What would you do if you won a bus?
When Young’s bus service ran a competition on Facebook to give away one of their old coaches Tim Gentle’s eyes lit up.
Gentle’s entry into the competition was a plan 14 years in the making.
“My entry was that I would turn the bus into a high tech classroom to travel around regional, rural and remote Australia, educating people about the digital world,” Gentle tells upstart.
Gentle won the competition and now owns the Think Digital Coach.
“A digital classroom was one of my dreams,” he says.
“I sat down 14 years ago and thought about what the purpose of my life was.
“I had a dream and I planned out a trailer with satellites and computers onboard and now I have this coach.”
The coach is retrofitted as a digital classroom with 10 laptops, desks, screens, wi-fi capabilities and even a bedroom.
Gentle says one in four people in regional, rural and remote Australia have very low digital literacy skills, and one in five have poor or very little access to decent internet.
“There is a digital divide between metro and regional areas, so one of my purposes is to bridge that gap so that rural, regional and remote areas don’t get left further behind,” he says.
“What better way to reach them than a purpose-built facility to give them access, skills and confidence to take on the ever expanding digital world.
“The digital train has already left the station and these areas will continue to fall further and further behind.”
The government has recognised the gap, announcing a funding boost for regional rural and remote areas at the beginning of 2016.
Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham said the National Assessment Program Information and Communications Technology Literacy Report released at the end of 2015 found that only 52 per cent of year 10 students and 55 per cent of year six students met the proficient standard of ICT literacy.
“The Turnbull Government is tackling the ‘digital divide’ to ensure that all Australians are exposed to the technologies of tomorrow, no matter where they live, no matter their background or the school they go to,” Minister Birmingham said.
The self-titled ‘Digital Crusader’, Gentle aims to be the leading digital educator in Austrlia but it hasn’t been easy. Aside from winning the bus, he has funded the entire operation himself, giving up a lecturing job at La Trobe University in Bendigo to dedicate his time to the project.
“It has been incredibly difficult, but my passion for it keeps me going,” he says.
“The issue for people like me with ideas is that corporate and government love the sound of it, but won’t invest.”
On Gentle’s first two pilot endeavours, he has visited businesses, schools and community groups, teaching in digital education, experiences and entertainment.
He hopes that his endeavour will inspire more people to follow their dreams.
“I want people to just have a go, have courage and try a new venture,” he says.
Part of the inspiration for Gentle’s journey was a Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “You don’t have to know where the stair case leads to take that first step.”
Gentle says living by that mantra has brought him a lot of joy and new experiences that he hopes to share with Australia.
The pride and joy of the coach or the “rockstar” as Gentle refers to it as, is a HTC Vive, a virtual reality headset that turns a room into a virtual world for users to navigate.
In what is Australia’s first mobile virtual reality experience, Gentle can take his guests to the moon, swimming in the Great Barrier Reef and to the top of sky scrapers.
Gentle’s young daughter, Zoe, even gets in on the experience.
“Just this past weekend, Zoe landed herself on the moon, that’s her favourite place at the minute,” he says.
But the Think Digital coach is more than just a VR experience, it’s also a classroom and an entertainment space.
Gentle teaches over 50 topics on board the refurbished coach from cloud computing to a build your own website workshop.
When the coach is not in use as a classroom or taking people to the moon, Gentle also uses it as a base for lightshows with drones and even turns the side of the bus into an outdoor cinema.
Gentle has a message for any entrepreneurs looking to follow their dreams.
“There’s two ways you can go in life, you can work for someone or you can work for yourself and I’m working for myself so I can create my own destiny,” he says.
The Think Digital Coach will be departing on its digital crusade around Australia next February.
Jesse Robinson is a second-year Bachelor of Media and Communication (Journalism) student at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter here: @jesse3robinson