Student Profile: Lucio Gutierrez

CS Masters student explores augmented alternate reality games

If you have ever heard someone talking about augmented reality (AR), they are referring to the use of technology to digitally supplement real environments with additional information of interest to the user. For example, when watching a football game on TV, the yellow first down lines are often added to broadcast for the viewer’s reference.

The power and advanced features of today’s smartphones make them a great platform for AR and their explosive market growth allows Augmented Alternate Reality Games (AARGs) to be embraced like never before. Though relatively new, these games have become increasingly popular with gamers and researchers alike.

The national GRAND (Graphics, Animation and New Media) Network and their Centres of Excellence encourage innovation in emerging areas of new media like AR, and collaboration between researchers and Universities across Canada.

Supported by the GRAND HLTHSIM project, Lucio Gutierrez – a master’s student with the Service Systems group – is exploring various aspects of these games for educational purposes.

“Specifically, we’re studying the interactive nature of these games from a Software Engineering perspective,” says Lucio. “We want to find the essential features at the software and hardware levels which make these games fun to play and provide useful tools to enable people to learn something in the process.” 

One of the AARG prototypes is inspired by geocaching – an outdoor activity in which participants use a GPS to locate some sort of hidden “treasure.”

Campus Mysteries is a virtual ghost hunt where players are guided around campus in search of ghosts from the U of A’s past while learning about the University's history. As they navigate the grounds, players can hold up their smartphone to see graphics annotating the physical world (shown by their phone's camera) with information identifying buildings of interest and directions to their next destination. Tested by a group of computing science summer campers last year, Campus Mysteries was played and thoroughly enjoyed.

Although Lucio’s research is still in an exploratory phase, it is sure to have an exciting impact on gaming, and learning, in the future.

Article, 2011; photos, 2010.