Drones, hackathons, robotics, coding and autonomous vehicles were just a few of the reasons tech types from all over the state gathered this month at the 6th Annual Arizona SciTech Festival Kickoff.
Dozens of companies, organizations, innovators, educators and students came together to discuss the latest trends and opportunities in science and technology – and to put on display how much thought and energy is going into solving complex problems through technology.
The event was held Sept. 15 at a packed Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, but more importantly, it serves as a primer to the 2017 SciTech Festival, a statewide celebration of more than 1,000 events involving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) each February and March. The purpose of the event is to kickoff conversations and collaborations that will surface as part of the 2017 Festival.
SciTech is a partnership of the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA) and the Arizona Technology Council. A robust STEM culture in Arizona has been a pillar of Governor Doug Ducey’s education platform and his Office of Education.
This year’s event attracted about 1,200 attendees and 80 exhibitors. It featured a slate of headline speakers, such as Jane Poynter, co-founder and chief executive officer of Arizona-based World View Enterprises, a company that is pioneering discovery at the edge of space through the use of high-altitude balloons. World View was a Spring 2014 winner of the ACA’s Arizona Innovation Challenge, a competition that recognizes early-stage technology companies that are developing solutions with global implications.
Poynter was joined at the kickoff keynote session by Geoff Notkin, president of Arizona-based Aerolite Meteorites, Inc., who hosts the Science Channel’s award-winning adventure series “Meteorite Men” and the two-time Emmy Award-winning educational series “STEM Journals.”
In a packed Virginia G. Piper Theater, Poynter wowed the audience with a slideshow of record-setting balloon launches out of Page and Benson, Arizona. “All this is happening right down the road here in Tucson … so Arizona really is a gateway to the stars,” she told the crowd before leaving them with images of a sunrise as seen from space.
Notkin, who lives in Tucson, reminded the audience that if it were not for “a giant meteorite that crashed on the surface of our planet and wiped out the dinosaurs it’s fairly certain that we would not have evolved to be the dominant life form on Earth. So you could argue that if it weren’t for meteorites, we would not exist at all.”
On the exhibition floor, organizations such as TechShop, a collaborative workspace and studio in Chandler, have been making connections at the SciTech Festival that have paid off.
“I came the past three years and have found it a great place for outreach, so people can know about what we offer,” said Jacqueline Villalba, education coordinator for TechShop. “It’s helped attract teachers and schools for tours.”
TechShop is a membership-based, do-it-yourself workshop that provides customers with the tools, equipment and training to bring ideas to life, offering the use of industrial sewing machines, welding equipment, 3D printers and sanding equipment, among much more.
TechShop joined about 80 others in the exhibition area at the festival, which was abuzz all day long with networkers, students, business owners, schools and universities, non-profits and the tech curious.
Here’s a taste of the sessions, each of which had panels of experts presenting and taking audience questions: “Hackathons;” Internet of Things;” “Tales From Arizona Cyber Warfare Range;” “Creating a STEM Culture in Schools;” “Code.Org Educator Training;” and “Building Innovation Through Robotics,” among others.
“Drones & Autonomous Vehicles” was another popular session. That panel included an engineer from Local Motors, a Phoenix-based motor vehicle manufacturing company that is known for its self-driving vehicle named Ollie.
Google and General Motors also test self-driving vehicles in the state, contributing to Arizona’s ranking as the top state in the country for automotive technology by Fortune Magazine.