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Reese Innovation Lab partners with brands like Lenovo to tell stories

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The Reese News Lab and Emerging Technologies Lab have merged to form the Reese Innovation Lab, which combines journalistic, computer science and business disciplines to implement new, technologically-enhanced journalistic solutions like augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Mann.                                

The new Reese Innovation Lab is working to create solutions to real-world problems with a unique method — using emerging technology such as augmented reality, artificial intelligence and virtual reality to tell stories. 

The lab, a merger between the previous Reese News Lab and Emerging Technologies Lab, is a new addition to the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media. The lab is a collaboration with the Department of Computer Science and Kenan-Flagler Business School, drawing students and faculty from across disciplines.

Steven King, the chief innovation officer for the Reese Innovation Lab and a professor in the journalism school, said the lab consists of full-time employees, graduate students and undergraduate students who work with partners, such as news media outlets or tech companies.

“We don’t do technology for technology's sake,” King said. “Someone will come to us with an interesting problem that I think is valuable for society and we will put a team together and see if we can solve it.”

King said the lab is currently working on 11 projects with several well-known companies and brands, such as Google News Initiative and Lenovo, all with the goal of making the world a better place.  

“I think that is important as our mission as a university to be serving our state and our nation,” King said. “Those are a lot of fun projects to get involved in because you know they are really impacting people and helping to save lives.” 

A recent project with TIME Magazine, called “Inside the Amazon: The Dying Forest,” showed the Amazon rain forest and the threats it currently faces via an augmented reality experience. The lab contributed post-production to allow viewers to witness the deforestation and effects of climate change on the forest. 

The lab also collaborates with partners in the Chapel Hill community.

Peter Andringa, a senior and developer for the Reese Innovation Lab, said he works particularly in augmented reality. He said this has allowed him to help develop a digital scavenger hunt for children at UNC Hospital to help them enjoy a unique experience despite their illness. 

“I realized that I really loved stories and storytelling and finding the human side of technology,” Andringa said.  

Andringa, a computer science and media and journalism double major, said the Lab is special because it works at the intersection of his two interests. After years of just focusing on the technology side, he said he enjoyed the creativity that comes with the lab’s projects.  

“One of the best parts about (the Lab) is that it really integrates the University and the broader journalistic community really well,” he said. “I think it’s a model of how universities can think about engaging with industries in a way that is both maintaining the core identity of the University while also building partnerships.” 

Halynna Snyder, a front-end developer at the lab specializing in virtual reality, is a junior media and journalism student who got involved after taking an interactive media course with King. She said she wanted to get involved because the journalism school puts an emphasis on innovative storytelling, and the lab is at the forefront of that development at UNC. 

“It’s really interesting and fun to be in the weeds of a whole new era of storytelling,” Snyder said. 

King said the students involved are spearheading the lab’s initiative to have a positive impact in both a local and global context. 

“I think we have value to students, value to the University, value to the public,” King said.

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