Thursday, January 25, 2007

Child Tangible Interaction

Yesterday, I went to SFU Surrey to hear Alissa Antle (my new supervisory committee member, yay!!!) give a grad colloquium presentation on Child Tangible Interaction, the focus of a 3-5 year research project she is conducting under NSERC. Her work involves the development of "tangibles"--mixed reality interfaces, which combine physical and digital/virtual components--aimed at supporting certain processes of children's cognitive development. As she explains it, children often enjoy playing and creating on the computer, but they'd rather be actively (physically) playing with their friends than sitting alone at a computer console. What Alissa is trying to do is bring the vast potential of the computer into the existing reality of the playroom, through the introduction of physical objects and environments (and toys!) that combine tactile play with computing technologies (+ information processing). I'm just beginning to understand it myself, which makes it a bit hard to explain it all right now, so here's the abstract for yesterday's talk:

Alissa Antle’s current research program builds on her recent work adapting methods from human computer interaction to children and investigating how cognitive and embodied processes can be used to design highly interactive environments. By embedding sensors in everyday objects, tracking the movement of these objects, and using them as controls for the display of images and sounds that help to explain real world phenomena, she creates situations where children can successfully make the transition through the stages of cognitive development. This type of early stage research, which grounds the development of new technologies in understandings of perceptual, cognitive and embodied processes, is a critical precursor to the intelligent and human centred development of sensor-based tangibles and other mixed reality environments. Alissa will conclude her talk with some playful demonstrations of her previous industry work.


By far the coolest application she looked at was an amazing new technology developed by the MIT Media Lab called the I/O Brush. This thing is absolutely the coolest digital/electronic toy I've seen to date. As the project description explains:
There are many paint/drawing programs on the market today that are designed especially for kids. These let kids do neat things, but kids usually end up playing only with the "preprogrammed" digital palette the software provides. The idea of I/O Brush is to let the kids build their own ink. They can take any colors, textures, and movements they want to experiment with from their own environment and paint with their personal and unique ink. Kids are not only exploring through construction of their personal art project, but they are also exploring through construction of their own tools (i.e., the palette/ink) to build their art project with. [...] I/O Brush looks like a regular physical paintbrush but has a small video camera with lights and touch sensors embedded inside. Outside of the drawing canvas, the brush can pick up color, texture, and movement of a brushed surface. On the canvas, artists can draw with the special "ink" they just picked up from their immediate environment.

Check out the demo and prepare to be amazed!

Needless to say, I am SO happy to have found Alissa and so grateful that she has agreed to join my committee. Her work is intriguing and awesome, and she provides both the child-centred design expertise and hands-on industry experience that I believe will be crucial to the completion of my project. I look forward to learning more about her research and especially to future collaborations on children's technology and design.

2 comments:

gwappa said...

this demo is very intriguing.....is there a little camera in the brush? Is the demo for real?

gwappa said...

okay, I just re-read your blog.,there is of course a little camera etc...I got overwhelmed once I saw the video.....that is an amazing toy...don't you wish you were 8 years old again?