Mohammed Afana is putting The University of Western Ontario on the map.
A first-year PhD student in Hispanic Studies, with research focused on digital architecture, Afana is developing a 3D model of campus for Google Earth that will serve as a stepping stone for a mobile application making Western accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
“The new experience is not physical but virtual. There is a new kind of urbanism; you can now visit different cities (through) a computer,” Afana says.
A holistic, virtual Western experience is the ultimate goal of the 3D-campus project, he explains, and one of many novel initiatives coming out of The CulturePlex lab, spearheaded by Juan Luis Suárez, a Hispanic Studies professor.
Afana, who can be spotted around campus with a camera, takes photos of Western’s buildings and imposes them on 3D models he builds in Google SketchUp. He has created models of nine buildings so far and is halfway to completing his part of the project.
Meanwhile, computer science students are working with the lab on Phase 2 – developing an ‘augmented reality’ mobile application that will pair 3D models of campus buildings with the university’s internal scheduling system.
“The idea is to (be able to) access the university from your cell phone,” explains Camelia Nunez, a linguistics PhD student who works with Suárez in the CulturePlex lab.
“Once everything is on the map in 3D, we are planning to design an app to allow you to orientate yourself on campus. With a smart phone, you could point it at a building and it would tell you what building it is, and if you’re trying to get to another building, it will tell you how,” she says.
The app would also be connected to the internal scheduling system of the university, she explains. So you could scan a room’s door and the app would tell you the schedule for all the classes in the room.
Nunez says the lab isn’t aware of another project like this, and that a 3D model of Western’s campus – and, of course, the app itself – would likely be a first for higher education.
While the 3D models are the first step of the project, the possibilities are limitless, Suárez says.
For now, the project and the app will focus on making life easier for Western’s students, faculty, staff and visitors.
“Universities like Western, whose priorities are to provide the best student experience, could benefit from the latest technology in mobile services (being) connected to the timetable and facilities admin systems,” Suárez says.
The app will keep everyone informed of events and create an easier approach to managing time and space on campus.
Suárez says the idea was conceived in the lab following a multidisciplinary chat about Google Earth. The project is a good example of the lab’s vision of research and development, followed by service and commercialization.
While the completion date for the project depends largely on funding and programing of the app, Afana believes everything should be done by April.
“If you look and see London on Google Earth, the downtown is the only thing in 3D. There’s not much, and it’s just the outside of the buildings. But if you find the campus, you can see (3D models) live already,” Afana says. “When we are done, anyone could visit campus (inside and out) from anywhere.
“It’s a big project, but it is a good idea and it will make the university different.”