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Playing Chicken

September 1, 1999

A child’s imagination can turn a stuffed animal into a best friend. A new system developed at the MIT Media Lab promises to go even further, turning a plush chicken into a computer-control device.

Swamped! is a child-friendly approach to interactive video. As a story about a plucky chicken and a malicious raccoon unfolds on the computer screen, a child controls the chicken’s action by manipulating its stuffed counterpart. The toy is filled with sensors: Flap its wings and the on-screen bird flies. Artificial intelligence enables raccoon responses, and unscripted hilarity follows. Bruce Blumberg, who heads the Media Lab’s synthetic characters group, predicts these types of toys will be on the market within five years.

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