Lifelong Kindergarten Group

Project Title:

contacts: Rick Borovoy ( (1)
Fred Martin ( (2)


Since 1995, we have been developing technology to augment face-to-face
social interactions. Our first project, the "Thinking Tag" (3) is an
electronic name tag worn at receptions that gives a simple measure of
affinity between guests. A further elaboration of this concept led to
the "Meme Tag," (4) which allowed conference-goers to share and trade
their ideas during conversations. In another project, the Dance Craze
Buggies, we built a toy that children could teach to dance. The cars
then traded these dances directly from one car to another, and
seamlessly reported the spread of the dances on the Internet. (5)

During the course of developing these projects, we have developed a
theory around the idea of "Tradeable Bits." Building on the legacy of
traditional trading/collecting toys---like baseball cards, Pogs, and
Beanie Babies---digital objects can easily be passed from person to
person. Digital objects have additional properties that make them
especially suited as trading toys, however. Specifically, digital
objects are:

* Constructable. It's easy to build on-screen environments where kids
can create their own digital objects -- for example, computer
animations with programs like KidPix.

* Editable. A digital object -- even one created by someone else --
can be loaded into an editor and revised easily.

* Replicable. Unlike real objects, digital objects can be
"copy-pasted," duplicating at will. (Of course, part of the appeal of
physical trading toys is their actual scarcity, so this property must
be used wisely.)

* Traceable. As they move from person to person, digital objects can
leave a trail, allowing people to see where they've been. (This
solves the big shortcoming of the "message in a bottle" experiment --
you rarely know if it's reached a destination. With a digital object,
however, you can monitor its journey.)

* Animate-able. Since it is powered by a computer program, a digital
object can have agency, seeking out goals and following its own course
of action.


The iBall -- short for "Information Ball" -- pushes the idea of
Pokemon, the popular kids' trading game, into a new dimension. Like
Pokemon monsters, the iBall lives on a hand-held game platform,
can be traded from kid to kid, and is a collectable digital toy.

The iBall goes beyond Pokemon in several important directions. Kids
can design their own iBalls, giving them unique behaviors and
identities. iBalls can seek out children with particular attributes,
and can "hitchhike" a ride from one child to the next.

iBalls live on an OS we've written for the SEGA Dreamcast's "visual
memory unit," (VMU) a tiny, programmable Tamagochi-sized PDA that
plugs into the gamepad controller of the new Dreamcast videogame. The
pocket-sized Dreamcast VMUs can also plug into each other and share
information. The VMUs are fully programmable, with an 8-bit processor
and 128K of flash RAM, making them ideal host for the iBall, our
tradeable digital toy. Please see an image of the VMU at (6).

Kids will be able to build three types of iBalls:

* Collect-iBall. This iBall consists of a series of 32x32 bit,
one-pixel, flip-screen frames, letting kids make simple, fun
animations. The Collect-iBall is ideal for collecting and showing off
to friends.

* Pass-iBall. This iBall is meant to be passed from person to person;
each time you give it away, you gain points that can be used to create
new objects. But each Pass-iBall has different rules that determine
what sort of person it wants to be passed to, and discovering or
fulfilling these rules is the challenge.

* Hitch-iBall. This iBall "hitches a ride" between VMUs every time
you dock with a friend. If your friend's VMU is carrying a
Hitch-iBall, it may decide it would rather catch a ride with you, in
which case it will invisibly jump to your VMU. (You can check to see
if you're carrying any Hitch-iBalls later.) The Hitch-iBalls keep a
trail of all the people they've visited, and if you're the author of
one, you can trace it, seeing the progress of its journey. In this
way, you can see your Hitch-iBall find its way across the country,
connected by a chain of face-to-face human contact.


Candidates for this position must have significant programming
projects under their belt, including Java work. We are looking for
people who have already spent lots of time programming and are already
up to speed with the nuts and bolts of building apps in Java. Having
taken 6.170 would be considered a plus, but is not strictly necessary;
knowing the URL to Sun's Java API documentation by heart is more in
the spirit. (Being able to get it in 2 clicks is acceptable.)

The job of this UROP is implementing a graphical authoring environment
for the iBall. This consists of several components:

1. A simple, black-and-white bitmap editor for designing
Collect-iBall animations;

2. A pop-up menu-driven interface for defining iBall behavior (rules
for state transitions between iBall screens);

3. A communications module that passes this bitmap and rule
information to a separate server/downloader program.

This environment is to be implemented as a Java 1.1.x application.

JEFF'S NOTE: My first work in this project involved the design and implementation of item (2). My current work involves writing SQL and JDBC code which integrates into the Java GUI in order to download interaction data* from the VMU to a SQL server, to piece it together into coherent information, and later to process that data in interesting ways that can be displayed intelligently onscreen, to study the social behavior of iBall users.

* The current implementation tracks the experience each VMU has with its owner in order to study how people use these things.


(1) Rick Borovoy

(2) Fred Martin

(6) SEGA Dreamcast's Tiny "Visual Memory Unit" (VMU)