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Summer Projects: smarterPLAY

As summer begins in the Health Design Lab, an exciting time of year starts with a new crop of interns and a new set of projects. One of these projects is smarterPLAY, a study that aims to help us better understand how community members use public spaces and playgrounds so that we may better inform the design of spaces that promote physical activity and health. With Philadelphia being one of the country’s most unhealthy cities, and childhood obesity rates around 50%, promoting children’s health through play is a critical intervention. From a health care professionals' POV, it's imperative that we continue to focus on the upstream determinants of health if we are to really make people healthier. Together with Studio Ludo, a non-profit organization that designs playspaces and studies play, we have begun to look at some of the public spaces in Philadelphia. With Philly’s Rebuild project, in which over half a billion dollars has been allocated to renovate playgrounds across the city, we had plenty of choices as to how and where we could do our research.

Meghan helping set up Quuppa

Meghan helping set up Quuppa

Before the summer began, we worked with Meghan Talarowski, Director of Studio Ludo, in order to figure out how we would approach the project. We decided that the best approach would be to track the physical location of people in the park as they played, along with objective measures of activity intensity - something that wouldn’t be possible with normal park and playground assessment techniques such as Soparc. To find the right technology to help us do this, we reached out to our other partner, 10xBeta, who recommended that we use a Bluetooth tracking technology called Quuppa to track location and velocity across the ground. We then decided on Waterloo playground in Kensington, which is slated for rebuild in 2017, to be our first area of research.

Being a highly advanced piece of precision equipment, the Quuppa proved a bit difficult to use at first. However, after a lot of digging through manuals, testing different settings, and getting help from some of our interns, we managed to finally get it running in the Lab! With our first big milestone out of the way, our next step was to test the system out on the field. We packed all of our cables, boxes, and interns into a couple of Ubers, and on a bright Wednesday morning headed to Waterloo playground.

Waterloo Playground in Kensington

Waterloo Playground in Kensington

In the new territory, all sorts of new issues cropped up, from problems with cable length to not having access to power and wifi, but as we dealt with them little by little, by the end of the day, we finally had the system up and running. Exhausted after a day in the blistering sun, we packed everything up and went home. Over the next few days of setup, we kept discovering more and more small issues and bugs that we would have to look out for. But by the next week, we were finally able to get the entire system set up in the morning, and were able to get solid data for the whole day (although we had a few issues retrieving a bit of equipment from a couple of rowdy youngsters). With our main goals achieved, we got ready to demo the project with the community at the Waterloo playground Summer Kickoff event!

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On the day of the Kickoff event, we were able to set up our equipment quickly so that we could showcase our cool tech and all of our results to the people of the community that use the playground. The event was a lot of fun - there was a barbecue, a bouncy castle, an athletic competition, and even Jason Kelce of the Philadelphia Eagles! We were able to interact with a lot of community members to tell them about our project, ate a lot of delicious food, and even met the Kensington police mascot McGruff.

With our first test-of-concept behind us, we're excited to start testing this technology in a number of other locations, from indoor playspaces, to parks, to museums. There are also many other playgrounds in the city slated to be rebuilt soon that could be used to get more data.