Reimagining time: CMU senior's app offers a window to world as the day passes


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Todd Medema wants you to slow down and enjoy the view, even at the office.

The Carnegie Mellon University senior created an app to reimagine the concept of time.

The World View Clock projects time-lapse photography behind a digital clock, showing users what iconic scenes around the world look like at the current time. It is available in a free-standing, tabletlike clock and in a smartphone app.

The 21-year-old Oakdale, Calif., native said the idea for the product came after observing that the concept of time has changed.

"We've started looking at time on this scale of minutes," he said. "Time originally was based on the passage of the sun: sunrise, noon, sunset."

"So often we're stuck in an office without a window," he said. "We don't even know if the sun is still up because the lights are on."

The clock is meant for artistic enjoyment and to remind users the functionality of telling time can be beautiful. The screen refreshes about once a minute with an image of what each scene looks like at the current time. Viewers can check the time over the course of the day and watch the sun rise and set.

For a portable option, users can download the app for a quick look at what the city looks like at the moment they walk into an afternoon meeting.

The project is part of Fabricate.IO, a startup Mr. Medema co-founded with fellow Carnegie Mellon senior Scott Martin.

Three scenes are currently available on the World View Clock: Pittsburgh; Austin, Texas; and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. San Francisco and Jerusalem are in production.

Mr. Medema plans to photograph New York, which he has tried to capture but hasn't been able to do because of bad weather. He insists on clear days to get the best photos and to protect his equipment.

When deciding from what vantage point to shoot, he looks for iconic images associated with the area. For Pittsburgh, three things came to mind: rivers, bridges and Downtown. He chose Downtown so that viewers can watch the shadows move across the buildings and easily mark the passage of time.

It's a lengthy process to put vast landscapes on a smartphone screen. A location shoot lasts 24 hours. Bad weather and technical failures can easily halt an attempt. He's had his share of adventures while out in the field.

At Yosemite National Park, on an ultimately unsuccessful shoot, a bear ambled into the shot, sitting 20 feet from him and his camera for more than an hour. He said he was concerned for his life at the time, but it now makes for a good story.

His camera takes one photo per minute, thanks to an automated device called an intervalometer. The result is 1,440 shots over one day. The files from one scene usually fill 20 gigabytes of data, larger than the capacity of many iPhone models. The files must be compressed to a size manageable for smartphones and tablets. He is experimenting with tiered storage, where downloaders can choose to download 24 images, and refresh one image per hour, to save space.

It's a fitting fusion of art and innovation for Mr. Medema, who created his own degree program at Carnegie Mellon and studies technology, entrepreneurship and design.

Mr. Martin, Fabricate.IO co-founder, said he's excited for the app's potential. "It's a phenomenally cool idea," he said. "It shows time in a new, artistic way that we're very proud of."

The stand-alone clock costs $250 and can be purchased through the startup's website, worldviewclock.com. The app is available on Android systems and will be available for Apple iOS next week. The first location is free on both platforms. Additional scenes on Android cost 99 cents, while a premium World Traveler package for iPhones will cost $1.99.

Mr. Medema will return to Carnegie Mellon next year as a Fifth Year Scholar. He was chosen along with a handful of seniors to study outside their degree field with full scholarship. He will study filmmaking and creative writing.

After graduation, Mr. Medema said he hopes to work on Fabricate.IO full time.

"It is our dream lifestyle business," he said. "Work on things we are passionate about and make money doing it."


Lauren Lindstrom: llindstrom@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1964.

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