L-R: Marc Meyer, Ann King and Tina Lai with their high tech VW Bug. (Photo Courtesy: Ann King)

CSUEB students get their kicks on Route 66

  • April 2, 2010

In case you can’t get to St. Louis, Oklahoma City or other landmarks along famed Route 66 on your own, three Cal State East Bay students in the graduate multimedia program are making it easy through technology and one souped-up 1969 Volkswagen Bug.

Students Ann King, Tina Lai and Marc Meyer proposed designing a multimedia experience of Historic Route 66, also known as the Mother Road, for their graduate thesis project. At the multimedia project debut June 13, they plan to roll out a retrofitted car with windshield-mounted computer monitors that let users navigate through 3-D recreations of Route 66 through photos, maps, audio and video clips. 

“The Mother Road project accomplishes something that is quite special and rare in media development today," said Rafael Hernandez, chair of the Department of Music and director of the multimedia graduate program. “With a sensitivity to simpler times –– times before information was just a second away in the form of the Internet –– they are able to spin a yarn about an important part of American culture, Route 66, without letting that which is so markedly different about then and now –– the technology –– get in the way.”

While the team has taken jaunts along Route 66, none of the students have driven the full route from Chicago to Los Angeles, where it terminates at the Santa Monica pier. These trips helped them crack into what King described as “the Route 66 network.” Many Route 66-related associations and museums are aware of the CSUEB project, and several supportive members hope to attend the team’s debut in June.

King, who earned her undergraduate degree in photography and digital design from Cal State East Bay, has served as primary photographer for the project. She also cold called businesses and associations for information and donations.

“It has been helpful to be affiliated with Cal State East Bay,” said King. “ People know we’re not trying to profit from their assistance.”
King was also instrumental in securing the much needed platform interface – the VW bug.

“The stories I could tell about scouring junkyards and being chased by yellow jackets,” she said.

Some unexpected CSUEB connections aided the team. The original owner of the ’69 VW bug used in the project attended classes at then Cal State Hayward. The car eventually belonged to restorer Jordan Hart who, although not a CSUEB alumnus, donated it to the program. Another CSUEB alumnus, David Co is general manager of the Hayward Maaco auto body shop and donated the car’s paint job –– in CSUEB red.

Lai, a CSUEB grad with a bachelor’s degree in multimedia and computer software development, embedded Wii hardware into the VW bug. Google Earth provides the geographic information and Google sketch-up models populate the data. The route is not designed to be architecturally accurate; rather the team focused on the journey and user experience. When the user reaches key geographic points along the route, video and archival images appear encouraging the user to interact. Honk the horn, and the user is back on the route driving to the next destination.

Meyer filmed the team’s progress to post on their project Web site and is producing video content that will be shown inside the Bug. Ironically, Meyer once owned a Volkswagen Bug and lived in Flagstaff, Ariz., where he drove along Route 66 every day.

The students say the most surprising thing they learned while working on their graduate project was that Route 66 largely has faded from the American consciousness. Lai flew to Chicago to conduct research and discovered that many residents didn’t know where Route 66 started. 

Meyer, on the other hand, discovered that strong interest in “Old America” prevails among international visitors. He met significant numbers of German, Italians and Japanese citizens touring the route, because, he says, “this is America to them, a James Dean-era America.” Meyer said he paid little attention to Route 66 when he lived in Arizona.

“The street signs were ever present, so I just took it for granted,” he said. 

“When I asked passersby at the Santa Monica pier where Route 66 ended, no one knew,” King said. “We were standing right there on the pier where the route ended!”

So what happens to the VW bug after the project is completed in June? The team members said they hope it eventually will end up as an installation piece at a Route 66 museum.

“Of course, that’s after we all travel the entire route showcasing the car at all the businesses and associations that have been so invaluable to this project,” Meyer said. “We hope we make some small contribution to the Route 66 story.”  

Follow the team’s progress at http://mmgrad.csueastbay.edu/themotherroad and view video updates narrated by Meyer at http://vimeo.com/user2464111.

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California State University, East Bay is the San Francisco East Bay Area's high-access public university of choice. CSUEB serves the region with campuses in Hayward and Concord, a professional development center in Oakland, and an innovative online campus. With an enrollment of more than 14,000, the University offers a nationally recognized freshman year experience, award-winning curriculum, personalized instruction, and expert faculty. Students choose from among more than 100 professionally focused fields of study for which the University confers bachelor's and master's degrees, as well as an Ed.D. in education. Named a "Best in the West" college, as well as a Best Business School, by the influential Princeton Review, Cal State East Bay is among the region's foremost producers of teachers, business professionals and entrepreneurs, public administrators, health professionals, literary and performing artists, and science and math graduates.

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