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Positively immersed

How digital technology is being used to experience nature, express emotions and encourage learning
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Children engage with the Satuseinä Storywall

This article first appeared in our COP27 special issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published on 10 November 2022. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

By 2050, the United Nation predicts two out of every three people are likely to be living in cities or other urban centres.

Friends of the Earth has reported that in England alone, almost 10 million people live in areas with very limited access to green space, while ONS figures reveal one in eight British households has no garden.

Yet green spaces support physical and emotional wellbeing, and save the NHS more than £100 million each year in GP visits and prescriptions.

As the global population rises and the migration to urban areas continues, the race is on to find new ways to connect with nature and the many benefits it brings.

Sami Kämppi and Antti Kaukinen, co-founders of OiOi, have an innovative answer; they hit on the idea of combining digital and physical worlds at a time when a new digital field was emerging. OiOi soon became the pioneer of a digital solution to nature-starved environments that also serves as an antidote to the unfettered consumerism
often found in urban areas.

‘Digital surfaces were becoming increasingly common in public spaces’, Sami tells us. ‘We thought that instead of using all the public screens for advertising, we should create meaningful content that inspires and supports the common good and explores the intersection between different natural surroundings and people: collective experiences, amusement, art, relaxation, information and knowledge. We knew that could be done in various mixed and exciting ways.’

Airports and care homes

Aukio in Helsinki Airport is a great example of how OiOi’s technology can be used to transform space in a way that brings positive results; in co-creation with interior architects and airport operator Finavia, Sami and Antti created a Finnish nature experience for travellers and airport staff.

Instead of leading travellers to the duty-free shopping area after security, Finavia wanted to bring people to a healing plaza where they would be surrounded by virtual nature.

The installation has been lowering stress levels, entertaining kids and families and serving as a relaxing haven for staff ever since.

Sami acknowledges that nothing can compete with real nature; the mission is instead to use digital technology to bring nature’s healing effects into places where access to the environment is limited.

Post-lockdown, this is a hot topic as businesses explore ways to get staff back into offices in a way that supports wellbeing.

Elderly care homes have also been transformed by restorative and healing content from OiOi; ‘We have witnessed touching moments when immersive experiences have evoked early memories in people suffering from memory loss’, Sami shares. ‘Bringing the elderly moments of clarity has contributed to lowering the need for medication. Further, the installations have improved the working conditions of the nurses.’

Interactive education

As well as creating immersive experiences, OiOi can add interactive elements to installations which themselves have huge potential to support wellbeing.

Education, physical exercise, rehabilitation, relaxation and stress relief in public spaces and working environments are just some of the many possible uses, alongside storytelling and communication in museums, science centres and institutions. 

‘Content can be anything’, Sami explains; ‘the opportunity lies in the intersection between the immersive space and people using it. Enabling an experience that triggers curiosity and imagination is more important for us than the content itself.’

The experiential element of OiOi’s technology creates seemingly limitless possibilities – particularly for children. It can provide exciting learning environments, activate exercise, encourage self-expression and support emotional intelligence.

‘We believe that free education for all humans, with the best possible methods at hand, is the key to a sustainable future. Storytelling – the oldest form of knowledge transfer – enables us to imagine what a sustainable world would look like.’

Co-founder of OiOi

Whatever their intended purpose, interactive installations bring people together and help to give a voice to those who might otherwise have been silent, including children with autism or other special educational needs. People are encouraged to express themselves and learn new things, and often find themselves at the centre of that educational journey.

‘We often empower our audience to be part of the content creation’, Sami explains, ‘especially in learning environments. Letting the pupils develop the content is the best way for them to learn! We believe in empowering the children to actively co-create their own future.’

Supercharged fairytales

For a recent project, OiOi joined forces with MusicFairyTales to create a smartwall with content that engages all the senses and uses music to teach and entertain.

Satuseinä Storywall, which was piloted at the Helsinki Music Centre in Autumn 2020, is a room-sized interactive wall, on which children can experience animated stories set to classical music. When children touch the wall with their hands, they can make music with a ‘fantasy instrument’ and paint different canvases while listening to classical music.

The idea is to paint what you hear; no musical skills are required and it’s impossible to play a ‘wrong’ note.

‘Classical music has been found to boost concentration and enhance linguistic and cognitive skills’, explains Teemu Laasanen, founder of MusicFairyTales. ‘Our stories are both narrated and subtitled, supporting those with reading disabilities. The wall has been found to increase equality among its users; children tend to be more social with each other, and up to 10 can play together at the same time.’

OiOi’s collaboration with MusicFairyTales kicked off with an interactive live concert. ‘We streamed the music from the concert hall, where the Mikkeli String Orchestra was playing, to an interactive wall’, Teemu explains. ‘In the nearby Chamber Music Hall, children were encouraged to ‘paint’ the music they heard with their hands and soft brushes.’

The paintings were streamed live to the concert hall, where parents could see how their children experienced and visualised the music they could hear. ‘After the concert, the visual artists – the children – came to the stage to bow and receive ovations, together with the orchestra’, Sami remembers. ‘It created an emotional moment and memory for us all.’

Digital tech for good

There’s clear educational potential in OiOi’s collaboration with MusicFairyTales, and the team is currently working on content that will help children to be more focused and creative while learning important social and emotional skills.

But shouldn’t we be helping kids to move away from a world saturated with tech and digital experiences? ‘To some extent, yes’, acknowledges Teemu; ‘but digitality is a big part of our lives and will not go away. It is best to try to use tech to benefit us and our children.’

I pressed the matter: won’t the simple pleasure of reading a fairytale in a book seem boring by comparison? ‘Nothing will ever take away the pure pleasure of reading a book, or listening to someone reading a book to you’, Teemu assured me. ‘But aren’t you curious to find out how the pleasure can be enhanced?’

For now, enhancements on the tech side include touch-sensitive screens made from wood instead of plastic, plus new installations for museums and science centres.

‘We want to show that content and digital technology can be created and used in a sustainable way, where we give back more than we take – both to people and the planet’, Sami tells us. ‘Every action counts.’

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