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From Research Project to Export Item

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17-08-2016

From Research Project to Export Item

The story of WizeFloor (formerly known as the Wisdom Well) is the classic story about a research project that was slowly matured and tested in cooperation with users and gradually developed into a product with international market potential in the educational technology field.

Like many other products WizeFloor is based on experience gained through research projects. In particular, two projects iBib and Interactive Children's Library from the beginning of year 2000 have helped to inspire us, says Kaspar Rosengreen Nielsen, Principal Software Architect at Interactive Spaces Lab at the Alexandra Institute. He started working on these projects, while he was still a student and afterwards he became project manager and programmer for WizeFloor.
 

Multidisciplinary teamwork

The projects were initiated in the interdisciplinary Interactive Spaces Lab, which was a collaboration between the Department of Computer Science at the University of Aarhus, Aarhus School of Architecture and the Alexandra Institute. The prototypes were presented at the Main Library in Aarhus during the period from 2004-2005 and consisted of the interactive floors iFloor and Story Surfer.

iFloor was an attempt to create a meeting point and discussion forum on the floor. The concept was awarded the Danish Design Prize in 2004, and it inspired to exploring the potential of interactive floors. The next prototype was named Story Surfer and gave the library users the opportunity to walk around on the floor and be inspired to which children's books, they might consider reading.


The projects had several problems, both because the cameras were not very good, but also because the projection came from above, which meant that the users cast shadows on the floor. This made it difficult to achieve precision in the interaction, so we discussed if we could place the camera and projector under the floor, so you could see where people placed their hands and feet, Kaspar Rosengreen Nielsen explains.
 

Launched as a basement version in Aarhus

At that time, part of the school Møllevangskolen in Aarhus burned down. Interactive Spaces had previously collaborated with the architectural firm that was in charge of rebuilding the new section, so it was a chance to constract a hole in the ground which could accommodate the next generation of interactive floors.

The floor, which was introduced at the school in 2006 was about 3.5 meters deep with a steel structure in the middle and it consisted of four projectors and four webcams that tracked where the users placed their hands and feet. The advantage was that it did not cast shadows and moreover the precision was much better.

The floor was called Wisdom Well, partly with reference to Mimer’s well from Northern mythology, and partly because a well was the place where people gathered and exchanged information in the old days.

- The project is interesting because it was successful, even though the technology was not yet ready. But it was also a prototype that would cost up to two million Danish kroner. Moreover, there was no server connected. You had to add new content on a physical machine in the basement, says Karen Johanne Kortbek, Senior User Experience Specialist from Interactive Spaces Lab at the Alexandra Institute.

As a student she got the opportunity to participate in the project and she has included it in both in her master’s thesis and PhD. Since then she has also participated in the development and commercialisation of the product.
 

The basic idea appeared early

Even at that stage we saw an outline of today’s product, the use of your body for learning. Moreover, the users could create their own content. The platform consisted of four games, including a quiz.

- We saw that the children were motivated by it. Some of the children who had difficulties in staying seated in a traditional classroom were suddenly engaged. The quiz invites the users to collaborate and share knowledge because they take turns in answering questions. It also stimulated creativity. For example, one of the quizzes included a moving light cone, and soon the students had invented a new game where you had to jump over it, Karen Johanne Kortbek explains.

Google Earth was also something quite new and with this the students could stand on the floor while getting the sensation of floating around on the world map.
 

Winner of the Red Dot Design Award in 2007

In 2007 the floor won the Red Dot Design award "Best of the best" in the category "Education".

- At this point, our primary goal was not commercial, however to publish our research results. Three papers were accepted for international conferences and they have been quoted many times since then, so we were onto fundamental new knowledge about interactive learning, Kaspar Rosengreen Nielsen explains.


From basement to top-projected version

We soon found out that there were several difficulties associated with the basement edition. Therefore we replaced it with a top-projected solution. It had also challenges because the light came in from the side, which meant that tracking was extremely light-dependent, and it was often necessary to set up blackout curtains.

The launch of Kinect cameras around 2011 boosted the development of the platform, as they enabled much better precision, and they were not as light-sensitive. This meant that you could achieve a much more precise interaction with the floor surface.

- It has taken some years to mature the product. We have often received money to develop new apps for the floor, and gradually we have built up a range of apps, which are suited for both nursery and primary schools. The product was eventually made so robust and user-friendly that it was easy for everyone to use.
 

Launch abroad

While the platform was becoming more widespread in Denmark, the international potential become more evident, too. We took a decision to expand in Europe and initially in England and in this connection we changed the name to WizeFloor.

The obvious place to launch the product internationally was at the Bett Show in London, where WizeFloor has participated every year since 2014. Bett Show is one of the leading exhibitions with focus on education, training and technology.

- It is the place you go to if you want move into the international market. It is expensive to have a stand at Bett, but it has been worth every penny and has given us networks and contacts to new distributors. It has also been necessary when your product is not an off-the-shelf item. You have to demonstrate it, so people can see how good it is, Karen Johanne Kortbek explains.

This year WizeFloor was nominated for a Bett Award in the category ICT Tools for Learning, Teaching & Assessment and in addition it received great attention from the media from the US, Russia, France, Spain and many more.
 

Optimistic future

The development of WizeFloor has not yet finished. It is constantly being improved and we are developing and testing new applications. We have launched a premium package with 3D apps such as for example "Bomb the Pirate".

- This is a good example of research that has gone one step further, and it has great potential, because it is not limited to specific apps like many others. You can create your own content. Our basic idea has been to do it together with the users. Therefore, we have held workshops with teachers, students and youth workers from the very beginning, she explains.

Principal Software Architect
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