Pushing Boundaries: My Day at iCube

Let’s be honest – we all have a nerdy side to us.

Whether it’s experiencing a new Star Wars movie at an IMAX theater or wreaking havoc in the latest GTA game, we all enjoy an occasional escape into the newest tech. This is all well and good, considering we live in an age where technology dictates the quality of huge portions of our day to day lives. In such a rapidly advancing industry, there’s always something new right around the corner to satiate our appetites for the cutting edge.

Earlier this week, I was fortunate enough to get a full on peek at several ground-breaking technologies that are being worked on by the brilliant minds at iCube – a fast growing technology firm located on the campus of TN Technological University (Cookeville, TN).


When you first enter iCube, you are greeted by one of their core philosophies: IMAGINE

iCube, a firm with hardly a year of operation under its belt, has already garnered a plethora of multi million dollar projects. They’ve contracted with private and public entities, their work ranging from hospitals to municipalities.

A friend of mine, Mack Lunn, is a project manager for the institution and was kind enough to give me an in depth look at some of the projects they’re working on. Read about my experience below.


The Oculus Rift – a gateway to another world

My introductory “lesson” was to familiarize myself with one of the primary outlets they work with – virtual reality. Not long after I arrived, Mack had me strapped in and ready to delve into (for me) completely uncharted territories. Once I was positioned correctly, he tuned me into a few of the on board programs that ship with the oculus by default. They were rudimentary apps developed (I imagine) for that very purpose – familiarization. I stepped into the shoes of a virtual line cook, taking orders and cooking digital food. I protected my castle as it was besieged by hundreds of little e-barbarians. I warped into the future and defended myself from dozens of laser shooting drones, moving about in my small space to dodge their fiery attacks. Needless to say, it was freakin’ awesome.


Hitting your VR tour guide with a clipboard is exactly as much fun as it sounds

After realizing I was having entirely too much fun with the default video games that all Oculus devices ship with, Mack’s next step was to show me one of the actual projects that iCube is working on. The first thing he showed me was perhaps the most relevant in terms of scope and benefit to society, which I’ll get to shortly.

In the grand scheme of things, the virtual reality arena is in its infant stages. The technology is finally available on a wide basis, and firms are just now beginning to apply it to all sorts of different industries in a practical manner. In iCubes case, they are currently working on a program with hospitals that will benefit diabetic patients. Here’s how:


The coolest $500K ride I’ve ever been on

Apparently doctors have experienced significant difficulty with getting diabetic patients to follow nutritional and health guidelines, leading to negative results. This is a big problem in the medical field, and one that I’m sure anyone in the medical industry can attest to. So, seeing the problem, there was a behavioral psychologist who one day said “Hey, why don’t we show people what’s happening in their bodies if they ignore our instructions? Maybe then they’ll get it and start eating right.”

This is where iCube comes in. The hospital basically tells them “We have this problem. We want to show people what’s going on in their bodies, and we want them to be able to experience it as if they were inside themselves. People are more likely to respond well and follow directions if they can actually see what’s happening to them.”

iCubes response? “Say no more.”


We come in peace. Take me to your leader

Cue the visbox, the thing you just saw in the photo above. This was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in quite a long time. I got to strap on some goofy looking glasses that made me feel like I had alien antennaes and then took a holographic ride into clogged arteries, walked around inside a human heart, and was apart of a group of red blood cells straight chillin’ in someone’s veins. Needless to say the visbox experience was, as the bards would put it, “totes amaze balls”. And to cap it all, the best part is that these programs are having a positive impact on people’s health, furthering the humanitarian mission of iCube.

The next thing I got to do was tour the development studio. This was great because I’ve always wondered how things go from being an idea in someone’s head into a real program that you can fiddle around with. So Mack took me into what I can only call the Main Event Room, because it looked like that’s where most of the work was getting done. It reminded me of the pictures I’ve seen of Bethesda Studios, Bioware, and the like. Lots of figureines, loads of dual monitor setups, and some super-bad computers.


And now, the main event!

Here I was again strapped into an Oculus, only this time I was sitting in a chair. I got to play around with a project that the firm is developing for the Tennessee Aquarium, virtually snorkeling through a river as I watched contamination levels rise and fall, noting the impact it had on the aquatic ecosystem. The program they ran for me here was one that illustrated how important environmental factors are in regard to marine life.

Finally, one of the last things Mack walked me through was the world of 3D printing. Now I’m sure you’ve all heard of this, but actually seeing and fiddling around with the stuff is so much cooler than watching it online or on TV. Truthfully, I’m still somewhat floored by the fact that human beings have figured out how to literally print objects, but I digress. I doubt that’s something I’ll ever be able to wrap my head around.


3D Printed T-Rex. Rawr!

The stuff starts out as just a simple thin line of plastic, almost like a thick spool of fishing line. Moments later you might have yourself a dragon for your desk, or perhaps a tyrannosaurus if you prefer the Dino route. In any case, the 3D printing process is one of the coolest concepts I can think of in our recent history. And there’s no telling how it’s going to impact different industries. There was one story I was told where a paleontologist used to dig up dinosaur bones and make casts of the incomplete parts, selling the skeletons to museums and collectors for about $30K. His casts costed about 20/25K to produce at the end of the day, so he saw a somewhat healthy profit, right?

Well, when the 3D printers heard about this, they offered to scan the pieces bit by bit and simply print them out of their material, ultimately resulting in an absurd decrease in production costs (down to like, $500/$750). And these pieces were even more durable than the ones created before! How’s that for efficiency? This was a mere glimpse at how the world is going to be changing due to technological advances.


A 3D printed dino who’s name I can’t pronounce 

There were several other things I got to toy with during my time at iCube, but for brevity I’ll stop here. It really was one of the coolest days I’ve had in quite awhile, and I must give a very loud shout out to my friend Mack Lunn for giving me the tour. Thanks man!

The future is now.


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