“Where’s the lecture at?”
Lukas Ziegler and Timo Loewe both chose to tackle a practical problem in their MSc projects. And on the side, they teamed up to develop the LMU Roomfinder, an app that earned them an LMU Student Research Prize from Lehre@LMU.
LMU is a large institution, comprising approximately 30,000 separate rooms in buildings that are distributed across no less than 83 locations. As a result, few students can boast of never having gone astray on their way to a lecture! As students of Computer Sciences, Lukas und Tim were looking for a practical problem to which they could apply their specialist knowledge in their respective MSc. projects. Eventually, they decided to find a way to reduce the numbers of lost souls searching in vain for the right lecture or seminar. So, putting their heads together, they came up with the project LMU Roomfinder. “It was amazing how the idea for the project changed my whole approach to day-to-day life on campus,” says Lukas, looking back to the beginnings of the venture. Indeed, the degree of enthusiasm that went into realizing the idea is reflected in the fact that both theses received top marks.
Above all, it must be useful
“The advent of apps has transformed our lives,” says Timo. “But I have always felt that there are two areas in which apps are particularly useful: communication and navigation or spatial orientation.” He chose to work on the latter topic – more specifically the problem of visual positioning – in his BSc project. In his thesis, he described the development of a procedure that enables one to compare individual photos – rapidly and efficiently – with a large number of similar images in order to determine one’s current position. His Master’s thesis, which he is currently writing up, also has a decidedly practical bent. But this time, he is exploring how videos can be exploited to fix one’s location. The basic idea is that one can analyze video sequences to infer distances and changes in direction. Both the photo- and the video-based procedures are designed for use in situations in which GPS data are either not available or are too imprecise for localization purposes – in other words, indoors.
Lukas (26) too wanted his thesis research to be useful. I wanted to do applied research that was also interdisciplinary in its approach, he explains. So after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at Munich’s Technical University (TUM), he moved to LMU to a do a Master’s in media informatics. The subject of his thesis was the Design and Development of a Public Display Survey Platform. Like visual positioning, the field of public displays is a relatively young area of research which is devoted to interactive applications in public settings, such as touch displays in airport terminals, railway stations and shopping centers.
One of the central issues in the field is how to translate established modes of operation, such as those familiar to millions of smartphone users, to larger touch screens in much frequented public spaces. Lukas carried out a field study which was designed to determine how people would reacted when asked to fill out questionnaires presented on public displays. Among other things, he discovered that larger displays made people particularly wary, as they became more concerned about the issue of privacy and the confidentiality of their responses.
The LMU Roomfinder – from practical class to Google Play Store
Timo and Lukas met in Professor Claudia Linnhoff-Popien’s practical class on “Mobile and Distributed Systems” and they soon discovered that they shared a preference for the practical application of what they were learning. One of the subjects that came up in the practical was the topic of indoor navigation – a field which is still in its pioneering phase, although informatics giants like Google are already exploring it. “First of all, we designed an app that included many frankly experimental functions. But then we decided that it would be better to dispense with functions like indoor navigation, and concentrate on building a reliable and stable app that would be practical use to students,” says Lukas. So the budding inventors set about reconfiguring their original design – in their leisure time – and the end-result of their cogitations and tests was the Android app LMU Roomfinder. The app, which is available from the Google Play Store for the past 6 months, provides students with an overview of the locations of all LMU buildings, and easy access to the floor plans of the building of interest, allowing them to locate their destination in next to no time. Many LMU students already use the app, and Lukas and Timo were rewarded for its development with one of the LMU Student Research Prizes awarded by Lehre@LMU.