Silly Stompers

SUMMARY

One of the main reasons behind workplace discrimination among women can be attributed to resource availability. Among these resources, the development of math and science skills in early childhood through STEM toys are considered to be important for children of age groups 4 to 7.

 

Disparity in the interest towards such STEM toys has lead to disparity in STEM professions as such.

This graduation thesis aims to understand how to overcome such disparity through gender-accessible STEM toys. Using the new medium of soft robotics to redefine what robotics means for both genders, this makes a case for play based learning experience for pre-schoolers.

VIDEO BRIEF

SKILLS

Advanced Concept Design - Visualization and Rendering - 3D Printing - Fabrication of Soft Robotic Actuators - Character Design

TOOLS USED

Solidworks, Blender, After Effects, Autodesk Sketchbook, Premier Pro

ROLES

Complete end-to-end concept development project for M.Sc Graduation Thesis at TU Delft, Netherlands

CREDITS

Educator and Facilitator

Ellen Pennings

Mentors

Stefan van de Geer and Rob Scharff

DESIGN METHODS

PlaTUI tool for user testing, Observation Studies on usability, Research Through Design, Talk out Loud approach for generating insights from children during tests

DURATION

Six months

Process

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The process followed is the basic design cycle of analysis, synthesis, simulation, evaluation and decision but with a twist.

The research through design methodology is used to go hand-in-hand in a spiral manner providing valuable insights.

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Gender disparity

The gender disparity is quite evident in terms of the toys children play with.

A very cursory look can immediately display the toy landscape and all its disparities.

Toys are heavily gendered with barbie dolls intended for girls and GI Joes for boys.

What makes this worse is the demarcation of girls toys, boys toys in toy stores subconsciously creating an impression on young individuals on the type of toys they should play with.

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This is from a survey in 2018 which showcased the difference in STEM professions among men and women. Especially in engineering and computer sciences, the disparity is quite wide. Only 19 percent of women take up such professions.

My thesis investigates this disparity in terms of its connection with the gendered toys which kids play at a young age and its undue influence.

The aim is to provide a medium which makes it once again more attractive for boys and girls to get interested in robotics.

Explore

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For defining the scope of the project, LEGO playspace De Bonte Bouwplaats was taken into consideration.

LEGO playspaces are a gateway for younger children to involve in the fascinating world of all things LEGO.  This place was used as a launching pad for exploring various kinds of toys to understand what fascinates preschoolers.

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Various educative toys were analyzed for pre-schoolers. Educative toys were further classified into constructivist and roleplaying toys. While doing a DEPEST analysis, exploring demographic, economic, socio-cultural trends, it was found that LEGO was having a big cultural influence in the Netherlands.

Besides, the form and the colors used, and the type of play widely varied across the genders when it comes to educative toys.

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Benchmarking various toys based on open ended and educative play to arrive at a sweet spot.

Equarun is used to help deafblind people (especially those suffering from Usher Syndrome, a progressive disorder affecting more than 400,000 people worldwide) and their guides engage in safe and comfortable

long-distance running.

 

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In this analysis, it was also observed that there was a tendency for this age group to roleplay and storytell with animals. Right from garfield, to Coward the Cowardly Dog.

 

It was very much embedded universally and seen throughout.

Analysing various such toys involved in such storytelling formats, and after dissecting the gendered toys, the next step was taken to ideate and arrive at various means to facilitate educative play.

 
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Synthesize

While evaluating the concepts, the following concept drivers were taken into consideration.

Open ended Play

Educative Play

Being gender accessible

And providing a screen-free experience.

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The following concepts were then evaluated based on the program of criteria in accordance with the concept drivers. Weighted Objective Method was used.

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9 Moments of Product Experience was a methodology adopted to understand product experience on a micro, macro and metal level. In this exploration, various ideas were generated to imply a neutral, gender accessible experience for the preschoolers.

 

Embody

The final concept selected was an extension to the Inflatibits model. A collection of hexagon shaped blocks that can be assembled in various ways in various directions.

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In this direction, emphasis was made on how to recreate animal-like body movements in such a way that it is easier for children to replicate.

Along these directions, various hand gestures, body movements were investigated.

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The soft modular blocks were made using silicone as a material which was quite difficult at first due to the presence of air bubbles in the embodiment which prevented inflation to happen in a uniform way.

After various improvements to the silicon moulding process, uniform silicone forms were obtained without the presence of air bubbles. In addition to this, various pumping actuators were also prototyped.

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Open ended play was a main driver behind this concept. 

One of the key requirements was to integrate with the LEGO ecosystem. The shape of the ducts were designed in such a way that it fit easily with the connectors of  the LEGO blocks.

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Integration of LEGO blocks with the soft modular blocks providing more open ended play.

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Various iterations were made to connect and pump in easier ways to help children of age 4-7 access this playkit.

In one of the observation studies, the inflation action was being used to create organic movements in combination with the LEGO blocks.

This provided additional functionality to the otherwise rigid shaped LEGO blocks.

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There were a series of embodiment challenges that arised during the fabrication process. As seen in the above images, the mold was redesigned to provide inlet and outlet valves to prevent the trapping of air bubbles.

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Probing

To realise the desired interaction, a series of probes were used to see how the participants performed the actions.

This was then evaluated based on how well they were able to do a certain task, and how open-ended the play was. Among the probes used were the moldable inflatable blocks, syringe based pneumatic units, closed air systems and rigid hexagonal blocks.

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It was observed that the soft squishy nature was much more inviting and accessible as compared to the hard rigid blocks thus illustrating the usefulness of this medium.

It was also interesting to see how children created their own systems using the modular blocks thus showing how they understood closed air systems quite intuitively.

It was also shown that they needed some prior training to understand how to connect the blocks without which some of the participants were getting frustrated.

Based on all these aspects, the form and the function was redesigned based on the desired interaction.

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This was the initial concept explored. The goal was to provide stomping as a playful interaction that could be recreated by means of different modular soft blocks.

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These are some of the images from the final design test conducted with the functional prototype of Silly Stompers.

As observed, the locomotion of the character was tweaked by means of connecting various blocks in series. The pumping motion was also calibrated by means of a series of inflating syringes. This provided an open-ended play in terms of the locomotion of the stompers.

 

Concept Roadmap

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After the tests conducted with the functional prototype, I conducted co-creation sessions with participants of this age group to understand how to give more life to the character as the shape and form highly influenced the tendency for the participants to play with a certain toy.

The influence of various social attributes on the gender was also taken into consideration.

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As an ideal combination of role play and constructivist play makes for an interesting combination of play based learning for this age group, this led to the formulation of the Silly Stompers.

The story revolves around the three characters together termed as Silly Stompers carrying out their day to day activities as they stomp their way across the ocean bed.

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Storyboard

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Future Possibilities

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Recommendations

Workshops could be conducted using this soft robotics set. For making it more engaging, there could be storybooks which go along with these and help them
create the desired roleplay. Onomatopoeia could be used as a prompt to create custom body movements.

In the current phase of development, two-limb body motion is achieved using two connection points for limbs. In the future, various custom animals could be designed with different ways of locomotion
 

 
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