Space Jam offers hope for technology's future

Indie Galatic Space Jam Space Hackathon

Space Florida is this state’s spaceport authority, not unlike the authority at Orlando International Airport or Port Canaveral. As CEO, it is my job to highlight those areas of Florida’s aerospace industrial and technical capacity to business decision-makers considering the establishment or relocation of new aerospace programs or research projects. Few efforts on behalf of Florida’s economic future are as encouraging as our engagement in an event that occurred in Orlando recently.

The Digital Animation & Visual Effects School at Universal Studios hosted the fourth annual Indie Galactic Space Jam. As in previous years, Space Florida was proud to participate. Well more than 100 of the most talented young people in the state, each pursuing difficult technical fields, gathered to have a blast, while at the same time helping to further consolidate this region’s stature as an IT hot spot.

The success of this year’s Jam reinforces yet again Florida’s growing prowess in the field of game development. It is Florida’s good fortune that the evolution of this spinoff from the modeling and simulation industry, already a well-known strong suit in Central Florida, is occurring at a time when game development as an expertise is increasingly recognized as a much sought-after talent pool by technology enterprises around the country.

The University of Central Florida has recently been recognized as the nation’s leading graduate school in game development by the Princeton Review and PC Gamer magazine. When coupled with similar programs at the University of Florida, the University of South Florida, Florida Institute of Technology, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and others around the state, it is clear something is happening in Florida. There are other centers of gravity in game development, such as Southern California and Seattle, but it is increasingly evident that much of the talent driving those centers originates in Florida.

Elon Musk has long identified game development as a critical competency he seeks in the evolution and maturation of SpaceX. Ideally, the growth and continued nurturing of this and other IT proficiencies are helping to transform the perception of the state of Florida and its ability to assure economic success to new and existing businesses well into this still-new century.

When any company is evaluating future locations for success, whether it be Jeff Bezos’ new Amazon HQ2, or Google, Apple, Facebook, Alibaba, or a host of others, what’s happening in Florida is worthy of consideration.

Space Florida awarded prizes to a few of the game-development teams for their success using evaluation categories of basic concept, visual appeal, commercial marketability and technical accuracy incorporated into the game. That latter category is enhanced significantly by the participation every year by NASA personnel, both from Kennedy Space Center and headquarters in Washington, as well as numerous aerospace contractors and academic personnel from UCF Planetary Sciences, and other Florida university science departments. All bring a wealth of technical and real-world understanding to those teams crafting possibly the next generation of games to teach and entertain America’s youth.

More than 15 teams formed of programmers, artists, sound technicians and other enthusiasts worked for 48 hours, fueled mostly by pizza and Red Bull, with a final celebration to demonstrate the fruits of their efforts. As often occurs in life, and certainly in the space business, some projects fail to launch, while others are wildly successful. But there is a strong sense of boldness and no fear of failure — attitudes that are critical to further cultivate in tomorrow’s work force.

The Space Florida awards represented a celebration of talent with diversity in age, aptitudes and nationalities, all honing their respective skills in collaboration and creativity to produce something new and having a lot of fun in the process.

As Florida’s future in aerospace is being determined, there is much to be encouraged by and proud, but few developments are as uplifting for our ability to meet the technical challenges ahead as the Space Jam. I look forward to seeing it even bigger and better in 2018.

Frank DiBello is president and CEO of Space Florida.

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Moody Mattan