If you're worried that your kids spend too much time staring at the iPad screen, doing nothing but tap and swipe, you're not alone. Kids love the iPad, they were born with it. But wouldn't you love it if you could take those little fingers off the screen for a while, without taking the iPad completely away from them?
A new gaming kit that combines digital and physical objects can help you do just that. Osmo lets children aged 6 to 12 play with puzzles, word games and other creative games while moving between the iPad screen and real-world objects. Better yet, the games were designed so that not just one but two or more kids can have fun playing them together.
"[My daughter] could literally spend hours just looking at a screen, and doing nothing else. And as a parent, this is obviously concerning," says Pramod Sharma, one of two founders of Tangible Play, the company responsible for Osmo. The other is Jérôme Scholler. Sharma and Scholler are ex-Google employees, with Sharma working on Google's book-scanning machine and Scholler on Chrome for Android.
The games were built on a technology called Reflective Artificial Intelligence, which includes a bright-red, kid-friendly clip-on camera that attaches to the iPad's front-facing camera, which then allows the Osmo app that comes with the kit to "see" what objects are placed in front of the iPad. The flat area in front of the iPad then becomes a digital game board where kids can manipulate wooden tiles, puzzle pieces or other objects.
Osmo currently comes with three games. In "Words," children compete with each other to slide Scrabble-like letter tiles into place to guess the word that suits the picture shown on the screen. You don't need to position the tiles in any specific spot, or place them right side up. The camera only takes milliseconds to recognize the letter and register your guess.
The second game is "Tangram," which makes use of colored wooden blocks that you put together to make a picture. The iPad shows you the picture and the camera "watches" your play field as you put the puzzle pieces together. Once you place the correct piece, the corresponding piece on the onscreen puzzle lights up to tells you it's the right one. The more puzzles you solve, the more puzzles you unlock, so you won't run out of puzzles to play with anytime soon.
The third game requires a bit more creativity than the other two. The goal of "Newton" is for you to direct a little blue ball to a red target by drawing lines and curves on a piece of paper in front of the iPad. What's even more interesting is you can get rid of the drawings altogether and use physical objects, such as a pen, a hand or a toy dinosaur, to bounce off the balls into your target.
Osmo was designed for children's games, but the platform clearly has potential to create all kinds of games for adults in the future.
Tangible Play has piloted Osmo in over 100 schools in the Bay Area, where teachers have reportedly told the founders that the gaming kit has massive potential as a social learning tool. Osmo is on Kickstarter with a goal of raising $50,000 to fund manufacturing costs. Backers can get a $50 discount and buy their Osmo for $49. The retail price will be $99.