Two Visual Art & Technology Students Reach Semi-Finals in Competition for Their Educational Software Platform, EDEN

Students Kyle Buzby (Civil Engineering and a Minor in Visual Arts & Technology) and Frank DiCola (Visual Arts & Technology, Information Systems, and Game Design) have been selected as Semi-Finalists in “The Start Something Challenge” for their educational product EDEN, which they created while working on a summer research project at Stevens.

EDEN, short for Educational Environment, is an educational software platform that allows for students to use gestures to interact with different forms of media, including videos, practice problems or definitions. Last July, the two incorporated the technology into a company called Proxemic Technologies, which aims to fill the technological gap between knowledge and how we absorb it.

The platform uses Microsoft Kinect technology and allows the user to engage course material through movement-based interactions, leading to smarter learning and greater retention rates as the user is more highly engaged with the material.

“EDEN is a software framework for teaching users a subject in a way that engages them to keep learning and not give up,” DiCola said. “It is unique not only because it utilizes an input method that is slightly unconventional [gestures instead of a controller or buttons], but also because it uses other motivational factors like story elements to keep players engaged.”

Before deciding on the Kinect system, the team researched all the possibilities for developing a natural user interface. By working as a team, they were able to use their individual talents of art and design and programming to create the product.

“The VizTech program has inspired me to get into this new type of technology,” Buzby said. “I was introduced to Augmented Reality (AR) by Professor Brian Moriarty and I was hooked on it… Prof. Moriarty constantly pushes us to our limits by introducing things like AR and the Kinect and making us look at what we can do with it. He doesn’t give us a goal to reach; more often than not he asks us what currently exists and what we can do to make those things different or better. It’s truly motivating to have a professor who is actually pushing students on an individual level to their limits, even when it comes to taking that idea and making a commercial product out of it.”

The product was developed as a software framework so that a range of content could be inputted, including additional educational courses, professional training applications and military training environments. The versatility allows for further innovation in the learning environment. Buzby believes EDEN is particularly useful in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education because there is a greater amount of visualization needed to complete problems.

“If EDEN was to expand across the U.S. it could help the country in bringing up our world ranking and make us more competitive in STEM fields,” he said.

Another distinctive characteristic of the product is its ability to allow students to learn at an individual pace. DiCola believes that allowing students to work without the fear of penalty will lead to a more rewarding learning process.

“The program doesn’t advance ahead to harder concepts until the student understands the basics. And unlike a classroom full of kids, it doesn’t need to advance ahead in the interest of fairness to everybody else who understands the concept. Everyone can play the game individually and spend however long they need to learn the subjects in the game,” he said.

The Office of Academic Entrepreneurship encouraged the team to enter “The Start Something Challenge”, New Jersey’s only micro-business pitch competition targeting new and small businesses.

For the Semi-Final round, Buzby and DiCola will pitch their idea in front of a panel of experts and celebrity judges. If selected for the final, they could win up to $10,000 for their venture. For Buzby, this would bolster him toward his goal of being Proxemic Technologies’ first full-time employee.

“In addition to EDEN, our company plans to work on a few projects in Augmented Reality. I am currently working on a project to create a self-guided tour app for Stevens that will be a proof of concept for its features and effectiveness. In this way, the campus would be more accessible to visiting families without the need for a tour guide. Families would be able to use this app and view information about all buildings and landmarks on campus and in the immediate area. We hope that this project would be successful so that we could bring it to other college campuses or even apply the same framework to Hoboken or other local city tourist attractions.”

Likewise, DiCola is determined to develop his art and technology skills toward a career in Game Development.

“I’m looking to start my own company before I graduate. Whether or not I create educational games or titles that are purely for entertainment depends on the market, how future research projects go, and the co-founders I can assemble.”

The Semi-Final round takes place on October 29, 2012, at St. Peters University in Jersey City, NJ.