Petimo and its navigation menus. Credit: Mixed Reality Lab
It’s kind of round. It’s kind of furry. It’s for kids about 6 to 10 years old. It just won a first prize at the 2010 Innovation Circus in Milan, Italy. It’s called Petimo and it’s a social networking computer interface that doesn’t look or work like anything an adult’s ever used. It’s an electronic device, a rather sophisticated one at that (complete with its own RISC processor), that connects to the Internet and uses a web-site/portal called Petimo-World designed specifically for children in the age group.
Petimo was designed not only to provide a visual interface (lots of smiley faces and colorful icons), but also to make sound (for example, it trills; yes, like the Tribble from Star Trek), and tap the sense of touch. It can be squeezed to send signals of friendship. It has a “vibrotactile” effects generator, that is, it can produce a range of vibrations in response to communicated signals. Let’s use a good tech word for the squeezy, vibratory capability: Petimo uses haptics.
It’s often said by computer designers that making something simple enough for a child requires a lot of thought, creativity, and processing power.
A child using Petimo for the first time is likely to be both intrigued and befuddled. It doesn’t look like a computer that mom or dad use. It may look like some other electronic or computer based toys they may have had, but probably not. It will undoubtedly require explanation for its purpose (not necessarily by an adult). How long will it take before the child understands that this is a way to communicate with friends? Well, in order to add friends so that Petimo will recognize them, the friends must be physically together. Petimo uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to exchange a security key – child to child (they can touch their Petimos, although this is not technically necessary). Thereafter, the Petimo remembers the key and uses that to verify the other child online.
Online is where the fun really begins. Children connect to the Internet with Petimo and can exchange gifts or emoticons with their friends. Petimo can communicate and store information by itself (when connected), but it works best when the website Petimo-World is active. Like it sounds, Petimo-World uses the full range of Petimo’s capabilities to create meaningful communication between children who are still too young for text. The Petimo-World website/portal provides a number of activities in a 3-D virtual world environment.
Petimo-World also has a parental authentication module, which allows parents to monitor ‘friends,’ particularly those being added for the first time.
Petimo’s designers refer to it as a ‘social networking robot.’ It’s unclear what the robot part means, unless it’s referring to the haptics (which are sometimes part of robotic systems). The nomenclature’s not very important, except perhaps in a marketing sense. The Petimo is a research project of the Mixed Reality Lab of the National University of Singapore (Malaysia) and Keio Media Design of Keio University (Japan). It’s has been undergoing testing in both Singapore and Japan and is now approaching the stage for manufacturing and distribution.
Petimo provides a novel approach for children to make friends easily in a more protected and safe social networking environment. Petimo together with Petimo-World, encourages the development and use of real social networks through interactions whereas they interact by squeezing, touching, sending gifts/emoticons to their friends, family, and parents. This
will dramatically change the younger generation’s tendency of being disconnected from family and loved ones by bridging the gaps of existing social network security issues and giving a helping hand to support the child’s safe path toward a secured and personally enriching social networking experience.
[Source: Mixed Reality Lab]