November 24, 2014

Imagining Intelligent Spaces

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

The October meeting of Groupe Impression 3D Montréal took place on Thursday October 23 at UQAM’s Pavillon Judith-Jasmin. This group brings together 3D Printing users and professionals in the Montreal area. Meetings are held once a month, and members can register to present projects or topics of personal interest. Their website is bilingual and a great way to find out about regular meetings which are rich in information, truly presenting developments at the cutting edge of this rapidly developing technology. Applications in education are very much a part of this trend, and Vitrine Technologie-Éducation and Profweb are pleased to present our readers with a glimpse of developments that may have repercussions in the classrooms of our colleges.

Espaces imaginaires

Two of the presenters that evening were Benoit Hudson and Simon Inwood, founders of the company Espaces Imaginaires. Now in its second year, the company has developed an iPad app called Imaginary Spaces. Simon is an experienced software developer, based in Montreal, with over 15 years in the media and entertainment industry. Benoit has a Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie-Mellon University and has worked on 3D modelling tools at Autodesk in Montreal.  He left Autodesk two years ago and has been working on Imaginary Spaces ever since. Their goal has been to create a fun, easy-to-use 3D creative building game for mobile devices that you can print.

Simplicity was not their only goal! Whereas the game Minecraft has allowed millions of users to create detailed structures one block at a time, Imaginary Spaces enables users to craft buildings using higher-level modular components. It also offers more flexibility when making changes. For instance, in Minecraft, if you have created a four story castle and want to insert another floor, you have to demolish everything above it and rebuild from there. Likewise, if you want to move a wall, everything that is to be moved has to be demolished and rebuilt.

Imaginary Spaces, however, allows a user to create a wall and then move it. And it’s easy to use! One can add windows, stairways, doorways and wall art, and walk through the structure like a player in a video game. The avatar moves according to the tilt of an iPad. Furthermore, the user can continue to create and modify a space even as their avatar is moving through it. Then comes the really interesting part. The building can be exported to a 3D printer.

Their presentation included a video of their game app which showcased their innovations to date.

Educators with access to fab labs are able to let their students take a model off the internet and print it.  That’s already pretty powerful, but what they often can’t do yet is let their students design something from scratch. Imaginary Spaces allows students to realize their own designs and then print them on a 3D printer.

And though it’s great to create for yourself, users often want to share their efforts. To meet this need, there is a forum where members can share and discuss the spaces they have built. The forum can also enable challenges. Why not have a competition for the most beautiful castle?

Play and Gamification

Imaginary Space is a “sandbox” game, which favours open play (playfulness) instead of tallying points (gamification). Gamified experiences use game mechanics to add structured elements to a creative experience. Open play allows for building stuff, engaging intrinsic motivation, connecting with other people in a respectful manner.  Imaginary Spaces is definitely looking to put an emphasis on open play. Benoit Hudson noted that he and Simon met a lot of potential users at their World Maker Faire booth in New York this September and it was exhilarating to see the level of interest in their creative building game. It was especially exciting to receive the strong interest from schools and maker spaces about using their software within existing curriculums.

What especially impressed the Maker Faire crowd was viewing a demo of the game using Google Cardboard. A quick prototype was made just to see if it could be done and it worked surprisingly well. Google Cardboard is a very inexpensive design for Virtual Reality (VR) goggles. It literally uses cardboard, Velcro and a couple of lenses. You fashion a box out of the cardboard, put your smartphone inside (android or iPhone), and you’ve got VR glasses! You can buy kits online for as little as $10, or make a pair for yourself. Imaginary Spaces wants to make their app work with VR goggles in the future.

Smartphones are also starting to be able to make a map of your surroundings, in 3D, while you walk around. The most visible effort in this direction is Google’s Project Tango. It would be fun to be able to walk around your house, have your phone map it out, then load up that map in Imaginary Spaces and be able to move the walls around, add windows, etc. That’s something else on Imaginary Spaces’ drawing board.

Imagining Education

Simon Inwood notes:

We are keen to engage educators and to help the educational community make use of our technology. We can offer an accessible educational experience for creating and exploring digital spaces, and a vehicle for understanding the technology and techniques required to print them.

Imaginary Spaces seeks interested teachers to experiment with their students on printable design projects and, by doing so, engage them in a fun, creative learning experience using mobile devices and desktop printing. The inspiration for teachers to find ways to integrate new creative technologies into their courses could come from anywhere. An ESL teacher could design spaces meant to enhance intercultural communication. First Nations peoples could recreate traditional sites through the app. A teacher wouldn’t even have to create scenarios, but could enhance exchanges on the forum between students exploring their own.

A free download is available now from on their website. Check their website, Facebook page and tweets for regular updates. The authors would like to thank Simon Inwood and Benoit Hudson for their help in writing this article.

About the authors

Alexandre Enkerli

Alexandre helps learning professionals make technology appropriate for their contexts, just like he did as a technopédagogue for Vitrine technologie-éducation from 2014 to 2016 and as a Technopedagogical Advisor for Collecto from 2021 to 2023. Alex comes back to this role after a few in Ottawa (creating cybersecurity learning pathways and a Massive Open Online Learning Experience on public engagement), and in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean for participatory-action research at COlab.

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Alex Enkerli
Alex Enkerli
26 November 2014 19h29

Would be interested in hearing people’s thoughts about potential uses for the classroom. Open play, 3D printing, gamification, and serious games are all interesting issues, if teachers find connections to their work.

Alex Enkerli
Alex Enkerli
26 November 2014 19h33

This just appeared in my mailbox, from the ACM’s eLearn Magazine newsletter: “Three Questions to Ask Before You Embark on Gamification”.
Shows those issues aren’t suddenly irrelevant. The three questions are pretty obvious, but it’s remarkable how quick some people are to skip them.

Of course, VTE has done quite a bit of work on related issues, including serious games, and we’re currently working on badges with fascinating people: