RHYME: furniture-toys interfaces

Tuesday 21st June 2011
The RHYME team: Jo Herstad, Anders-Petter Andersson, Even Ruud and Karette Stensæth. Birgitta Cappelen in front.

Gaberlunzie simply covets that Norwegian researchers are to explore how a cross between intelligent furniture and toys to encourage children with disabilities to become more active.
He would like to see a musical sporan for starters, story telling Harris Tweeds with embedded video displays and where's Scotland's toy industry anyway? Or did it cease with the peerie?

“We want to show how we can use media such as music, lighting and video to reduce passivity and isolation and thus improve health in families that have children with disabilities,” says Jo Herstad, project manager and associate professor at the University of Oslo.

Dr Herstad is heading a group of researchers from the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, the University of Oslo and the Norwegian Academy of Music, who recently launched the project called “Co-creation through tangible interaction and music (RHYME ).”

The aim is to learn how interactivity and music can be used to improve health and researchers will design, program and produce objects at the interface between furniture and toys that can light up, change colour or play music.

The objects will be made of e-textiles, also known as electronic textiles or smart textiles. These types of textiles contain integrated electronic devices, making it possible to program them to do something “smart.”

Objects that initiate activity
The objects will be programmed to take the initiative and stimulate children with disabilities to engage in activity.

“They will function as actors and have properties that activate children on several levels,” explains Birgitta Cappelen, the project’s initiator and associate professor at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design.

The project is being funded under the Research Programme on Core Competence and Value Creation in ICT (VERDIKT), one of the Research Council Large-scale Programmes.

“We want to encourage children who traditionally tend to be isolated and passive to become active, but we also want to involve the children’s family members. This is why the objects need to stimulate the types of play and joint activities that several people can participate in,” she explains.

Soft LEGOs
Dr Cappelen has worked with the design of physically interactive objects for over 10 years, and has organised several art exhibitions comprised of installations at the interface between furniture and toys. The RHYME project will begin by studying the health effects of the product of one of her previous projects, Orfi, on children who attend a school for pupils with special needs.

Orfi consists of 26 triangular cushions with wings of varying sizes. They are handmade and contain small computers and speakers.

The cushions can be attached to each other, like LEGOs, and can be used to create many different figures, such as a sofa or a penguin,” says Dr Cappelen.

The cushions communicate through a wireless connection. When the child bends the wings, the colour, lights and sounds of the cushion change.

“An essential part of the concept is that nothing is right and nothing is wrong. Everyone can experiment and do things in their own way,” she points out.

Several new innovations emerged at an interdisciplinary workshop in e-textiles held by the Oslo School of Architecture and Design and the Oslo National Academy of the Arts for their design and textile students.

These include story telling curtain and ottomans that light up when people sit on them (shades of the squeeky rubber balloon).

Music and health
The potential health benefits of the project are related primarily to the fields of music therapy and music and health.

“In the field of music therapy, music is used as a form of therapy, whereas the field of music and health deals with the significance of music for people’s health in their daily lives. The interactive music media we plan to create makes RHYME a project that combines music and health,” states Dr Cappelen.

The project is based on the theory that the act of creating music together with others encourages participation and builds social relationships, which in turn has a health-promoting effect so it might be an all ages attractive development.

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