TACTOPI: A Multisensory Environment for Inclusive Play and Learning

The Interactive Technologies Institute researchers Ana Cristina Pires recently presented TACTOPI at the IDC 2023 conference, a work developed in collaboration with Hugo Nicolau from the Interactive Technologies Institute, and with the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon.

TACTOPI is an innovative multisensory environment designed to revolutionise inclusive, playful robotics for children with mixed visual abilities. Our recent research showcases the potential of TACTOPI in promoting inclusive behaviours, enhancing social, cognitive, and motor skills, and fostering positive development among children. The study, conducted in collaboration with inclusive public schools, has yielded remarkable results. TACTOPI combines tangible interaction and the presence of a friendly robot to create an immersive and inclusive play experience for children with mixed visual abilities. 

The TACTOPI environment consists of a set of challenge cards, each representing a navigational mission within a plot associated with an ocean and an endangered animal. Completing each challenge advances the narrative and presents the next mission. Each card contains an NFC, a relief drawing of the endangered animal, visual contrast to help detect the contours of the elements, and braille. Additionally, children can put the card in a “magic stone” to listen to the respective challenge.

One of the most significant findings of the research is the positive impact of TACTOPI’s tangible interaction on play experiences. “By incorporating physical objects and interactive surfaces, TACTOPI allows children to explore, manipulate, and interact with their environment in a way that is accessible and engaging”, explains Ana Cristina Pires. This hands-on approach enhances their motor skills and promotes cognitive development and problem-solving abilities. 

Moreover, the study highlights the crucial role of playful robotics in inclusive education. The presence of a friendly robot within the TACTOPI environment acts as a mediator, encouraging collaboration, turn-taking, and empathy among children. This fosters positive social relationships and promotes inclusive behaviours, creating an environment where children with mixed visual abilities can thrive and interact with their peers. 

However, the impacts of TACTOPI extend beyond the research findings. This environment has the potential to provide equal opportunities for children with mixed visual abilities to engage in play and learning. The researchers concluded that TACTOPI has the potential to be used in inclusive education settings, such as schools and museums. They highlighted the importance of designing inclusive technologies considering the diversity of users’ needs and preferences. To understand the long-term benefits of TACTOPI, the team of researchers plans to continue monitoring their approach’s results over time.

Ana Cristina Pires, Lúcia Abreu, Filipa Rocha, Hugo Simão, João Guerreiro, Hugo Nicolau, and Tiago Guerreiro. 2023. TACTOPI: Exploring Play with an Inclusive Multisensory Environment for Children with Mixed-Visual Abilities. In Interaction Design and Children (IDC ’23), June 19–23, 2023, Chicago, IL, USA. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 18 pages. https://doi.org/10.1145/3585088.3589389