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The current home page for the Town of Herndon’s website

A revamped version of the Town of Herndon’s website is set to go live this summer.

In the works since last fall, the new site is intended to improve navigation and accessibility for users.

At a Herndon Town Council work session on Tuesday (May 16), town spokesperson Anne Curtis said the town plans to do beta testing before going live with the website this summer.

The new site has fewer menu options on the header and fewer expandable menus in favor of displaying more content directly on the homepage. It also includes several large icons with quicklinks that are popular.

Granicus — the software company the town is working with — also created a mechanism on the site that allows users to switch through a series of drop-down selects to navigate through the site.

For example, a user would be directed to a page on how to pay specific fees and forms based on responses from a drop-down menu.

Staff offered a preview at the May 16 work session, stressing that the work was ongoing. Council members overwhelmingly lauded the new design.

“There’s lot of work still to be done on this website,” Curtis said, adding that departments are now working on populating the pages with content.

A survey of 82 respondents found that residents wanted to see more visible department buttons, better search results and less reliance on drop-down menus.

Based on the town’s analysis, the bounce rates for the site hover around the same levels for most sites with similar content — nearly 61%. Most users appear to use the website for information on meeting agendas, Herndon Community Center, jobs, recreation and the police department’s weekly crime report.

The split between mobile and desktop users was relatively even: 53% for phones and 46% for desktop users.

The translation feature on the website is also rarely used — a feature that may be redundant with in-browser translation that is offered by most browsers or devices.

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The new Apple store at Tysons Corner Center is ready to say hello.

Opening to customers at 10 a.m. today (Friday), the 13,010-square-foot store has been branded as a “new chapter” for the technology company, which launched its original retail location at the mall on May 19, 2001 — exactly 22 years ago.

Given that history, Apple was “excited” to introduce its latest design features in Tysons, a spokesperson said, as the business seeks to maintain its status as a trendsetter in the ever-evolving world of retail.

“It’s so exciting to see how many people know about our old Tysons Corner store,” Jason Reyes, a business expert for the Tysons store, said at a media preview yesterday. “It’s the first one ever in the whole world, and for it to kind of get into its next generation, really, is so exciting to see. It’s just showing how we’re evolving as a company.”

Now located on the mall’s second floor adjacent to Victoria’s Secret, the remodeled Apple Store trades its predecessor’s enclosed, almost utilitarian design for a warmer, more natural look with wood paneling and a wrap-around, all-glass storefront.

Accessibility and sustainability were top priorities for the new design, according to Apple Retail and Design Manager Bill Bergeron-Mirsky.

In addition to being carbon-neutral and operating entirely on renewable energy sources, the store was built out of plant-based materials, with “biogenic acoustic panels and baffles” for the ceiling and biopolymers for the floor.

“That replaces a petrochemical product, but it also increases the performance of the floor itself,” Bergeron-Mirsky said.

He highlighted the varied table and chair heights, intended to ensure all customers can “engage with the store team,” and wide aisles designed for easier navigation by wheelchair users. The store also has a portable hearing loop to assist people who use hearing aids.

The store layout will be familiar, with long tables and wall displays for different products, from iPads and phone cases to Apple Music and Apple TV+, the company’s streaming services.

Additions include a more prominent “Genius” bar for technical support next to a pickup counter for online orders. There is also a table for “Today at Apple” workshops and an Apple Watch studio where both the products and the environment can be customized.

“We can end up transforming this room to highlight [a] new product, or we could bring a music experience into it,” Reyes said. “I mean, the possibilities are endless. Even the lighting itself can be changed, depending on what experience we want to give the customer in this room.”

The focus on accessibility extends to the store’s over 100 employees, a team that includes speakers of American Sign Language, Spanish, Arabic, Korean, Vietnamese, French, Amharic and other languages, Bergeron-Mirsky said.

Apple declined to comment on whether any of its other 500-plus stores will get similar overhauls, but the relocation has boosted the company’s profile in Tysons Corner Center, placing it closer to the Plaza that owner and developer Macerich built as the mall’s focal point.

“Apple has been such a key partner with Tysons Corner Center since they opened their store in our center 22 years ago and we look forward to working with them on this next chapter of their brand evolution for their new location within the center,” Macerich Director of Property Management Jesse Benites said. “As a leader in innovation and design, Apple has always been a destination retailer for malls and we wish them continued success.”

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Fiber optic cables (via Kirill Sh on Unsplash)

As Northern Virginia continues to cement its position as a global base for data centers, Fairfax County leaders say the time has come to reevaluate the impact of the facilities and, potentially, set some boundaries for the future.

At its meeting this morning (Tuesday), the Board of Supervisors directed county staff to research environmental issues linked to data centers and what’s being done to address them. Staff will also develop guidelines for site locations and the process for approving them.

The unanimously approved motion introduced by Board Chairman Jeff McKay advised staff to report back by the end of this year, but with more centers in the works, some supervisors suggested an accelerated timeline is needed.

“The technology’s changing, the practices are changing, so there may be some things that we need to do even sooner than the end of the year,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said. “I would just encourage us to be flexible and staff to bring things forward when ready.”

Though Silicon Valley remains synonymous with the tech industry, the internet lives in Virginia, which hosts about 35% of the world’s data centers — including 45 million square feet just in Northern Virginia, according to a recent report by real estate developer JLL. As much as 70% of all online traffic passes through Loudoun County, giving it the nickname “Data Center Alley.”

Fairfax County currently has 11 data centers with five more “in the pipeline,” according to McKay. Alcorn said four of the upcoming sites are in his district, which includes the CoreSite campus in Reston and offices for Amazon Web Services (AWS) in Herndon.

With AWS pledging to invest $35 billion for new data center campuses in Virginia, the facilities could “be beneficial from a tax-base perspective and perhaps even a building repurposing perspective,” McKay said in his board matter, which was also sponsored by Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck and Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith.

“The region continues to receive requests for more data centers due to our unique location related to the internet’s fiber infrastructure,” McKay said.

However, as the industry’s footprint has grown, so have concerns about the consequences for the environment, local neighborhoods and the power grid.

Citing their impacts on air and water quality as well as electricty usage and greenhouse gas emissions, the county’s Environmental Quality Advisory Council (EQAC) urged the board to develop a plan requiring data centers to use renewable energy “to the extent feasible” and report all emissions and pollutants.

“Actions to mitigate threats to community health and minimize the need for future cleanup of water by County wastewater treatment facilities and Fairfax Water should be undertaken,” EQAC Chair Larry Zaragoza said in the March 13 memo. “Moreover, these steps are important to provide the data centers with clear expectations to reduce environmental impacts.”

The proposed data center plan will build off of updates in the county’s recently voided zoning ordinance, which was scheduled for a public hearing and potential re-adoption today. Read More

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The IT company plans to add 90 jobs to its existing Reston headquarters (via Google Maps)

An information technology services company is expanding its presence in Reston.

Dev Technology Group plans to invest $366,000 in its current offices at 11440 Commerce Park Drive, embarking on a 10,000-square-foot expansion that is expected to create 90 new jobs. The news was announced yesterday (Monday).

“As a federal contractor, Dev Technology has selected to continue its growth in Fairfax County due to the proximity of clients and access to highly skilled employees, including veterans,” Dev Technology CEO Kendall Holbrook said. “In addition, Northern Virginia is a diverse and inclusive community that allows us to attract and retain people of all backgrounds, which ultimately makes our company stronger and more resilient.”

The company was founded in 1998 to deliver IT services and solutions, including artificial intelligence, to further government missions. Its clients include the Department of Homeland Security, Army National Guard, Army Corps of Engineers and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA) president and CEO Victor Hoskins congratulated the company on its expansion in the county.

“We applaud Dev Technology for their investment and plan of hiring 90 new information technology and software employees,” Hoskins said.

FCEDA worked with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) to secure the project for the county.

“Dev Technology Group is a Virginia success story that bolsters our booming IT industry while providing critical services for the government and 21st-century jobs for civilians and veterans,” Gov. Glenn Youngkin said. “We are proud to see a longstanding corporate partner benefit from the Commonwealth’s diverse, world-class technology talent that catalyzes growth.”

Image via Google Maps

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Food delivery robots from the startup Cartken have launched at the Mosaic District (courtesy Alex Zilberman/EDENS)

The robots are taking over the Mosaic District.

Starting today (Thursday), a fleet of boxy, self-driving bots will roam around the mixed-use Merrifield neighborhood, delivering food from restaurants in a pilot program by the delivery service Uber Eats and the robotics startup Cartken.

Right now, robot deliveries are available from the family-owned Greek restaurant Our Mom Eugenia, Pupatella Pizza and the Indian fast-casual eatery RASA, but other tenants could be added later. The pilot is slated to run through April 2024.

The Mosaic District is emerging as a prime testing ground for autonomous technology, hosting Fairfax County and Dominion Energy’s Relay shuttle — though the vehicle is currently sidelined by “mechanical issues” through Friday (April 21).

“We are excited to partner with Uber Eats and Cartken to bring cutting-edge technology to our community, and confident this innovative service will elevate visitor experience and customer engagement at Mosaic,” said Greg Dercach, vice president of property management for EDENS, which owns and operates the development.

Uber and Cartken — an Oakland, California-based artificial intelligence company created by former Google engineers — first teamed up to experiment with food delivery robots in the Miami, Florida, area, launching a pilot in December.

The companies chose to introduce the robots to the Mosaic District, their first site in Virginia, because of the development’s walkability and abundance of dining options.

“Uber and Cartken share a vision to provide greater affordability, reliability, and convenience to merchants and consumers — all at the touch of a button,” Noah Zych, Uber’s head of autonomous mobility and delivery, said. “Our expansion to Fairfax is another important step in this journey, bringing Virginia residents a little more Uber magic through sidewalk robot delivery.”

Deliveries from the participating restaurants can be ordered through the Uber Eats app (courtesy Uber)

Sporting six wheels and a red flag, the robots are equipped with sensors and cameras that help them navigate and avoid collisions. They can carry 1.5 cubic feet — about two full paper grocery bags — and reach speeds of 3-6 mph, depending on the environment.

They will travel anywhere within the Mosaic District, though residents will have to step outside to pick up their deliveries.

While made by a different company, Cartken’s vehicles will look familiar to anyone who has recently visited George Mason University’s Fairfax campus, where robots from Starship Technology have been delivering food to students since 2019.

Founded in 2019, Cartken has also worked with Grubhub at some college campuses and deployed its robots to make Starbucks deliveries at malls in Japan.

“Our team at Cartken is excited to further partner with Uber Eats and expand our reach to serve the Fairfax community,” Cartken co-founder and COO Anjali Jindal Naik said. “Cartken is at an inflection point, where we are rapidly bringing our AI, computer vision, and lidar-less autonomous robots to more places, like Mosaic District, in partnership with Uber Eats.”

Patrons of the participating Mosaic District restaurants can request a delivery by robot through the Uber Eats app, which allows users to track the vehicle’s route and arrival time. A standard delivery takes 20 to 30 minutes, but there’s a “priority” option that advertises a 15 to 25-minute wait for a $1.49 fee.

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Kids play rugby in the Camp Fairfax program (via Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services)

Registrations for Fairfax County’s School Age Child Care (SACC) summer program will reopen tomorrow (Thursday) after technical issues disrupted its scheduled launch yesterday.

Camp Fairfax started allowing families to register at 8 a.m. on Tuesday (Feb. 21), but the Fairfax County Office for Children, which oversees the program, reported at 9:13 a.m. that “technical difficulties” had taken the system down.

“The registration system…experienced a system failure following the opening of SACC summer program registration,” the Department of Neighborhood and Community Services (NCS) said in a news release. “Staff responded by immediately pausing all summer registrations. Staff continues to work diligently to resolve issues and ensure the system can adequately respond to demand.”

NCS said it anticipates the issues will all be fixed today, enabling it to restart registrations at 8 a.m. tomorrow.

However, enrollment will now be “staggered” based on the name of the 35 locations where the camps will be held:

  • Beginning Thursday, Feb. 23: Sites beginning with letters A-J (Aldrin Elementary School to James Lee Community Center)
  • Beginning Friday, Feb. 24: Sites beginning with letters K-P (Kent Gardens Elementary School to Providence Community Center)
  • Beginning Monday, Feb. 27: Sites beginning with letters S-W (Springfield Estates Elementary School to Wolftrap Elementary School)

Open to rising first to seventh graders who live in Fairfax County or Fairfax City, Camp Fairfax operates in week-long sessions from late June through early or late August, depending on the location. Each camp session has three “cabins” with activities aimed at artists, performers or athletes.

Camps located at the county’s community centers will run from June 20 to Aug. 18, while school sites will run from June 26 to Aug. 4.

The fees for this year’s camps will be determined by the county’s upcoming budget, a draft of which was presented to the Board of Supervisors yesterday. The cost can be adjusted based on a family’s income, with last year’s fees ranging from $10 for a family earning under $53,000 to $281 for a family earning $132,500 or more.

Registration will be available online and by phone (703-449-8989), though NCS advises not logging into the system before 8 a.m.

“Neighborhood & Community Services is committed to providing all Fairfax County and City of Fairfax residents equal access to high-quality camp and childcare opportunities,” NCS said. “We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your patience as we work to meet the demand for these services in our community.”

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The Reston location opens this Friday (courtesy Paymore)

Restonians looking to trade in their old phone after getting the latest model for Christmas are in luck.

Paymore, a national company, will open at 1675 Reston Parkway in Suite J on Friday (Feb. 17), a little later than previously anticipated. The grand opening event, which takes place from noon to 2 p.m., will include a giveaway for a PlayStation 5.

The business is an e-commerce and brick and mortar resale shop. Customers can get cash for electronics or retrade items for other technology.

“PayMore stores provide an attractive, boutique retail experience and offer a safe and easy way for consumers to sell their used electronics and purchase needed electronic devices,” the company said.

PayMore was founded in 2011 in New York as a way to repurpose and recirculate old electronics. Since then, it has opened several locations across the country.

The Reston location is managed by franchisees Dan and Lindsay Lowe, who have previous experience with Dominos in Orlando and Firehouse Subs.

The first 100 guests will get complimentary Firehouse Sub sandwiches.

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Thomas Jefferson High School students Soham Jain, Rohan Kotla and Samvrit Rao (left to right) developed the app RoutineRemind to help kids with autism (courtesy Samvrit Rao)

An app created by a trio of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology students to help kids with autism may someday be deployed in Fairfax County’s special education classrooms.

Sophomores Soham Jain, Rohan Kotla and Samvrit Rao have already earned recognition from Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-10) for RoutineRemind, an app designed to help parents and kids keep track of their schedules.

RoutineRemind was the 10th District’s winner in the 2022 Congressional App Challenge, Wexton announced on Dec. 22. The annual competition aims to encourage science, technology, engineering and math education by inviting students from across the country to develop and submit their own apps.

The 2022 contest drew over 500 submissions, a new record, according to organizers.

“I was so impressed by not only their remarkable technical skills in designing this winning app, but also their ingenuity and care in developing a way to help kids with autism and their families,” Wexton said in a statement, congratulating the TJ students.

In joint comments to FFXnow, Soham, Rohan and Samvit said they have regularly worked together on school projects and share an interest in “the intersection between computer science and biology.”

Seeing the challenge as an opportunity to put their tech and teamwork skills to the test, the students turned to personal experience when brainstorming ideas for an app.

In a demonstration video, Rohan said he has a younger brother with autism and has always been interested in finding ways to improve the lives of people with autism and other cognitive disabilities.

His brother sometimes struggles to remember his schedule, leading him to frequently ask for reminders. Individuals with autism often find comfort in routine, but many also experience executive functioning challenges, affecting their ability to plan or focus.

“After surveying the special needs community in [our] area, we found that this is a mutual problem across children with autism, since many of them are schedule-oriented,” the students told FFXnow. “Given the prevalence of the problem, we wanted to develop a simple, adaptable, and user-friendly schedule and reminder app to help those with social and cognitive impairments.” Read More

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The STEM school iCode opened a Vienna campus earlier in December (courtesy iCode)

A Texas-based technology education company has branched out into Vienna.

The school iCode launched its first Virginia franchise in the town earlier this month and is now hosting camps on game building, robotics and other tech skills for students out on break for the winter.

Located in a former Apple Federal Credit Union at 419A Maple Avenue East, iCode Vienna will get a grand opening at 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 10.

“As parents living and working in Fairfax County, we saw a need to provide our children earlier exposure to technical education,” franchise co-owner David Dilly said in a statement. “…We realize children love gaming, so why not provide a positive outlet for their desires by learning to understand how their favorite games work?”

Founded in 2015 by Abid Abedi, iCode has close to 50 franchises around the U.S., along with two in Asia. All of the locations follow a curriculum developed by the company’s corporate office in Frisco, Texas.

The Vienna campus is the first of several planned for Virginia, specifically in Fairfax and Loudoun counties. Next up, a school in Burke will open in spring 2023, according to Dilly.

In addition to camps, the school offers three tiers of programs, from one designed for flexibility where students build their own video game to classes focused on specific science, technology, engineering and math topics.

The most popular is a “Belt” program, which is intended to provide a “comprehensive” education in STEM subjects and the arts, iCode Vienna Director Toni Escobedo says. Covering ages 5 through 15, the program teaches a total of seven programming languages with each course building on the previous one.

Escobedo says iCode tailors its class and camp offerings to students’ interests, grouping classes based on age and skill level. The school is equipped with tablets, desktops, drones, robotics, 3D printers, an e-sports gaming lounge and more, with no outside technology needed.

She says the school distinguishes itself from other coding programs by emphasizing the full-time involvement of instructors in all classes and incorporating “soft skills” like project management and collaboration into the curriculum.

“These skills help students succeed not only academically but in their relationships and future careers,” she told FFXnow.

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Comcast’s headquarters in Philadelphia (via Mike Conway/Unsplash)

Fairfax County is still working through negotiations with Comcast for cable service in Reston.

Although discussions are still underway, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved an interim agreement that would extend the terms of Comcast’s cable franchise through June 30, 2023.

So far, a long-term renewal agreement has not yet been reached. Federal law — namely the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 — lays out the process by which local communities can renew a cable franchise.

Rebecca Makely, director of the county’s Department of Cable and Consumer Services, said that active negotiations are underway to achieve a “mutually satisfactory resolution.”

“Changes in the video service market in recent years, along with potential changes in the law, have impacted cable franchise renewal negotiations around the country. In Fairfax County, as in many other jurisdictions, this has led to a protracted negotiation process,” Makely wrote in a statement.

In the county’s case, the county is negotiating with the cable operate for a new franchise agreement.

Until a final agreement is reached, the limited extension will remain in place.

Comcast announced last month that it plans to expand its network in Reston to include businesses by the end of the year.

Photo via Mike Conway on Unsplash

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