CONSTRUCTS 802.15.4 Electronic Construction Kit

CONSTRUCTS demonstration at the 2008 ACM CHI conference, Florence, Italy.  
ConstructVizM the CONSTRUCTS visualization application.


CONSTRUCTS Toolkit is a wireless sensor network system (WSN) for mixed-reality ((virtual + physical components) applications. Wireless Sensor Networks have become an accessible development platform with advances in the convergence of micro electro-mechanical technologies, wireless communication protocols, integrated circuit technologies, and pervasive and embedded systems. As applied applications for wireless sensor networks in the manufacturing and health industries continue to grow there remains an opportunity to integrate these technologies into gaming and learning applications.

The CONSTRUCTS Toolkit prototype consists of fourteen tangible blocks - two each of seven unique 2D and 3D pentomino shapes. A pentomino is made from five cubes of the equal size. The pentomino shape was selected for the design because it supports three-dimensional cantilevered constructions. The Interchangeable Magnetic Sensor Connector was designed to support gender-neutral block connections. The blocks can be connected in any configuration that does not conflict with physical shape constraints. (fig. 1) Each block contains a tri-axial accelerometer among other features for position and movement tracking.

Each block is a node on an 802.15.4 mesh wireless network. When blocks are connected over-the-air messages about the block state, such as the connected faces and other block functions are transmitted to the CONSTRUCT/VizM application on the host computer.  CONSTRUCT/VizM translates the wireless network messages to create an accurate 3D render of the tangible construction using the original block CAD models.  Each 3D rendered block is an independent agent that can contain its own visual features including size, color, and embedded animated sprites. (fig. 2a & 2b)

The user experience objectives include:

  1. Design mixed-reality collaborative games.
  2. Design games that encourage learning and discovery.
  3. Design games that attract a broad user demographic.

The technical objectives include:

  1. Develop a modular system that wirelessly tracks nodes.
  2. Develop a 3D visualization application that updates in real-time.
  3. Develop a wireless platform for future application development.

CONSTRUCTS toolkit is part of a new generation of Post-Console computer game technologies.  The simple act of building is a rich experience that attracts a very broad user demographic.  The platform features supporting virtual augmentation of the physical construction with animated sprites adds new dimensions to construction and puzzle games.  CONSTRUCTS can support many types of mixed-reality games ranging from cognitive matching; maze navigation; language games; and physical replication and annotation.

CONSTRUCTS toolkit applications align with human centered computing domains of computer supported collaborative play, learning and work (CSCP, CSCL, CSCW).  This includes applications for exploring complex systems in science art and humanities; and applications for disciplines that use prototypes for iterative design, such as architecture, design, and engineering, as long as the new shape systems of connectable units can be represented in a grid.

CONSTRUCTS Development Team:
Pamela L. Jennings
David A. Castro M. (Bogota, Colombia)
Daedalus-Excel, Inc. (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
San Juan Software (Friday Island, Washington)
Paul Cunningham (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

The CONSTRUCTS project has been funded by:
National Science Foundation CreativeIT Program (Award # 0715304)
Canadian Alberta Informatics Circle of Research Excellence (iCORE)

Funding for earlier prototypes designs included:
Carnegie Mellon University Berkman Faculty Development Fund
The Dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University
The Rockefeller Foundation