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Steve Mann hosts Intelligent Community Forum

Ryan Janzen, Robert Bell (co-founder, Intelligent Community Forum), and Professor Steven Mann, trying out U of T's hydraulophone (photo by Liz Do)

Delegates from the Intelligent Community Forum were treated to a water show when they visited the lab of University of Toronto professor Steve Mann in a greenhouse atop the Faculty of Forestry building April 17.

The group was led by Robert Bell, co-founder of the New York-based forum, and included members from Waterfront Toronto, Cisco, IBM, Beanfield Metroconnect, Element Blue and Telus. Bell was in Toronto conducting two days of site visits to evaluate Toronto’s place as a leading 21st century community.

Toronto has been named one of seven finalists in the running for the title Intelligent Community of the Year, competing against Stratford, Ont.; Columbus, Ohio; Oulu, Finland; Tallinn, Estonia; Taichung City, Taiwan and Taoyuan County, Taiwan.

Mann, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, presented the delegates with his vision to make Toronto the world epicentre of water research and culture by establishing a world-class facility called Hydraulikos, to celebrate water through art, science, innovation, music and design.

Often called the father of wearable computing and augmented reality, Mann’s current research concentrates on the intersections between humans, technology and nature. Hydraulikos aims to bring humans closer to nature through technology, rather than distancing us from the natural world.

Man playing hydraulophone, an instrument that makes sound from water shooting through a tubePhD candidate and collaborator Ryan Janzen played two musical numbers on the hydraulophone, the world’s first water instrument, and Mann demonstrated a water-based video game called First Mover Advantage that teaches game theory by activating touch-sentitive fountains embedded in the floor. Bell then joined Janzen and Mann on the hydraulophone.

“I think [the group] connected with it,” said Janzen. “They’re interested in combining fundamental scientific research with societal issues in communities, and that’s what we’re trying to do in this lab and at U of T as a whole.”

Alumnus Pete Scourboutakos collaborated with Mann and Janzen to integrate a green energy project with the wet and wild hydraulophones. He pedalled an exercise bike modified to power the pump running water through the musical instruments, representing ECE’s work on alternative energy and SmartGrid systems.

Bell is “one of those thinkers who’s simulatnaeously broad and deep,” said Mann. “You get that through his writings, but it was wonderful to see it in person.”

Mann’s Hydraulikos lab was the only ICF stop on the University of Toronto campus. The group also visted E.T. Technologies, Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone, MaRS Discovery District, George Brown’s Gaming Incubator, Evergreen Brickworks, Waterfront Toronto, Pinewood Toronto Studios, Corus Quay and Telus.

The ICF will name 2013’s Intelligent Community of the Year in June.

Past Intelligent Communities of the Year include Riverside, Calif. (2012); Eindhoven, Netherlands (2011); Suwon, South Korea (2010); Stockholm, Sweden (2009) and Gangnam District, Seoul, South Korea (2008).

Read more on the Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year.