Two departments at MU create meteorology app to visualize clouds in the sky

Professor Eric Aldrich and College of Engineering teamed up to create an augmented reality weather app.
Professor Eric Aldrich and MU College of Engineering members created the app MeterologyAR, which helps meteorology students identify different types of clouds. Photo by Senior Photographer Becca Newton

CORRECTION: The article has been updated to better represent the team that has contributed to the app. The Maneater regrets this error.

Atmospheric science Professor Eric Aldrich and members of the MU College of Engineering created the app MeterologyAR, which helps users learn about clouds. They created the app for meteorology students to identify the different types of clouds.

The app was a capstone project for five students in the College of Engineering. Dylan Mouser, Andrew Gerstner, Scottie Murrel, Yen Yang and Samuel Naeger were the students involved in the capstone project. Aldrich came to engineering professor Fang Wang in the College of Engineering and asked if the students could develop something for him to use in his meteorology classes.

The goal of the project was “to research, design and implement a way to bring 2D meteorological course materials into the third dimension,” according to the app’s website.

“What I hope for students to get out of the app is a better understanding of clouds and what they look like,” Aldrich said.

There are three different parts of the app for users to choose from: a cloud and tornado simulator with audio, a cloud identification game and a cloud and tornado simulator without audio. The clouds were modeled by Mouser, a shader designer, modeler and an environment artist who was in charge of 3D design.

For the cloud and tornado simulator without audio, users can point their devices at a target image and will be able to see the cloud find out what type it is. The simulator with audio features Aldrich’s voice talking about the clouds and describing what they mean. The identification game enables users to test their knowledge on clouds by seeing a cloud on the screen and choosing from three different types of clouds to pick the correct one.

The continuation and the vision of the project after its capstone phase are led by Aldrich, Wang and Dr. Xinhao Xu of the College of Education, Wang said in an email. These faculty members provided funding, pushed through the app revision and release for testing, designed the experiment, got the Institutional Review Boards’ approval and launched the project in class.

Murrell, a graduate student who was on the capstone team, hopes to create more apps like MeterologyAR for other professors. The College of Engineering brought in Ph.D. student Amanda Stafford to do research on topics like this to see if it is possible to create more apps.

“She wanted to do research on some topics like this to actually find out how well it actually helped students absorb the content,” Murrell said. “... Hopefully, if we get other professors like the physics and geology professors involved, we would like to apply it to their classes.”

The College of Engineering is continuing to develop the app by researching what is working and what is not. They are also working on changing the name of the app, which was accidentally misspelled by the App Store. They want to see the functionality of the app side, and from now until next spring, they will be working on updating the app and making the clouds more realistic. The app is available for free on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

“Weather is a very visualizing 3D type of field of study,” Aldrich said. “I thought, you know, if you could physically look at something and spin it around, or tilt it up and down on your phone or on an app, [I think] that would be engaging for the students and would allow them to visualize things.”

Edited by Laura Evans | levans@themaneater.com

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