ASU Emerge festival explores ‘The Future of Sport 2040’ on April 29 – azcentral.com
With technology expanding at an exciting pace, it’s not hard to imagine that the world will look much different in 2040.
But what will sports look like? Will we have new competitions? Will technology play a bigger role in helping athletes? Will athletes and robots play sports in space?
The organizers and participants of Arizona State University’s Emerge festival say yes to all of those questions, and they’ll illustrate what they imagine the sporting future will look like.
‘The smartest and most surprising carnival in America’
Scientists, artists, engineers, athletes and other creatives will come together for the annual Emerge: Artists + Scientists Redesign the Future to explore the theme “The Future of Sport 2040.” The free, family-friendly event will showcase thought-provoking ideas of what sports and athletic competitions will look like in the future, and festival-goers will be encouraged to take part and get inspired.
Emerge started as an idea five years ago in the classroom of founding director Joel Garreau, professor of law, culture and values at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. It’s described on the Emerge website as “the smartest and most surprising carnival in America that brings together artists, engineers, dancers, scientists, storytellers, athletes, ethicists and technologists to imagine and build futures in which we can thrive.”
Garreau said the idea started to form after he visited top universities in the U.S. and realized that students and professors of various disciplines didn’t seem to collaborate much or even talk with each other, which seemed like a missed opportunity. At Emerge, many types of experts come together to share and develop ideas that push boundaries. It’s an inspirational way to get excited about the future, rather than dread it.
“Artists and scientists work together to redesign the future, which is something we all can care about,” he said. “It’s not a science fair — it isn’t about these gizmos — it’s about future of human nature and bringing together people who never talked to each other before in their lives if not for Emerge.”
The idea of sport came up for this year’s event. It didn’t really speak to Garreau at first.
“I thought it most terrible idea I ever heard,” he said. “Then I thought, wait a minute, sport is pretty deep. If you watch young apes play, competitive wrestling precedes homo sapiens. … Sport precedes art and writing, and people have cheered heroes long before there was a written record.”
Meet the Science Cheerleaders (formerly of the NFL, NBA)
From the moment visitors enter Wells Fargo Arena for Emerge, they are immersed in the experience. They will be greeted by the Science Cheerleaders, former NFL and NBA cheerleaders who have moved on to careers in S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering and math). Visitors will feel transported to 2040, encountering many “visitations,” which Garreau calls the “heart of Emerge” and a “new form of storytelling.”
“They are performative and immersive, and draw the audience in physically, each one putting you in 2040,” he said.
Each visitation has three goals. The first is to make people say, “Oh wow!” The second is to get people asking deep questions about what it means to be human in the future. The third is to inspire people to be part of building this future.
Cyndi Coon is the producer of Emerge. She conceptualizes the visitations so they are interactive and fun, and she makes S.T.E.M. concepts visual and digestible. She wasn’t keen on the idea of sport at first either, but became more interested when Garreau suggested she start with the “Future of Sportswear” visitation.
“It was silly to be girly about it, but it gave me the chance to be creative right away,” Coon said. “This visitation shows not only what sportswear will look like for known sports, but for those that have yet to be invented.”
Sportswear fashion show with ASU athletes
Coon is working with Emily Payne from Season 13 of the Lifetime TV competition show “Project Runway” and “Project Runway All-Stars” to produce the sportswear fashion show.
Angela Johnson, Phoenix fashion designer and founder of LabelHorde, was brought on to help recruit other designers because she is well-connected in Arizona’s fashion industry. Johnson also designed her own outfit.
“It’s chance for everyone to get really creative,” she said. “Each designer has their own niche and we don’t get a lot of chances to work outside of that. This is an exciting way to think differently.”
Each designer got to pick a sport and his or her model is an ASU athlete. Designer Anya Melkozernova invented a virtual reality game using magnets that would be played on Jupiter, whose magnetic field is 20,000 time stronger than Earth’s. Johnson is working on a bodysuit that can be worn for any sport, and she first thought about the textile.
“I think computer screens will be more flexible and can roll up, and be as thin as fabric that can show video,” she said. “My garment … would show what is normally seen on a jersey: the athlete’s name, team name, sponsor, and it would be rotating like a video. I found a hand-held projector and will project the images onto the fabric.”
It’s a challenge for Johnson to find the right fabric, and to use sportswear fabric, which she doesn’t work with very often.
One of Garreau’s favorite visitations is “Super-Cyborgs: The Future of Human Enhancement,” which explores how robotics and nanotechnology will transform what it means to be human. Emerge is working with Ability360, a non-profit that helps people with disabilities and also features a sports and fitness center. Para-athletes will be at Emerge demonstrating their skills, and attendees can sign up to challenge one of them.
“The whole world has been transformed by technology, and 20 years ago they were seen as disabled athletes but now they don’t want a pity party,” Garreau said. “You’ll see a rugby game played by guys who look like they’re straight out of ‘Mad Max.’ “
Wheelchair rugby and more
Visitors will see wheelchair rugby players and fencers, and para-athletes with advanced prosthetics playing basketball. Next to them will be engineers from the ASU Polytechnic Campus who will exhibit exoskeletons, or wearable robot suits, including one with a jet pack that lifts the user up and pushes him or her forward.
Another visitation explores the future of roller derby, with athletes dodging around audience members and using LED lights. There also will be an area for electronic sports. Tempe arcade bar Endgame has been running a League of Legends elimination challenge, and the finals will be held at Emerge. The competition will be shown on the Jumbotrons, and cosplayers will bring the game avatars to life, with the Sun Devil Spirit Squad cheering players on.
Two of Coon’s favorite visitations are the “Future of Games: Rube Goldberg” and “The Future of Cheating.” The Rube Goldberg visitation involves a chain-reaction escape room, designed by ASU Polytechnic engineering students and ASU athletes.
“It’s like a large room-sized game of Mouse Trap,” Coon said. “Participants start inside the escape room, they set the machine off and have to beat the clock for the doors open to win. We hope people will be waiting in line to do it. It will be really fun for participants.”
Coon worked closely with the ASU Biodesign Institute for “The Future of Cheating.” She learned that the reason researchers haven’t found a cure for cancer is that cancer “cheats,” or adapts to treatments meant to defeat it. She figured out a way to visualize that process with a big “cancer rave.” In a black tent with black lights, attendees will work together to try to beat cancer.
Hear ‘Arizona Storytellers: Future of Athletes’
“Arizona Storytellers: Future of Athletes” is presented by The Arizona Republic‘s Arizona Storytellers Project. Journalists coached two professional athletes, Mistie Bass of the Phoenix Mercury and Shane Boyd of the Arizona Rattlers, to tell stories about the childhood pivotal moments that put them on the path to their careers. Davy Rothbart, bestselling author and contributor to “This American Life,” will build on those stories to prepare a future fictional narrative.
Emerge typically presents one major speaker each year. This year, Coon said, they felt it would be more fitting to do a panel.
“We are going to have a relay conversation, with three conversations going throughout the night,” she said. “They’ll talk about big, conceptual themes, and one of those people will take the relay baton and move forward to the next conversation.”
Emily Payne will be one of the speakers, along with an Olympic swimmer, a storyteller, futurists and elite para-triathlete Allysa Seely.
“We’ll talk about changing genetics to create superhumans and putting robots into sport, and how that would change sports in general, and what it will be like from the perspective of the spectator,” Seely said. “It’s going to be very interesting and exciting for everybody. Everyone has a connection to sports, whether you played as a kid or are a spectator now.”
Garreau said he hopes people of all backgrounds come to Emerge, get inspired and learn something.
“We have artists and scientists, men and women, young and old,” he said. “We are crossing boundaries in every way that we can.”
Emerge: Artists + Scientists Redesign the Future
When: 5-10 p.m. Friday, April 29.
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, 600 E. Veterans Way, Tempe.
Admission: Free. RSVP on the website.