Cognitive Toys for young and old

02/17/2009 : 10:26

Student teams present their work at "Innovation@CoTeSys".

"Playing: Cognitive toys for young and old" - this was the task for the student teams in the joint teaching and research project Innovation@CoTeSys. Two interdisciplinary teams consisting of mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and informatics students presented  their project results on the development of new consumer products with cognitive capabilities. And the solutions presented were indeed innovative! Both teams created new cognitive product ideas and prototypes that fused software games and physical game platforms incorporating aspects of sensing, object tracking and navigation as well as machine learning. This winter semester explored the topic of “Playing: Cognitive toys for young and old”. Student teams were given three possible categories of playing to explore: playing as learning, playing as sports and just playing.

Team it4 with their project, “Robot Swarm Game Platform”, developed a flexible software and hardware platform for games consisting of a swarm of autonomous and user driven robots. The example game prototyped consisted of a scenario involving teaching children traffic rules. The prototype included a playground on which a street map is projected and four computer controlled vehicles that drive autonomously to simulate everyday traffic scenes on the map. A fifth vehicle is driven by the user who can learn and train driving obeying traffic rules. A model of the environment is maintained by tracking vehicle positions using a marker and image processing system. In the future, the hardware can be augmented adding additional objects and behaviors in the environment, e.g. pedestrians, and software levels and maps could be generated that focus on skills that need more training. Further game ideas that make use of the basic software and hardware platform are envisioned.

Team MacTech with their project, “A Virtual Opponent for Carrera”, involved learning from the user the optimal speed profile to race the track at the highest speed without flipping over. Thereby it is possible to play against the computer driven Carrera racing car which is controlled by a cognitive algorithm that imitates the best observed user performance. To prevent from loosing gaming fun due to an unbeatable virtual opponent, adaption algorithms were introduced: With respect to individual driving skills of the human player the virtual car adapts its speed. By that, it even waits for his human playfellow in case his car flips out of the track. The students showed that bringing remarkable cognitive capabilities to a product doesn’t necessarily need to be expensive; the prototype of this fun bringing add-on product didn’t cost more than 100 Euros.

To enable the students to develop cognitive products, the seminar combines interactive lectures on key topics, e.g. cognitive capabilities and methods, and product development methods as well as workshops providing hands-on skills in hardware and software prototyping. The students are not given a pre-defined task but rather must develop their own product ideas in the first phase that they then develop into product concepts and finally working product prototypes. To reach the goals within one semester, teams are also supported by a hardware and software toolkit, which has been developed for the seminar, and scientific assistants who serve as team coaches. The project has resulted in both new and innovative cognitive products as well as educating and motivating students in the topics of the CoTeSys research cluster.
Innovation@CoTeSys will continue on a workshop basis in the Summer Semester 2009 to enhance the existing product concepts and prototypes. In the Winter Semester 09/10 the seminar will be held again on a new topic to continue our exploration of what cognitive products are and could be in the future.