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Penn State Liberal Arts Student Develops AR App for Anthropology Labs

Nicolas McLean, a student of College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State, has collaborated with anthropology professor Mark Shriver and instructional designer Jesse Driver for the development of an AR app designed for the on-campus anthropology labs.

The concept came to be when Driver approached McLean with a proposal of researching extended reality (XR) projects. XR refers to technologies that transform the interactions people, and those between people and their surroundings. Driver wanted to witness how these technologies could be used within classrooms.

McLean pointed out that the major issue affecting XR projects is the dearth of information to be researched and used in a course. He explained that the knowledge pool is limited as XR is a new field.

McLean’s introductory research had originated the idea that resulted in the creation of the application. The project was started after McLean expressed his concepts with Shriver and Driver.

Nick McLean, Jesse Driver, and Mark Shriver created a new augmented reality app that focuses on categorizing primates by facial characteristics, which students will use in Shriver’s ANTH 021 Introductory Biological Anthropology lab.Image: Penn State

According to McLean, his team only had images of primates and primate skulls in 2D. But since a skull is a three-dimensional object, it was not observable from 2D images. McLean and his partners wanted to discover if augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) could be used in a classroom setting. For them, the project was the suitable chance to deploy and test out these technologies.

An AR application developed by the team following over 3 months of effort specialised in grouping primates based on facial characteristics. The app forms a 3D images of unique primate skulls displayed on a flashcard, which are scanned into the app by the smartphone cameras of users. As the device is physically turned, the user gets to see different perspectives and views of the skulls in in greater detail than the human eye can capture.

Currently, the application will only be utilised in Shriver’s ANTH 021 Introductory Biological Anthropology lab that conducts research mainly on primates. The app is being introduced in the hope that it can add some value for students. It is now installed on the iPad devices being used for the course, but McLean and his partners want to make it available on devices outside the lab.

McLean had an advantage going into the project due to his development background, but he was still required to gather latest information related to coding and app creation. He had to look up various resources including the College of the Liberal Arts Information Technology (IT) team and the Media Commons.


McLean revealed that he also benefited from the support given by the staff and faculty members of the college. They assisted him by providing skill development help and equipping him with the required development equipment.

McLean currently works as an intern at the College of the Liberal Arts’ Office of Digital Pedagogy and Scholarship, and is set to graduate later this year.

He believes that students wanting to bring their projects to life should aim high and try to raise interest among others.

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