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Table Safari

Table Safari is a physical-digital entertaining experience bridges 2D perspectives with 3D blocks designed for children. Through the lens of game based learning (GBL), Table Safari improves young users (ages 5-7) spatial awareness skills through the visual-spatial correlation between the 3-dimensional building blocks and 2-dimensional views.

Skills Utilized :

Processing

Arduino

Form Analysis

Electronics System Design

User Research

Team Members:

Shikha Shah

Tianshu (Shirley) Zhang

Yani Mai

Siming (Susie) Jin

User Research

 

To start the design process, we conducted research with two families including total four children and two parents to identify possible design opportunities and insights. We also got chance to observe two of the children interacting with their every day toys.

After speaking with our users, we organized our findings in a few different structures to understand the needs of our users and what toys they would be interested in owning.

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“I don't worry that much about their social and motor (physical) skills.”

– Aly (Mother)

“I like building stuff (toy/game like Star Wars Lego)”

– Sasha (7-Year-Old)

“I wish there was a more enjoyable way to engage my children's developing abstract cognitive skills.”

– Nancy (Mother)

“I feel stressed when the game is too challenging…
I like this one because I could solve it (with fun)”

– Orin (7-Year-Old)

Takeaways from observations
  • Enjoy the sense of achievement

  • Positive feedback could serve as encouragement

  • Excessive constraints results in lost interest

Takeaways from interviews
  • Children like games that require imagination and creativity.

  • Parents tend to focus on cognitive development from the toys/games.

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User Needs (Based on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs)

Affinity Map Based on Users Responses

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Brainstorming

Analyzing the findings from user interviews, we decided that cognitive skills development should be the main focus of our project, since it’s what engages children and what parents focus on when purchasing new toys. We carried out a brainstorming session on this subject and generated 100 ideas as a team.

3 Concepts

​After brainstorming, we converged onto 3 ideas that we believed best fit our target user needs and refined them to encapsulate narratives, forms, and clear learning goals. Each idea focuses on a different form of cognition skill-building. After team discussion and gathering feedback from peers and instructors, we chose to move further with Block-E.

EcoWave

EcoWave provides an interactive experience for children to understand abstract concept like sustainability.

Chowy

Chowy aims to create an engaging dining experience for children and encourage healthy diets through achievements and positive feedback.

Block-E

Block-E allows children to use their imagination to build complex structures with tangible blocks to support spatial awareness development and hand-eye coordination training.

Concept Refinement

 

While performing secondary research to solidify our concept, we found out that Spatial Visualization, or the ability to extrapolate information about a distinct form from limited information, is a particular subgroup of spatial learning that is both underdeveloped in children from marginalized groups and integral to success in STEM fields. 

The lack of education surrounding Spatial Visualization has been proven to be a source of discouragement for BIPOC and female-identifying students from continuing into STEM careers. As an important skill that allows children to mentally perceive and manipulate objects in space and the impact of their interactions, it bolsters the foundation of 3-dimensional perception and thinking.

As a result, we decided to diverge one last time to create two versions of “Block-E”. One version was the original concept, which emphasizes spatial relationships, while the other was a variant that focuses on developing spatial visualization.

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Final Concept Definition

After further discussion with parents, we realized there was a greater interest in the idea of advancing their children's Spatial Visualization abilities. Specifically, parents seemed excited about a game that can help bridge 2D and 3D spatial understanding, given how such a skill is necessary in STEM roles and can be a form of cognitive development otherwise not readily offered.

How might we improve Spatial Visualization in young, marginalized children (ages 5–7) through Game-Based-Learning?

A gamified experience that encourages children reconstruct 3D animal models with a set of building blocks, following 2D instructional views

Skills We Are Targeting

Spatial Visualization

Cognitive Development

Digital-Physical Connection

Spatial Awareness

Game-Based Learning

What Makes Us Different

Compared to existing products, Table Safari focuses on developing the link between 2D and 3D spacial knowledge by emphasizing the development of Spacial Visualization. This targets an early childhood skill that is otherwise not nurtured by our competitor's products, which focus entirely within one dimension of growth.

Table Safari: Develops both 2-D and 3-D spatial awareness development and targets the cognitive link between the two, Spatial Visualization
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Osmo Tangram: Exclusively targets 2-D spatial awareness development

Form Iteration

The form of our blocks were developed through a thorough human factors research process, to ensure ergonomic and comfortable design for young children. The block shapes and sizes were tested with target users to determine the most suitable form factor that could be manipulated with ease by a child. The block form was also chosen based on the intuitive manipulation capability, multiple animal formation ability, and clear conveyance of an animal form when assembled.

We decided, based on a usability test and user feedback, to utilize a 40x40x40 mm rounded cube design for the block shape. This then informed our choices regarding the game board's size and form. Additionally, the form factor for the game board was guided by the desire for ease of transport, handling, and storage for young children. An embedded drawer was added at the request of parents to keep the game self-contained.

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Block Form Ideation
 

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Game Board Ideation
 

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Prototype for Usability Test
 

Color and Material Selection

Electronics Ideation

 

We played around with a few ideas for the electronics system we would need to make the game functional – computer vision, ultrasonic orientation detection, and even individually isolating each block with its own unique hardware signature. However, these approaches were either too hardware intensive, since we would need to power each cube individually, or (in the case of a camera system) created privacy concerns among the parents we interviewed.

 

So, we started with a simple detection system that utilizes magnetic pogo pins connected to different resistors, the values of whom correlate to general block sizes.

 

Additionally, we embedded an LED Ring Light inside the physical game to provide visual feedback to the player when they successfully or unsuccessfully place a block.

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 Early electronics Prototype


After successfully creating the electronics system behind Table Safari and determining the form of our product, we started the manufacturing process for the full game. The blocks for this prototype were 3D printed and painted, but in a real production environment we would use injection molding and BPA-free reinforced plastic.

Every block has embedded resistors inside so that the location of blocks can be detected using resistance mapping.

The exterior body of the game was designed in Illustrator and laser cut out of wood and acrylic.  

 

Fabrication
 

Refining Block Design to Include Electronics

Printing and Painting Blocks

Installing Resistors

Laser Cutting and Assembling Game Board

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Digital Gameplay Development




 

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After we finalized the physical form and electronics of Table Safari, we began integrating the digital game. The game's visual side was coded in Processing, where it receives input data from an Arduino linked to our resistance grid. 

We decided to focus our visualization specifically on endangered animals visualization because our interviews with parents showed an interest in getting young children excited about the various conservation efforts happening around the world to protect this wildlife.




 

Final Arduino Code (left) and Processing Code (right)

Initially, the game was designed as a platformer to fit the nature of the original Block-E concept. Over time, the Processing visualization was updated to display three perspectives of a block-formed animal. When the user places a block in the correct location, the digital game lights up that corresponding location on the screen with a green block, plays a triumphant tone, and provides the player with a fun fact about the animal they are building. If a user places the block in the wrong location, Processing displays the incorrect location in the digital space in all three views, relative to the animal structure, and tells the player to try again. This method of feedback provides the user with valuable information on the changes in the physical world they must engage with to fit the form of the animal in the digital world.

Moreover, the visualization intentionally only displays the state (right or wrong) of the previous block placed, and no other prior ones, as a means of constantly engaging the user's Visual-Spatial link by forcing them to engage between the physical game and the digital screen equally, as opposed to simply looking at the screen primarily.





 

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Final Functioning Digital Game

The final game board is a chamfered wood box featuring decorative plants on top and a storage drawer on the bottom. The game board has magnetic pogo pin grids that are used to detect the physical location of the blocks, and then communicates that location via Arduino to our Processing visualization. The final prototype provides the user with both visual feedback (on the game screen and through the LED under the game board) and auditory feedback through distinct "success" and "try again" sounds.

Final Prototype


 



 

Successful Gameplay