This SBIR Phase II project will develop a planetarium system based on a new computerized digital projector. Learning Technologies Inc. will make use of recent developments in new micro mirror devices and simulation software. The proposed planetarium system will be capable of projecting an accurate, simulated night sky with the capacity for a multitude of motions and displays and dynamically changing information displays of the earth, including plate tectonics, weather patterns, and biological distributions. The small size of the projector with supporting laptop computer and inflatable dome will allow the units to be shared within school systems and loaned out by museums and educational cooperatives. Standardization will encourage adept teachers and planetarium educators to distribute their programs and activities. Integrated help screens and tutorials will aid in supporting teachers who wish to learn how to master this equipment. The new system will build on the firm's portable planetarium systems, which are now used by an estimated 5% of the school age children in the U.S.
A small digital-projection planetarium system will expand the market for small planetariums to teachers interested in earth science and multidisciplinary topics, geology, volcanism, meteorology, oceanography, and biological population studies. In addition, the connections between science and the humanities can be illustrated by coupling the historical age of exploration with the science of celestial navigation. For schools with limited resources, the system's portability will facilitate shared use. Such a system will have a broad impact on the teaching of astronomy and earth science. It will use the latest astronomical and Geographic Information System (GIS) data, and it will aid in teaching the content of the national standards, especially earth science at the elementary and middle school level. Professionally produced interactive shows can be a new venue for astronomers and earth scientists to inform large numbers of students of their results and of the nature of the scientific enterprise.