This was a joint project with Reading University, London South Bank, The Abbey School and Abingdon Independent School. The brief was to develop an app to support a joint research-based haptics project. The overall aim of the 12-month project being to evaluate the use of haptic feedback in the delivery of educational content before assessing its contribution to the development of innovative teaching methods; allowing the universities to make a valid evaluation of the whole process and resulting in a series of academic papers.
With the project based on a range of teaching activities and control exercises within the two partner schools, Gaia was to aid in the development of a student-facing app that would support the process.
Input from all stakeholders was key from the outset; with Reading University responsible for the production and design of the haptic equipment, whilst Professors from London South Bank were involved to ensure the accuracy of both the model and the processes to be simulated by the activity. Highly qualified teachers from the two schools were also intrinsic to the project from the start.
This co-working ensured that, whilst content was of the required degree-level standard and the entire project followed a true research path to support the production of academic papers, the evaluation would always be integrated with the learning outcomes required for the student syllabus – so truly of mutual benefit.
The app itself harnessed ground-breaking Virtual UI design to replicate all the details of an animal cell without compromising on the reality of its structure. Not only was the replication to be visually correct but, in line with the haptic nature of the project, each component would be allocated a resistance and shear point for force feedback; allowing students to feel the elasticity of semipermeable membranes and undergo the same active transport of chemicals across the membrane. The design also had to allow different molecules to react in their own unique way to the resistance of the membrane; in turn allowing the student to feel the difference between active and passive transport.
Gaia’s main task was to account for the needs of all parties in evaluating the hardware being employed and investigate ways to integrate such high-level content into prototype hardware. Once the app was launched, evaluations were carried out at regular intervals with first year university students to refine the user interface and provide feedback on the activity and the use of the hardware.
Following a successful first phase implementation, the scope of the project has been expanded to be even more comprehensive.
The feedback from observation, user questionnaires and the academic papers has proven invaluable as to how users interact with haptic interfaces. Not only have the university and school stakeholders benefited, but Gaia as a company has been able to integrate the knowledge gleaned by working with prototype haptic hardware into the department’s knowledge pool. Virtual UI design is a relatively new process for the industry and getting a high level of constructive analysis has provided invaluable insight for subsequent commercial projects.
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