The ADI office in Cork counts approximately 80-90 people, counting for a very small percentage of the total number of ADI employees around the globe. But small numbers don’t mean small efforts! And ever since its launch, Project Playtime sounded like the perfect opportunity to show that you don’t need thousands of people to make an impact in the local community and provide tangible help to others.

A group of ADI guys and gals with very different backgrounds gathered one afternoon in a meeting room and started brainstorming about possible ideas, concepts, prototypes and interstellar spaceships (that was towards the end of the day and the coffee machine was clearly out of order…).

 Figure 1: Brainstorming session at the Cork office

For most of us this was a completely new challenge… How could we help children with our technology? Who did we have to reach out to? We needed to ask the right questions before we could think of answers…

Catriona Kenny, senior engineer and STEM School Outreach Contributor from the Tyndall National Institute research center was instrumental in providing initial guidance on the range of needs in the junior disability sector and providing contacts for local organizations working in this area. And that’s how we started to reach out to potential local partners that work with children of all ages and needs: we wanted to understand how day to day life is for children and teens with disabilities, what are their needs and what are their likes and dislikes in their daily activities. After several discussions and surveying, we found the perfect match in a school in Bandon, a small picturesque town outside Cork city, where a group of hard working and profoundly passionate and motivated young teachers created over the years an incredible learning environment for kids with autism. We were immediately impressed by the level of the teaching that these teachers were offering their children and the effort that had been put into creating such a welcoming place.

Figure 2: Color codes for mood and behaviors in the school

The Playtime Cork Team felt like this was the perfect place to engage in something that could really add to the learning tools of the school, which already had a sensory room, a computer in each classroom for the teacher to connect to online learning platforms and several games and stickers to improve non-verbal communications with quieter kids.

Figure 3: Activities and related mood colors

The idea was taking shape. We wanted to create a learning tool that would concentrate in one device some of the main features that were available in the classroom: each kid could then individually have a sensory device, the online learning platforms that until then were only available collectively and an aid to improve non-verbal communication, all without taking away from the overall experience of spending time with other kids and collaborating with the teachers.

Figure 4: 3D model of concept design

From that moment things started to quickly evolve: the name of the device became PlayQube, a cube featuring a touchscreen display, a speaker, an LED panel and buttons. Sketches started to circulate around the team and several brainstorming sessions helped to find the list of functionalities that we wanted to see implemented:

  • A secure and safe web browser connecting the kids to the online learning platforms but blocking any other non-educational website
  • A LED panel where the kid can communicate his/her mood by using colors or shapes
  • An audio speaker to play sounds or songs that the kid likes for relaxation or as background music during other learning activities

Significant amounts of work and development activities over a few weeks have led to the first design, with all the HW connected in a proof of concept and mechanical design under review before being 3D printed to become the housing of the PlayQube.

Figure 5: 3D design of the mechanical enclosure

Part of the team has concurrently been working on the firmware for the embedded platform that controls all the peripherals and the software applications to be run on the device: demos for these are expected soon and the team will be ready then to go back to the partner school in Bandon for a field trial with teachers and children.

Needless to say, this is a very exciting time for the Playtime Cork Team and we are looking forward to seeing our PlayQube in action very soon!

Meet the team:

  • Hugh O’Brien – Project manager
  • Tony O’Connell – Project Manager and PR
  • Arvind Prakash – Software developer
  • Cathal Casey – Software developer
  • Padraig O’Connor – Software developer
  • Dimitrios Kyritsis – Software developer and Audio design
  • Aine McCarthy – HW design
  • Paul Kearney – HW design
  • Alessandro Vinco – HW design and marketing
  • Michal Raninec – Mechanical design
  • Leonel Bombio – Multimedia content
  • Conor Pesch -  Systems Applications Intern
  • Hugo Hegarty - Systems Applications Intern