Open Studio #1

At Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island: Open Studio Eyes on the Wide World

Updated 30 weeks ago David Stone
Demonstration Space at Open Studio at Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island
Demonstration Space at Open Studio at Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

With cultural and business change quickened by computer technology, innovation becomes the key to adjusting on the fly, collaborating to develop better fits and best practices for the world’s challenges. In the first Open Studio at Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island, 20 of 52 active teams showed packed conference spaces not just how, but why they are pulling it off.

Demonstration projects were usually surprisingly practical.

Biotia, a business model already in trials with worldwide implications, uses technology “to identify pathogens and antimicrobial resistance markers in hospitals,” tackling the long intractable problem of infections spread within medical facilities.

Another project, Pocket Change, works with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to bring financial inclusion to millions of rural people by enabling them to become human ATMs.

For each initiative, masters, PhD students and postdocs already launching startups kicked off presentations by explaining challenge they set out to conquer.

OnSitIQ, an effort to reduce construction accidents, outlined the relationship between the number of costly inspections and the incidence of workplace injuries. Using computer vision algorithms, they are able to create “360-degree walkthroughs” that inexpensively and comprehensively assess risk without requiring as many site visits, thereby reducing threats to life and limb without breaking budgets.

For the most part, the dozens of digital products and services in the making and nearly made were incubated in The Bridge, a building designed to encourage teamwork and innovation, recently renamed the Tata Innovation Center. overseen by Dan Huttenlocher, whose job title — Jack and Rilla Neafsey Dean and Vice Provost — belies his nontraditional demeanor.

Virtual reality demonstration during first Open Studio at the Roosevelt Island Cornell Tech campus
Virtual reality demonstration during first Open Studio at the Roosevelt Island Cornell Tech campus
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Dean Huttenlocher defies white shirt and tie expectations, appearing at events in blue jeans and running shoes, in style breaking down barriers with the same ease with which his school reduces technical boundaries.

Creativity fostering relaxation trickles downward. Few times will you see team presentations flavored with as much focused confidence, as players share mics and demonstrate expertise, with Huttenlocher watching from the sidelines, nodding encouragement and approval after each concludes.

In an atmosphere so rich with self-assurance, it’s easy to forget that these young people are actually changing the world in a single building built from an idea on Roosevelt Island.

Whether it’s Luna, teamed with health care provider Oscar, developing a systematic approach to engaging “informal caregivers of bipolar patients to help clinicians make better treatment decisions” or Tatch, a startup already on the runway to launch, creating “wireless smart patches for accurate and comprehensive sleep tests at home,” every project aims at making the world better incrementally. 

And when you realize that what you’ve just seen represents less than half of what teams have been working on, this first semester at Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island, you have to feel a little awe. Virtually every project shown stands to benefit millions around the world.

It’s a startling time we live in, and the most serious pulse of change is beating right down the street on no longer sleepy and ignored Roosevelt Island.

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