UK telco group VMO2 installed a concept playground decked out with lights, sound and interactive equipment plugged into its broadband and 5G networks, in order to bring ‘digital audio sensory stimulation’ to outdoor play areas.
VMO2 temporarily took over a playground at Kings Square Gardens in Islington, London, to create ‘an enhanced outdoor play experience that promotes creativity and smart play through technology.’
What this means in practice is that the swings, slides and climbing frames were hooked up with sensors, pressure pads and infrared beams which when interacted with make noises of varying pitch and tempo, the idea being kids can create some music by tearing around on the equipment which is laid out as a type of assault course.
The musical track can then be downloaded via a QR code to be listened to later, which no doubt the parents of the kids at Dallington Primary School – who VMO2 worked with for the showcase – will be eternally grateful for.
By way of context the firm provides some research which says 64% of British parents are concerned that their children aren’t getting enough stimulation through outdoor play, with 68% believing that their kids should have more exposure to playgrounds modernised with technology.
There’s no pretence at this being anything like a product or a business case so much as an inspiration around what could be done around this idea with 5G and broadband. Gareth Lister, Director of Connectivity at Virgin Media O2 told Telecoms.com: “It’s a thought provoking piece… a bit like some of the other things we’ve done previously where we use our network and our tech to awaken people’s imaginations as to what the future could hold using this kind of superfast low latency connectivity.”
Dr Sam Wass, child psychologist on Channel 4’s Secret Life of 4 and 5 Year Olds has been drafted in to bolster some of the sociological reasoning behind the project. “There’s a lot of kids these days, they get super excited from playing on the gaming consoles and digitally interacting with each other,” Lister continued. “And they can build up quite a lot of adrenaline while they’re doing that indoors, but outdoors has got such a crucial role to play because when they build that adrenaline indoors, they need somewhere to go outdoors likes to get rid of it all before you know they start to relax. So the concept behind the playground was that, why wouldn’t we try and mix that sort of digital audio sensory stimulation that they get online with something that was outside?”
Expanding on the tech that behind the project, Lister said: “We connected the playground up with various sensors on the apparatus, the swings, climbing and slide. Each of the swings had like a physical sensor underneath the seat connected to our 5G network. There was a massive server that was connected to our DOCSIS fibre network that’s powering the whole thing and taking all of the backhaul. When the swing moved it would then trigger an algorithm that then changed the light on the ropes that hold the swing up. When it went backwards, it went blue when he went forwards it went red.”
“We have this audio soundtrack that’s like a repetitive beat that was constantly on, but when the kids use the swings or went down the slide or when on the climbing frame, then it put into the soundtrack it a unique piece of music.”
In terms of the motivation to build out such a thing in a playground in London, we were told it’s about stirring up imagination and that the firm sees that as its role, as opposed to being a provider of connectivity: “I would say it just stimulates a bit of thought and some creativity, and hopefully some innovation and that’s what we love doing here at Virgin Media O2. I’d say rather than just being kind of a relatively mundane kind of connectivity service. We see ourselves as a platform to really expand people’s experiences and we’re just on the cusp of finding out what they might be.”
When asked if this is intrinsically made possible by 5G we were told it probably could be done on 4G, but that it is better with 5G due to its low latency characteristics. “I don’t think it would work as well, I think 4G latency is pretty decent, but 5G latency is around about 50 milliseconds, so it’s all in a blink of an eye. It probably would have worked in 4G, frankly, but it certainly worked even better over 5G.”
We’ve done our fair share of nit-picking when it comes to concepts that are supposed to explain what 5G can do, but to be fair to VMO2 this isn’t pitched as anything other than a kind of thought experiment as to how an outdoor play area might be enhanced with tech, in a generation where kids are bombarded with digital stimulus from social media and gaming. There is a counter point to be made that perhaps a break from all that digital stimulus is a good thing, but who knows.
We wouldn’t necessarily expect to see these cropping up in London boroughs permanently anytime soon, but when it comes to firms trying to point at something which next generation connectivity can improve or enable, it’s at least a change from the waves of vague references to the metaverse we often get. And in terms of showing off a practical implementation of IoT and 5G on a real world environment, it seems to make a bit more sense than remote surgery robots.
It’s open for the rest of the week if you fancy taking your kids to see a glimpse at the future of swings and stuff, however it sadly coincides with the current onslaught of sleet and generally unacceptable temperatures across the UK. It seems even the playground of the future isn’t safe from the British weather.
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