Talking tech since 2003

As part of our continuing interview/Q&A session series, I got in touch with a close friend of mine, Matt Hodges.  I met Matt at BestTechie, he has been a long time member and contributor to the community.  He also used to be a contributing writer here as well.  Matt created an augmented reality application for Android which has caught quite a bit of press recently and I thought it would be interesting to hear about what he’s been working on.

So let’s see what he has to say.

Tell us a little about yourself.  Who is Matt Hodges?

I’m a Computer Science major at Miami University and I’m about to finish my third year.  Right now I’m just chugging through school and preparing for the “real world.”  I guess you could call me a typical college kid.

So can you explain a bit about what you created?

We’ve created a mobile application that employs augmented reality to assist the user in sorting items–specifically, library books.  The idea is that the user can point the camera of their smartphone or tablet device at a shelf of books and get instant feedback about the ordering of the items.  If a book is in the correct location, a green check is overlaid onto the book.  If it is out of place, a red X is aligned over it.  Furthermore, if something is out of place, the user can tap the screen of the device and be shown where to move it.  This is all done in real time.  Items are identified by affixed two-dimensional bar codes, similar to QR Codes.  As the user is taking video of the items, they are getting just-in-time analysis and feedback.  Additionally, the app could be used for inventory purposes as it identifies the items that it sees.

How did you come up with the idea for this type of application?

The idea was really the brainchild of my advisor, Dr. Brinkman.  He has always expressed interest in augmented reality and I had attended a couple presentations that he gave on the subject.  One of his main issues with the field is that there aren’t a lot of useful implementations of it out there.  There are certainly a handful of interesting and entertaining applications for it, but not a whole lot that could aid the user.

It’s given that computers are good at certain things and bad at others, and humans are the same way.  Dr. Brinkman wanted to take a task that a computer is good at (in this case, fast data analysis and sorting) and complement it with a task a human is good at (visual identification).  The task of shelf reading is a very grueling process within a library that often takes a lot of man-hours.  The idea for this application was to speed up the process by using technology to aid humans in the task.  This use of augmented reality provides a human user with visual feedback of computational analysis, which hopefully proves beneficial.

I got onto the project by simply approaching Dr. Brinkman and asking if he was interested in doing some undergraduate research with me.  He presented the idea to me, and I was almost immediately hooked.  The past two semesters have involved a lot of learning, problem solving, brainstorming and coding.  We began work in August 2010 and will be continuing development at least through the 2011-2012 school year.

How do you envision your application being used in everyday life (if you do at all)?

Our immediate goal is to get an alpha test of the application rolling in one of the university’s libraries by this December.  If all goes well, I could see this type of technology being used within many libraries, if they are so interested.  Outside of that, I could see something similar be implemented in just about any setting that contains items needing to be sorted.  We haven’t really explored other venues of implementation, but I don’t see why this couldn’t be used in stores, warehouses, etc.

Do you see your application being integrated into its own device separate and apart from Android?

This isn’t something that we’ve looked at, but I would guess not.  We’re developing it on mobile devices for a couple of reasons: the technology already exists and people already own it.  It would be much more feasible, I think, for library employees to simply load the app onto the phone they already have than for the institution to have to purchase new devices.  However, that’s not to say it’d be strictly limited to the Android platform.  If things work out, I could see an iOS implementation as well.

Has the development of the application led to any interesting opportunities that you can tell us about?

So far, the biggest thing has been the amazing amount of press we’ve received.  The YouTube demo has been up for about a month and we’ve received about 50,000 hits.  Librarians, researchers, and developers all over the world have contacted us.  Many of them have expressed interest in implementing the system.  Since we’re still in the development phase we can’t quite appease these requests yet, but the amount of attention has been very exciting.

Personally, an app development company regarding “potential employment” contacted me.  That was a really flattering out-reach, but for right now I’m still working on school.

As eBooks become more widely used and are outselling their paper counterparts, what kind of market demand is there for such an application?  I’d imagine it’s mostly libraries that would be interested?

Yes, our target audience is libraries, specifically research and university libraries.  That’s whom we’re developing for.  However, I could see similar technology employed in many setting that have shelf items.

Can this technology be applied to things other than books?

Like I was saying, while we are developing specifically for books in a library, I think that this could potentially be used for other items that need ordering.

As a current college student with summer break approaching, what are your plans for this summer?

For this summer I have an internship lined up with Rosetta in Cleveland, Ohio.  Rosetta is an interactive-marketing agency.  I’ll be a Technology Associate Intern in IBM/Java Solutions.  I’m really excited about this internship, as it will be my first experience working in the real world for an actual company.

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