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When the Playroom Is the Computer

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Alphabot prototype robot that appears to move seamlessly between the real world and an on-screen virtual world resembles a child's alphabet block.

David Robert

For all the work that’s gone into developing educational media, even the most stimulating TV shows and video games leave kids stationary. Researchers at the MIT Media Laboratory are hoping to change that with a system called Playtime Computing, which gives new meaning to the term "computing environment."

The prototype of the Playtime Computing system consists mainly of three door-high panels with projectors behind them; a set of ceiling-mounted projectors that cast images onto the floor; and a cube-shaped, remote-controlled robot, called the Alphabot, with infrared emitters at its corners that are tracked by cameras mounted on the ceiling.

But the system is designed to make the distinctions between its technical components disappear. The three panels together offer a window on a virtual world that, courtesy of the overhead projectors, appears to spill into the space in front of it. And most remarkably, when the Alphabot heads toward the screen, it slips into a box, some robotic foliage closes behind it, and it seems to simply continue rolling, at the same speed, up the side of a virtual hill.

From MIT News Office
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