SOURCE: Kansas State University

Kansas State University

September 14, 2010 10:59 ET

Modified Smart Phone Application Maps Out K-State Campuses for Newcomers

MANHATTAN, KS--(Marketwire - September 14, 2010) - Visiting a Kansas State University campus but unfamiliar with the layout? There's an app for that.

Launching today is PowerCat Enhanced. The downloadable technology turns a user's iPhone 3GS and above or Android-based smart phones into an interactive map and GPS, showing both information about and directions to locations on the K-State Manhattan, Salina and Olathe campuses.

While some national and Big 12 schools have phone applications with campus maps, K-State is one of only a handful of universities to use Layar -- an open-source, cross-platform, augmented reality application. Of schools using Layar, even fewer have expanded the core program's functionality to the extent of K-State's.

"We're proud that K-State is among the first universities in the nation to use this augmented reality app for our prospective students, new students and visitors," said Kirk Schulz, K-State president. "This is exactly the kind of forward thinking that will enable us to become a top 50 public research university by 2025."

"This new app will make our friendly campus even more user friendly. It shows students and visitors how to find a building, a class, where they can eat and even where they can park," said Jan Elsasser, one of the creators of PowerCat Enhanced and director of information management for K-State's Division of Student Life. "We're hoping this helps our new students find their way around campus at the beginning of each semester."

Augmented reality is a term referring to elements in the live, real-world environment being enhanced by virtual computer-generated imagery, said Lindsay Clark, a PowerCat Enhanced creator and assistant professor of apparel, textiles and interior design.

Because PowerCat Enhanced is an applet, it acts as a microprogram -- or layer -- that runs on top of the parent program, Layar. The K-State layer controls Layar and its functionality.

"Essentially, the K-State layer shows real-time images on the phone's screen through the camera lens, and then overlays a 3-D map of information on top of that," Clark said. This interactive map shows the user where various points of interest are in relation to their location and in the direction the phone is being held.

For each point of interest, an information box appears with the name of the location, the distance to it, and a small thumbnail image of the building and departments located inside, if applicable. Users can choose to click a "take me there" button that gives a map and directions of how to reach that point of interest, much like a GPS in cars, Clark said.

As a user gets closer to a point of interest, the icon or icons on the map grow larger. Views can be toggled between reality, a map with points of interest and an alphabetized points of interest list with photos.

To date, PowerCat Enhanced includes more than 100 points of interest, including academic buildings, administrative offices, housing and dining locations and parking lots.

Clark said the 2010 Horizon Report -- a joint report by The New Media Consortium and Educause -- stated that the use of this type of simple augmented reality in education will be widespread within two to three years.

Elsasser and Clark began developing with Layar because of the program's flexibility and amount of time and money it takes to create an application from scratch. As more and more college students acquire smart phones with GPS, cameras, compasses and an accelerometer -- the essential elements for Layar -- Elsasser said it seemed only natural to use this technology for a campus map application.

"Although the main functionality of the K-State layer is done, there are more tweaks we'd like to do," Clark said. "For example, we've talked about ways to deliver an itinerary with times, locations and mapped routes to visitors' phones. We're also talking about expanding the K-State layer so that students studying abroad can have points of interest. All they would have to do is turn the phone on and go from point A to point B to see the city and navigate it."

PowerCat Enhanced users must have either an iPhone 3GS or above or a smart phone running the Android platform. Since the parent program, Layar, requires a phone have a GPS, camera, compass and accelerometer, phones without these components will be unable to correctly utilize the program.

To download PowerCat Enhanced, search for "Layar" in either iPhone's App Store or Droid's Android Market. Download and install Layar when it appears. It's a free app.

Next, launch Layar. Users on a K-State campus will automatically have PowerCat Enhanced show up under the local section. For those off-campus, type "PowerCat Enhanced" into the search bar and touch the program to launch it.

PowerCat Enhanced began as an effort between Elsasser and Clark, eventually involving other members of the K-State community, including Nic Herndon, programmer analyst for the office of undergraduate admissions; Nick Austin, associate director of the office of undergraduate admissions; and Ben Cleveland, graphic designer/animator for communications and marketing.

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