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Students produce 'Virtual Dugout' app
A group of students from various disciplines, led by assistant professor of journalism Charles “Stretch” Ledford in the Journalism independent study class JOUR460, launched a mobile app for the Illini baseball team this week. It is the first app to be developed by the College of Media.
The app, Virtual Dugout, gives its users an inside look at the baseball team - from video interviews using augmented reality to live game statistics tracking and upcoming social media aspects. The 13 students, representing the colleges of Media, Engineering, Fine & Applied Arts and LAS – specialize in software development, design, journalism and advertising.
The development team, led by senior computer science major Jared Lambert, consists of two iOS developers and two Android developers. The iOS developers, sophomore Robert Pieta and senior Sean Adams, wrote the program for Apple devices like the iPhone and iPad. The Android developers, freshman Yalan Meng and senior Brent Hronik, wrote a completely separate app for Android devices.
The marquee feature of the app utilizes a piece of commercial software called Aurasma, which the development team built into Virtual Dugout. Aurasma uses a mobile device’s camera to trigger an action with an image. In the case of Virtual Dugout, when a phone’s camera is pointed at a player’s baseball card, the player’s photo “comes to life” as the still image transitions into a video interview.
The four-member journalism team produced the videos by interviewing players on-camera, gathering video highlights and editing content. Senior broadcast student Spencer Turkin conducted the on-camera interviews and continues to maintain a close relationship with the baseball team and assistant sports information director Ben Taylor. Even as a second semester senior, Turkin saw the opportunity to be a part of something truly ground-breaking.
“Being a part of this team was a chance to use my journalism skills [and] my love of sports to branch out and use new technology to create an innovative end product,” Turkin said.
Junior molecular and cellular biology/psychology double major and Daily Illini photographer William Shi shot video footage of the baseball team during early season tournaments in Myrtle Beach, SC, and Clearwater, FL. Junior broadcast student Harrini Krishnan and graduate news-editorial student Andrew Roth produced the video interviews with highlights for each of the players.
The advertising team consists of two advertising students, seniors Charles Tan Lim and Anastasia Guletsky, who are responsible for getting the word out about the app. One of the main advertising strategies the duo used was to distribute over a hundred baseballs all around campus just before the baseball team’s home opener on March 30. The Virtual Dugout logo, as well as a message to download the app, was printed on all the baseballs, giving a new spin on the idea of handing out flyers on the quad.
Sanny Lin, a senior in industrial design who created the user interface for the app, and Nick Backas, who wrote an algorithm to show how each play changes the probability of an Illini victory, round out the Virtual Dugout team.
The class meets twice a week, once in a large group and once in smaller specialty groups, to develop ideas and find new ways of presenting traditional information. Lambert said that working with a group of non-computer scientists was different; the journalism team’s lack of knowledge as to what is technically possible forced the developing team to think outside the box.
“[The] ambition [of the journalism team] shows in our work,” Lambert said. “I really enjoy working with a group that comes up with radically different ideas than I would have ever thought about.
Ledford sees the interaction between students of different disciplines to be important for the future of communication on a grand scale. As the lines between journalism, entertainment and social interaction blur all around us, he said, his goal, and the goal of the app, is to raise the bar even higher.
“One of my goals is to find innovative ways to bring relevant information to the growing audience for multimedia storytelling,” Ledford said. “To me, this means not just moving print content online, or making online content mobile; it means creating a user experience that's as engaging as ‘Angry Birds,’ but much more informative.”
Aside from the broad impact that the Virtual Dugout team can have in the fields of communication and computer science, the simple interaction between students is just as important to the team’s faculty leader.
“Here at the University of Illinois, an engineering juggernaut, those of us in journalism have a unique opportunity to partner with individuals in the sciences who are dedicated to envisioning communication technologies that consumers haven't even imagined,” Ledford said. “As a multimedia journalist, and as a journalism educator, that's pretty exciting, especially when you have the kind of talent I have on my team. With Virtual Dugout, they really knocked one right out of the park.”