Interactive learning

A special needs school in Surrey, UK has implemented a GestureTek GroundFX interactive system in its sports hall. The school’s staff believe the gesture based solution is great in engaging students that fail to respond to other stimuli.

When Darryl Morgan, head teacher of the Ridgeway Community School in Farnham, UK saw a GestureTek GroundFX dynamic floor system in action he saw a fantastic opportunity to engage and stimulate his 110 students. As head teacher of a special needs school Morgan is well aware of how important technology can be in supporting the education of his students and began to research the product straight away.

GroundFX is a multimedia visual floor display system that vertically projects interactive floor special effects, games or advertisements. Morgan felt it was well suited to the special needs school, where many students are in wheelchairs, as it encourages full-body interaction. Users can control the multimedia displays with simple gestures and body movement.

The school is described as one of the leading exponents of technology for special educational needs and, under the guidance of Morgan, has always embraced interactive learning aids. The facility’s sensory ICT suites boast soundbeams, bubble tubes and eye-controlled computers distributed through its multi-controllable, Multi Interactive Learning Environment (MILE).

Morgan had seen the GestureTek system in action at a head teacher’s conference. But, before installing the system, Morgan, accompanied by his network manager Rob Anderson, paid a visit to the nearby Farnham Heath End School where a similar gesture-controlled system had been installed.

This further investigation prompted Morgan to decide the system would be beneficial to the school and a tender process was launched. After eliciting three tenders the installation contract was awarded to digital signage and projection specialist, Digital Vision AV.

The UK integrator had carried out the project at the Farnham Heath End School and had experience with the GroundFX system.

Paul Mayhew, managing director of Digital Vision AV, surveyed the site and discovered a high ceiling with arched beams under a corrugated roof and no void for fixing. “This presented a major challenge,” he notes. “It wasn’t so much the height of the ceiling that was problematic but how to fix a mounting rig for the GestureTek system. We were working in a sports hall and of course you have to expect objects, such as balls, to be launched towards the ceiling. Whatever solution we came up with had to be robust and capable of withstanding impact. Safety was primary concern.”

GestureTek’s UK distributors Paradigm AV were brought in along with the school’s original theatre lighting suppliers, Kave Lighting. Some of the existing luminaries were repositioned and secure struts were placed across the beams. This allowed the installation team to securely mount the mirror rig that houses four IR emitters and a USB camera. These components are used to register the gestures that control the content.

From their position in the ceiling the four IR emitters and USB camera were able to monitor and respond to body movements and positions of the users below. In turn this allowed for real-time motion control and interaction with display graphics.

Also cradled in the rig, that was custom made by Digital Vision and Paradigm AV, is a carefully aligned Sanyo XM100 5000 lumen 3 LCD projector with LNS-S20 standard zoom lens. Mindful that the sports hall is also used as a gym, Paradigm also fitted a secure white shelf under the ceiling rig.

“The height of the ceiling actually worked to our advantage,” summarises Mayhew. “The higher the ceiling the larger the image. The challenge we had to overcome was developing a fixing that was both safe and secure.” At 5 metres high the ceiling height allowed a projected image of 3.5m x 2.63m.

Ridgeway Community School was already using an Epson LCD projector, which was installed on one of the sports hall walls. This created a vast, six metre wide, moving wall backdrop overlooking the floor where the GerstureTek system projects an image.

When the projection system and the interactive system are coupled together the school can mirror the GestureTek system on the wall. A library of GetureTek GroundFX software can be used for this purpose. Alternatively the school can revert to its dedicated PC via a Kramer two by two matrix switcher where the VGA cables are terminated. So, for example, the school can project an interactive firework display on the floor complemented by a fireworks safety message on the wall.

At the same time, via its existing PA / control system, the school can provide aural stimulus, routing the GroundFX soundscapes associated with the different interactive templates, such as running water, via the sound mixer to the Wharfedale PA system.

Anderson noted that wheelchair users might not be able to use the standard GestureTek system. He realised that wheelchairs would bubble and crease a standard roll-out screen if it was laid straight onto the floor. Therefore, a decision was made to cut into the sports-grade wooden floor with a similar finish which is permanently bonded in.

The backdrop, created by the Epson projector, is also particularly important for the wheelchair users. From a seated position students are unable to visually see the impact they are creating on the ground. Therefore they can also interact by specially-fitted wheelchair trays, controlled by hand gestures, or by looking at the wall image.

Anderson is excited by the impact the new system can have on his students. “Where some students fail to respond to other stimuli they love coming here and it engages them for much longer,” he says. “They refer to the GestureTek floor as the ‘magic carpet’”

Mayhew explains that the GroundFX system comes with about 100 different templates but that is very easy to add custom content and the system supports upload of standard file types. Anderson is already planning to start creating bespoke software. “It’s really just a question of how far we can take it,” he says.

Mayhew adds: “Content can be controlled by the school staff via a wireless keyboard and mouse. This means they can be with the students rather than having to return to the PC, running the software, when they want to change something.”

He concludes: “It was certainly a challenging installation but it’s been well worthwhile. Paradigm offered fantastic support, and [Paradigm AV operations manager] Steve Pratt did an excellent job with the custom design. The reaction so far has been fantastic.”


Wharfedale PA system

Epson LCD projector
GestureTek GroundFX floor
Kramer matrix switcher, VGA cables
Paradigm AV & Digital Vision AV custom made rig
Sanyo XM100 3 LCD projector