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Together Apart: Investigations in Tabletop Telepresence in Online Co-Design with Children

Research Open House 2024

Two pieces of stuff paper, one folder up into a pocket, the other unfolded to reveal pieces that look like a dog and cat as well as word types. The folded up version shows the dog and the cat and the words, Word Farm.

Amanda Huynh

Maseo Velasquez, Spring Huang, Tien Servidio

University of Michigan
Kaiwen Sun

University of Colorado at Boulder
Casey Hunt, Dr. Daniel Leithinger

University of Washington
Dr. Jason Yip

School of Design

A smiling woman is holding a white ring with a wire coming out of it connected to a small object resting on a table. Another man is holding a similar ring. A third person is between them looking at their phone. There are other small, indiscernible objects on the table. A presentation board rests on the table leaned against the wall behind it.
Amanda Huynh at the 2024 Research Open House. Photo Courtesy of Pratt Communications and Marketing.

Together Apart has been a 2+ year long research project with University of Washington KidsTeam. We have completed a long-term longitudinal study of 20+ co-design sessions with kids ages 8-12 in order to observe remote telepresence and iterate a new set of tools to create shared physical contexts. A large part of the work leans on using an existing technology, Sony toio robots, in a new way. Originally designed as a platform for teaching robotic skills to children, we connect toio remotely between users across distances. In other words, children can control the toio robots that are physically present in the same space as their collaborators. This allows for physical telepresence and deeper creative expression in co-design sessions.

Research findings were first published at IDC ’23, the 22nd Annual ACM Interaction Design and Children Conference. At Pratt, Prof. Amanda Huynh has carried on the research work in two different streams: (1) Prototyping retrofit parts to adapt the toio robots for different co-design activities and (2) A tangible interface industrial design studio that leverages the toio platform.

Work with KidsTeam has continued with prototyping the next stage of development and testing. With an equipment grant from Sony, Professor Amanda Huynh and research assistants Spring Huang (BID ’23) and Maseo Velasquez (BID ’24) have developed new Lego-compatible hardware add-ons to support spontaneous collaboration. These include additions that enable the children to readily attach drawing tools to the Sony robots, as well as ways to attach multiple robots. 

Together Apart technology was adapted to an industrial design studio course on tangible interface design. Project outcomes include “Word Farm”, an educational grammar game that teaches early elementary school kids about nouns, adjectives, and verbs in a remote learning environment and “Blend”, an interactive device that rotates the toio, allowing people to listen to subsets of their music according to a selected colour. Interacting with “Blend” expands how people explore their music, with others and on their own.

A notepad on a wooden surface. There's a pen drawing circles on the notepad.
A white cylinder with a blue, teal, purple gradient top sits on a gray background. There is text on the image that says, Blend. Connectivity. Collaboration through music, color, and emotion.