Digital playgrounds

Research on play and robotics at Center for Playware has played a central part in the first digital playgrounds on the world market


From research to the world market

In the spring of 2001, the world’s first electronic playground was opened at a school in the small town of Sdr. Nærå on Funen, Denmark. It was a result of the cooperation between one of the world’s leading playground producers, Danish KOMPAN A/S, which has its base in Funen, and Danish researchers. They entered into this cooperation in order to solve a growing problem in the majority of the wealthier, industrialized parts of the world, where children play less physical games and instead choose the virtual world of the computer – and, where the result is rapidly increasing overweight, obesity and life style related diseases.

The playground at Sdr. Nærå was not in use very long and it was not an overwhelming success. But it was a point of departure for the cooperation between researchers from very different branches and an industrial company, for whom digital technology was a brand new area. With financial support from The Danish Council for Strategic Research, this cooperation developed over the years and resulted in a number of prototypes for digital playground equipment.  This cooperation forms the basis for KOMPAN being the first player on the world market at the end of 2008, offering an electronic playground, the innovative playground concept, ICON.

The fruitful cooperation between Danish research in play-culture and robotics, which was initiated in 2001, has also resulted in a number of other promising product concepts.  This led to the establishment of the Center for Playware.

Innovation by roundabout methods

Like many other innovation processes, the road to the world market has been by roundabout methods for the digital playground. In 2001, the central element of the Playground was a line of connected pushbuttons placed on an existing piece of playground equipment. Further into the process, the parties developed an interactive floor, consisting of tiles based on robotic technology, which made a platform for physical computer games. In ICON, the idea behind the modular robotic tiles is reused in the pushbuttons and combined with other ideas. Parallel to this, the tiles have developed a life of their own, e.g. as basis for physiotherapy and rehabilitation in hospitals.

Play-research provides answers

The unique thing about the digital playground is not only the technology.  Far from it. The play-research has contributed to the development of a productive answer to the question of what the traditional playground lacks in order to attract children and youngsters today – in short: inspiring them to play. Previously, younger children got this inspiration by observing older children and by participating in their games. Today, young children are often separated from the older children, e.g. because age groups are split up, and because children today have fewer brothers and sisters. The playground must therefore be the initiator of games, and digital technology can help. Just like in computer games which, for the very same reason are good play-facilities for the children and youngsters of today.