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The development and evaluation of an intelligent toy as an interface to FearNot

The SenToy had been developed by the INESC-ID partner in the earlier EU project Safira as a novel interaction device used in a duelling game in which the emotional state of the two game characters duelling had to be influenced. Conscious of the limitations of keyboard and mouse interaction, VICTEC included further development of and experiments with SenToy in the context of the FearNot! demonstrator. SenToy, is a large, soft, neutal doll-shaped toy equipped with sensors discussed at more length in D4.2.1. Children are able to make gestures with it, which can be picked up and analysed, as an emotional state, from a small set of five or six emotional states.

Other documents have discussed the interaction issue surrounding the use of SenToy. The 'at a distance' stance of the child with respect to the virtual drama, in which they could see how the victim responded to their earlier advice, but not directly control their action, was adopted for several good reasons, also discussed elsewhere. In brief, the team felt that direct participation would give the child too privileged a position (since the bully could not actually hurt them), would undermine the believability of the characters (such intervention could not take place in the real-world case) and would hinder the reflective approach needed for the child to benefit from the exploration of different strategies. For these reasons, the SenToy could not be used in the same way as in the Safira application, which in any case was a game. FearNot! was definitely not intended to be a game.

A further constraint lay in the number of SenToys available to the project: the original SenToy with upgraded hardware, and a second one constructed for the project. This was of course not compatible with large-scale evaluation and even producing one SenToy for use in each country was beyond the resources of the project. It was therefore decided to experiment with modes of operation rather than run any large-scale evaluation. After some discussion, the interaction mode adopted was for the child user to use the SenToy as a means of providing an emotional commentary on the action-taking place in FearNot! For this purpose, a face was added to the FearNot! Interface, which indicated which emotion the child was trying to convey. A small-scale evaluation was carried out which indicated that the children were able in most cases to produce commentary emotions, though there was some conflict between handling the SenToy and operating the keyboard to advance the action. This activity can be seen in the project video for the SenToy.

The reason for choosing this function for the SenToy was that questionnaires applied after the drama capture the final feelings of the child and do not record any changes as the story progresses. It was felt to be potentially interesting to compare questionnaire results with emotions signalled in commentary form. As a result of carrying out this experiment, the team realised that another interesting use of the SenToy would be to express theory of mind capabilities - instead of the child user expressing how they felt at points in the story they could be asked to express what they thought one of the characters was feeling. The differences between the use of the SenToy in the Safira project and in VICTEC were considerable, and the team drew the lesson that new interaction devices have to be part of an overall definition of interaction modalities. FearNot! was essentially designed for keyboard interaction, inevitably given the current state-of-the-art in speech and language. Using the SenToy alongside it - even though most of the small evaluation group enjoyed it - was relatively cumbersome. The project achieved what it had intended in investigating a novel form of interaction, and the SenToy was positively received by the small set of subjects, but further work would be needed to integrate it properly with FearNot!

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Reported by

Heriot-Watt University
EH14 4AS Edinburgh
United Kingdom