Tangible Play Launches Crowdfunding Campaign to Bridge Digital and...

Game-Based Learning

Tangible Play Launches Crowdfunding Campaign to Bridge Digital and Physical Fun

Using "reflective artificial intelligence" to re-imagine playing on iPads

By Tony Wan     May 22, 2014

Tangible Play Launches Crowdfunding Campaign to Bridge Digital and Physical Fun

Shouldn’t children be able to do more on iPads than just tap and swipe the touchscreen?

Tangible Play, founded in Palo Alto, CA in Feb. 2013, thinks so. And it's launching a crowdfunding campaign to raise $50,000 for Osmo, a gaming device that the team of eight believes can bridge digital and physical fun.

Osmo uses what co-founder Pramod Sharma calls “Reflective Artificial Intelligence.” Here’s how it works. You attach a mirror to the iPad’s camera to bend its viewing angle, so that when the iPad is placed standing up perpendicular to a table surface, the camera sees what is on the table. The camera can then identify and track motions and objects that are placed on the surface.

In “Words,” the game shown above, two players race to guess the word of the image shown on the iPad. They put physical letter tiles in front of the tablet until the word is spelled out. The camera can recognize the letters and award--or deduct--points to each player based on whether they are correct.

For Sharma, who worked on the Google Books project and has a five-year-old daughter, the goal of Osmo is to bring a physical and social learning experience to the iPad. “When you put iPads in front of kids, they can’t think beyond the screen,” he says.

In another game, “Tangram,” students assemble wooden pieces of different shapes to match the image shown on the iPad. “Going from 2-D to 3-D spatial understanding is critical,” says Sharma, “Having to use both hands in the learning process engages many more senses.”

Perhaps the most creative of the games is Newton, where the player can draw or place any object on a sheet of blank paper in front of the iPad. These objects are captured by the camera and projected onto the screen. Balls will drop from the top of the screen and bounce off these objects. The goal is to draw (or position) the objects so that the ball hits a target on the screen. Sharma says this game is designed to stimulate creative thinking, which "is often about how to accomplish a goal based on your environment and the options you have."

It’s difficult to explain in words the connection between physical and digital interaction in Osmo. So I’ll let the video below do justice.

The games are targeted for children in grades K to 6. Sharma says Osmo has been piloted in 100 schools, including the prestigious Nueva School in Hillsborough, CA and the Harker School in San Jose, CA. They’re pricey schools--but also ones that can afford iPads and Osmo’s price tag. The Osmo kit--which includes the reflective mirror device, a stand, and the three games--will normally retail at $99. For the launch of the crowdfunding campaign, pre-sale backers can get the kit for $49.

While the cost may seem prohibitive, Sharma says that schools don’t need many devices in order for students to have fun. In one school, he said, “we had eight kids on eight iPads. But all eight ended up playing on one iPad together, because social gaming was much more fun than playing alone.”

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