Panorama Czech team designs computerized playground

23-02-2012 16:22 | Zdenka Kuchyňová, Daniela Lazarová

Getting youngsters to play outside on a sunny day is an increasingly difficult task. Most parents now find it near impossible to pry their children away from their computers and compared to the wonders of virtual reality kids no longer find outdoor activities as attractive. Czech designer Pavel Tuma and his team have now unveiled a revolutionary 5-D playground that aims to change that.

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Photo: New Bohemia FoundationPhoto: New Bohemia Foundation The designer says he wants to give kids the best of both worlds.

“Our philosophy is - let children have their beloved computers and their friends on Facebook and Twitter, but let’s find a smart way to transfer this activity out into the park. Not just parents, even gym teachers have a big problem getting kids to move.”

The need to fight growing child obesity – which is plaguing most developed countries and is widely attributed to a passive lifestyle – was one of the main motivations behind the computerized playground project. Pavel Tuma –whose team of designers spent two years developing the idea - explains how the playground will look.

“Imagine a playground that is 36 times 18 meters large, the size of a tennis court, and right next to it is a 5D box –a sort of mini-computer centre with touchpad technology and sensors relating to the five senses. Each child would get a chip to enter the game which is a combination of physical and mental hurdles that have to be overcome. The playground itself comprises nine artificial rocks which are quite big. There are numerous hurdles of different kinds, a multimedia box and lots of special surfaces. The playground is visually very attractive.”

Pavel TumaPavel Tuma The playground aims to be more than just fun out in the open – it should combine entertainment, physical activity and develop knowledge skills. The team of young designers who put their names to it are hoping that this will be the playground of the future – and envisage a network of playgrounds which could eventually be linked up. The prototype which is to be built in the coming months will be open to a given school in the morning and anyone interested in the afternoon.

The software is still being kept under wraps but the authors have revealed that there are six areas of knowledge – in which children can test or pit their skills: geography, history, natural sciences, entertainment and general knowledge. The quiz can focus exclusively on one area or provide a random across-the-board quiz. So how do teachers feel about the idea? Pavel Tuma says they got a few on the team, knowing they were likely to bring fresh input.

“We originally kept this under wraps but once we knew what we were doing we invited a history teacher, a gym teacher and even a school inspector to join our brainstorming sessions. We are open to any new ideas. The playground can be used by one child at any given time, but we think that more participants competing will make full use of its potential. We really feel that schools will take it further.”

Photo: New Bohemia FoundationPhoto: New Bohemia Foundation While the idea of a computerized playground testing one’s physical and mental prowess is fairly clear the use of social networks remains a bit of a mystery. Pavel Tuma says this is seen as a follow-up activity.

“Let me give you an example. A teacher can take the whole class to the playground where they can take a test which they would otherwise do in the classroom. All it would need is for the teacher to give us the test questions a day in advance and we would take care of the rest. On a sunny day knowledge tests could take place out in the open and teams of students could play against each other. And by the time they get home they will have received their test-results by mail and there will be lots of photos on Facebook of their class in the playground.”

Schools have welcomed the idea and there are many suggestions on how it could be developed further. In addition to linking up future playgrounds and competition between schools there have been suggestions that there could be stands selling healthy snacks close to these playgrounds, various hobby groups and even a centre offering advise on how to fight child obesity an help a child improve their physical condition. Pavel Tuma says that while these plans sound great he has more immediate concerns on his mind: building the first prototype somewhere in Prague and making sure it works as planned.

Photo: New Bohemia FoundationPhoto: New Bohemia Foundation He and the team presented the project at this year’s International Toy Festival in Nuremberg and it made a splash among 2,700 presenters from 63 countries –even getting nominated for the top award. There was just one problem –everyone wanted to see it in action.

“We just went to Nuremberg to see how the idea would be received and the enthusiasm it generated was a very pleasant surprise. We got approached by investors from all over the world. There was interest in the project from Denmark, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Canada, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia. They all wanted to see the prototype and try for themselves how it works. So we had to explain that it was still on paper and the first prototype would be built in Prague in the spring of this year. But from their reactions it was clear that we were onto something big.”

One such playground should cost approximately 8 million Czech crowns. The team already has investors and it should be made known which Prague district will be lucky enough to host the very first computerized playground in the country. The playground is designed to be used in winter as well with an inflatable roof and walls.

Photo: New Bohemia FoundationPhoto: New Bohemia Foundation While British and Canadian companies were keen on the idea as an instrument in fighting child obesity, Turkish investors wanted to tap its potential in the sphere of tourism. Either way it looks like computerized playgrounds have a bright future ahead of them.

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