UNC, Duke to install viewing portal

Starting Friday, a video portal will connect the students on opposite sides of Tobacco Road.

Students from UNC and Duke University will be able to communicate through two 60-inch television monitors that have a webcam, microphone and speakers located on each school’s campus.

The UNC portal will be located in the Student Union, and the Duke University portal will be in the school’s Bryan Center. The project will cost $5,000, and will be split between the campuses, said UNC sophomore Chris Batchelder, who came up with the idea.


Time: 2:15 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8
Location: Student Union, first floor

Chancellor Holden Thorp and Duke President Richard Brodhead will be the first portal users Friday at 2:15 p.m. with a ribbon cutting ceremony from their respective campuses.

Batchelder said he came up with the idea from a video game called “Portal.”

“I was like, ‘Wow, it would be really cool if we could create a virtual window between UNC and Duke,’” he said.

Batchelder said it took him about a week to develop the idea after he first thought of it in October.

Now that it is in place, he said he hopes it will promote interaction between the universities.

“It’s an exciting step to collaborate and learn ideas, and start talking and expressing ideas,” he said.

Batchelder has worked with Duke sophomore Zac Elder to establish the project in Durham.

“Chris approached me and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this idea. I want this to be a Duke-UNC thing, and I want you to help out on the Duke end,’” Elder said.

The portal will be programmed to turn off at night and turn back on in the morning, Batchelder said.

“We don’t exactly know what it’s going to be used for,” Elder said. “We don’t have a fool-proof plan for how it’s going to be used.”

“It’ll be a very natural and organic way to access the other university,” Batchelder said.

Buck Goldstein, the University’s entrepreneur in residence and a faculty adviser for the project, said the funding came from UNC alumnus Peter Rummell.

“Rummell had a long career — part of it at Disney — and he was a huge advocate for trying things with the understanding that some of these things will work,” Goldstein said.

Batchelder said he isn’t worried about the safety of the equipment because there are surveillance cameras in the Union, and he trusts that students will conduct themselves the way they would in any other public forum.

The portal will not be enclosed, so bystanders will see the interactions taking place.

“As far as Chris and I are concerned, we don’t foresee any administrative oversight on this,” Elder said.

Even with the UNC-Duke men’s basketball game less than a week away, Batchelder said he doesn’t think the portal will fuel rivalry in a negative way because it is in the public eye.

But Elder said he thinks there will likely be at least some rivalrous interaction.

“I’m sure kids will brag after the UNC-Duke basketball game,” Elder said.

Goldstein said the format of the portal might change in the coming weeks.

“The only thing I’m sure of is whatever it looks like Friday, it will change some in the next few weeks,” he said.

Dan Anderson, a professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature and the second faculty adviser for the project, said he helped brainstorm aspects of the project.

“I’ve been there as an adviser about the social dimensions of the technology,” Anderson said.

Goldstein said he thinks the new technology will encourage a culture of innovation.

“You just have to plant some seeds and see what happens,” he said.

Contact the desk editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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