The idea sparked during our brainstorming session in the convocation room; a spacious room filled with large portraits of notable figures and professors from Princeton University. We were looking to execute a project related to augmented reality and thought how awesome it would be to have the paintings come to life and explain the narrative of the art piece (i.e. in a way much like the fat lady guarding Gryffindor's homeroom in Harry Potter). But unfortunately, magic isn't real and we had to take a step back to think about practical ways in which we could make understanding art engaging, enriching and comprehensible.
What it does
DocentAR is a mobile app that is designed for museum-goers to better understand art. Alright, we will admit, that previous sentence was abstract and difficult to understand- much like the experience of most visitors who leave the museum not fully understanding what they saw and learned. Museum-goers may lack sufficient knowledge to fully appreciate the work and let's not forget how artwork labels are often written in convoluted styles.
In this version of the product, we brought Vincent Van Gogh to life, for him to explain "The Starry Night" (1989) to the audiences. With an AR enable device, museum-goers would be able to see and hear an avatar of Van Gogh sharing about the painting from both his perspective as well as that of art critics. With DocentAR, we make it easier for the layperson and even young children to understand art, cultivating a world that appreciates creativity, beauty, and freedom of expression.
To increase the functionality of the product, we also designed an AR map that enables museum-goers to easily navigate around the building.
See a demo of our product here
How we built it
We first tested the viability of the technology with a metro card and a 3D model of a table- all within Unity 3D and Vuforia API. After witnessing success, we went into Blender 3D to design the 3D models and recorded the voiceovers for the product. (p.s. Van Gogh was voiced over by a girl) We then animated and combined the voiceovers in Unity3D.
Challenges we ran into
The biggest hurdle of all was that the team had little to no experience in Unity3D, Vuforia, and Blender3D- the entire Hackathon was a session of mass googling and watching YouTube tutorials to get things in order. Amongst other challenges were also hardware issues (i.e. lack of computer storage) and problems with uploading files onto Github.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
Our proudest achievement would be that we managed to create a product that was capable of delivering an engaging experience to its audience. With hackathons, it is easy to get deep into the weeds of developing the technical aspects of things, while forgoing the overall user experience- the key ingredient to keep your users happy.
What we learned
Apart from technical skills (we had to pick almost everything up from scratch), one of the most important things we learned was teamwork. We decided early on that we should appoint a leader whose role was to break down the product development process and delegate tasks in an efficient manner. We also learned to support one another by taking turns to rest in order to boost productivity. Most of all, we learned to have fun and enjoy what we were creating- you can only keep going if you like what you are doing!
What's next for DocentAR
DocentAR presents only one of many possibilities of what we could do with such a product. In the short run, we could further refine the AR processing capabilities alongside its navigation feature and user interface, to develop a full-fledged app for museum-goers. In the long run, we foresee developing technology that could easily allow anyone and everyone to create their own avatar and share their story with the world.
See the mockup of our museum app here