Editor’s note: Liesel Nygard, the author of this article, is also the author of the opinion piece mentioned.
A recent Collegian opinion piece explains why the University of Massachusetts campus needs an app to help find places to study. After the article was published, a group of students contacted and explained the creation of their mapping application for the UMass community which could help individuals on campus find their way to classrooms, events, restaurants and more.
Campus Atlas, designed by five students, aims to map locations for those on campus, so it’s easier to find your way around. The application was designed in November 2021 during the HackUMass IX Contest, where designers worked for 36 hours to map out two floors of the integrative learning center as a prototype. Their project won the grand prize and Best Software Hack category award.
During the HackUMass IX competition. From left to right, Ben Burns, Conlan Cesar, Nic Asnes, Larry Tseng and Rohan Bapat. Photograph by Larry Tseng.
“We’ve all experienced at some point in our college careers where we couldn’t find a certain classroom or find a building on campus because there were so many. And there were no good solutions that UMass currently offers to find your way around campus. That’s why we came up with this idea,” explained team member Larry Tseng, a junior management student specializing in IT.
Tseng explained a poll he created for a former management class. The survey focused on the confidence level of UMass students in finding a new classroom. He said that of those 30 responses, the average confidence level was 2.7 out of five, showing a confidence rating of 54%.
In non-technical terms, Campus Atlas would provide users with a search bar, allowing them to type in any words that might match the building or classrooms. Pressing “search” would then produce a list of options that would show up and you would choose the location you want. The search field would provide additional information such as building name and office hours.
In addition to mapping the campus, the app would show accessibility options throughout the building, such as stairs and elevators. Other search options for students and teachers could be places to study, places to eat, or water fountains.
Campus Atlas would be able to take coordinate positions and find locations close to them. The app would identify nearby buildings and the ones you are most interested in based on search history, rather than loading each mapped building. To prevent the display of outside information, the app would only show UMass campus locations.
“The app is a real map. So the base map would be Apple Maps or Google Maps and then we would put our points and coordinates on top. And that’s why it’s important to get those coordinates so that they match the actual building in Apple or Google Maps,” Tseng said.
In technical terms, when the application was created for the ILC, the team used an image of the building and placed it above the ILC in the Google Earth program. They then traced all the corners of the building and rooms by clicking on the corners with their mouse, then exported this file from Google Earth, creating a KML, which stores all of the building’s information from Google Earth. With this KML, they assigned coordinates and labeled the individual parts in the ILC. Next, the team wrote pieces of code that would take a KML-formatted file and convert it to an indoor mapping data format (IMDF). The IMDF is what allows users to zoom in on the map and do things like see building floors, rooms, and its accessibility.
“The main focus of Campus Atlas in terms of scalability is that we have now put most of the effort into developing this pipeline of data to be mapped, and then once we have it finalized, we can then work on customization key,” team member Ben Burns, a sophomore in math, said.
The team is still creating such a tool. They said the personalization they wish to pursue will depend on whether or not they work with the University. If it’s a campus-wide initiative, they’ll have plenty of customization options.
One potential idea from the team was to allow students to use their SPIRE credentials for the app so that it would be safe and secure for the student. When asked about privacy settings, they said the app will not store or disseminate personal information. It will be saved on your personal device, and no one else’s. However, they thought of a feature where friends and family can request permission to share their current location with you. You may also have the option to share your current location with emergency services.
The team said Campus Atlas could have the ability to show the events that users are most interested in and be displayed directly on the map so it’s easier to navigate. Authorized users can register and create events on the app, which allows them to view the room number and time. This can be anyone, from the head of a student club to a university employee. The event would then be approved by the app owners before being projected onto the map.
They would also like to add the positioning inside. This would be the room or floor where you are. Courtesy of UMass, members can use Wi-Fi router signals and access point signals to find your exact location. They also want to create a feature that lets you find the fastest route to your destination.
Team member Nic Asnes, a computer science graduate, said that in the future, the team would like to create a more efficient way of mapping the application using other types of formats. These would include floor plans or other formats that already have coordinates stored, instead of an image. This way, the team was able to automatically convert coordinates and information rather than manually overlaying the image and pinning the corners of the room.
Team member Conlan Cesar, a young computer science student, said that no official proposal for this app had yet been made, but when they discussed their idea with other employees and students on the campus, they all seemed interested.
“We are still a bit in the research and development phase, trying to figure out what exact approach we want to take. So there are a lot of options,” Cesar said.
“We are really, really interested in this. And I think we believe in it as a product. We think it’s a good idea and it would help people,” Asnes said.
Liesel Nygard can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @LieselNygard.