Pinball Wizardry Earns Kiddies Kinetic Knowledge

pinball game image© James Dyson Foundation

Pulleys, wheels, ramps, pedals, handles, balls -- these are all things little kids love to get their hands on. In a virtual way, the game concept NRG51, a James Dyson Award Winner, allows them to do that, and in the process aims to teach some basic energy concepts as well as the value of teamwork.

In the arcade-style game, the ball moves through a playing field (shielded by a see-through convex dome) that allows four players to simultaneously choose one of six ways to generate, harness and store energy. But it's more than a pinball competition; NRG51 uses flippers to “crash” the ball into various bumpers, turbines and switch gates, and these actions generate measurable kinetic energy. As the game progresses, players can even produce excess energy – that is, beyond the immediate needs of the game, and this excess is calculated and stored in the NRG51’s clear base.

As players reach higher and higher levels of the game, sounds and visual effects increase, creating a clear sense of tension, movement and accomplishment. According to the concept developer, the cutting-edge design prompts youthful imaginations to look into tomorrow to solve earth’s energy problems in the here and now. NRG51 also promotes teamwork, a better understanding of, and respect for, science, and a feeling that work can also be fun. (I’ll bet the guys at CERN can get behind that philosophy!).

According to the designer, the original platform was to have been a playground, where energy could be harvested and funneled into generating sounds and scenes which would power a game and demonstrate the value of cooperation. Using children between the ages of 6 and 12, the inventor first visualized an energy “box” with the selfsame pulleys, handles and pedals mentioned above. Then, after researching environmental education methods for younger children, NRG51’s inventor came up with the current format. In all, probably not as much fun as the online energy game called RED that we reviewed last year, and certainly not as entertaining as the ALMS video game racing simulator. But NRG51 is less about fun and more about fostering cooperation to achieve a goal.

Pinball Wizardry Earns Kiddies Kinetic Knowledge
A design for a kid's game has won a James Dyson Award, and for good reason. It teaches kids about kinetic energy all through a pinball-style game.

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