Sniff is first and foremost a high-quality physical toy, that can withstand the rough and tumble of everyday play and activities. But Sniff's interactive elements add an extra dimension of experience and engagement. Through the use of Radio Frequency IDentification technology Sniff can identify objects that he comes close to, which trigger behaviours that are expressed through sound and vibration.

Prototype Construction

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The latest version of Sniff contains an Arduino microprocessor that takes inputs from an ID-20 RFID reader, and controlls two motors and a loudspeaker for feedback. A WaveShield by Adafruit, that facilitates the use of sound files, has also been integrated. The technology is fitted in vacuum moulded shells for robust protection.

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The design process has examined relations between physical shape and placement of components, both for durability and feedback design. Prototypes at all stages have been built with accessible USB sockets to allow for software updates. The size has been minimised to suit the young users, while necessary strength and durability has been considered. Finally the internal structure has been 'skinned' into a physical product using visco-elastic foam and cotton plush fabrics.

Read more about the prototype and product design processes of Sniff at the Tangible Interaction course blog, and the Sniff development blog.

Product Design

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Sniff is created through iterative design processes and evaluations, feedback from user groups of children, their parents and experts working with pedagogical learning. Robust, working, physical prototypes are essential when working with children in order to evaluate their experience at a level of realism, both when it comes to physical design and interactions. The functioning prototype has also proved to be effective in communicating the possibilities of Sniff to children and other designers.

Sniff's grasp-able affordances are important, and many different physical designs has been explored. The neck needed to be thin enough and the feedbacks placed at ergonomic points, to fit a small-handed grip. The physical design has focused on non-technological appearance and the use of tactile, contrasting materials. Visible contrasts have been used to some extent, to stimulate and encourage visual abilities in visually impaired children.

Tags for Sniff

The objects that Sniff reacts to contain a small, wireless, batteryless RFID tag. Each object is carefully designed to support the use in different concepts. Stickers with bright colours indicate different actions and attach to other objects, furniture, walls and floors. Small pebbles without any distinguishing marks have collectable qualities. Badges with graphic symbols, that also can be experienced tactilly, can be attached to people and soft materials like clothes, blankets, bed linen and carpets.

Feedback Design

Feedback development has been an essential part of the concept phase. In order to build characterful interactions that extends beyond simple generic confirmations, various qualities of audio and various frequency and amplitude of vibration have been used. The feedback itself has become an important part of Sniff's character.

First, effort was made to design feedback with the technological limits at hand, through sounds synthesised through Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) and experiments with vibration on a number of different motors. Experiments with different qualities of vibration and interaction between sound and vibration was given special attention. This focus has remained even when the expressive possibilities increased through more advanced audio capabilities.

Abstraction

Abstraction has played a big role in the design of Sniff's physical appearance, feedback and sound design. Research within the field suggest that abstraction might be a useful tool for encouraging imagination in virtual environments for children, and even help attaining focus on social interactions. The way cartoonists work with abstraction in the design of characters has been an inspiration in the process. Read more on this in the short paper Sniff: designing characterful interaction in a tangible toy.