The EcoRaft Project: From Research Prototype to Robust Exhibit

Bill Tomlinson

At GLS 1.0, we presented a very early prototype of EcoRaft — an interactive museum exhibit to help children learn about restoration ecology. The exhibit involves three desktop monitors, each of which is a virtual island of habitat, and three tablet PCs that participants can use to move animated species between the islands. By enabling children to work together to repopulate some of the islands using species from the other islands, EcoRaft lets them explore the core principles of restoration ecology.

Over the past two years, more than three thousand people have interacted with various versions of EcoRaft at conferences, laboratory demos, and temporary exhibits at a science museum. Through these exhibitions, a number of clear differences have emerged between the design of a research prototype and the design of a hands-on interactive system that can be used by 250,000 people a year (the annual visitor population of Discovery Science Center, the intended site for the exhibit). Interactive systems in general can be challenging to make suitably robust — hands-on interfaces are made to be broken, and the testing of complex systems can be very difficult. EcoRaft in particular has a number of unique challenges as well, relating primarily to its multi-device interaction paradigm. This presentation features a description of the current version of EcoRaft, and a discussion of the progress and future plans for enabling the interactive research prototype to be adapted into a robust permanent exhibit.

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