Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Walking in a Techie Wonderland

Newly renovated Sony Wonder Technology Lab is a geek's paradise
By Nicole Caldwell

They say New York City has the most of everything; but there still aren’t a whole lot of places where you can practice open-heart surgery, program a robot, research nanotechnology, and animate cartoons under the same roof.

Or, there wasn’t—until the Sony Wonder Technology Lab (SWTL) parked its headquarters at 550 Madison Ave. in 1994. Since then, the interactive, totally free learning center has continued to grow and change to appeal to an ever-shifting market of 8- to 14-year-olds (literally and at heart) with a soft spot for technology.

“Our most popular new exhibits are our Robot Zone, where visitors can learn the basic elements of programming a robot,” said Lisa Davis, senior director of communications and public affairs with Sony Corporation of America, “and our Dance Motion Capture experience, where visitors can see their very own dance moves performed by a Sony-animated character in real-time through the use of markerless, motion-capture technology.”

The lab underwent a year-long renovation, completed this summer, which brought 14 additional interactive exhibits to the facility’s already-daunting repertoire. The construction added two floors, 6,200 square feet, and a host of new experiments and exhibits to tinker with. All renovations were made with green technology in mind; as Sony is now pursuing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification for its building.

“The multi-million dollar investment we’ve made in this facility reflects Sony’s ongoing commitment to education and the communities we serve,” Sony’s CEO, president, and chairman Sir Howard Stringer said in a prepared statement. “The Sony Wonder Technology Lab is a manifestation of ‘Sony United’ in every sense. Bringing our content and technology together in this educational environment has enabled us to create a compelling and engaging experience for visitors of all ages.”

More than 200,000 people pay a visit to SWTL annually. With no price tag to stop in, the lab is a perfect destination for a few minutes before or after the musical you’re in Times Square to see; or a several-hour exploratory adventure for you and your kids.

“My personal favorite installation is our Animation Studio,” Davis said, “which allows visitors to explore basic animation techniques, create and animate a character, or design a computer-generated environment. I think the best part about the lab is that it’s free! It is Sony’s way of giving back to the City of New York.”

The Sony Wonder Technology Lab, located at 550 Madison Ave. at 56th Street, is free and open to the public 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and 12-5 p.m. Sundays. For more information, visit www.sonywondertechlab.com.

[Originally published in Times Square Chronicle]

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