Q&A with Brad Henry, Find Brutus app creator

By Columbus Alive
From the May 23, 2013 edition

Brad Henry has designed a mobile application, Find Brutus that will present a virtual 3D Brutus as a tour guide for Ohio State University. The app will allow users, especially students, to have an interactive experience throughout Campus using a mobile device — offering directions, university facts and history and a scavenger hunt-type game.

The technological framework behind the Find Brutus app — a combination of artificial intelligence and augmented reality — has endless possibilities. Capabilities include revolutionizing how doctors care for patients, training emergency responders and improving how teachers run a classroom. This potential earned Henry the chance to be one of the first to experiment with Google Glass as part of the Glass Explorers pilot program.

The Find Brutus project started about three years ago, stemming from my doctoral research. Looking at a lot of cutting-edge technology and artificial intelligence, I started to devise what my research project was going to be. Then this brainstorm came to me, using augmented reality and mixing it with artificial intelligence. The idea became to use this as a mechanism for training individuals in real-world environments.

Find Brutus also has training mechanisms built into it. The whole concept of my doctoral research is I’ll be studying new student interactions on campus. This application [has] geo-coding and maps built in, so it’s a response mechanism [where] you can ask for directions or where a building is. We’ve extended it beyond just a game, into a utility. You could ask for all kinds of facts, directions or faculty. If you were to start building it into the infrastructure, you could conceivably schedule classes. The potential for this type of application is endless.

One of the other cool things with Find Brutus is we actually have constructed the first 3D Brutus. And we managed to get it through licensing in less than two weeks; people were floored.

I talked with folks from university archives, and one of the ideas they had with the augmented reality piece was to reconstruct [the past]. You could go to the Oval, hold up your mobile device and as you’re scanning the area you can see exactly what the campus looked like during the 1920s.

I’m currently working with the Biodynamics Laboratory. They have these handheld scanners and instead of it being a laser scanner — it is a type of laser scanner — it uses white light. It looks like a strobe light. When you scan with this thing it’s unreal — you can see every hair. It looks like a photograph, but in 3D. A recent graduate from the animation department at Ohio State is taking the 3D model, and we’re going to animate it. The idea is to get Gordon Gee to be the introduction face.

I started the whole Find Brutus campaign to get on the “If I Had Glass” list. I had given up and thought we weren’t going to get [Google] Glass. The exact same day I gave up hope … I got the email. I almost cried. I was so excited. It was one of those overwhelming moments. Now I’m still waiting. I know they’re coming.

We’re just going to have to re-tool a few things for it to work with Google Glass. [Find Brutus] works via Bluetooth, so you still need a mobile device, and it has a mechanism that can pull in six applications from a mobile device. Where I want to go is a hands-free app that gets away from the mobile device. The whole idea is you get to interact and do things without having to fidget with [a mobile device].

I also talked with Nina West … to do some fun things with this. I asked if we could use Find Brutus for a fundraiser toward the end of the year. We’d do it around town with local businesses and call it Bitch, Please! Nina thought it sounded fantastic. It’s a game and scavenger hunt, but there’s all kinds of interactions. It will use voice recognition, so you can talk to it back and forth. You’ll be given questions you have to answer and figure out where the clues are and where to go. It’s like a souped-up scavenger hunt, but the fun part is we get to program all the language behind it. So if you answer incorrectly the [response] will be “Bitch, please!”

I’ve always used the philosophy of, “Keep it simple, stupid. One of the things I learned when working with some hardcore developers — some very talented individuals — is they think a lot differently than most people. They’re working at a different level. They have a whole different language. They have a whole different concept of thinking. If I can’t sit a third-grader down to resolve it, then it’s too complicated.

Photo by Meghan Ralston