PacePads: Encouraging Social Play between Parents and Children

Abstract

Children often engage in non-competitive and make-believe play. However, parent-and-child play in public spaces are often restricted by social and contextual pressures. Instead of fun and cooperation, these pressures turn play into instruction and monitoring. For this project, I designed and prototyped PacePads, an interactive platform that engages self-organizing participation between parents and children in social environments. I built and installed PacePads at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

Download CHI Format Paper: JLiu-MTI-Paper

Project Video

How PacePads Work

The main game consists of a simple “step on the right pad” process. Each pad consists of a three state: (1) inactive—when the pad is not suppose to be stepped on, (2) ramping—when the pad is slowly counting down and needs to be activated, and (3) active—when the player activates a ramping pad. A set of 1 to 7 ramping pads—on-pads—would light up in blue and slowly ramp to dark before lighting up another random set; the remaining unlit pads would stay inactive. During this ramping state, the players will have from 10 to 1 seconds to activate all the correct pads. Whenever all the pads in the ramping set is activated—or stepped on—all the pads would blink together for 3 seconds to indicate a scoring event. We programmed the game to slowly increment the count of on-pads, thereby increasing the number of players needed to participate in the game.

On the Processing side, a series of incrementally “better” visual items is presented as long as the player(s) can maintain scoring events in succession. Given the context of the Children’s Museum, the items vary from Broccoli all the way to a Unicorn. Once the player(s) miss a scoring event, the item is reset to the starting item. Finally, audio feedback is also coupled with each event.

PacePad Construction

PacePads consists of 8 separate pads connected via a central hub powered by an Arduino Mega main board. Each pad houses a series of mutli-colored LEDs and a simple contact switch embedded in the base.

Furthermore, each pad accepts 1 digital and 1 analog input from the central hub while outputting 1 digital output from the contact switch. Finally a Processing program was coupled—via a serial connection—to the Ardunio board for audio and visual feedback. The schematic on the left indicates a simple version of what a single pad would look like.

Material List

Main Hub (1x)

  • (8x) RJ45 8-Pin Connector
  • (8x) RJ45 Breakout Board
  • (8x) RJ45 CAT-6 10ft Cable
  • (1x) Arduino Mega
  • (1x) External 12V 1.5amp Wall-wort

Individual Pads (8x)

Processing Component

Arduino Sketch: PacePads_Arduino
Processing Sketch: PacePads_Processing

The Processing Program loads in a set of external data files including sound mp3s, image jpgs, and vlw text bitmaps. The program reads the images and their respective thumbnails in an “image” and “thumbs” folder within the data directory (see image on the left). A series of incrementally “better” visual items is presented as long as the player(s) can maintain scoring events in succession. Given the context of the Children’s Museum, the items vary from Broccoli all the way to a Unicorn. Once the player(s) miss a scoring event, the item is reset to the starting item. Finally, audio feedback is also coupled with each event.

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~ by jamescmliu on May 6, 2010.

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