By Christina Drain
Let’s say you are new to the campus and you need to find the Thompson Library. You could pull out a paper map or use the OSU mobile app to search or ask someone on the street.
Or you could ask Brutus.
Ohio State’s lovable nut of a mascot could soon become a 3D virtual tour guide via a mobile device or cell phone for students, newcomers and visitors to the Columbus campus. The idea is the brainchild of Brad Henry, systems developer and engineer in the College of Education and Human Ecology and doctoral student in Education Policy and Leadership. Students in the college of Engineering capstone program and the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design are contributing to the project.
As envisioned, the user will be able to talk or type questions that the Find Brutus Augmented Virtual Tour Guide responds to, finding the user’s location via tracking tools such as geo-location, to help the user find the intended location.
“It would be through a mobile interface,” Henry said. “But where we are extending and moving beyond augmented reality is what’s called mixed reality. We’re also adding elements of artificial intelligence through intelligent computer systems, kind of like when you call a voice response system and it recognizes the prompts you give back and forth. We’re using similar types of technologies, so you have the voice recognition piece and the type text as well as augmenting the environment around you, in this case the Ohio State University campus.”
Henry, through his company EduTechnologic, sponsored the capstone project — which is currently designed as a scavenger hunt — and intends to study how incoming students interact with their environment. As Henry began to work on the project, he realized there was no available 3D model of Brutus in existence, so he enlisted students from ACCAD to build one.
The capstone students have been working on the project for about two months, using an existing framework developed for OSU Libraries, along with an intelligent tutoring system, known as a Cognitive Tutor, developed at the University of Memphis. They already have a working prototype, according to capstone coordinator Rajiv Ramnath, a professor of Computer Science and Engineering. Every Computer Science graduate has to complete at least one capstone project.
“The capstone program is pretty well known in the community,” Ramnath said. “It’s a way for entrepreneurs, corporations, government and nonprofits to build a computer-based product in a low-cost way that they can then show investors or trigger new ideas. Brad is one such person.
“I think it’s really cool. Our students get to work with real customers that actually want the software and presumably have a business purpose for it. It is a very useful senior project for them.”
A large amount of data would be needed to answer many of the typical questions a user might ask. So Henry tapped Ebony Smith, program coordinator for the 65 university ambassadors who conduct the campus walking tours. She gave him the 48-page tour script, full of information about Ohio State.
“I think it’s fantastic because there are many visitors who come to campus and maybe because of their schedule or timing can’t make it on a campus tour,” Smith said. “This is a great opportunity for people to see campus in a schedule that works better for them. It’s a brand new way of learning about campus.
“I think nothing will ever replicate completely having a current student take you around, but definitely seeing campus and using new technology to do that is bringing Ohio State to a new level. I’m excited to see what will come of it.”
The project is hosted in the development environment at the College of Engineering for the moment, but Henry says when finished, it will be hosted externally using a third-party provider as Ohio State doesn’t have the infrastructure at the moment to host it internally.
“It will still work and it will still be operational. It’s just that it won’t be in OSU’s infrastructure, which is where I want it,” Henry said. “I think by the time we are done, the university will take ownership and say ‘we need this’.”
Henry has plans to expand the technology to other uses, incorporating Google Glasses to train medical students and firefighters, for example. A surgery suite could become augmented reality, complete with heart monitors and other equipment as well as nursing staff.
“The idea becomes the individual who is training puts on the Glasses, and then the Glasses interact with the environment. Whatever the scenario that’s being presented, they have to resolve it,” he said. “If a patient is going into cardiac arrest, they could save the patient, they could cause more problems, they could kill the patient, but the whole idea is that now we can get into a deeper style of learning because now we’re moving beyond the classroom and the teacher.
“We’re putting them in a real-world environment, making it relevant, but we also are using visual and stimulation that we haven’t had access to in the past. That just makes me giddy beyond belief.”