College Campuses Are The New Test Facilities For Emerging Technology

College campuses have long been sites of innovation and technology. Housing superior research and development facilities, a plethora of advisory resources and brilliant thinkers, higher-ed institutions are natural hubs for creating next-gen systems.

We saw the first general purpose computer emerge from the University of Pennsylvania in 1946, the first retractable, locking seatbelt come from the University of Minnesota in 1963 and Harvard-born Facebook spark the social media revolution in 2004.

But while universities are traditionally credited with tech invention, they are less celebrated for tech adoption — which is arguably just as crucial as the invention itself.

Many industries are wary of using new technologies due to uncertainty around value proposition, customer experience and security. Colleges, however, are forced to think ahead of the curve to appeal to Gen Z audiences — audiences that essentially grew up with cell phones and video game controllers as extensions of their hands.

By demonstrating a college’s innovative environment and tech-savvy capabilities from the onset of student engagement, institutions can stand out from the competition and attract top candidates to apply, enroll and thrive.

Tapping Tech To Draw Talent

Consider, for instance, the University of Michigan, which is tapping virtual reality to drive recruiting efforts and fan engagement. The college is using the technology to offer prospective student-athletes a behind-the-scenes look at the facilities and exciting game-day environment. This includes glimpses into fall camp, the stadiums and footage of the Oregon State football game — all of which offer an accurate and inclusive representation of a football player’s life at UM for a would-be student-athlete weighing his (perhaps numerous) college options.

Laying The Groundwork For The Future

While some colleges use new technology to strategically draw prospective students, others use it purely as a means to generate buzz and lay the foundation for its potential application to the real world.

For instance, Santa Clara University has deployed Auro Robotics’ driverless shuttle system to offer students a more efficient way to travel around its expansive campus. These systems not only get students where they need to be, but have the potential to limit the risks of car accidents brought on by drinking or texting and driving (arguably more common amongst younger demographics).

By setting an aggressive pace for technology adoption, colleges around the country are pioneering the ways in which we will work and live.

And because this deployment is in a private and controlled environment, this is a great way for Auto Robotics to get its technology out there without having to wait for regulatory approvals that could take as long as 5-10 years.

“Every day at Santa Clara, we challenge our students to see the future,” said Godfrey Mungal, dean of the School of Engineering at Santa Clara University. “This is a unique way to bring Silicon Valley to their doorstep and expand their education beyond the classroom.”

Robert Hernandez, digital journalism professor at the University of Southern California, shares Mungal’s mindset. Hernandez created a “Glass Journalism” course dedicated to developing ideas for original news apps for Google Glass that will help journalists with content creation and users with content consumption. According to Hernandez, “there are a lot of people that have been dismissive too soon about this type of technology that really, we need to embrace and develop sooner rather than later.”

How Today’s Campus Tech Will Impact Tomorrow’s Everyday Life

By setting an aggressive pace for technology adoption, colleges around the country are pioneering the ways in which we will work and live. Students, having grown accustomed to using virtual reality, driverless cars and Google Glass in their college lives, will inevitably carry these tools to future jobs and their personal lives. And as that happens, we can expect the technologies to prove their applications and value to organizations across industries.

In the same way that Facebook was once confined to college campuses, solutions currently being tested at universities could soon become major parts of our lives. These may include technologies that socialize interactions, like Emmanuel College’s use of Localist to manage events and see which are trending; 3D printing, which is increasingly part of students’ lab curriculums; or QR codes, which are leveraged by Gonzaga University to let visitors know what is inside campus buildings.

The lesson? Pay attention to those 18-year-olds. In four years, they could be teaching us a whole lot about the new normal.