April 18, 2012, 4:18 PM

Welcome your newest app developers: College students and baseball players

University of Illinois baseball players and media students create a Virtual Dugout app.

Lead Photo

Baseball fans at the University of Illinois who want to follow the school’s team now need only tap their smartphones.

The University of Illinois baseball team has partnered with the UI College of Media's Journalism 460 course to create a Virtual Dugout mobile app. The app, available on Apple Inc.’s iPhone as well as smartphones using Google Inc.’s Android mobile operating system, uses augmented reality to offer short, personal videos of many of the Illini players. Augmented reality technology enables mobile device users to see imagery or video in ways that alter what is seen through a smartphone’s camera.

Users scan a player's baseball card and the app makes the card come alive. The still image of the player begins to move and speak and then transforms into a video clip on the user's smartphone.

The app offers short, behind-the-scenes videos of many of the Illini players. App users can hear stories of players who are struggling through lengthy stretches of rehabilitation following injuries, or hear a starting pitcher describe how he mentally preps for a big game.

Other features include live season and career statistics. Students also plan to soon add a feature to the app that will display how each play in a game impacts the probability of an Illini victory.

The Virtual Dugout project, which uses augmented reality technology from Aurasma, is led by assistant professor of journalism Charles Ledford, who specializes in multimedia journalism. Ledford first saw Aurasma’s augmented reality capabilities demonstrated at a conference in Boston in late 2011. The platform made a printed photograph come alive as a video on the demonstrator's smartphone and that inspired Ledford to investigate ways to utilize that technology in a journalistic way.

"One of my goals is to find innovative ways to bring relevant information to audiences who are increasingly accustomed to communication that is delivered across a variety of screens," Ledford says. "To me, this means not just moving print content online, or making online content mobile; it means creating a user experience that's as engaging as Angry Birds but much more informative. I immediately knew that this marriage of still photography with video, of the physical with the virtual, could be a game-changer.”

University of Illinois students working on the app came from the departments of journalism, advertising, art and design, electrical and computer engineering, statistics, and computer science.

"Creating an app of this complexity is no small task," Ledford explains. "The students' tenacity and creativity continues to exceed my expectations, whether they're coding, designing, reporting, shooting or advertising. Innovation in journalism means being a teacher, a leader and an advocate for enterprising young people like those on the Virtual Dugout team, and then getting out of their way while they do great things."

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