Virtual/Physical Play Robot

Here is an intresting article from Gizmag about The Playtime Computing System developed by MIT Media Laboratory’s Personal Robots Group. The system blends robotic and virtual interfaces and is currently designed for children between the ages of 4 and 6 years old. This blend also allows the device to be used with telepresence, enabling a play and learning to occur in real-time across continents.

children playing with the playtime computing system

As Alphabot passes through a hole in the display panel, it appears to continue its journey through the virtual world projected onto the panels. Image Source: Gizmag/MIT

In an increasingly tech-centric world, keeping kids interested in learning can be an uphill battle. With teaching that involves play recently attracting some powerful supportive voices, students from MIT’s Media Lab have developed a system which merges technology and play to stimulate young minds. The Playtime Computing system uses infrared emitters and tracking cameras to monitor the position of a special robot within a play area. As the bot disappears into a hole in a panel, it appears to continue its journey into a virtual world projected onto the walls.

The Playtime Computing system developed by MIT Media Laboratory’s Personal Robots Group is aimed at children between 4 and 6 years old and allows them to get up and about instead of sitting around and getting bored, a hot topic at the moment given Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. It also allows for early experimentation in such things as symbolic reasoning and social roles.

The system is made up of three panels with projectors behind them, and a set of four ceiling projectors for sending images to the play area floor. Alphabot, a cube-shaped robot with infrared emitters at its corners, is tracked by ceiling-mounted cameras. A virtual landscape is projected onto the panels and floor to blur the barriers between reality and the artificially-created world. To further add to the illusion, as Alphabot disappears into a hole in the panel and some robotic foliage closes behind, the image projected onto the panel appears to show it continuing its journey into the virtual world.

A set of RFID-tagged wooden alphabet letters or symbols such as musical notes was also created so that the children can stick them onto Alphabot’s face. Placing letters onto the bot results in its face changing color to match, with musical notes causing music to be played through its onboard speakers. As the robot disappears into the virtual world beyond the panel, the symbol placed by the kids will also continue through to the animated version.

International playtime

The fun needn’t stop with just one play room, however. “One of the things we’re really excited about is having two of these spaces, one here and maybe one in Japan, and when the robot goes into the virtual word here, it comes out of the virtual world in Japan,” explained the group’s Adam Setapen. “So that kind of fits in with that one-reality concept, that there’s one robot, and whether it’s physical or virtual is based on the state of the robot in the Playtime Computing system.”

Of course, kids being kids, the young prototype testers crammed lots of different symbols onto the bot, which it wasn’t developed to handle. They also expected other objects placed in the hole to appear on the screen. Future developments of the system may well take such things in stride, with children perhaps being able to send a favorite toy into the virtual world.

Maybe it would also be interesting to see how they would deal with a digital twin!

Another aspect of the system is the Creation Station, a table-top computer where youngsters can arrange objects or draw pictures. Whatever is on the Station is recreated on the panels via the projectors.

The researchers also kitted out the playful system testers with baseball caps sporting infrared emitters. This allowed the system to keep track of the kids as well as the Alphabot, which could make it possible for such things as interaction with the computer animated robot in future versions. If the team can develop the system to operate using something like Microsoft’s Kinect gaming technology, then players could be tracked without having to rely on infrared clothing.

The team says that the current prototype was put together using off-the-shelf parts at a cost of just a few hundred dollars, and believe that mass production for home use is a viable possibility.

Source: Gizmag


State of the UK Gaming Sector

TIGA logoTIGA, the trade association representing the UK games industry, today released key findings from a new report ‘State of the UK Video Games Development Sector’. The report is a comprehensive survey of 78 UK games development businesses and provides an accurate picture of games development in the UK.

The report covers areas such as industry profile; platforms and genres; self-publishing; in-game advertising; outsourcing; the cost of games development; customers and markets; the main obstacles to business growth and policies to promote growth. The report was supported by Train2Game.

Over the next week TIGA will be releasing a number of findings from different sections of the report. Today’s findings relate to the overall profile of the games development industry. To purchase a copy of the full report visit

Profile of the Games Development industry [report excerpts]:
• The average size of an independent developer is 51. The average size of an independent developer who also publishes games is 45. The average size of a publisher owned studio is 245.
• Games development businesses on average employ a workforce comprising 88 per cent male and 12 per cent female.
• 12 per cent of the UK games development workforce is on average non-UK citizens.
• The average mean turnover of an independent development studio that develops games was £3,130,600. The equivalent figures for independent developers that also publish games and for in-house, publisher owned studios were £4,055,000 and £15,500,000 respectively.
• The average UK game development business has been in operation for 7 years.
• On average, developers surveyed spent £570,800 to develop a game over the last year. This figure is based on the cost of developing games on all types of platforms. There is a large difference between independent developers (£897,700), independent developers who also publish games (£133,700) and publisher owned studios (£3,000,000).
• For 72 per cent of UK game developers surveyed, the USA constitutes one of their most important geographical markets. For 44 per cent of developers, the UK is regarded as one of their most important market. 41 per cent cited the rest of the EU, excluding the UK, as one of their most vital markets.

Dr. Richard Wilson TIGA CEO stated: “The State of the UK Video Games Development Sector Report is intended to provide the games industry with an accurate set of data that can be used to shape a model of the sector as a whole. The report clearly showed the incredible diversity that exists in the development community from size of studio to location, genre of game and distribution method. Games development is a real UK success story, we have an immensely talented workforce and we are at the cutting edge of changes in technology and business practices.”

For more information visit

1 Gibson, R. And Gibson, N., Raise the Game (NESTA, December 2008), p. 9.

Everything is becoming more beautiful…

Jesse Schell, has taught Game Design and led research projects at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center since 2002 and rounded off the 2010 Games Based Learning Conference with a  live web-streamed keynote from the US. His provocation provided some fascinating insights about the future of an education based around gaming, online communication and virtual exploration.

Jesse suggested that ‘everything is becoming more beautiful’ and that we like it that way. Siting the cornerstone example of the iPhone he emphasized how collaboration (in particular between artists and engineers) is central, if not essential, to making technology ‘more beautiful’ and hence more usable. Recognizing specialization, Schell suggested, is vital and he offered the suggestion of working hard to engineer situations where there is no choice but to work together as a framework to export from gaming development into education and virtual collaboration. He also explained how young people in particular expect the ability to customize not only their virtual environments but their real lives too.

Emphasizing that ‘people love sharing things – photos, music, knowledge’, Schell affirmed the Open Source movement, asserting: “that [the fact] Wikipedia works at all, gives tremendous faith for the human race”. He also explained that we all want ‘real things’ and that young people want all of these things too. But how to translate this into the classroom? His provocation continued to suggest that educators often prefer standardized (e.g. text books) when perhaps they should be interested in customization and that as opposed to withholding (individual work) they should look towards sharing.

Questions of ‘beauty’, customization, sharing and reality are central to the conversation generated by Robots and Avatars, which seeks to explorethis discussion from a wide range of angles including education, creative industries, the arts and academia.

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