all ages

Osmo Uses iPad Camera, Games To Make Learning Fun

by Jeff Cork on May 22, 2014 at 12:05 PM

One of the things I struggle with as a parent is how much time I let my kids play games. Left to their own devices, my 5- and 7-year-old would happily spend eight-hour blocks of time exploring Lego Marvel Super Heroes’ streets or hunched over an iPad playing Bad Piggies. I get it – games are super fun – but at the same time I like to make sure that it’s not time entirely wasted. The founders of a new iPad product called Osmo had similar issues in their homes, but they’ve done something about it. Osmo uses a pair of simple peripherals to deliver three educational games for young players. I got to see it in action recently, and it’s an impressive piece of tech that parents should keep an eye out for.

Pramod Sharma, co-founder and CEO of Tangible Play, told me that he was uncomfortable watching his kids tune out while playing iPad games. He wanted to develop something that was educational, but also required players take a more active role in what was happening on the screen. He and co-founder Jérôme Scholler developed a proprietary technology they call Reflective A.I., which uses a mirror peripheral in conjunction with an iPad’s front-facing camera to detect and interpret shapes and patterns and use them in gameplay.

The product, Osmo, includes the camera mirror, which is a little red cap that fits over any post-generation 1 iPad, as well as a stand that keeps the iPad upright. On the software side, Osmo includes three different apps: Words, Tangram, and Newton.

In Words, players are shown an image and they have to spell what they see using letters. Osmo includes two sets of 26 tiles – one red, and one blue – and you can play the game solo, cooperatively, or competitively. Osmo is a slick bit of tech; tiles were detected instantaneously when they were slid in the general area in front of the iPad (you don’t have to line things up in order). Sharma took it a step further, grabbing a handful of letters and streaming them through his fingers, and the letters cascaded on the screen in real time. While it probably isn’t the most efficient way to win a round, it was a great display of the system’s potential. 

Tangram is played with seven geometric shapes, which players have to arrange to match the silhouette on the screen. When pieces are put in their proper position, they’re highlighted.This seems like a particularly great game for collaboration between kids and parents. There’s a built-in hint system (which Sharma used to figure out how to build an ostrich), though I like the idea of working with another person to come up with solutions.

Newton is the only one of the three Osmo games that doesn’t require special pieces to play. Instead, players can use whatever is within reach to interact with the game. Little balls drop from the top of the screen, and it’s up to players to find out how to arrange real-world objects so the virtual balls bounce into goals. Osmo detects things like keys, blocks, books – anything that fits within the space – and their outlines are shown onscreen. Or, players can grab a blank sheet of paper and draw lines, squiggles, or whatever, and see how the balls react. 

Sharma says parents told him over the course of Osmo’s development was that they wanted several things in their child’s education. In addition to learning fundamentals, they thought it was important that kids learn how to be creative and how to work within groups. From what I saw of Osmo, the product is a big step toward those goals. 

Tangible Play is starting a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for production. For a limited time, people who pre-order the product through its website will get it for $49, which is about half of what it will eventually be priced at when it’s released later this summer. It’s not an insignificant amount of money, but Sharma says they’ve worked hard to create a premium product, from the packaging, to the pieces, to the overall look and design of the apps themselves. There is a lot of content – Words features more than 2,000 puzzles, and there are 2,400 possible Tangram challenges.

For more info on Osmo, visit their site.