RealTime IT News

HP Casts Mscape to the Wind

SAN FRANCISCO -- On Thursday night, industrial designers, squirrelly from a day of presentations at the IDSA Connecting 07 World Design Congress, hit the streets armed with data phones and GPS-enabled PDAs. Their assignment: Defend the integrity of the design world from soulless robots, visit 16 of San Francisco's coolest design studios and get to know each other.

The conference attendees were playing Defenders of Design, an "augmented reality" game created by Go Games. Teams of four or five received an HP iPAQ and LG VX9800 phone loaded with the game. Directions provided on the phones instructed them to move to different locations where they had to pick out details from the urban landscape and use them to answer questions. Punching in the right answer delivered the next instructions. From time to time, video would pop up on the iPAQ, explaining the backstory of the game.

Go Games produces custom team-building exercises for a variety of businesses. It produced Defenders of Design for HP to showcase its technology and devices.

Steve Donnelly and Nicolas LeBrun had traveled to the conference from Quebec, where they work for Maax, a manufacturer of bathroom fixtures. They gave the game high marks.

"It's much better than just going out to a restaurant at the end of the day," Donnelly said.

Defenders of Design is built on mscape, an authoring tool that lets you create "mediascapes" by dragging and dropping photos, text, audio or video onto maps. Others can download the mediascape onto a compatible device and begin to explore. The iPAQ can tap signals from positioning system satellites to trigger media playback when a participant arrives at a specific coordinate.

In addition to adventure games, the authoring tool lends itself to other kinds of location-based information services. For example, rangers at Yosemite used the tool to produce self-guided tours.

Mscape has been under development in HP's UK labs for several years. In May, the company opened it to third-party developers for free.

"We want to get mscape out to as many kinds of developers as possible," said Patrick Goddi, the HP senior researcher who led the project. The idea is to tap into mass creativity to discover interesting uses for the toolkit.

At mscapers.com, people can create mediascapes using a wizard. HP also provides access to the code for developers who want to dig deeper into the software's capabilities. People can publish their mediascapes back to the mscapers site.

The research version of mscape allows for other kinds of sensors, including RFID, Bluetooth, infrared and biosensors, so that, for example, an RFID tag embedded in a sculpture could trigger the delivery of content to a mobile device.

At the Game Developers Conference in March, game shop Active Ingredient demonstrated Heartland (also known as 'Ere Be Dragons"), a game designed to get young gamers off their butts and outside. As players walk around, their journey is mapped on their mobile phone by GPS, while a monitor tracks the player's heart rate. They score points by keeping their heart rate healthy as they cover ground.

HP will keep an eye on the mediascapes uploaded to the site and listen to feedback about where to take the program. The business model is still to be determined. The mscape FAQ says, "We may announce a business model in the future, based on adoption and the feedback we receive from mscape users and designers." The company says it will use this collaborative development model for other innovations tucked away in its labs.