Lean TECHniques Collaborates with ISU Students on Augmented Reality App

Urbandale, Iowa: December 13, 2020 – Lean TECHniques coordinated a student project with the Department of Computer Science at Iowa State University (ISU) during the Fall 2020 semester. A group of five seniors worked on an augmented reality (AR) app for rental concierge. The collaboration provides students with hands-on development experience solving real world problems.

“Augmented reality is a technology that most people associate with video games and SnapChat filters, but it has some real game-changing potential when it comes to business. This project gave ISU students the opportunity to translate an AR concept into a viable application, giving them experience with an up-and-coming technology,” said Brandon Carlson, founder of Lean TECHniques.

The app’s purpose is to convert a printed binder of instructions for vacation renters into an interactive digital experience. It uses augmented reality (AR) to store and display helpful information to guests. These include everything from instructions on using the sauna or grill to recommendations for nearby hiking trails or other activities. All guests need to do is open the app, which takes advantage of the phone’s camera view, and additional information will be displayed over important objects within the camera’s field of view..

“The app completely eliminates having to put signs everywhere,” explained Taylor Greiner, project coordinator and professional software consultant with Lean TECHniques. “For example, a guest can hold up their phone to look at a hallway and the app will show where the linen closet is and a list of what’s inside. Or they could walk into the kitchen and see where the pots and pans are stored without having to open up every cupboard.”

The app also encourages guests to feel like a local rather than a tourist. Property owners can include insider tips on their favorite spots, like a unique bar, a clothing boutique or the best pizza parlor in town. These curated suggestions are a personable way to improve the guest experience.

The idea for the AR app came from Carlson, who is also a rental property owner and frequent traveler. Carlson feels it is jarring to see physical instructions posted around a vacation house. Using AR keeps the signage out of the way unless you need it, ensuring the space doesn’t feel like a hotel room. It’s also a virtual way to connect with guests even if they never meet their host.

This is the first collaboration between Lean TECHniques and ISU.

“These student projects are a win-win for private companies. A project with five seniors equals 200 people hours. This is the perfect opportunity to have fresh eyes develop a new concept, redesign a product feature or troubleshoot a thorny problem,” explained Carey Novak, student projects manager for ISU’s Center for Industrial Research and Service. “Businesses can also assess these seniors as potential employees. These projects are a powerful recruitment tool.”

Because the app is based on anchoring objects, students learned how to geospatially tag objects in a 3D environment. This capability allows a rental owner to attach text information to any item in a given field of view.

“I had never developed with augmented reality before this semester,” explained ISU student Andrew Phares. “Everything in AR is very new. Even when working on ‘easy’ tasks, such as keeping objects on a table or door, we had to research countless solutions and libraries. There was even a case where the new features for Google’s Cloud Anchors were released only a day before we began using it. But at the end of the project, I had a much more solid grasp of the augmented reality technology behind Google’s ARCore as well as Unity and Android development.”

“This was also my first time working with AR,” added Cole Martin, ISU student. “It brought up interesting challenges to overcome. For example, the Cloud Anchors are a type of GPS coordinate. Normal GPS can be inaccurate within a few meters, which doesn’t work within a home where you need accuracy within a few inches. We also found that poor lighting and textures without patterns, like white carpet or walls, don’t provide enough data points for object differentiation.”

Though the student portion of the project has concluded, Lean TECHniques will continue developing the AR app. In-house engineers will also develop additional use cases beyond rental properties, such as art galleries, museums and training applications.