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Project Spotlight: MARLEy

MARLEy is an Augmented Reality (AR) tool that enhances online learning for students.

Written by: Tif Ho

helpful-engineering-marley-online-learning-b

Online learning.

The Challenge

In December 2019, a cluster of COVID-19 cases appeared in China. By March 2020, COVID-19 had spread throughout the world. Soon afterward, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a worldwide pandemic. Following the WHO’s declaration, schools across the world began to close. As a result, a record number of students have been away from in-person learning for an unprecedented amount of time. 

For high school students, including MARLEy team member Aryadeepta Dee, the lack of in-person learning means missing out on important developmental experiences. These experiences are particularly important for subjects such as chemistry, which require a practical laboratory environment. While Google Classrooms, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and other video chat software have brought students together and helped to mitigate the learning problem – current online learning tools have failed to engage students.

A chemistry lab experiment in a conventional classroom setting, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Solution

MARLEy was born out of the MIT Beat the Pandemic II Challenge. Project Lead, Matthew Henricks, states that the conceptualization of MARLEy began as a means to address two questions:

  1. How do we create cohesive learning so that students can learn things together in a fun environment?
  2. How do we retain the hands-on chemistry laboratory learning experience in an online world?

Henricks explains, “I was personally wrestling with three possible ideas that had captured my interest. But as an Engineer and Physicist, I fell in love with the ideas that the initial team started tossing around about MARLEy.” 

MARLEy is currently in the prototyping phase. It will be a web application for a multi-user, Augmented Reality (AR) laboratory experience. This application will provide students with a common interface for interactive experiences, hands-on learning, and real-time feedback. The application will rely on Unity as the development framework, as this is the most mature game engine and easiest to implement. Additionally, MARLEy will use HTML5 scripting, the latest version of the HTML, which is used in web browsers. HTML5 offers several benefits, including increased user accessibility across various screen sizes, resolutions, orientations, and devices.

The web application will require a simple setup of laptop and webcam. Educators and students will be able to upgrade the setup to include physical lab equipment replications with the use of physical objects and 3D-rendered models. This will be made possible through easy to implement sensors and Marker tracking. The final product will include several free resources. However, educators (whether they are parents who are homeschooling, private schools, or public schools) will be able to tailor resources to fit their needs through a subscription basis. Additionally, MARLEy will be modular, which will allow for quick integration of additional lab-based courses. Ultimately, MARLEy is intended as a solution which enables students to continue their learning goals during the pandemic. Future applications of MARLEy also include the possibility of making this software “the new normal” as a go-to learning tool.

MIT Beat the Pandemic II Challenge.

The Team

Henricks, the project lead, is a US Navy member with experience in small team leadership, program management, engineering, and physics. He currently serves as the face of MARLEy, helping to direct volunteers and resources towards the project. However, his role is ever-evolving and may change as the team continues to restructure their focus. 

The team has extensive experience in project and business management. In addition to Henricks, the core team includes multiple other dedicated individuals with backgrounds in design, software programming with Amazon Web Services (AWS), program management from a life-cycle perspective, education, and chemistry. These individuals are Aryadeepta Dee and Prakash Maria Lij P. Dee is the high school student who came up with the idea and initiated the MARLEy project. Currently, Dee is deep-diving into research on Unity, in an attempt to understand how it works and how it can be used to turn MARLEy into a reality. Lij P is a coding guru, with extensive experience in AWS environments.

Challenges and Achievements

The team has been facing several challenges. Since the MIT competition, there has been a struggle to hold the team together. MARLEy originated with eight individuals but is now down to just a few team members. Turnover has been high. And the team is finding it difficult to recruit developers who are able and willing to turn MARLEy into a reality. 

Despite their challenges, the team has also had several achievements. By participating in the MIT challenge, they realized that they had an idea that was worth pursuing. And at the Helpful Engineering Hack-a-Thon, MARLEy was named a user choice favorite. This announcement further solidified the team’s resolution to continue to pursue their goals. Helpful Engineering also recently picked up MARLEy as a highlighted project. These achievements have given the team access to prizes that come in the form of much-needed resources. In fact, the team currently has access to $5k in AWS Credits, $1.5k in Business Support Credits, and $500 for development – all of which will help to propel them forward. 

The team has remained hopeful throughout the process and continues to make progress. The remaining four team members are fully-committed to seeing the project through, to wherever it takes them. In addition, Henricks says that talking to Helpful Engineering has helped them to refocus their goals and to begin operating in a more well-defined agile process. In turn, this has allowed them to more clearly identify the bare minimum needed for each phase of the project in order to construct a product that is useful for educators and students alike. As a result, the team feels that they will be able to bring a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to fruition very quickly once they have the right resources. Henricks states, “The sky still seems to be the limit.” 

MARLEy pitch.

How You Can Help

MARLEy’s greatest need right now is volunteers. The team currently lacks key personnel, who are required to bring the product to fruition. They are developing internal capabilities and reaching out to their network to source volunteers. However, the team continues to seek software developers and engineers who can help them define the boundaries of the project. That said, they are also open to volunteers of all backgrounds. In fact, Henricks says, “No idea is too crazy, and all backgrounds are welcome. We just need you to pick up a keyboard and dive into learning something new with us.

Want to volunteer?

Join the MARLEy channel in the Helpful Engineering Slack at Volunteer Page then #project-ar-lab channel.

Want to learn more?

Watch the most recent pitch of MARLEy at https://youtu.be/92YqhZrFFts

The designs in this article are presented As-Is. The goal is to present designs that can foster further discussion and be utilized in countries that permit this product. These are not finalized designs and do not represent certification from any country. You accept responsibility and release Helpful Engineering from liability for the manufacture or use of this product. This design was created in response to the announcement on March 10, 2020, from the HHS.  Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) who issued a declaration pursuant to the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act

Link to Prep act: https://www.phe.gov/Preparedness/legal/prepact/Pages/default.aspx

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