to life and talk a little bit about not only how fiber works or how the internet works, but also this cool history of the internet and how Santa Barbara plays in that,” Kirsten McLaughlin, market vice president for Cox Communications and a MOXI board member since the museum’s inception, told the News-Press. “Our little corner of the world here in Santa Barbara has this really cool connection to the initial development of what we all know and love today as the internet.”
In 1969, UCSB was one of the first four nodes of ARPANET, a network of computers between UCSB, UCLA, Stanford and University of Utah. ARPANET was a project of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, and relied on the transmission of “packets of information,” according to UCSB’s website. The number of nodes grew over the next decade, connecting computers across the country with the technology that soon became the internet.
Photon has been sharing this historic connection with children in a 90-second story they can watch and listen to behind the glass, both in English and in Spanish. Under non-COVID circumstances, visitors will be able to listen to the story on headphones. In addition, the robot ensures everything in the room runs quickly and smoothly, and Photon explains how a fiber optic cable transmits information.
“This past year, more than ever, we all know we’re more reliant on the internet and our connection through the internet than we ever have been before, but I do think how that works in the back end and what that looks like, and this technology and equipment, is a mystery for a lot of us,” Ms. McLaughlin said. “Bringing that to life in people, especially for our students, some of the equipment that makes things work when they turn on their computer or when they connect to Wi-Fi or whatever device they’re using to get connected to the world … is very, very cool.”
Ms. McLaughlin added that the importance of educating local youth about technology fits right into MOXI’s mission of connecting children and students with technology and science in a way that opens the door to future jobs and careers for them.
“Maybe some of those students who come through see that server room, learn about fiber and learn about the internet and then want to get involved in a career that ultimately leads them to something in that field, whether it’s engineering or being a technician for a company like Cox or programming,” she said. “It’s both of those — bringing to life something we all rely on every day and then also bringing to life potential future career options for our students.”
Robin Gose, MOXI’s president and CEO, told the News-Press that Photon the robot and its exhibit is a “nice surprise to see something animated” and “it definitely catches people’s eye.”
“It’s fun because otherwise, that’s our server room. Something like that would usually not be on display to the public, but this was an interesting way to bring that space to life, and it’s a new experience for many people to learn about a really interesting story of innovation that happened in our own backyard,” she said.
“We like to tell stories of local innovation … We get to share that story and make people aware, if they haven’t been before, that this is happening in the Santa Barbara region.”