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Tech Company Turn School Gym into Interactive Playground

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The Canadian tech company SAGA have recently transformed the traditional PE class set-up with their latest innovation, the Interactive Gym. The company showcased one of the many uses of augmented reality; a new technology that blurs the lines between what’s real and what’s computer-generated by projecting touch-responsive graphics and sounds on to surfaces in the natural world.

The school gym walls were transformed into gigantic interactive canvases for ball games. Huge moving images of floating shapes were projected on to the walls for the children to try and shatter by launching rubber balls at them. The company have provided a basic demonstration of how the Interactive Gym worked in their recent YouTube videos, which show how the children were required to collaborate and get active in order to succeed in their game.

The Technology

SAGA’s CEO, Vincent Routhier explained how they were able to utilise 3D camera vision to detect interactions on the walls and floors. He went on to talk about how the detection was then used as an input for the displayed games using lighting, sound effects, and projection mapping. As SAGA continue to exhibit the Interactive Gym they’re also planning their next steps. This involves creating more interactive games and using the technology in different ways to augment new spaces.

The Aims

The project is part of a scheme to reinvent schools gyms and turn them in to ‘playgrounds for learning’. This innovative approach to learning includes stimulating children’s senses to engage them physically and mentally. Routhier commented “We believe that introducing new types of interactivity and feedbacks could make physical activity more fun and accessible to all types of kids”.

Together with Routhier, SAGA’s lead developer Simon St-Hilaire put the first prototype together in just under a week for the Quebec elementary school St. Jean Berchmans. The colleagues co-operated with the school and its director to install the equipment. They then guided children through a number of varied games over an afternoon.

Inspiration by Nintendo

Routhier said that the aim of the project was to connect humans in the physical world, and that most of their work had been done through those beliefs. This philosophy of play bears many resemblances to Nintendo’s approach to their own gaming technology. In the past, Nintendo have been criticised for their reliance on the gimmicks required for each of their new consoles, especially when compared with the more grown-up and varied focus of the likes of Sony and Microsoft, who are known for their emphasis on pure computing power. But Nintendo, in many ways rightly so, have always been opposed to giving up their roots as a manufacturer of physical play things.

Writing for the Atlantic, Jon Irwin described the forthcoming Nintendo Switch console as attempt to influence players to look at and face each other again. Games such as 1-2 Switch have been designed to deviate the focus of players from the on-screen activities to pay attention to what the second player is doing.

A New Form of VR

Irwin’s observation was that traditional game systems depend too much on television screens. Working in its own way, the Interactive Gym tries to remove the escapist element of many traditional video games and virtual reality experiences. Players are encouraged to engage with each other instead of staring at computer monitors or putting on headsets to block out the world around them.

Routhier believes that the physical world is significantly more interesting than the isolation created by most other technical approaches. Children at the school certainly seemed to agree that material experiences were much more entertaining than digital-only ones.