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the University of Sussex newsletter   Press Office  Next Article    Press Office   Contents

Integrating the physical and the virtual

And you thought the PlayStation 2 was hard to find in the shops this Christmas - Wait until the next generation of 'interactive digital toys' hits the shops.

A new research project led by Yvonne Rogers (pictured) and Mike Scaife in COGS, has received just under £1 million funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to develop such devices.

photo of Yvonne Rogers"The central aim of this project is to explore the relationship between the physical and the virtual and promote the integration of the two," says Yvonne. Known as 'Equator: Technical Innovation in Physical and Digital Life', the six-year interdisciplinary research collaboration (IRC) involves eight universities - Lancaster, Bristol, Nottingham, UCL, Sussex, Glasgow, Southampton and the Royal College of Art - and has a total budget of around £10 million.

Yvonne and her team of three research fellows and one student will initially be collaborating with Bristol and Nottingham universities, bringing expertise in developmental psychology to the collaboration. The project will be exploring the possibilities for 'interactive digital toys' and 'collaborative playgrounds', designed to enable children to experience new forms of expression and creativity.

One example Yvonne gives is a child's soft toy with a device embedded within it which, when taken out of a box, could trigger another event such as a sound or image being projected onto the wall. Such digital toys could be used to develop new ways to help children learn and play.

The team are also hoping to work with an artist to put on a public performance featuring children using 'wearables' (wearable computers). Other partners in the Equator project will continue to develop such 'wearables'. Bristol University has already produced a CyberJacket, BlazerJet and onHand PC.

Despite the disappointment of WAP phones, there is still a high degree of interest in mobile information devices. "WAP phones were a solution looking for a problem," says Yvonne. "Getting information out of them was like pouring treacle through a funnel."

The way children have taken to mobile phones, and in particularly text messaging, led Yvonne to the view that involving children in the early design stages will produce more effective results. Companies such as BT and Hewlett Packard are watching such research with interest.

 

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Friday 26th January 2001

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