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Computer science to create virtual campus map app

Lamar University computer science graduate students Ankur Shah and Chandrakant Rudami, along with Department Chair Stefan Andrei, are creating an avatar-based interactive campus map application for Android, iPhone and iPad.

Their work is supported by a Center for Innovation, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship (CICE)-sponsored Spark Innovation Award, made possible by a generous donation from Jack Gill to promote innovation across colleges among faculty and students at Lamar University.  The project, as well as other innovation projects, will be showcased in late October for university and public attendees.

Gill, a 1958 graduate of LU, is a Distinguished Alumnus and holds a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Indiana University. A strong advocate for the university, Gill’s support includes the Jack M. Gill Endowed Chair in the College of Engineering and activities of the CICE.

This summer’s project is a continuation of last year’s Gill awarded project called “an avatar-based virtual interactive map for the Lamar University Campus,” for which Andrei and his students created a similar map for desktop use. This year’s project will expand the map to mobile devices to better assist students and visitors in finding their way around campus.

“Visitors and potential students to Lamar University can download the app on their Android or Apple mobile device phone, and can navigate the campus more comfortably without having to determine their location using physical ‘you-are-here’ maps,” Andrei said.

Andrei and students believe the app will draw attention to Lamar as a university as well. To the best of their knowledge, this is the first avatar-based interaction game that allows 100 percent interaction with the user. Through simulation, one’s avatar can virtually explore the campus and buildings—inside and out—within the application.

“This will be a good marketing tool because it is designed by students for any visitor to the Lamar university campus. On top of that, we are living in an ‘app society;’ everything should have a software application these days, including a campus map,” he said. “It reflects well on our school if our map is available on a phone or tablet for any guest—future students, parents of students, visitors to the campus and whomever else might be interested. It’s a fascinating tool.”

The idea originated with an international student. “He sent me a report of intention to implement the first, desktop version. I liked the idea and visited with some of the higher administration. They liked the idea too,” he said. “So I invested in that student and the team. The whole virtual campus team is comprised of eight students, but two graduate students are leading this year’s project for handheld devices: Ankur Shah and Chandrakant Rudani.”

The project will keep growing as long as support is available, Andrei says. He believes projects like these provide further avenues for students to apply knowledge to complex challenges.

“It is a technological product, and it will prove that our students are capable of translating their education into more complicated work. We intend to present our work at conferences, at Lamar or elsewhere. We will show our methodology to other universities and our own university’s visitors,” Andrei said. “I would like to thank Dr. Gill for his generosity. As a mentor, the most rewarding thing is to see that spark in students when they are inventing. I have seen that with this project.”