Interactive technology provides a powerful and compelling medium for inspiring and attracting women and other underrepresented groups to pursue careers in computer science and information technology. Even more compelling is an immersive environment in which participants are easily involved. Interactive exhibits and hallways have been installed successfully in a range of locations, including museums, schools and even airports, with a range of applications, varying from simple amusement to dispersal of information to games inspiring community interaction and gathering.
The IHart: Interactive Hallways for attraction and retention in technology project provides students with a unique opportunity to develop eye-popping, interactive scenes and games on floors and walls, creating a fun and refreshing diversion from the daily grind to anyone who walks by. During the winter, passersby will find themselves surrounded by fluffy snowdrifts projected on the walls and will create virtual snowballs that can be rolled around to construct snowmen. When spring arrives, students will be delighted to feed baby caterpillars by plucking leaves from virtual trees; butterflies will hatch from cocoons when someone creates a circle around them with their arms. Surfaces that respond to touch, similar to the iPhone, will allow students to play games and interact with virtual environments through natural, tactile controls. The possibilities are endless, fueled by the creativity of the developers, who themselves will be students and members of the community.
At Mount Holyoke, two interactive systems have been installed in the Computer Science hallway: one wall and one floor. Currently, the wall system has a Halloween application that plays sounds and animations in response to the movement of passersby, and the floor projection lets students’ interact with a "bouncing ball."
From the execution standpoint, IHart’s strengths rely on two main features:
- Simple installation into a hallway
- Quick and easy development environment for new interactive applications
To achieve these, the project draws on the widely-used paradigm of camera-projector systems, the newly emerging technology of touch surfaces, and the popular and powerful Adobe Flash application development environment.
A camera-projector system consists of an inexpensive web camera and a projector to create an interactive environment on any surface, including walls and floors. This results in an unobtrusive and immersive experience for anyone walking through the hallway. Touch surface technology has recently emerged as an exciting interactive technology appealing to a wide audience, made popular by devices such as the iPhone. Adobe Flash allows students to quickly develop interactive applications, achieving a polished final look without requiring prior background in programming or computer science.
While commercial systems do exist, their cost is prohibitive for widespread adoption of the technology. IHart creates an open source SDK that offers access to the latest computer vision technology by using the OpenCV2 library, building upon it to create an API for development of Flash applications. The API uses an event architecture, remaining consistent with traditional mouse and keyboard interaction, so that students can adapt quickly to the new infrastructure. Similar SDKs already exist for touch table interfacing with Flash.
As a women’s college, Mount Holyoke College has the unique advantage of being able to both develop innovative technology and create female role models by doing so. The presence of a strong generation of role models is essential to the success of women in the field.
We anticipate that the computer science department would offer an Interactive Media course on a regular basis, in which students develop IHart applications. Because development can be done solely in Flash by using the SDK, students need minimal programming experience (CS101 is the only prerequisite), allowing a range of students to create their own projects. Based on an initial version of the SDK, we were able to support the first offering of this course in Spring ’10. This CS240 course was one of the most popular electives, with the students composed of first-‐years and upperclassmen from a broad range of academic disciplines (including biochemistry, international relations, and, of course, computer science).
Completed projects include:
- Virtual Piano (winner of Most Creative Poster at NEUCS '10
- Mammal Mania (educational game to teach children about New England wildlife)
- Mitosis Game (educational tool to teach children about the process of mitosis)
- Interactive Molecular Viewer
- Tour of Africa