The new entry, "Virtual USC," is taking shape at the College of Engineering and Computing to provide an insider's virtual tour of the Carolina Horseshoe. "This is going to be very cool," said Duncan Buell, the professor of computer science who guided a group of 10 undergraduate students involved in the software application's development during the spring semester. Buell is aiming for a prototype smart phone tour of the Horseshoe in which users can click on Gamecock icons embedded in a campus map to reveal historic and contemporary interior pictures of several buildings.
Among highlights will be the South Caroliniana Library and the Gressette Room in Harper College. University Archives provided historical photos and University Technology Services provided current pictures. "Once we get the first couple of stops on the tour done adding more of them won't be conceptually difficult," said Buell, adding that tours of each building will take users through an animation that walks them to a starting point where they can then access other available images. "With a program like this, once you get the basic structure of the app done, adding locations means a little more work and having to worry about bandwidth and things like that, but it's not that much more of an effort."
Buell embarked on the project with the intent of producing an app for an Android smart phone that would be relevant to a National Endowment for the Humanities-funded computer gaming institute at the University this summer. The institute is a project of the University's Digital Humanities Initiative. "The first couple of weeks the students just brainstormed on various ideas along the lines of, ‘What could you do with a mobile phone like this, and how could you use a location awareness to know where you were and pull up something of interest?' "Gradually, we converged on this project as something that could be done in 15 weeks and end up with close to a 100 percent professional product. It's not really a game, but once you get an app like this built out you can change the content and the programming and easily put it into something else, like a scavenger hunt. "The hard part of the programming is getting all the pieces to fit together with the maps, overlays, and the images," said Buell. "It's not hard dealing with the content once you have it. So this project is partly an adaptation to what we could undertake that was interesting and relevant."
The 10 students were drawn from three different computer science courses. They had worked as programmers and helped come up with the design and structure of the overall software. Once the Android app is working, the next project will be to port it to the iPhone, "a huge difference because the programming is very different," Buell said. The group has also drawn on the expertise of faculty members in the University's Digital Humanities Initiative who offered guidance on such things as the app's visual elements and other factors that would add to its user friendliness and appeal. Buell anticipates that once the app is perfected for both Android and iPhones, it could be adapted to a wide variety of other campus uses. These could include wider virtual tours of the campus, plant or museum tours envisioned by Allison Marsh, an assistant professor of history who supervises the museum track in the history department's public history program, or applications like teaching outdoor courses that link GPS coordinates with radio frequency ID chips positioned at various locations on campus. "You could do a lot of fun applications like this and even expand it to Columbia and the Vista," Buell said. By Office of Publications