Visit leads to program to train Indian students

The Visualization Center at Stennis Space Center has been building virtual worlds for years, but it took a company from India to drool over the potential and nail down a contract that will likely bring huge profits to the company…

It may be a prime example that sometimes, it's who you know that counts.

First, the result: The initial wave of 300 students from India has begun intensive training at Stennis Space Center, where they'll learn 3D visualization techniques. When they return home they'll be instrumental in setting up as many as 1,000 visualization centers in India, an emerging economy. In addition, they'll likely help create thousands of 3D education software titles for millions of students worldwide.

This ambitious, potentially lucrative undertaking resulted from the fortuitous combination of Mississippi technological know-how and the insight of an outsider who immediately recognized a potential application and the dollars it could bring.

"This arrangement will arm CORE with tomorrow's technology and enable us to significantly contribute to global education markets," said Sanjeev Mansotra, chairman and managing director of CORE Projects and Technologies, a fast-growing high-tech company based in Mumbai, India.

With North American headquarters in Atlanta, CORE Projects and Technologies Ltd. specializes in educational products and was listed as No. 2 in Deloitte's Technology Fast50 in 2007 with a three-year revenue growth of 2,167 percent.

The first group of students for what will amount to a three-year training effort arrived at Stennis in January. At any given time there will be as many as 40 tech-savvy Indian students training at the federal city in Hancock County.

The students chosen for this training are undergraduates in computer science and engineering, are familiar with programming language and have worked with visualization software. By the time they leave Stennis they'll know how to take an idea and make it a visual, 3D product. The value of the training is about $75,000 for each student.

They come over as CORE employees for a year of training, but much depends on a student's progress and it could be as little as six months for some. Qualified students could wind up as trainers in India.

CORE plans to eventually create educational tools will give students a 3D look at their subject. Instead of a medical student, for instance, seeing human organs on the page of a book, he or she can visit them close up, from any angle, and manipulate them in 3D.

The organization that will train the students is the University of Southern Mississippi-affiliated Center of Higher Learning, which operates the High Performance Visualization Center. CHL Director Joe Swaykos said the visualization center has trained students all along, but "not of this magnitude." Fortunately, the center is just now wrapping up a $1.2 million, 10,000 square-foot expansion.

How this all came about is a lesson in being at the right place at the right time.

It started with Motex Information Technologies Inc., a member of the Mississippi Enterprise for Technology that specializes in network security, hardware, software and systems solutions. Last summer a Motex representative met with CORE officials in Atlanta, and that led to a visit by a CORE official to Motex's Stennis office.

Mo Elalighe, president of Motex, thought it would be a good idea for his guest to tour the Visualization Center so they could see the RAVE II (Reconfigurable Advanced Visualization Environment) immersive system. The four-screen system allows a user with 3D glasses to enter a virtual world, in this case geo-referenced data.

It is hard to overstate the impact of a 3D representation of the storm surge that resulted from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The visualization center after the hurricane created some striking visualizations of the flooding, complete with realistic, street-level views of buildings and showing the high-water marks. Considering the natural disasters India faces, it's likely that piqued the interest of CORE.

"A lot of people are starting to get it, finally," said Swaykos, adding that many visitors to the center have what they consider to be visualization capabilities, only to become "flabbergasted" with the 3D visualization capabilities at Stennis.

Swaykos said his visitors had a lot of questions.

"He says, 'Can you folks train people to do what you do?' And we said 'Yes, that's how we built our team.' And he says, 'Can you give us some advice on how to get equipment like you have?' And we said, 'Well yes, we can do that.'"

Then the visitor asked if CHL can help develop applications, and again it was "yes."

"And he said, 'Well, that's very interesting. I'll be in touch.'"

Swaykos figured that would be the end of it. Hundreds of visitors who toured the center expressed the same interest in the past, but that's the last he hears. Not this time. Two weeks later CORE said it wanted the CHL to provide visualization training.

Swaykos went to India for two weeks to hammer out details. He was impressed with the students he met. One of them told Swaykos after the meeting that he had been getting bored with computer work. But he was excited after hearing about the Stennis work.

CORE and CHL agreed to create virtual reality based education content and curriculum to allow students to become immersed in subjects in the belief students retain information at a higher rate in a 3D environments than from textbooks or a flat, 2D representation.

The collaboration will help CORE develop content for the Indian and international education markets. It wants to create software titles for over 17,000 higher education institutions and hundreds of thousands K-12 schools in the United States, United Kingdom and India. Fields for the higher education include mammography physics, chemistry, molecular science, biology, computer science, mathematics and scientific computation.

In addition to creating the software, CORE plans to set up close to 1,000 visualization centers in India, with the help of experts from CHL, according to Swaykos. He's understandably excited about the project.

"It is the avowed mission of CHL to spread the benefits of space-age technology for the good of society at large," Swaykos said. "Our collaboration with CORE will help us to use this cutting edge technology in the field of education. We are confident this collaborative effort will help take learning to a significantly higher level."

And what about Motex, which played such a key role in the process?

It wound up with a separate agreement. Elalighe said CORE will use Motex's space in the incubator to open a prototype lab for Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)/Ground Positioning System (GPS) activities that will allow tracking items, from documents to inventory to vehicles. Elalighe said CORE will provide the equipment and Motex the research on the business potential.

- David Tortorano