UT Students Build Augmented Reality Applications in Campus Competition
By Razyl Yanez
Reporting Texas TV
AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas Immersive Institute (TXI) held its second annual BuildFest competition March 24-26.
Teams of students designed augmented reality applications to address social issues such as mental health, environmental inequities, race visibility, gender inequalities and access for disabled students.
Augmented reality (AR) applications include things like Pokemon GO and face filters on social media. These applications allow the real and digital worlds to interact.
One team focused on environmental inequities and race visibility by highlighting a building in Austin that used to be home to a Black-owned newspaper but is now a coffee shop. Another team focused on teaching about microaggressions while a third helped people with executive function complete tasks.
Participants used augmented reality (AR) software from the company 8th Wall to gain real world experience in designing AR applications.
TXI director Erin Reilly said participation in BuildFest provides multiple benefits for the students.
“It opens doors to not only perhaps new avenues of places you can work or things you can do for your future, but it gives you a sense of how augmented reality can be more than just a game,” Reilly said.
She said another advantage of AR is its wide accessibility.
Zane Giordano, a TXI fellow, wanted to organize BuildFest to show young people ways they can make a positive impact for the future.
“It’s really about making technology tangible and allowing people to build solutions for their own lives using it and kind of, by doing that, become more optimistic about the future,” he said.
Eleven teams competed and the top three received monetary awards: $1500 for first, $750 for second, and $500 for third.
An additional team won a $100 Play Big award given to the team whose ambition “played big” during the event.
The first place team made an AR application called RecyclAR to teach kids about proper recycling habits.
“It was mainly just a focus on doing a sustainability initiative and environmental action while also trying to make an impactful educational difference, as that’s one of the most effective ways to see any difference made,” said Zoey Kaul, RecyclAR’s lead researcher.
While the team faced many challenges while working on different parts of the project, project manager Madison Phelan said they were very happy to see their project come together.
“It was just a vision at first, and so the fact that you can use it in the state that we imagined it to be used was absolutely the most rewarding experience out of everything,” Phelan said.
Organizers said they hope the event helps students make a big difference in the future through the knowledge and understanding of the social issue topics they explored over the weekend.
“Perhaps they didn’t have a deep understanding of them when they began the weekend, and now they’re walking out with a deeper understanding that they can see that something they can do can actually make a change,” Reilly said.