Three projects from UWE Bristol win funding in latest REACT Play Sandbox

Issue date: 03 October 2014

REACT Play Sandbox

Digitally enhanced swings, intelligent toys and a flat pack cinema are three of the six latest REACT Play Sandbox projects announced today that involve collaborations between academics from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and creative businesses.

Each team has been awarded £50,000 to develop prototypes that will mobilise play in new and transformative ways. The research and development will be completed in February and prototypes showcased to the public in the spring.

The UWE Bristol projects include a series of intelligent interactive toys, a set of digitally enhanced swings and a flat pack cinema immersive family den.

Play Sandbox is a programme that will support six collaborations to develop new products or services for children. It has been designed to bring together companies, young people and academic researchers to develop prototypes that mobilise play in new and transformative ways.

REACT believes that media companies in the UK need support to develop new kinds of product and experience aimed at a children's market, as the US currently dominates this sector. The best young people's propositions are designed and tested with young people themselves – but this is costly and small companies often cannot afford the time or expense.

Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Research Fellow at the Digital Cultures Research Centre at UWE Bristol, is teaming up with Reach Robotics, a business based in the Bristol Robotics Lab, that aims to produce the next generation of gaming robots.

They will develop a series of toys called 'Mighty Minis' that combine a collectible intelligent object with a dynamic online character in a uniquely interactive way. The emphasis is on getting children away from the screen and focusing on physical activity and play in the real world.

Seth Giddings, Associate Head of Department for Media and Culture at UWE, will work with Tine Bech, an artist and researcher working with interactive sculpture and public art, to produce 'Connected Play' a digitally enhanced set of swings that will explore how imaginary and physical play meet in the digital playground of the future. Working with light, rhythm and sound they will create an intuitive space where children can battle one another, perform and participate, playing together in both new and familiar ways.

Mandy Rose, Director of the Digital Cultures Research Centre at UWE Bristol, is collaborating with Anagram, a company producing experiential documentaries, on the 'Flatpack Cinema', an immersive story den, brought to life by interactive 360 projections and played with using an interface made from ordinary household objects. When children enter the first story, they become an astronaut on board the rocket of the first dog in space, Laika.

REACT Managing Producer Jo Lansdowne said, “Play Sandbox is built on the proposition that the best products for children are made with children. We have recruited fourteen children to act as Young Coaches to ensure we do things right, they are our partners in the design process, challenging us to make better things with their imaginations, opinions and values. Sandbox is a space in which project teams can turn an experimental idea into a working prototype over four months of rapid R&D. It is a great opportunity to experiment, explore and take risks, and never more so with our latest REACT theme, Play.”

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