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Kodama is a tangible interface for creating 3D animations by moving toys with your hands, allowing to satisfy the children's needs for screens, while at the same time enforcing human to human interaction, as opposed to eliminating it.

  • a child playing Kodama at the RCA show 2016

  • Video demonstrating briefly the Kodama project

    Video demonstrating briefly the Kodama project

  • The optical less camera

  • A bunch of prototypes of our mat

  • toys prototypes, 3d printed and in resin

  • Kodama toy on the mat

What it does

Kodama is a tangible interface for creating 3D animations by moving toys with your hands, allowing to satisfy the children's needs for screens, while at the same time enforcing human to human interaction, as opposed to eliminating it.

Your inspiration

Playing is a form of learning. With the onset of digital media, tangible interaction is removed from what kids now consider as playing. Recently Samsung released VR for bedtime stories, which eliminated the need to interact with your children. Before digital media, story telling was about community, interaction, and learning, values which slowly diminish as media such as video games becomes more isolating. In addition, large studios such as Disney create a monopoly on story telling, limiting the creativity to only playing with their brands, such as avengers or batman. Kodama allows kids to create their own characters and stories around the

How it works

The system consists of three components, the toys, the mat, and the software. The location of the toys in space is being tracked across the mat, and the software generates a 3D animation of the generated interaction in real time. The system works on the same principle as GPS. When scanned on the mat the character associated to the toy appear within the virtual environment. By moving the toy around the mat, the character moves around within the virtual environment. Certain inputs trigger predefined interaction, for example: by simply moving the figure along the tablet, the character appears to walk, by lifting the figure off the ground, the character jumps or flies, by moving two figures together the characters fight or interact in another predefined manner

Design process

At the very beginning of the project we looked into how people tell stories and went to the core of storytelling. After identifying how humans tell stories, we looked into how stories are built and why we tell them. From those experiments and researches we came up with the final concept: A platform where you can create stories by moving toys with your hands. We built a series of working prototypes involving puppets, augmented reality and the use of inertial measurement units (physical computing). By doing user testing with users and consulting professionals in the field we understood that the challenge was also technical. How could we realize the vision without expensive technology and make it available for everyone? We built an optical less tabletop GPS, very affordable and extremely accurate compared to existing optical solutions. With the technology in hand, and the concept, we designed the toys to inspire and trigger the user’s creativity while leaving space for their imagination. The rest of the kit has been designed following this philosophy.

How it is different

The current technological trend is moving towards virtual and augmented reality. This implies the removal of tangible, human to human interaction. The goal behind Kodama, is to bring back tangible human interaction to virtual platforms. It gives the user the ability to tell a story or create a movie, in real time, by playing with toys. Companies like Disney Infinity, and Activision Skylanders have attempted to enter the market of merging tangible toys with digital content, but these don’t actually allow for any tangible interaction, as the toys only enable you to activate a new character in the game. The primary use case for kodama is a tool for bed time stories, which allows a parent to interact, while still satisfying the child’s demand for visual content, promoting a healthier learning. The technological novelty is the use of non optical tracking for animation purposes, which is a first, as existing systems rely on cameras.

Future plans

The long term goal is to deliver a market ready 3D animated story telling platform. As we currently have a working prototype, the system still needs to be further refined and re-designed for mass manufacture. More work needs to be done on the hardware as well as the trilateration equations that we are currently utilizing, in order to ensure more accurate tracking. From the software side, more work is required to create a bank of various animations, environments and characters. This calls for the expansion of the project team, with members in the fields of programing, animation and electronics engineering.


-James Dyson Foundation project bursary (£3,000)

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