On the application side, one of the more unique discoveries at the show was the University of Tsukuba, Japan, PhD programme in Empowerment Informatics. The group showed ‘Childhood’, an augmented childhood experience. With the tag line, “Welcome back to your childhood,” this is a VR/AR wearable suit “that transforms your embodiment into a child’s”, to create the “new but long-forgotten world” of being a child.
The group created an augmented childhood experience using a binocular pan-tilt camera placed on the wearer’s mid-section, to show the viewing perspective at child level. The experience was transformational. I found myself looking up at the “adults” in conversation in the booth, who just moments ago were giving me attention. Suddenly, when I spoke (perhaps because I was wearing a VR headset, and not engaging in the normal eye-to-eye fashion) they ignored my questions and comments. It really did illicit the past experience of being small. I experienced exactly what the group described as a “Viewpoint translator.” It provides the child’s perspective by transforming the height of line-of-sight into the waist position, that emphasized the “largeness of the world,” and “excitement of adventure.” I would also add the feeling of insignificance among the big people who could choose to show their attention or not – yes, it did bring back those memories.
Beyond display and vision, the University of Tsukuba group also built a hand exoskeleton to simulate the tiny hand size of a child. It allows users to experience the world of adult objects (an iPhone or coffee cup, for instance) with a wearable glove that translated finger motion to the prosthetic device. The system is even tethered to limit the reach, also reminiscent of the limits of being a child. Team members told us that they are seeing interest in simulation training, and feedback to product design and development when creating products for kids. They also see a high degree of interest in sensitivity training, reacquainting adult caregivers, teachers and health providers with the experience of being a child. Brilliant!