Former Technology Chief Tries out Augmented Reality at RU
Aneesh Chopra strolled across the Radford University campus Wednesday evening holding a smartphone at arms' length. Chopra, former U.S. chief technology officer, was taking an augmented reality tour.
At each destination, Chopra and others on the brief walking tour, including RU President Penelope W. Kyle, were greeted with a video message from students providing important and fun information about the area of campus where they were standing.
"This is exciting stuff," Chopra said. "This is not what I thought I was coming to see."
Chopra, former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine's secretary of technology, visited Radford University for a presentation by Education Professor Matt Dunleavy and two RU alumni, Daniel Burgess and David Payne, on innovative work and research the three and a small group of others in RU's GAMeS Lab are doing with augmented reality to change the way children are educated.
The platform was developed at RU through a research and development program sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and directed by Dunleavy as a professor in the Educational Technology program. "We are thrilled with this development that showcases how RU can create cutting-edge technologies and spin them out into the commercial market," said Dunleavy, who was honored as the Innovative Educator of the Year for 2011 by the Virginia Society for Technology in Education.
During Wednesday's presentation, Dunleavy provided information about the GAMeS Lab, which designs interactive mobile games and studies the impact of the products on student engagement and learning. Dunleavy and the GAMeS Lab have worked closely with Pulaski County Public Schools on the iLearn Project, which developed and tested iPad and iPod Touch applications aligned with Virginia's Standards of Learning (SOL).
"Tom Brewster, superintendent of Pulaski County Public Schools, has been an outstanding leader in this area for pushing the envelope on mobile learning, and he and his colleagues have been important partners of the GAMeS Lab," Dunleavy said.
Burgess and Payne told Chopra about a new software and smartphone app called FreshAiR that can be used in educational settings as well as by anyone wanting to share information.
FreshAiR was created through the GAMeS Lab and is being launched through MoGo Mobile, a startup company spun out of the GAMeS Lab. Radford University owns the intellectual property rights to FreshAiR.
So, what is FreshAiR? "It's a Web-based editor that allows users to easily create augmented reality experiences," Burgess said. "It requires no programming experience. We take care of that."
Built on top of Google Maps, FreshAiR, which has a patent pending, allows its users to create and self-publish stories from any location. "And life is all about stories," Burgess said. Once a story is published, it is available to smartphones around the world.
"There are tons of cool stories all around us that we don't even know about," Burgess said. "Augmented reality is a way to show our stories and reveal them in a new and exciting way. We think augmented reality is a new medium for stories, and it's a way to give stories locational context."
Anyone with a smartphone can download FreshAiR and easily have an augmented reality experience. It's all cloud-based. Though the software will not launch publicly until September (playfreshair.com), MoGo already has clients for FreshAiR, including Harvard University and School in the Park, an affiliate of the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego History Center.
"I thought I was coming here to see a finished app," Chopra said. "I didn't realize you were going to show me a platform that could enable lots of apps to be built. This is dramatically more exciting. This logic is extremely compelling. Teachers could really love this."
Dean Pat Shoemaker of RU's College of Education and Human Development agreed with him. "This takes us into the next generation of teaching," she said. "You are building a whole context that makes it personal and makes it meaningful for the students."
Dunleavy said the meeting with Chopra was an excellent opportunity to brainstorm about how the commercialization of the FreshAiR software could leverage existing state and federal programs to benefit the entire New River Valley community by fostering ongoing entrepreneurship.
"Aneesh is a leading thinker and policymaker in the critical area where job creation and technology innovation intersect," Dunleavy said. "When I heard Aneesh speak at a Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council event a few months ago, I was extremely impressed with his vision for how cutting-edge technologies such as augmented reality could be a catalyst for job creation. It was for this reason that I invited him to RU so we could share our innovative work in this area."