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Technology in West Michigan

Technology in West Michigan

The following articles are part of a Rapid Growth Media series highlighting the technological innovators and drivers in West Michigan.

All articles written by Matthew Russell, with photography by Adam Bird.

Laurel Stanley, Herman Miller Photo by Adam Bird

Laurel Stanley, Herman Miller

Photo by Adam Bird

Wizards of the digital age: West Michigan tech leaders change the world with the Internet of Things

As the human race continues to expand, its technological grasp is accelerating at the same pace, if not faster.

In the last few decades we've essentially brought an entire planet within reach of a handheld device, we've taught machines to learn from each other, and we've given ourselves access to more information than our ancestors could ever dream of. From an outside perspective, technological advances like the internet may seem like magic. To those who study its potential, designing new ways for humanity to experience the world around us, it may as well be.

Full story published Thursday, October 13, 2016.


Dr. John Deveau Photo by Adam Bird

Dr. John Deveau

Photo by Adam Bird

Saving the lives of the future: Grand Rapids plays starring role in national health care

A distinct tone cuts through the sterile air of the emergency room floor as hospital hallway doors swing wide open.

A team of nurses briskly escort a motionless stroke victim on a wheeled gurney toward the operating room. A doctor assessing the situation rules out more than one life-saving option as vital seconds count down.

The patient is, at this point, likely not considering the possibility of a wormhole on the other end of the hallway, but the technology at work in today's health care facilities is perhaps the next best thing to turning back the clock.

Full story published Thursday, February 9, 2017.


Burton Elementary students Photo by Adam Bird

Burton Elementary students

Photo by Adam Bird

From virtual reality to online libraries, how technology is revolutionizing education in GR

If you could work in any field you wanted and money wasn't a factor, what would you be?

Who knows how many students have chosen a career path with this very question? There are, no doubt, some still asking it this very moment. As classrooms across the nation and many in West Michigan are teaching us, however, a more appropriate interrogative would ask not where students would rather be tomorrow, but what they would rather learn today.

Full story published Thursday, March 16, 2017.


Jamie Baltruczak uses a tablet to manage his jobsite for Orion Construction. Photo by Adam Bird

Jamie Baltruczak uses a tablet to manage his jobsite for Orion Construction.

Photo by Adam Bird

Augmented reality: How technology is revolutionizing the world of construction

As our skyline is forged higher and wider, construction firms, developers and designers are improving their processes with each new building. Technologies are being integrated that offer a seamless and deep look at a finished project long before ground is broken, while elements of safety, access and connectivity can be monitored long after.

It may not be long before large-scale construction projects are carried out by completely automated crews. Researchers at Harvard have developed a crew of small robots that can build simple structures, their behavior based on a termite colony. Some day this technology may come in handy where conditions are too extreme or inaccessible for humans to work: other planets, for example. Until these micro-machines are scaled up to more practical standards, human hands are still the mainstay of construction projects in our locality.

Full story published Thursday, January 19, 2017.


A bank of screens helps operators navigate city systems for residents calling for help. Photo by Adam Bird

A bank of screens helps operators navigate city systems for residents calling for help.

Photo by Adam Bird

The data driving Grand Rapids: How the city's 311 program is reshaping where we live

A beep on the line lets Mark Ritzema know the caller on the other end can hear him. Incoming charts and lines of data on a pair of monitors in front of Ritzema provide context to the situation.
 
The man is calling about a hole in the street. One sizable enough, and apparently intentionally cut out, to cause significant damage to a front rim. It's not surrounded by orange cones, but he contends it should be, and the city needs to answer for it.
 
From the fifth floor of Grand Rapids’ City Hall, Ritzema has the man's name, address and the history of his past calls on a set of monitors in front of him. A few clicks more and applications like Microsoft Dynamics' customer relationship management platform, Cityworks for public works data, and Google Maps show Ritzema what sort of road work is being done and where. He tracks road closures around the area, and cross-references that with a list of engineering projects and sewer line work being performed in the city.

Full story published Thursday, December 6, 2016.


Sara Gonzalez, left, and Alicia Roth Photo by Adam Bird

Sara Gonzalez, left, and Alicia Roth

Photo by Adam Bird

Getting back to the business of living: Amway's Sara Gonzalez shows us the humanity of technology

Even within one of the world's largest and most prolific corporations, the stars of innovation can still shine brightly. Here in West Michigan, Sara Gonzalez is illuminating new systems within the interconnected galaxies of design and technology at Amway.
 
Gonzalez has designed her own career and the reach of user experience and interconnectivity within Amway's Global Digital Services department at its headquarters in Ada. While Amway has long been known as a leader in manufactured products for the nutrition, beauty and home care markets, Gonzalez’s­ work is bringing the needs of the individual to the forefront of product design. It signals more than just a different brand from the company. It's a move toward a more useful future, and a world in which that usefulness is defined by enriching the lives of others.

Full story published Thursday, November 10, 2016.


Drawing inspiration: West Michigan artists find their own ways to integrate technology

From a generous distance, the subdued suburbanites gathering along the Seine in Georges Seurat's "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte" glow in a halcyon afternoon haze. Get close and it's all dots, each made deliberately in color and shape.
 
It took two years for Seurat to complete his scientific masterpiece of contracting complimentary dots and dashes, launching a procession of pointillists for decades to come. Who knows, had he lived long enough to fiddle around in Adobe Illustrator, or try the latest Wacom tablet or capacitive stylus, even Microsoft Paint, how infinitely more detailed or intricate he would have made his work? It likely wouldn't have taken two years, but you can believe he would need a stout GPU to handle all those layers. 
 
Illustrators in the digital age have access to a number of tools that handle the work that their paint and canvas predecessors and colleagues don't. Not the least among which are the capability to examine each work in excruciatingly magnified detail, save and print different versions with ease, and transfer the work instantly, anywhere.

Full story published Thursday, August 10, 2017.


Todd Ernst stands in front of a massive backlit LED set up by LiveSpace. Photo by Adam Bird

Todd Ernst stands in front of a massive backlit LED set up by LiveSpace.

Photo by Adam Bird

The brightest lights in West Michigan's entertainment scene are at a national level

When is the last time a performance has changed your life?

Of the hundreds of artistic expressions played out in West Michigan every month, no doubt many leave audiences with lasting memories and a story to tell for years to come. Whether it's an acoustic street side gig at Rosa Parks Circle, a sold-out club show at 20 Monroe Live, a DeVos Performance Hall production, or even a movie in the park, the artists provide the music and emotion but technology amplifies the experience.

The world backstage is almost just as complex and intriguing as the artists themselves, and with companies like LiveSpace, Levitation, and others engineering new and innovative ways to highlight those artists, the world of musician and medium have fused in dazzling harmony.

Full story published Thursday, June 15, 2017.


Smartphones are used in a number of different ways, from guest alerts to streaming media to room screens, to a replacement to the room key.

Smartphones are used in a number of different ways, from guest alerts to streaming media to room screens, to a replacement to the room key.

Technology transforms the hospitality industry in Grand Rapids

Walking off Louis Campau Street into the large, revolving glass doors that welcome guests to the JW Marriott, it's hard not to feel like an internationally-renown jet setter. 
 
With feet planted firmly upon the center of metropolitan Grand Rapids, a gust of fresh air through the hotel's vibrant, sky-lit corridor is enough to carry your mindset thousands miles away. For those enjoying one of Chef Todd Webb's culinary creations at six.one.six, or a smart cocktail at Mixology, the Grand River becomes an elegant backdrop for some of the most modern dining and overnight experiences found in the city.
 
The same ticket to a luxurious escape can be found down the street at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, and many other hotels and restaurants that have become synonymous with the name Grand Rapids, as they innovate the limits of our city's hospitality industry and add character to its skyline. It takes more than just a celebrity chef and a few honeymoon suites to make truly memorable hotel. Behind the scenes, there's a world of integrated data, targeted messaging, and technologies that allow guests to customize their experience and actually make it more like home. 

Full story published Thursday, May 11, 2017.


Garry VanHouten Photo by Adam Bird

Garry VanHouten

Photo by Adam Bird

Tomorrow's automobile: Grand Rapids is shaping the future of transportation in the United States

Grand Rapids may have made a name for itself years ago in furniture, but today there's an equally impressive technological revolution happening on its streets.

It's been over a century since vulcanized rubber tires and a combustion engine were first married in a mercurial steel chassis and propelled up Fulton Avenue. Since then, our city has developed more than just a love of the automobile, but a substantial dependence upon it. From the outline of the expressways that demarcate greater Grand Rapids, to the convenience of drive-thru fast food, to outdoor advertising, and even urban architecture, there is seemingly no area of the American experience--let alone that in West Michigan--that's gone unaffected by motorized vehicles. If anything, our affinity for automobiles has only increased.

Today, Grand Rapids boasts a number of companies and groups paving the way for further innovation. According to The Right Place, an organization that works to foster and support a local economy in West Michigan, the greater Grand Rapids area ranks sixth in United States for jobs created in the automotive industry, and can now attribute more than 15 percent of its economy to manufacturing, much of it in the automotive sector.

Full story published Thursday, April 13, 2017.


From left, Mitch Toonstra, Mike Lunn and Emily Miner work together on improving Grand Rapids’ environment. Photo by Adam Bird

From left, Mitch Toonstra, Mike Lunn and Emily Miner work together on improving Grand Rapids’ environment.

Photo by Adam Bird

Grand Rapids is connecting to the environment, one sensor at a time

Take a deep breath, and let this set in.

During an unseasonably hot weekend in September, thousands of people could be found milling around downtown Grand Rapids looking at various art installations. While the quality of the art was somewhat subjective, the quality of the air in downtown Grand Rapids had dropped 15 points below the national average, roughly 53 percent of a perfect score. By early afternoon on Sept.24, the temperature had pushed upwards of 100 degrees. The air was hot, sticky, and stagnant with ambient pollution from roadways and businesses.

As Grand Rapids grew even more congested during the first week of ArtPrize, likely few understood the implications of long-term exposure to their less-than-optimal environment.

 So what would happen if they did?

Full story published Thursday, September 28, 2017.


Angelo Martinez, owner of Sneaker Stash, LLC Photo by Adam Bird

Angelo Martinez, owner of Sneaker Stash, LLC

Photo by Adam Bird

The future is now...and you're wearing it

Marty McFly and Iris van Herpen have a lot in common.

The future of fashion for moviegoers in 1989 saw an amazed McFly pulling on a pair of self-lacing Air Magsneakers, technology that wouldn't even be available until a year after his fictional flight to Robert Zemeckis' dystopian prediction of 2015, where the Chicago Cubs could win a World Series, and a billionaire with bad hair could buy his way into political power.

When van Herpen brought her real-life vision of 3D printed fashion to the GRAM in 2016, seemingly little had changed, save a different design approach to hoverboards and a stand-in for Biff Tannen.

Fashion, for the most part, follows function, as it follows us from infancy to old age. And technology, while it's taken longer than other industries to weave its way into the field, has been permanently embroidered into the process of designing, manufacturing, and marketing the latest looks. There are two other Back To The Future films illustrating this fact to various ends, but even more examples can be found in West Michigan.

Full story published Thursday, July 20, 2017.