Interactive Projection Systems: Meg Athavale of @POMOInc

Emerging Technology

New Media Consortium’s (NMC) 2010 Horizon Report identified both augmented reality and gesture based computing as new technologies likely to achieve wide-spread adoption within the next half decade. In the past year I have been exploring applications in K12 learning and student engagement for Augmented Reality, particularly Minecraft Reality to pull 3D creations out of the game space and virtually position structures in real space, and Aurasma, a mobile app that overlays digital content on physical entities. I’ve also watched with interest how educators like Bryan Baker and Ray Chambers are modifying infrared sensors like Microsoft’s Kinect to create more physically active ways to engage with digital content.

Sharing my interests with a retired colleague, he suggested I visit with Meghan Athavale, CEO of PO-MO Inc. ( Her company works with augmented reality and gesture controlled interactive projections using infrared sensors and webcams.

Interactive Projection System

I met with Meghan on February 14, 2013 at the PO-MO offices in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She told me their product is in use at schools around the globe, including India, South Africa, Egypt, and Japan. Using a digital projector, images are projected on the floor. A Microsoft Kinect sensor, or even a web cam is positioned above and calibrated to sense movement on the projected image. Interacting with the digital projection is simply a matter of moving in the projected space. Meghan demonstrated a few of the interactive templates:

  • smoke clears away from where the user is standing to reveal an image beneath
  • a pond ripples when walked on and the fish swim away from the user.
  • a grass field sprouts flowers where a user has walked
  • when stepped on, planets in the solar system rotate and reveal relevant data.

PO-MO authored an easy-to-use interface application allowing users to create their own interactive spaces. Effect variables are customizable with easy-to-use function sliders and some of the image elements used in the projection can be uploaded by users themselves.

From Business to Education

Marketed primarily as a commercial promotion / attention grabbing product, Meghan has had many educators and parents approach her with educational applications. They have worked with special educators to create, for students with autism, sensory spaces that respond to the child’s movements. Meghan described a student who was physically agitated and distressed when others engaged in conversation around him. Using the sensors, and building on the child’s love of animals, PO-MO developed a jungle scene of animals that would look scared and hide when there was extreme movement detected. With this, the student gradually learned to manage his physical responses to nearby conversations.

Whole-body interaction with digital media delivers the benefits of kinesthetic learning. “Moving around and seeing the projection respond stimulates more of the brain,” says Meghan, suggesting that greater physical engagement combined with intellectual engagement leads to better learning results.

Application in Education

Interactive images could be projected as a movement motivator in rehabilitation units of a hospital, or school spaces where students are in physiotherapy. Projections on a gymnasium during physical education class could be programmed to respond to a particular level of intensity encouraging more vigorous participation. Schools currently using the technology create hide-and-seek type activities where users move to a location in the projected space to reveal answers or portions of an image.

Because the system responds to height variations in the projected area we tried to imagine unique curricular applications. We speculated on using this over a sand box where students could model geographic features and the system would project water, mountains, grass, and other features, relative to the elevations detected in the target area.

It is easy to see this as a neat gimmick to hook students into an activity, but it is important to discover authentic applications that allow for user interaction impossible in any other way. Beyond special education applications, and the engaging novelty of the effects, I am still grappling with what this technology may be able to achieve. New method of digital interaction brings with it as-yet- undiscovered applications and the corresponding development of apps that capitalize on the unique properties of the technology.

Combining the overlay of digital data in a real space with gesture-based interactions, this technology embodies two of the NMC’s predictions for wide-spread adoption within the next five years. But, as with any new technology, authentic application will take some time, thought, and reflection.

Have you seen systems like this? Are you using these technologies in your classroom? Please share your experiences. What kinds of interactions has it enabled for you and your learners?



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