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Informatics students help create app to enhance Dream Cars exhibit experience at IMA

May 5, 2015

Thousands of people are expected to visit the Indianapolis Museum of Art to see a unique type of motor spectacle when it opens Sunday. When they do, their experience will be enhanced by the Dream Cars Design Studio app created in cooperation with two Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing students at IUPUI.

Dream Cars: Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas, May 3 to Aug. 23, will feature rare concept cars from the early 1930s to the 21st century, showcasing some of the most unique vehicles ever created by top names in the automotive field, including General Motors, Porsche, Bugatti and BMW.

Dream Cars

Visitors to the exhibition will be also able to learn about the car design process in the Damon C. and Kay D. Davis Lab -- on the second floor of the museum -- through videos, images and a number of participatory activities, such as designing their own dream car using the Dream Cars Design Studio iPad app.

The app will guide children (6 and older) and adults through a number of steps, such as selecting fuel and engine types, the car silhouette, various accessories and colors. At each step, visitors will be able to see how their design and engineering choices affect a number of variables including cost, fuel efficiency and speed. The completed cars can be shared with family and friends by email, and will also be projected on the wall in the Davis Lab. The app will also be available for download, free of charge, in the App Store.

The app was developed by graduate student Vance Vaden, project manager and animator, and freshman Michael Auer, interaction developer.

Vaden and Auer began working on the app in September 2014, and collaborated with the IMA’s interpretation and technology team on the project. The app was completed in December.

“It’s fairly experimental for all of us right now,” said Zeb Wood, media arts and science lecturer at IUPUI. “The museum wanted to try using technology to enhance the exhibit, and we wanted to give students the chance to work on a real-world project for real clients.”

Among the app requirements: It had to be entertaining and easy to use for all ages, yet more informative for adults.

“It was a difficult challenge,” Wood said. “But these two wanted the opportunity, we briefed them, and they have been dealing with an entire committee at the IMA ever since.

“We have students who sometimes graduate without creating something like this. Now we have a freshman and a first-semester graduate student creating fully functional apps. This is a huge jump for us,” Wood continued.

“The success of the project will open the eyes of other students. “They are going to say, 'I don’t have to wait four years to try to create something for a community partner. I can get started right away.'”

The experience is one Auer won’t forget.

“This project has given me the chance to learn about working with a professional development team,” Auer  said. “My previous projects were mostly solo ventures, and so making the transition to a team-based one was incredibly enlightening. Since most projects in the real world are centered on group work and deadlines, experiencing these things really improved my skills.”

Auer, who volunteered for the project, said his ability to write algorithms and solve problems increased ten-fold. “There is a big difference between working for yourself and working for a large art museum, and I believe that it really pushed me to become better at what I do.”

Vaden also found the project to be an interesting experience.

“Having an actual client definitely changed the way I approached each task, since everything I did was for them, rather than for a grade and myself,” said Vaden.  “I found myself communicating more and paying close attention to wording and detail a lot more than I usually would. “The internship was probably the best experience I had this semester since I got more professional experience and worked in a different environment than I had ever worked in previously.”

“What makes this particular project unique is the fact that the museum was so willing to work in tandem with the school’s students, treating this as a learning experience for both student and the professionals on the IMA side of things,” said Travis Faas, media arts and science lecturer at IUPUI.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this project is the skill levels involved, Faas said.

“The primary developer, Michael, was a first-semester freshman going into this project," he said. "Working along with this team, he has had more opportunity to learn ‘how it is done’ in the real world compared to many of his peers. It is a real eye-opener to learn just how much work goes into the production of an even relatively simple app.”

Interpretation materials and content for the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s presentation of "Dream Cars: Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas" were created with the support of an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The exhibition will open at the IMA on May 3, 2015. Tickets are $18 for adults and $10 for children ages 6 to 17. Admission is free for children under five years, college students from non-profit and public colleges and universities in Marion County, and IMA members.

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