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Waiting is child’s play at rehab hospital

Bloorview staff and scientists team up with OCAD University to create interactive art for kids.

BY PEGGY BERKOWITZ | SEP 10 2012

The largest children’s rehab hospital in the country, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto, treats 7,000 children a year. The wait to see a doctor can be stressful for the kids and their parents, and the hospital wanted to improve the experience.

The challenge was to create an enjoyable distraction that would calm, rather than excite, the kids and which all of them, regardless of their disability, could take part in. After several months of research, a team of Bloorview staff and scientists came up with an idea for a waiting room installation with a pressure-sensitive floor which would allow children, standing or sitting, to create large projections on a wall-sized glass screen. The team, led by Elaine Biddiss, scientist at the Holland Bloorview Research Institute (and professor at University of Toronto’s Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering), turned to OCAD University to design the interactive experience.

“She knew how to build it, but didn’t know what should be on the wall. That’s when I came on board,” says Geoffrey Shea, associate professor at OCAD U. The school formed a special class of about 10 third- and fourth-year students from the faculty of design to work with the Bloorview team.

One challenge faced by the design students was to create an experience that rewards players for being slow, or still. “Most of the time, to create a big impact on your environment, you need to be very mobile and able-bodied,” explains Dr. Biddiss. “We wanted to flip that interaction.”

One of the students’ designs is called Enchanted Forest. When pressure is applied to one of the sensors under the floor tiles, an image of a plant is projected and grows on the screen. If a person stays in one spot, the plant matures and grows; if they move around too much, the original plant might shrivel up, although new plants will sprout. In another experience, called Microorganism, amoeba-like images follow the person around the floor.

Dr. Biddiss says working for a semester with the design students was “a fantastic” experience. “We can get something to the point of being functional. But the OCAD students took it to the point of being really beautiful and something kids would want to play with.

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