Teams test gigabit ideas on Google Fiber racetrack

A local team wanted to learn how Google’s ultra-high-speed Web connection could refine its idea of providing mental health and suicide prevention services online with lifelike closeness.

Another group came from Georgia Tech in Atlanta to refine a concept that would let people receive subtle electronic messages in household items like mirrors while they go about their daily routine.

They were two of the 14 teams participating in a weekend Gigabit Explorer Challenge sponsored by US Ignite, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that’s organized several similar events in communities around the country that have Web service similar to what Google Fiber is implementing in the Kansas City area. More than 50 people were poring over laptops in the Google Fiber offices at State Line Road and Westport Road Sunday for the final day of demonstrations.

“We’re trying to help answer the question, ‘What good is a gigabit?’” said Joe Kochan of US Ignite. “The kind of networks being built with Google are popping up around the country. They allow a dramatically different experience for end users.”

Google Fiber offers speeds as high as 1 gigabit per second, which is about 100 times greater than available in most American homes.

The technology could include allowing mental health professionals to monitor recently discharged patients to make sure they’re not suicidal during the critical first week back home, said John Fitzpatrick of Kansas City. He and Mark Nolte of Overland Park have formed a venture called Virtual Kairos that’s intended to help provide better follow-through care and counseling for people with mental illness.

Gigabit speeds allow video and audio quality so sharp that a psychologist or other professional can detect the subtle emotional giveaway a patient may reveal during a remote interview that not all is well. Slower Web connections occasionally freeze or get garbled.

“We want to engage the individual through sort of a virtual embrace,” Fitzpatrick said. “We can connect people to meaningful data and robust tele-consultations.”

Nolte described it as “on-demand psychiatric services.”

“It will give a psychiatrist a true, virtual face-to-face interview,” he said.

Larry Freil, a student at George Tech, flew from Atlanta with three other students Friday. The cost of their weekend visit was covered by US Ignite and their school. They planned to test equipment developed using the high-speed Web at their university lab and see how it works with a consumer-oriented product like Google Fiber. Propped on the floor next to them was a mirror that emitted subtle signals similar to the “idiot lights” on a car dashboard.

The idea is to get information without having your attention entirely consumed by a phone or computer screen. The Georgia Tech team called its system of passing along information through normal household objects Glance.

“We saw the US Ignite challenge and it looked like an interesting venue to try out and combine improvements,” Freil said.

Kochan said US Ignite is a public-private partnership with supporters that include the National Science Foundation, Google Fiber, Mozilla and Netsolus. It was launched at the White House last year.

“This is huge,” said Aaron Deacon, managing director of KC Digital Drive, which helped US Ignite locally. “It highlights the opportunity we have to be a leader in the national and international community when it comes to gigabit app development and building the network community.”