Aidan Aumell Develops AR/VR Field Trip to Kamiak Butte

By: Max CiotKamiak Butte Virtual Field Trip

Aidan Aumell had the opportunity to work as an intern at an Augmented Reality (AR) program this past summer called “Simply Augmented” as well as working previously at WSU Virtual Reality Research Lab. This sparked his interest in AR and Virtual Reality (VR) experiences, specifically in how it can be used in educational settings, especially environmental education.

Aidan took SOE 300: Natural Resource Ecology in the Spring Semester of 2020 taught by Dr. William E. Schlosser, known to his students as Dr. Bill. Typically every semester there is an in-person class field trip to Kamiak Butte County Park. Unfortunately, Aidan was in one of the last groups of students to visit the park prior to the start of the global pandemic in Spring of 2020. Aidan shared his ideas with Dr. Schlosser about integrating 360 videos, AR, and VR into the environmental education system prior to the start of the pandemic. However, when it began, they started actively collaborating on creating an accessible virtual field trip for future students of the class to experience.

Previously, Aidan had some interesting AR related experiences in his internship work at Simply Augmented that helped him prepare for his work on the Kamiak Butte project. For example, Smithsonian Museum released artifacts to the public domain. For his internship he downloaded 3D models from the Smithsonian website, adjusted the size and height of the 3D models, and placed them into Simply Augmented’s personal augmented reality software program. The program allows you to load 3D models into it and have an augmented reality experience with them. He also wrote blog posts with lesson plans, and descriptions of the objects which could be used as an activity by teachers during social distancing.

Aidan believes that AR and VR can provide students and teachers alike with a unique experience. He states that it is a “very educational tool that is under utilized in classrooms due to it being very new” and can see the implementation of it more in the future due to social distancing, and the accessibility it provides in the current pandemic. The reason Aidan and Dr. Bill created this virtual field trip was to substitute the real field trip from a distance, they plan to continue using this virtual field trip along with the real one when COVID ends.

The AR/VR field trip to Kamiak Butte consists of an interactive tour that includes 360 videos (filmed by Aidan himself), drone videos (recorded by doctoral environmental science student, Danny Auchieb), wildlife photography (managed by an Environmental Science Teaching Assistant that is enthusiastic about wildlife photography, Dylan Koopmans) and narration (by Dr. Bill). Aidan created the virtual field trip with an e-learning software Adobe Captivate to build interactive tour of Kamiak Butte.

Aidan organized the project and collaborated with team members Madison Kilkenny, Tholen Blasko, Emily Barrier, Austin Aumell, Danny Auerbach, Dylan Koopman, and Dr. Bill to launch the project.

In the virtual field trip interface, viewers teleport to various locations within Kamiak Butte to learn about the ecology, geology, and cultural and tribal significance related to the butte. In various butte locations viewers click on icons to bring up text, narrated videos, drone videos, and even change the season within a VR view.

Tree data is represented visually throughout the virtual field trip, showing physical site characteristics, tree species, size, height, and population density. Viewers record this data as it is processed to discover how trees capture atmospheric carbon molecules to sequester carbon in roots, stems, and foliage. Students have discovered how much carbon is sequestered in individual trees, how much is contained in each species, and how much is sequestered in the entire forest. Viewers place meaning on assertions about the carbon sequestration in the forests they visit, even in the virtual reality interface.

Aidan also developed an open source website to host the field trip along with the VR/AR experiences and more. Due to his previous web-design experience, he was able to create this website nearly from scratch. Students are able to access the virtual field trip using not only VR headsets, but also through desktop computers and mobile devices. Aidan developed a 3D map of Kamiak Butte’s topography for students to view in augmented reality as well. You can view the website here.

Device showing 3D Map of Kamiak Butte
3D Map of Kamiak Butte in Augmented Reality

Aidan also has a handful of projects he is hoping to work on within the next few years, however, he still has a way to go on his Kamiak Butte project. Aidan is currently filming at three locations in Kamiak Butte every month for a year in order to show seasonal change shown here. Furthermore, he has talked about working with local tribes and the school of medicine to incorporate diverse information about into the project as well. Furthermore, he has talked about working on more projects with various classes at WSU, local tribes, and small local businesses.

Once the Kamiak Butte project is done, it’s effect on Aidan’s life trajectory will continue to solidify. During this project Dr. Bill inspired Aidan to go to graduate school. Aidan applied and will be starting in the Spring. He will be pursing a masters degree in education curriculum and instruction and hopes to keep developing more AR/VR experiences for educational settings at WSU. He will also be working at the VR2GO LAB with Dr. Don McMahon in graduate school. Aidan dreams of using his Digital Technology and Culture background and his newly gained knowledge in the master’s educational program to create VR/AR experiences for students across the globe. He hopefully wants to continue working in the education realm and aligning AR/VR experiences in already-established curriculum.