Have you ever wondered what goes into making an app? How do you ensure it will be user-friendly and constantly deliver a positive experience? What planning and execution is involved?
These are the questions we had to answer when creating tgoma. tgoma turns a Springfree trampoline into a smart trampoline™. What does that mean? Sensors on the mat detect your every move, and your jumps control the fun and educational games on tablet via Bluetooth, through the tgoma app. tgoma has re-defined the trampoline and this world-first technology is already a two-time 2016 Australian Good Design Award winner. But it took years of research and development first.
We caught up with Doug Hill, our Springfree Trampoline Managing Director and Engineering Leader from New Zealand, to learn what went into the creation of the tgoma app and the journey in creating the first smart trampoline™.
“Springfree has not traditionally been a digital technology company. But we pride ourselves on trying to listen to our customers and put ourselves in a place where we are sensitive to the market’s needs and wants,” says Doug.
“When we ran across the pressure that was the driver for the makings of tgoma technology, we didn’t have an in-house computer science and programming team. So after 2.5 years of mechatronics research that delivered the underlying signal processing technology, we had to figure out how to apply it. How to build a software interface that our users would find engaging.
“We didn’t know how to do this. So we approached the software gaming development sector and looked for a development partner who understood how things work in the space, what user’s expectations and needs are, and how to translate that into a usable app.
“It was interesting because even they didn’t get it for a while – ‘Has the jumper’s body essentially become the game controller? How is that going to work?’ was their initial response, and they took almost a year to figure out how to translate what they knew about digital game development and user needs, into a software interface that was playable and enjoyable through ‘whole body activation’, which happens at a much slower speed (1 input per second roughly) than what can be delivered via a mechanised game controller.”
“So, the first thing they did was build a couple of prototype apps. Interestingly, one of them was a ‘platform jumper’ game which consisted of a little avatar person jumping over holes (the abyss) on a bridge. But it didn’t work. Part of the fun of using a trampoline is using your body to develop a rhythm. You get your body’s momentum going, keep adding energy, and you get into a flying cycle that is unique to trampoline use, and fun. But ‘platform jumper’, by introducing unpredictable breaks in the flow of jumping, actually diminished the fun of jumping. So these are the sorts of things that had to be researched, learned, and then either discarded or modified.”
“Alien Stomp was the first game that brought all the things together that make a tgoma app work. All the way through, in a very secret, old warehouse, we had a team of around 30 kids, all sworn to secrecy, parents party to an NDA, who were our ‘test pilots’ and told us what they liked and didn’t like.
“For a year while Alien Stomp was developed they came in each week and tried various prototype versions. Speed of play, graphics resolution, sound/graphics integration; all of these things and more needed to be understood and recrafted in the context of tgoma.
“The first game took our partner about a year to develop. The second, Fruitants, took around 6 months. As they understood more about how the users played and what they liked it got faster and more efficient.
“But, tgoma is a brand new, never before described or used set of mechanical and digital technologies, converged for the first time onto a trampoline (or for that matter any piece of perennial backyard outdoor play equipment). We decided early on that we had something really fun, and maybe with the way the world was moving, we could create some kind of programming interface that would be accessible for both professional and skilled amateur game developers, so they could build apps for the tgoma platform.”
“Who says we will have all the good ideas? History suggests there will be creative people out there who come up with games as good or even better than our current ones. (We’re working on new ones now). So tgoma is also has the ability to be a development platform for those with a programming and game development interest. We are currently trialling it with educational institutions and are hopeful we can turn our ‘SDK’ into a useful tool for them.”
“In April 2015 we took what we thought was our finished, ready-for-market app out to a small group of Springfree customers that would be our ‘empathy testers’. We thought we had it nailed. They told us ‘not quite’ and sent us away with several things to implement before they would purchase. Things like a fitness app, real-time calorie burn reporting, a content delivery network that would deliver new apps and games regularly. They wanted fitness tracking and the ability to share jump data across multiple family tablets.
“So, we tore things apart and rebuilt the system over the next 12 months, and successfully launched our ‘family hardened’ version in May 2016.”
We are continuing to evolve our tgoma technology and app. Making it more user-friendly and adding new games all time like Ditto and Repeat Street. And we’re not done yet!