Penn State

With new technology, kids in the hospital can still experience Thon. Here’s how

Thon implements student built augmented reality app for 2019 dance

Thon has a new augmented reality app so children in the hospital can still experience the Penn State dance marathon event.
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Thon has a new augmented reality app so children in the hospital can still experience the Penn State dance marathon event.

A new student-coded augmented reality app will allow children cancer patients to experience the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, even if they’re unable to make it to the Bryce Jordan Center next weekend.

The app, which will soon be released to the public on app stores, allows users to point their phones at designated posters and see the images “come to life” on their screens.

Think Pokemon Go, but for the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.

The posters were installed at The Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey earlier this week, and will also be installed at the Bryce Jordan Center.

“You can see the world around you, but it’s enhanced by the features that we’ve encoded into the app,” said Anne Papadreas, a media relations captain for Thon 2019.

There are two kinds of immersive experiences on the app: creative and educational.

Creative experiences include multiple pop-up videos from showing performances from the dance, the human tunnel formed at the beginning of the weekend for dancers, and videos from events leading up to Thon weekend, all coming to life on the screen.

Patients in the children’s hospital will also be able to use the app for other AR experiences, such as turning their IV pole into a sword or a microphone on their screen. There’s also the ability to press on the screen to blow virtual bubbles, a popular tradition of Thon that is typically not allowed on the patient floors of the hospital.

Educational experiences will take users through the history and numbers of Four Diamonds, being able to physically touch the four diamonds to trigger a pop-up description of what each diamond represents (courage, honesty, wisdom and strength).

The app is run through IBM’s Watson technology and will utilize its text/language processor, allowing users to verbally interact with the AR videos through an ARKit software system.

Katherine Finneran, a media relations captain for Thon 2019, said the idea to implement technology like AR for Thon came during an internship where the company she was working for used AR technology.

“To me, I just thought that would be such a cool opportunity to implement this forward-moving technology into Thon,” Finneran said. “What better way to include the kids that can’t attend Thon weekend?”

The app was fully built and coded by a team of student developers, according to Papandreas. The development process for the app officially began in fall 2018, and was fully coded and completed in early January.

“Applying the higher education that students receive at Penn State University with artificial intelligence projects such as this will positively benefit Four Diamonds children impacted by childhood cancer,” a Thon press release said.

The development team was made up of six students in the engineering, computer science and data science fields, who worked on the project for months in their spare time.

“They’re such hard-working and impressive individuals,” Finneran said. “Just them setting aside time to really use their talents for the greater good, I just think that is such an incredible thing,”

Papandreas hopes that this AR technology is just the beginning for Thon using advanced technology to bring the dance to those who can’t attend.

“There’s so much we can do to bring Thon weekend and bring the magic of Thon year-round to those children and families in the hospital,” Papandreas said. “Getting our foot in the door with using this innovative technology is a great way to continue closing the gap for those who can’t make it to the Bryce Jordan Center.”

“I just think that’s one of the coolest things about Thon is that we really like to be community based, however some might not be well enough to come,” Finneran said. “I just thought that this would be such a cool and high-tech way to bring Thon weekend to those kids who can’t come.”

The app will be available for the general public to download in the days leading up to Thon weekend. Those who can’t attend this year’s Thon weekend can tune into for a livestream of the event.