Snap, Crackle, Pop!

Branched-Out is an interactive, climbable and nature-inspired playscape aimed at enriching play for children aged between 3 and 8 years.

The ball has dropped and a new decade has begun. What will playgrounds look like in the ‘future mundane’? Will the act of climbing a tree become an extinct pastime?

In response to these queries, our team has developed Branched-Out.

Branched-Out is an interactive playscape for children between the ages of 3 to 8 years old. This climbable structure aims to foster exploration through nature-inspired play. Each time a user climbs Branched-Out a unique experience has had through randomized visuals that are projected onto a canvas in front of the user as they scale the structure. This experience is further enhanced by a responsive LED light display.

The main materials for Branched-Out are scaffolding, LED strips, a projector, and a projection screen. By stepping on the bars of the scaffold, the child triggers the LED strips to emit lights of different colors and frequencies. Depending on the position of the grasping and stepping, a sapling is projected onto the projection screen and the growth of the sapling is triggered according to the upward movement of the child, slowly growing leaves, and flowers. The growth of a new tree will be triggered randomly when a different child uses Branched-Out.

We hope that the changes in lighting and graphics will entice the child to play and get more other children passing by or onlookers interested in trying. When the first child tries it, we do not give too many hints, just tell the child which side to climb. The child can figure out how to interact with the lights and graphics as they climb. When the children find that different children will trigger different tree shapes, the children who have played before are encouraged to try again, triggering the generation of different saplings.

The aim of the project is to provide a medium where children are able to use their creativity to explore an unstructured play environment and enrich their sensory development. The movement of climbing is connected to that of the growing tree- maturing with every step upwards.

Branched-Out is to be implemented as an interactive playground element for indoor settings, aimed at children in their primary developmental stage. Snap, Crackle, Pop! envisions the concept to be used in childcare centers, playgrounds, and school environments (mundane locations fused with future technology). Branched-Out is to be situated in physical locations that facilitate learning, whether that be in a school or early learning environment.

Technical Description

Branched-Out is powered by three main technologies; capacitive sensors, LED strips and JavaScript based programs (including Processing, ProcessingJS and NodeJS). The LED strips add another dimension of interactivity to the concept and are an essential part of the concept. The growing tree animation represents the most rudimentary aspect of the entire user interaction and experience, clearly connecting a user’s movements to that of the tree. 

Technology 1 - Capacitive Sensor:

Snap, Crackle, Pop has used four capacitive sensors installed on the different steps of the ladder to trigger the LED strip as well as triggering the tree growth displayed on a projection.

In order to implement the triggered sensor functionality, the team leveraged a function called  “readCapacitivePin” sourced from an Arduino Forum. For more details about this functionality, visit the arduino forum webpage:

Technology 2 - LED Strip Implementation:

The model of LED strips implemented into the project is WS2812. Leveraging the use of a library named “FastLED”, the team programmed the LED strips to create a trickling effect along the top of the structure. For more details about the FastLED library, visit

Technology 3 - JavaScript:

In order to facilitate the user interaction with the growing tree, the animations created for integration with the capacitive sensors are built using Processing, ProcessingJS and NodeJS (all of which are powered by JavaScript). In order to seamlessly integrate the animation of the growing tree which grows as a person climbs further up the structure, the animation is broken down into four steps. These steps include firstly a background color appearing followed by branches appearing, then leaves and flowers appearing, respectively. Each step is triggered by a different capacitive sensor, one on each rung of the ladder. Because this is a web-based animation, the easiest way to trigger the different steps of animation is the keyboard. We use the “keyPressed();” function to detect if any key is pressed.

To interact with the animation, the first step is select background color, as you can see people can do that by pressing “t”, for example:

Then, the “drawbranches();” function is going to be triggered if people press “q”.

Using the same logic, if the “w” and “e” is pressed, the “drawleaves();” and “drawflowers();” function will be triggered.

After this process is complete, people press “t” again to reset the program. By resetting the program (i.e. a person finishes climbing the structure), the tree is randomised and an entirely new tree is generated every round. The tree is generated by the function called “randomize();” as shown in Figure: Randomise function below.

As you can see the values in this function are dynamic, meaning that everytime you call this function, the computer will generate a brand new tree for you.

There are a couple of examples.

Connecting the Animation and LED Strips with Arduino:

The below image shows the configuration used to connect both the animation and LED strips to the Arduino Leonardo.

Final Statement

Snap, Crackle, Pop! (SCP) thoroughly enjoyed presenting the final product, Branched-Out, to the audiences at the exhibition. The team relished the overwhelming positive response and keen interest in the conceptualised final product given by the audience. Both presentation sessions ran quite smoothly however, the team did experience a few complications during the first session.

Due to the unforeseen disruption sunlight would cause to the overall delivered experience, the glare and brightness of the sun, for the most part of the first session, disturbed the view of the projected tree and canvas. SCP had to make last minute arrangements whilst setting up and testing the usability and completeness of functionality at the exhibition site. This involved placing a sheet above the structure, allowing the intended experience to be maintained as best as possible. Although the impact of sunlight slightly disturbed SCP’s functionality, audiences were quite inquisitive about the overall project, it’s purpose and its application to real-world contexts. Branched-Out gained quite a bit of interest at the first session due to its size. Something noted by SCP’s team was that those who came to view the project were less inclined to climb the structure however, this could have been due to the team stating that the project was aimed at children, attributing to the hesitance in climbing upwards. Most of the audience who attended the first session were mostly students from UQ as well as a few high school groups which showed a keen interest and asked a myriad of questions to the entire team. This worked in SCP’s favour since audience member interest alluded to invitations to actively participate in the experience. By soliciting such active involvement, SCP was able to engage with the audience and help them understand the reasoning behind the entire idea.

The second session running from 5:00pm – 7:30pm was where the most attention to the project was drawn. Now completely visible, the tree projection was illuminated in the dark of the night and multiple audience members gravitated towards the structure. Some feedback received throughout the night involved the application to primary school, and special needs school contexts to assist in the development of cognitive responses. After considering the positive responses and though-provoking feedback relating the application context, the team envisions Branched-Out to be situated in an open environment, where multiple children can play at any given time, eliciting communication and collaborative play between children. In addition, other feedback received that resonated with the team was the suggestion for tree projection to be unique to each child and based upon the height and heartbeat, creating a more synchronous approach to connecting a child’s movement to that of the tree.