A visit to the hospital can elicit all kinds of emotions in children. It’s normal for them to feel anxious or confused about their diagnosis and treatment, scared about not getting better or even just plain excited to see a favorite nurse, doctor or clinician.
What’s unusual for any child who walks through hospital doors is to feel a sense of control. “Their sickness controls them, and mom and dad tell them what they can and can’t do, and then the nurses and doctors tell them what they can and can’t do,” Tim Hunter says.
Hunter is the designer of Boston Children’s Interactive Media Wall. A central part of the hospital’s redesigned lobby, the media wall is designed to take some of that feeling away and put some power back in the hands of children. The system is a 20-foot tall screen that looks something like a gigantic, curved iPad hovering in the middle of the renovated lobby space.
A computer system displays one of nine scenes (a garden, a beach and the starry night sky, musical instrument, painting scene, etc.) while nearby motion sensors capture the movements of children, family and staff walking. The sensors – 13 Microsoft Kinect sensors and five optical cameras – create a 3D dataset and use that motion to generate special effects on the screen.
In one scene, a child’s walk will rustle blades of grass in a garden. In another, a parent’s movement will show up as a seagull floating above warm, ocean waters. “The whole technology system is kind of like The Matrix,” Hunter explains. “You can see everyone as a set of numbers and we can assign their movement to avatars or figures on the screen.”
But this isn’t The Matrix, and the screen is much more than the sum of its mathematical parts. “We’re so excited for families and patients to see this amazing system,” Beth Donegan Driscoll, MS, director of Child Life Services says. “I think it’s going to be a clear and bold statement to them that we’re going to take care of them physically, but we also care about how they feel emotionally.”