NextGen Media Innovation Lab Investigates Health Benefits of Cutting Edge Broadcasting Technology

Competition Challenges Students and Faculty to Invent New Uses of ATSC 3.0 Technology

Imagine being able to stream live television broadcasting to your phone. Now, imagine being able to stream that same content to a large mass of people in need of emergency news broadcasting, with interactive features to boot. With ATSC 3.0, an upgrade to the traditional broadcasting system, you can now do this with customized programming and crystal clear graphics.
WKAR was one of the first broadcasters in the nation to receive an experimental license to develop new programming using ATSC 3.0 technology. The public broadcast station aims to use the new technology in the Media Innovation Lab for informative and educational purposes, tapping unique technology that combines the reach of television broadcasting with the capability of high speed internet. In short, interactive television. 

“You have this hybrid, where it can be much more interactive and efficient for air space,” said Eric Hunter, Research Dean at ComArtSci. “You could build that backbone, but then you could put so many things layered on top of it.”

Imagining the Future of ATSC 3.0 Technology

WKAR teamed up with the Trifecta Initiative to launch the 2019 Health Grand Challenge, a competition for ideas on how to use ATSC 3.0 Technology to benefit public health. The Trifecta Initiative for Interdisciplinary Health Research is a partnership between MSU’s College of Engineering, College of Nursing and ComArtSci. Launched in early 2019, the Health Grand Challenge accepted submissions in the spring and awarded prizes for the top proposals. 

“[The Trifecta Initiative] was founded as a way to provide networking opportunities and pilot funding for faculty members and grad students of those colleges, funding for research that has to do with communication technology that can be applied to health problems.” said Katie Lacy, staff member for the Trifecta Initiative and NextGen Media Innovation Lab.

Participants were given 15 days to come up with an idea on how ATSC 3.0 can be used in ways that benefit viewers’ health. The ideas were then judged by outside faculty on aspects such as public impact, health impact, feasibility and how it integrates the technology.

Faculty Envision the Future of Broadcast TV

Ruth Shillair, assistant professor in the Department of Media & Information, took first place in the faculty division of the challenge. Shillair’s idea involved using the interactive features of ATSC 3.0 Technology to let viewers consume only the sections of a broadcast that are relevant to their own health needs. 

In her proposal, health related broadcasting could have prompts that allow the viewer to select what information they actually want to see, and bypass other segments of information that are not relevant to the information they seek. She believed this would be most beneficial in delivering accurate medical information to those without a broadband or internet connection.

Todd Lucas, professor of Public Health at MSU Flint, proposed that WKAR start using the technology to benefit audiences locally. In his second place submission, he referenced the Flint water crisis and the Flint Registry, a program committed to delivering resources to those affected by the incident. Lucas believed it would be important for Flint residents to enroll in the Flint Registry in order to receive the most support possible, and he believes ATSC 3.0 technology is the best platform to get this message across.

Students Propose Award-Winning Solutions

Students also submitted proposals for how to use the cutting edge technology. The winner of the first place award was Zachary Matheson, a graduate Physics student. He proposed the idea of targeted advertising to help viewers avoid watching junk food commercials. His idea would allow viewers to tell the broadcast they no longer want to see those advertisements by responding to on-screen prompts.

In his second place submission, Russ Banks, doctoral student in the department of communicative sciences and disorders, suggested using ATSC 3.0 to deliver high quality therapy to the elderly and to those with hearing disabilities. He cited the technology’s ability to broadcast high-quality sound to areas with poor reception, or the ability to broadcast different content to different groups of people simultaneously, such as nursing homes and classrooms.

The winners received prizes ranging from $200 tablets to $50 dollar Amazon gift cards. Before the proposals can be implemented, WKAR, Trifecta and others will work together to evaluate the feasibility of each project and determine what resources are needed to make each idea a reality. They will also be looking for ways to formulate new projects and collaborate across the university. 

“What I’m hoping is that we actually can get a group of people together and say, ‘Okay, now let’s merge some of these ideas,” said Hunter. 

Looking at the proposals, he said it may be possible to combine several applications under one underlying theme or in an effort to develop one larger project. 

“We will have continued contests and funding options this fall, as we try to build teams and merge this technology,” said Hunter. He encouraged anyone interested in getting involved with the future of ATSC 3.0 technology or with the NextGen Media Innovation Lab to contact Trifecta. 

By John Castro and Melissa Priebe

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