The Playground went way beyond the quirky and what Pop 17’s Sarah Austin, whose team video streamed a live show directly from Plutopia 2011, called admiringly “Geek Freak”. Ace tech reporter Veronica Belmont covered many of the latest future play elements in her video (link above) that was added to the opening section of this report, but it worth again describing the excitement, interest, experience and sensory engagement that this section of The Playground created.
In this section, we must start with yet another world premiere at Plutopia 2011, namely Sphero, which although only in prototype form is due to be launched to the market later this year. Sphero is the first robotic ball controlled from your smart phone. Sphero uses Bluetooth and is a very flexible plaything, which can take on any number of personas. As Sphero themselves say: “The beauty of Sphero is that the function of Sphero isn’t determined by the physical device, but by the software that is controlling it. For instance, a RC car is always a RC car, but Sphero could be a game of Sumo, a game of Office Golf, or even a wrecking ball knocking over augmented reality glass towers in your living room.” Pretty cool, very imaginative and lots of fun.
Together in an exquisitely lit open-sided tent in the center of The Playground, were three new inventions that fundamentally change the possibilities of social and action play. The first of these were the Sifteo Cubes, being demonstrated by David Merrill and one of his staff. Sifteo Cubes (originally named Siftables, which are marketed as “The Future of Play” and “The alternative game system for truly hands-on play” were invented by David and Jeevan Kalanithi, whilst at MIT Media Lab.
Each cube is a 1.5-inch gaming block with full color screens that respond to motion, and interacts with the player and each other as they are moved around . Each cube packs a full color LCD, a 3D motion sensor, wireless communication, a peppy CPU and more. Your computer connects to the cubes via the included Sifteo USB wireless link. Great fun for the Plutopia 2011 visitors and truly central to “The Future of Play” theme.
Perched in the tent, next to Sifteo was David’s MIT colleague Eric Rosenblaum from MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten, demonstrating the fabulous Singing Fingers and showing videos of many of the other exciting inventions from the Lifelong Kindergarten collection. Singing Fingers is a new iPhone app that allows you finger paint with your voice. With Singing Fingers, you can see music, hear colors, and re-see everyday sounds for the beautiful playground that they are. As though planned, Singing Fingers received its commercial launch two days after Plutopia 2011.
Not to be outdone by MIT, Austin’s UT AI / Robotics Department under the auspices of Plutopia friend, Peter Stone, an avid and very competitive soccer colleague who developed Robot Soccer arranged for one of his team, Brad Knox demonstrated a “punish and reward” computer program that learns to play Tetris. The research displayed was part of the artificial intelligence subfield of learning agents — computational entities that sense, decide, and act while learning from experience. Brad used trainable agents to demonstrate his research, while also discussing his lab’s soccer-playing robots, that often use similar learning techniques.”