EcoTarium App

Beyond the Visual: WPI Students Develop Apps for the Visually Impaired

Streamlined features, navigation guides patrons through EcoTarium, Worcester Art Museum
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April 9, 2024

Student teams from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have developed smartphone apps designed to make visiting two attractions in the city a more robust—and independent—experience for visually impaired people. 

Working with the EcoTarium and the Worcester Art Museum, two teams of WPI computer science and data science students have created custom-tailored apps that describe artworks and outdoor science exhibits and can even guide guests from place to place during their visit. 

“Such mobile apps give people the freedom to explore the world on their own terms, and at their own pace,” said Rodica Neamtu, a computer science professor at WPI, who advised the two teams of seniors. All students at WPI must complete a team-based Major Qualifying Project (MQP), a professional-level research and design project, before graduating.

Simple and easy to use, the EcoTarium Explorer was designed to deepen guests’ connection to the exhibits. Users can navigate the science and nature museum’s outdoor spaces at its sprawling campus on the city’s east side. Brief visible or audible descriptions are available at the touch of a button. 



“We are thrilled to be partnering with WPI students on their Major Qualifying Project and feel fortunate to have WPI as a local STEM resource,” said Katie Chappell, director of education and exhibits at the EcoTarium. “This project fits squarely within our mission to inspire a passion for science and nature through one-of-a-kind experiences, interactive exhibits, and accessible programming for all. Ensuring universal accessibility and equitable access for all members of our community is one of our key strategic priorities.” 

At the Worcester Art Museum, the custom-designed technology, called Beyond the Visual, allows users to read or hear a description of an artwork by opening the app and holding their phone close to a near-field communication tag, or NFC tag—similar to a QR code—mounted next to selected artworks.

Learn more about the MQP teams' work:

“Working with WPI and its students on this project was a great experience. It was exciting to see them take on different aspects of improving accessibility to the arts and culture within the city,” said Marnie Weir, director of learning and engagement for the Worcester Art Museum.



Timothy Connors, a senior on the art museum MQP team, said he enjoyed working with testers referred from Audio Journal, a Worcester organization that serves the visually impaired. 

“Just to see the impact—to see how much it means to people, to be able to work with people who have to work through this problem, to be able to help them with it, and to understand their perspective—was gratifying,” Connors said. 

Harry Duchesne, director of Audio Journal, has worked with WPI student teams on previous projects, and said the new student-designed apps will prove to be must-have tools for a population eager to embrace technology as a way to increase mobility. 

“It’s all about quality of life,” Duchesne said. “Those who live with a disability, particularly the blind and print-disabled, want the same autonomy and independence the rest of us have.” 

Connors joined seniors Randy Dyer and Theo Coppola on the art museum team. The EcoTarium team included Dylan Olmsted, Joseph Fox, Brandon Vuong, Owen McGinley, and Dylan Phillips. 

The Beyond the Visual and EcoTarium Explorer apps are currently available for download for Apple and Android phones.