Children to be given feel for nature via their phones to fire their curiosity for outdoors

Green Britain: John Ingham and Dale Vince discuss campaign

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The Open University has developed a system which lets mobile phones recreate the texture of anything from feathers to fur. Its “haptic adaptor kit” can be fitted to mobile phones or tablets to bring nature to the child. The adaptor controls the friction on the touchscreen through static electricity or by vibrating its surface. This then combines with the pixels on a photograph of the object – say, a leaf or a flower – to create its texture.

Team leader Professor Advaith Siddharthan hopes this will fire their curiosity and persuade them to ditch their phones or tablets for the real thing.

Studies have shown a critical link between low educational attainment and reduced access to nature and the outdoors for children living in poverty. 

Team leader Professor Siddharthan said: “Our project develops technologies that encourage pupils to touch and feel, in order to provoke different scientific questions and inquiries and to help connect with nature.

“Why is a bumblebee so much hairier than a wasp? Why do oak trees have a rougher bark than beech?

“We want to encourage people across the spectrum of society. There is a connection between socio-economic inequality and access to nature.

“Yes, there are trees in the inner city but we want to encourage youngsters to go out  and touch them and connect with nature. We want to facilitate the touchy-feeliness of connecting with nature.”

Colleague Dr Laura Colucci Gray from Edinburgh’s Moray School of Education said: “Understanding qualitative perceptions such as scale, density, texture and pattern is core to developing conceptual thinking across math, science and art. 

“Our research will embed sustainability into science teaching, and thus reinforce and sustain interest in the natural world.”

The project with Imperial College London and Learning through Landscapes is one of 10 sharing £8million in funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation.

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