A few years ago, Adham Farag was thinking about how Snapchat works, and he suggested to his mother, “Why can’t we have images like that popping up on a Hallmark card?” He imagined pointing your phone at the card to see a video image.
The idea faded as Farag entered university, but he didn’t forget about it. This spring, right after his final BSc exams in statistics and machine learning at the University of Toronto Scarborough, Farag turned to his longtime roommate, fourth-year co-op management and marketing student Rohil Kishinchandani, and started talking about his idea again. Kishinchandani loved it.
And so was born a very special Convocation feature for this year’s 400 graduates in management, as well as some other friends of the department. It all came together very quickly.
The two graduating students, aided by computer science student Bassel Ashi, developed a smartphone app, ARCUBE, that you can hold over a QR code printed on a paper card, such as a birthday missive or a congratulatory message to graduates. Up pops one or more videos displayed on a 3D cube, with your friends or colleagues singing “Happy Birthday” or telling you how wonderful you are for graduating. Fireworks may go off as well, even as the card itself is still displayed in the background. As with heads-up displays on fighter jets or the Terminator, it’s known as augmented reality.
“The entire premise was that whenever you read a card, an image of the person who wrote it sometimes pops up in your head,” says Kishinchandani. “So this is a way to actually see them in real life. You can actually hear them say the message. It’s more personal.”
Then Kishinchandani, ever the marketer, posted a demo of the app on LinkedIn, where Sischa Maharaj, assistant director, external relations and communications, for the department of management, saw it. She, too, loved the idea, and soon enlisted the pair to produce something special for this year’s virtual convocation.
“I wanted to find something that was personal and memorable to celebrate the fact that they're graduating, especially because we can't give them an in-person experience right now,” says Maharaj. “So when I saw ARCUBE and the messages, I just jumped at the chance to learn more.”
All management graduates received a card, via snail mail, but also available online, containing messages and a special poem, plus a QR code and directions for downloading the app.
“We had over 20 faculty submit videos of congratulation messages for the graduating class of 2021,” Maharaj says.
“I had goosebumps listening to them because, as a management alumna, I’m thinking, if I had a professor send me a personal message – wow! It feels as if you’re right there. I'm amazed to see the future and how innovative these young people are.”
Customized cards also went out to management volunteers and co-op employers with messages of gratitude.
The two innovators are both international students who started off in residence before moving to their own place three years ago. Kishinchandani, who came from Mumbai, was attracted to U of T Scarborough by its well-known management co-op program. Farag, who grew up in Cairo, is Canadian due to his mother’s Canadian citizenship, and was drawn by U of T Scarborough’s strong reputation.
“I also liked the idea of a small community school,” he adds. “Everyone kind of knows each other.”
What’s next for the app? Maharaj has more ideas for her department and plans to apply to the U of T True Blue Fund, which subsidizes purchases to support student and recent alumni startups. She also hopes the pair will get involved with the new venture program for recent grads, offered through The BRIDGE.
Kishinchandani, now job-hunting, says he has further cool ideas in the works. “We’re going step by step,” he says.