Mapocci: a robotic companionship

Mapocci: a robotic companionship

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Mapocci is an interactive toy, designed to promote emotional learning and social communication in children. The project has been been awarded with the “Next Thing Grant 2012” and was produced with the support of Telefonica I+D and Laboral, Art and Industrial Creation .

My role

Together with Lilia Villafuerte we designed, developed and evaluated Mapocci, a robotic companionship for affective communication. In the project I worked in the design, the hardware development and users testing.

The project

Halfway between a toy, a media and a pet, Mapocci is proposed as a playable interface designed to allow children to experiment emotional communication through a physical and sonic experience. Thus, children can interact with Mapocci by touch, movement and physical activity.
The toy, thanks to a system of sensors and emotional intelligence software can recognize the care that receive and react accordingly to how it affects its own mood. These features allow Mapocci to function as a relational object, responsible for collecting and make visible emotional states expressed by the child in their physical interaction. This capability is expanded thanks to the possibility of Mapocci to communicate. The 3g Internet system allows two Mapocci to connect to each other, facilitating the remote exchange of emotional messages.
The communication system, inspired by the empathic functioning of the brain, allow physical interactions with one toy to be reflected in the behavior of the other and vice versa. The model generates a context where each toy serves as a metaphor of the other, emphasizing links between human beings and the active role of each one in determining the sensations and emotions of others.

The research 

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Mapocci is an interdisciplinary project that crosses several research lines such as technology development, interaction design and cognitive science. Further researches will include the exploration of the use with children with special needs, such as autistic spectrum condition.

  1. Research background

    Mapocci arises from the researches related with the use of robotic companionships as relational artifacts.

    In this field we paid especial attention to three main aspects:

    – the possibilities related with augment play’s experience through internet connected toys by include social aspects in tangible interactive experience

    – the design of an affective interaction loop by merging narrative resources with bodily and tangible experiences

    – the opportunities of using object-mediated communication as a tool to address specific issues in special education contexts

  2. Mapocci: objetives and possible uses

    Mapocci works as a toy aimed at facilitate and enhance social communication and interaction between distant children. Moreover, through its emotional model, Mapocci can provide a direct affective feedback to child’s actions and in this way allow the development of awareness about his own behaviour.

    For these reason Mapocci can find possible uses both in playful activities or in learning and therapeutic contexts.

  3. Something new about robots..Something new about plush toys

The importance of materiality: design and development of innovative sensors for robotic companionships

One of the main innovotive features of Mapocci is that the toy is completely soft and plushy! This design decision arise from the hypothesis that materiality can have a great impact on user’s behaviour. For this reason we developed a soft circuitry and e-textile sensors that allow gesture recognition from tangible manipulation.

Being connected: embed M2M commmunication in play experience

What if you plush toy has a firend that lives in the order side of the world and can always speaks with him? What if you can send emotions to a fareaway relative using a plush toy? Mapocci explores the possibilities of augment play’s experience through internet connected toys
 and provides new pattern of interaction to allow differentiated forms of long distance communication.

Embed narrative resources into robotic design

In the Mapocci project we researched and explored how narrative resources can be embedded into robotic design and behaviour in order to enrich user experience and facilitate affective interaction.

The development

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The development of Mapocci, conducted between March and November 2012, has completed with the construction of two functional prototypes. The prototypes are based on Arduino and a 3g shield developed by Telefónica I + D. The hardware make use of a novel system of sensors constructed with “smart” textile to ensure the softness and smoothness of the doll. The software is based on a emotional model that provides a particular personality to each Mapocci and determines the intensity of its reaction to the interaction of children.

The prototyping methodology was based on the extensive use of iterative design, aimed at optimizing the interaction and build a narrative universe around the toy. Multiple tests with children between three and eight years old were conducted. These users’ studies allowed us to improve the toy and explore the symbolic universe associated with its behavior. Through these tests we had been able to generate a satisfactory user experience and to produce concrete metaphors to explain abstract concepts to kids, such as remote communication.

Mapocci from lilia villafuerte on Vimeo.

If you want to know more about the project, visit: http://mapocci.net/

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