Pensacola’s Expo: A glimpse of what the future holds

Drones hovered in the misty sky.

A robotic arm made fresh, hot pancakes on the griddle.

Some kids made music on a stone xylophone and balanced elongated skinny sticks on their hand. Others took turns navigating a maze mat without taking left turns.

Pensacola’s Expo at the Blue Wahoo Stadium’s kid’s zone on Saturday, June 3, offered an array of displays and demonstrations, gadgets and gizmos in an exhibition of what the future holds as well as who holds the future.

Pensacola’s Expo is another example of Studer Family of Companies’ mission to improve the quality of life for everyone in Northwest Florida.

“We wanted to do show what the future of our community will look like,” said Jamie Briggs, Wahoo group sales executive. “This is a good way to get the community involved because that’s big in our organization.”

Modeled on world expositions and fairs that date back to the 1850s, Pensacola’s Expo was a scaled down model that highlighted technology, culture and education.

Representing the Studer Community Institute, I joined The National Flight Academy, the Institute for Human Machine and Cognition, Pensacola State College and Pensacola Mess Hall to showcase what these organizations are doing today to help make this community a better place tomorrow.

“Our mission is to get kids interested and see if they really want make this a career choice in the future,” said Christina Medina of the National Flight Academy. “Our goal is to bring STEM to everyone.”


Before the game and in between innings, fans walked through the exhibits and stopped at tables to get bags of giveaways, handouts and to learn about what the community has to offer today and in the years to come.

At the Flight Academy table, kids used tablets to simulate flying drones. Outside the stadium, Flight Academy drone pilot Tyler Fortson maneuvered drones in tricks and turns huge around the parking lot in the overcast sky.

Medina said the academy’s more than 40 network simulators give students tutorials on how to fly an aircraft. They also fly drones in the STEM-based education program.

The National Flight Academy offers a 10-week summer camp at the Naval Aviation Museum. More than 200 children participate in weekly groups — six days and five nights — to learn about the aviation, using principles of science, technology, engineering and math.

For SCI, we showed what the future would look like if every child gets ready for kindergarten. Currently, only 66 percent of children in Escambia County are ready when they start school. That means that nearly 1,000 children show up behind and rarely, if ever, catch up.

Our goal in improving kindergarten readiness is to reach parents and convey to them the importance of communicating with their babies to help build their brains.

My display included the contents of the Impact 100 Brain Bag, which is an early literacy, parent-friendly gift bag provided for birth mothers at the three Pensacola hospitals.  I also had giveaways, fliers, books and erasable boards of a kindergarten readiness “test” for little ones to mark on to see if they recognize shapes, colors, letters and numbers.

The Pensacola Mess Hall attracted throngs of people to participate in it hands-on science museum. With a emphasis on STEM, the Mess Hall is a science center where families can work like real scientists — developing questions, creating experiments and engaging in complex reasoning.

Children — and their parents — looked puzzled, trying to figure out the mat maze with no left turns. Others struggled to balance a spinning stick on their hands. Some tried their hand at making music on the gray-stoned xylophone.

Next to the Mess Hall, steaming hotcakes bubbled on the griddle, thanks to the robotic arm provided by Pensacola State College Engineering and Technology class taught by Wilson Rook.

A ladle attached to a computer-programmed robotic arm scooped pancake batter and poured it on a hot griddle. The arm replaced the scoop with a spatula that flipped the pancake and lifted it off the griddle, making ready-to-eat hot pancakes just like at home.

Student Michael Miller said the pancake maker was the result of a robotics class project.

“We wanted to flip burgers but everyone agreed that would be too messy,” said Miller, an engineering technology student. “So we came up with the griddle, bought the ladle and spatula, and designed a 3D attachment to work with them. It was a fun project.”

The IHMC exhibit showcased the work done to use robots in day-to-day life, driving cars, running courses and competing in national  exhibitions for million-dollar prizes.

On a big computer monitor, staffers gave Wahoo fans a glimpse into the future as robots with human dimensions. The HexRunner demonstrated key fast-running robotic balance and control principles at the heart of IHMC’s technology.

Pensacola’s Expo brought to Wahoo fans a glimpse of the future through advanced technology, culture and education, showcasing today what the world could be like tomorrow.

Briggs said the idea for the expo developed earlier this year at a minor league promotional seminar in Birmingham, where team reps gather to brainstorm on ways make teams better and get more community involvement.

“People are really excited to come out and see what we have,” Briggs said. “Next year we want to make it bigger and even better.”