Worlds away from the old glossy globes that have sat in classrooms for decades, the iGlobe is seriously high-tech, a moving-image sphere that shows real-time images of Earth — and it’s being made right here in New Hampshire.
About 40 educators, students, and community members got a taste of the iGlobe when they visited the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord on March 4. Produced in Franklin, the iGlobe is a large spherical screen (called a HyperGlobe), propped up on a base that can show any physical phenomenon from water temperature, weather fronts, precipitation and cloud cover to sea turtle migration, disease spread, crop growth, man-made disasters like oil spills, and even global Facebook and Wikipedia activity.
“It is just a fascinating device, and really, really impressive technology, so I’m delighted that it’s being produced in Franklin,” Franklin Mayor Ken Merrifield said. “I would think that almost any educational institution would love to have something like this, and as the technology proliferates, you can imagine having one of these in every classroom in America.”
For most of their lives, New Hampshire natives and brothers Matt and Marc Lally were armchair inventors. They were constantly thinking up ideas and then finding out they had already been invented.
Then one rainy February day in 2006 the Lally brothers were looking at the sky and wondering why it wasn’t colder and snowing, like it normally would be at that time of year.
“We were just talking about climate and jet stream and things like that, and we just said, ‘Well wouldn’t it be cool if we had a globe where you could actually see the weather as if you were an astronaut from space?’, and that’s just where it started,” Marc Lally said.
Things moved swiftly after that. They came up with the technical solution quickly. A base unit projects special images either into the globe or onto a large inflatable dome, to create a planetarium. The iGlobe comes preloaded with real-time weather and Science on a Sphere® titles from NOAA and NASA. New content can be created using software such as Adobe After Effects.
The patent phase took longer than the solution phase, as did gearing up for a different career.
At the time, the brothers owned a furniture store in Maine. Marc Lally sold his house to help fund their ambition, and they moved back to New Hampshire, where it was cheaper to live.
Museums, science centers and planetariums were the first to catch on to the spheres (SEE Science Center in Manchester displays one). Because the cost is anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000, most schools can’t just put them on their shopping list, although a few private schools, including the Tilton School in New Hampshire, already have them.
At the presentation last week, teachers and students from private schools from across the Northeast filled the audience. iGlobe hoped to generate some interest for the product.
“We have a conservation-education mission,” said Jane Meigs, conservation education coordinator of Millbrook School in Millbrook, N.Y. “We thought it was perfect for showing temperature change, sea level rise, changes in the ocean, changes in the atmosphere.”
Millbrook School recently purchased an iGlobe, and it’s being shipped to the private boarding school, where it will be used as a centerpiece in its zoo (yes, its zoo — it’s the only school in the U.S. with its own zoo) and for demonstrations for groups that visit.
Martha Price traveled from the Bement School, a junior boarding school in Deerfield, Mass., with two of her students.
“It was interesting and fascinating … and I think it’s probably out of our budget in terms of purchasing, but I think it has some really interesting ideas,” Price said.
She mentioned that because her students are used to information being presented in a two-dimensional form, the globe was almost too much like a movie as opposed to a teaching tool.
“It’s partly because school is a little behind the times. … We’re still two-dimensional because of finances and things like that,” Price said.
At the end of the presentation, Price’s students got a chance to play with the iPad that controls the globe, and that’s when they really connected to the technology.
“They had no trouble instantly manipulating to show what they wanted,” Price said. “Once they got to play with it they could then see the implications of it, and then it made a lot more sense.”
Price said that if there was no money involved, the biggest use for her would be to show them troubling environmental trends like global warming and things that humans can learn to control. The technology would also help teachers educate in a less rigid fashion, so lessons become more exploration-based, and less lecture driven.
“It could be useful if they could improve it and make it cheaper for public use,” said Bement seventh-grader Neil Stark. “I liked the animation. That was pretty cool.”
iGlobe’s creators know their initial product can be too expensive for most schools, so they developed a smaller, desktop globe called iGlobe 3D that blends a flat iMac computer screen computer and a convex lens that creates a spherical effect. They cost about $6,000.
“We started with the spheres, but they’re kind of pricy,” Marc Lally said. “With these smaller units, we’ve hit a price point where we can get into schools.”
Partnering for climate education
iGlobe recently partnered with Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors to educate students and the public about climate issues, and to go after a National Science Foundation grant.
The data MIT often wants to present can be complicated and difficult to understand in two-dimensions.
“It does help you see things [in three dimensions] sometimes. ... We hope to get one and use it in our classes,” said MIT Professor Glenn Flierl.
iGlobe has asked students and educators to help them make the product as smooth and user-friendly as possible. During the next couple months, students and educators can provide feedback through Facebook and video conferencing.
While schools aren’t required to buy equipment in order to participate, “obviously if you had a HyperGlobe at your school, you’d be able to give us feedback and download prototypes as we develop them,” iGlobe Chief Strategy Officer Bill Horn said.
As seen in the March 13, 2014 issue of the Hippo.