Space Explorers for Kids

“Space explorers” are play props that enable children to expand their experience of the environment. In playing with objects, children gather information about the physical characteristics and embedded meanings of their three-dimensional surroundings. This project explores the potential of a new category of animated play props that expands the repertoire of objects conceived specifically for children's outdoor play environments. Space explorers are animated objects that reveal important information about spaces by adding another layer of complexity to the triangle of children « props « play setting. 

The initial prototype uses three pairs of pneumatic muscles to displace a central weight, which then propels the wheel forward. These actuators were custom-designed at a small scale for an autonomous unit. They create an evocative motion similar to human muscle contraction and expansion.

The system designed improves on commercially available products by combining valve manifolds, tubing and connectors. Surface-mounted and socket-based boss systems were developed for the smallest available 3/2 valves (The Lee Co.). The integrated system is light-weight and takes advantage of the space inside the muscles which only contract 30%, thus leaving most of the interior space unused. In order to draw attention to the muscles, a transparent poly-carbonate structure was selected. Hanging by the muscles from the rigid structure are the air tank, compressor, batteries and electronics.

This project emerged from an earlier initiative called Reactive Playgrounds at the MIT Media Laboratory with Oren Zuckermann, Lis Sylvan, Marko Popovic and Orit Zuckermann.

Susanne Seitinger, PhD Candidate, Smart Cities, Media Lab
Peter Schmitt, PhD Candidate, Smart Cities, Media Lab