Jeevan Kalanithi, CEO, Sifteo: Hard Fun: Innovations in Literacy


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  • Think back to when you were a kid, playing with alphabet blocks. As you reached out, picked them up, and moved them around, you were actually learning how to think, and solve problems, and understand both spatial and symbolic relationships. It’s 2011, and we are now just able to nurture, amplify and transform how we learn these skills with digital computation and sensing. This is our mission at Sifteo. We believe in intelligent play: for kids, and for adults too.
  • It began when Dave Merrill and I were graduate students at the MIT Media Lab working on new user interfaces. We looked at the way people play games that involve physical objects like checkers or cards, and how kids play with physical things like toys and alphabet blocks -- and we saw something really fundamental to how people play and learn – and the importance of social, visual and tactile systems. This is a snippet from the TED talk that Dave gave in 2009 when the technology was still a research project at MIT. < start video > So we called the technology Siftables. When that video went live it went viral. It got more than a million hits. Since then, thousands of people have emailed us, asking when they can buy these cubes or start developing applications for them. All this interest makes it clear to us that we were really on to something, and our upcoming product is the evolution of the original design vision. So: we’ve brought the cost of the devices down from $200 in parts for one cube, to being able to sell a set of 3 for the price of a handheld game system. But we’ve retained and improved the core functionality. Let me show you how the real live product works.
  • Let me show what we are doing. [talk thru vid] [Chroma, Booker: Spatial] [Brainiac: symbols, literacy] [Shaper: spatial] [It’s a true system] They are very sophisticated devices, but our goal is to make them simple to use. So I believe Sifteo cubes are good for a lot of things, but I’d like to reiterate three in particular: I believe our games can encourage symbolic reasoning – which underpins literacy, spatial reasoning, and digital literacy.
  • This is new: a prototype game that explicitly combines visual, audio and tactile input and output to encourage learners to connect symbols, sounds and concepts together.
  • So we believe in developing core thinking skills – such as symbolic reasoning, which underpins literacy and basic mathematics, and spatial reasoning as well. But digital literacy is important to us too. When we think about digital literacy, we usually mean a person’s ability to fluently use new technologies. And let’s face it: it’s adults, not kids, that are most in need of instruction here. But when I talk about digital literacy, I mean a person should be able to write as well as read. In 2011, that means the ability to program, and to understand computing devices – not just to use them. So, a key part of our product is an SDK that allows programmers to write their own applications. At first, the SDK will be for folks that have some background in software. But I hope we’ll be able to improve the SDK to the point that we’ll empower naïve – at first -- learners to really take control of their devices.
  • We’re excited, and we are constantly looking at ways to leverage – and push – technology to create interactions that tap into the way we humans work.
  • To sum it all up: Until now, it hasn't been possible to build an interactive play system that taps into the timeless play patterns of classic games and physical objects. We believe this is the right time to bring this innovation to market, and we are working hard to get Sifteo cubes ready to meet the public.
  • So – key is to tap into something. People have been playing games – like Mah Jong – for thousands of years. These games based around physical objects are truly ubiquitous and time-tested. Checkers, Chess, dominos – these game systems tap into how we learn and how we have fun on a deep cognitive and emotional level. These games are tactile, visual, and social. Really – the most successful game system ever created is probably the deck of cards.
  • Now fast forward to video games. Video games are amazing, because they are interactive. But they’ve been *built around the limitations of technology.* Fundamentally, we lose something when we are all staring into one screen – whether its on the wall or in our hands. We lose that social dynamic, and we lose the hands-on feel of objects that are in our world, not just on the screen. Thing is, until now, it just hasn't been possible to build an interactive play system that taps into that tried and true, face-to-face play pattern with objects.
  • The But until now, it hasn't been possible to build a interactive play system that taps into that thousand-year old, play pattern with objects. The sensing wasn’t there, the cost factors were not there, and the market appetite for new user interfaces wasn’t there. We think all that has changed
  • This is what we’re building.
  • Jeevan Kalanithi, CEO, Sifteo: Hard Fun: Innovations in Literacy

    1. 1. Intelligent Play.
    2. 5. Alpha Magnets
    3. 6. Digital Literacy: Reading AND Writing
    4. 7. confidential. do not distribute. slides copyright Sifteo Inc.
    5. 8. Intelligent Play