Data tools

Professor behind weather data tools wins UM innovation award

For developing a suite of learning and weather-related tools and technologies and launching successful businesses that serve millions of people, University of Michigan professor Perry Samson won the Distinguished University Innovator Award of this year.

Samson, Professor Arthur F. Thurnau and Professor of Climate and Space Science and Engineering, will receive the award on October 6. The event, which will be virtual, is free and open to the public. Registration is compulsory.

Perry samson

The Distinguished University Innovator Award honors faculty members who have developed transformative ideas, processes or technologies and brought them to market.

Samson’s list of groundbreaking innovations includes the launch of the Blue Skies app which gave students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 and later the public access to live weather data with the pre-hover map feature. existence of the Internet. This led to the co-founding of The Weather Underground, the first commercial online weather company, which was eventually sold to The Weather Channel and later to IBM, and is used by millions of people daily.

He also led the development of the LectureTools learning platform which allowed students to ask and answer questions interactively via laptops and phones during lessons. This tool helped advance equity and inclusion in the classroom by allowing students to anonymously ask questions of each other but not of the instructor.

This tool has been shown to produce dramatic increases in student research during the classroom. Additionally, students who report being embarrassed to ask verbal questions in class participate in the survey at equal or higher rates than the rest of the class, giving more students a voice, he said.

The software was acquired by Echo360, for which it remains an advisor, and integrated into its active learning platform. This platform is now used by 2 million students around the world.

Its latest tool, LearningClues, uses artificial intelligence to analyze and index what is said or presented visually in classrooms and identifies words it deems important for each class session. Students will be able to search for videos of their lessons to find specific moments related to their research. The system will also automatically create study guides for students for a period of their choice based on what has been discussed and visually presented in those classes.

A prototype of the technology is now available through UM’s CAEN conference capture system and will soon be commercially available for other campuses.

Enrico Landi, professor of climate and space science and engineering, said in his letter of appointment that Samson “is one of those rare figures capable of devising ground-breaking innovations in different, seemingly unrelated fields. , and bring them to market, shaping these areas for decades. “

“His creativity in conceiving deeply innovative ideas is matched only by his ability to transform them first into reality, then into marketable product; and by his perseverance in making them successful in the market, ”Landi wrote.

For his part, Samson said all of his innovations came from the needs he saw in the course delivery: The Weather Underground was created because he wanted to know what the weather was like in the country before his 9-hour class. LectureTools was born because he wasn’t happy with the range of question types he could ask using selectors. And LearningClues was born “because students wanted study guides for exams and I’m too lazy to create them. “

“While I fully understand the reluctance of colleagues to start or even get involved in the commercialization process, I have found that many students are interested and excited about getting started,” Samson said. “I see the commercialization process as a synthesis laboratory for both technology and entrepreneurship, and my efforts have been supported by the enthusiasm and commitment of the students who participated.”

Samson also said he sees a common thread in his innovations: democratization. For example, he said, LectureTools, and now Echo360 technology, has extended classroom communication options to all students, just as The Weather Underground has expanded access to weather information.

The Vice President of Research selects recipients of the Distinguished University Innovator Award based on the recommendation of a selection committee that reviews a pool of applicants. The award was established in 2007 and is supported by endowments from the Office of the Vice President, Research and the Stephen and Rosamund Forrest Family Foundation.

“The University of Michigan has solidified itself as a global leader in research and scholarship, but our solid reputation is not based solely on expertise and experience,” said Rebecca Cunningham, vice president William G. Barsan Research Fellow and Professor of Emergency Medicine. .

“The research community here in Michigan has truly embraced the concept of translating research from the lab to the marketplace so our communities can benefit from their great work. Professor Samson is someone who truly embodies this global commitment to translation and innovation.

Samson thanks UM’s technology transfer office, based in the office of the vice president of research, for their help in orienting their technologies towards startups.

“They provided entrepreneurial mentors for my projects which were a godsend,” he said.