Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Story Machine Captures Sound, Images

When it comes to writing, the pen and paper can take storytelling only so far.

Now a new technology allows kids — big and small — to embed sound into traditional drawings and create an interactive story-game. The Jabberstamp, invented by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is not only just fun to play with, it can also allow children to capture and share intricate ideas before they have mastered the skill of writing narratives.

"We can help them learn new things that are really complex by giving them new toys," said Hayes Raffle, a Ph.D. candidate and research assistant. Raffle developed the device with fellow Ph.D. candidate Cati Vaucelle and Cornell University researcher Ruibing Wang.

These days, a new toy most likely is computerized. But electronic toys and books are akin to television, said Raffle. Most of the content is already preprogrammed with stories that have been created by someone else.

"I always thought that it was a shame that kids couldn't create their own stories," said Raffle.

That's why he and his team created Jabberstamp. The device consists of three components: a position-sensing tablet, a microphone with a rubber stamp at one end to record sounds, and a trumpet-like tool for listening.

The child places a regular piece of paper on top of the electronic tablet and draws images with pencils or crayons. When she wants to embed a sound, she uses the stamp. Pressing the tool onto the page turns on a tiny microphone and prints a tiny icon onto the paper. She can press it over an image of ogre and record his voice or press it over an image of a horse and record the sound of a whinny. As long as she presses, the tool records.

When she or someone else wants to listen to the story, she touches the trumpet-shaped tool to the printed icons. The formerly recorded sounds play back.

Tiny radio frequency sensors in the tablet and in the tools make the interactive sound possible. The sensors in the tablet keep track of the position of the stamp, measure the degree of pressure exerted from the tip, and encode the audio at that location. When the tablet senses the trumpet over an audio position, it plays the sound back.

"The main innovation comes in providing children with very familiar materials that they can play with and adding the technology on top of that," said Juan Pablo Hourcade, assistant professor of computer science at that University Iowa.

But there are always challenges when designing electronic toys for children, said Hourcade.

"Children are moving targets. Something perfect for a child today, six months later it won't be right," he said. "We need to have technologies that support a child's growth. I think in this case Jabberstamp does that." A four-year-old can use it, albeit for different stories, just as well as an eight-year-old.

The biggest challenge, said Hourcade, is tracking the child's use of such a tool over a long period of time. Are they creating more sophisticated stories or getting bored?

"Are we making a positive impact or are they better off drawing on their own without any computing power?" Hourcade asked.

At least in the short term, the Jabberstamp kept children engaged. They collaborated with one another and in some cases worked together for hours on a single, interactive story.

(via dicovery news)