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August 2018

New app creates shared experiences for friends and family

At a glance
The intern

Zikun Yang from China’s Central South University

Hosted by

Associate Professor Carman Neustaedter in the in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University

The research

Developing an experiential app for families separated by distance

Around the world, people use technology to stay connected with long-distance loved ones. This summer, Zikun Yang, a Mitacs intern from China, is helping researchers in Canada to develop a unique app that allows family and friends living geographically apart to share experiences in real time, despite the distance.

The app will use audio stories, such as podcasts, to enable users to communicate and feel as if they are doing the same activity at the same time, even though the activity might be taking place at different times in different places. For example, a mother and daughter living in different cities can hike together, with the mother initiating the story during her earlier hike and the daughter able to listen to her mother’s account while she herself goes for a hike. With the story disappearing from the app after a couple of days, the idea is to mimic how an experience may be over in real life, but the memory remains.

“A lot of the work we do tries to find ways for family and friends to connect over distance. It’s a global challenge these days,” says Professor Carman Neustaedter, who is overseeing the project with Zikun. “Right now the technology is in the prototype stage, and Zikun is helping make some of our ideas come to life.”

During her internship, Zikun is working on both the software and the hardware design of the app. “We’re challenging the assumptions that go into mobile app design by making something that is not just about immediacy,” says Professor Neustaedter.

As an international student visiting Canada for the first time, Zikun says the project hits close to home. “Being far away from my family, I know first-hand how much I want them to share in the experiences I’ve had in Vancouver. This app will allow users to feel closer and more connected.”

By the end of Zikun’s internship, the team hopes to have a working prototype that they can test in the field later this fall.

Mitacs would like to thank the Government of Canada, along with the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, and the Government of Quebec for their support of the Globalink Research Internship program. In addition, in the summer of 2019, Mitacs was pleased to work with the following international partners to support Globalink: Universities Australia; the China Scholarship Council; Campus France; the German Academic Exchange Service; Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education, Tecnológico de Monterrey, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico; and Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Mission Universitaire de Tunisie en Amerique du Nord.​

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