NASA helped officials of Patrick County, Va., choose between wireless phones and radios for its school bus communication system
When NASA officials visited Patrick County, Va., last year to explain the
space agency's benefits to the state, residents had more down-to-earth concerns
"The community said, "If you want to help us, help us with the real-world
problems we face every day in Patrick County,'" said Michael Ruiz, special
assistant to the director of NASA's Earth and Space Science Program Office
at Langley Research Center in Virginia.
Specifically, residents wanted to know if NASA could help them weigh
the benefits of equipping county school buses with wireless phones vs. handheld
radios, Ruiz said.
NASA had two words for the residents: Digital Earth.
Digital Earth is a project, headed
at the federal level by NASA, to convert the massive amounts of geospatial
data collected by government agencies, academia and the private sector into
a Web-based, 3-D representation of the world.
As part of the plan, supporters are using the technology to show local
governments, communities and businesses how the Digital Earth project can
To help Patrick County, NASA drew on satellite imagery and data from
the U.S. Geological Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency and the
Federal Communications Commission, Ruiz said.
The result was a virtual, 3-D map of the region that users could view
on a computer monitor or project onto a wall or screen.
Judy Lacks, the county school superintendent, said the results were
Beginning with an aerial view of the region from thousands of feet away,
the image zoomed down and wound through the county's hills and roads, as
in a video game.
There were shades of green, yellow and, most importantly, brown. The
brown areas were "dead zones," where wireless phones would not work. The
virtual map revealed dead zones snaking throughout the region, including
along a road on which one school is located, Lacks said.
So the school opted for a radio system instead of using wireless phones.
Ruiz said the information supplied to Patrick County also might help
residents in the future, when regional wireless service providers consider
construction of new towers.
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