University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital Enhances Patient Experiences with Interactive Tech-Based Theater


Patients and their families at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital now enjoy healing benefits and interactive adventures through a technology-based theater created by Dimensional Innovations (DI). This immersive children’s theater (Nick’s Theater) in the Gerdin Family Lobby of the new hospital was created to be functional to all patients, regardless of height and handicaps. Nick’s Theater features two custom interactive games that give patients some normalcy and the freedom to just be kids.

Nominating Company: Dimensional Innovations, Overland Park, Kansas
Venue: University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital/Nick’s Theater, Iowa City, Iowa
Project: University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital/Nick’s Theater
Category: Education & Healthcare

DI created the immersive 32-foot-long curved theater located in the Gerdin Family Lobby inside The University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. Using Microsoft Kinect technology, DI’s animation and motion graphics team designed two interactive video games specifically for the theater.

The “Eagles’ Flight” game allows participants to start in Iowa and then use their arms to control a bird flying across the United States. From the bird’s perspective, they see Mount Rushmore and other landmarks along the way.

“Story in the Stars” brings three original stories to life as constellations in the night sky. As users experience a story, they can interact with on-screen hot-spots to reveal animated elements filling each scene. This game has four unique voiceovers, so that children get a slightly different experience each time they interact with the game.

The first challenge we needed to address was creating a germ-free exhibit. Many of the children staying at the Stead Family Children’s Hospital require a sterile environment due to weakened immune systems. Our solution needed to bring something engaging and interactive while employing as little touch as possible.
Once deciding on the interactive theater, one of the biggest obstacles in this project was making the theater functional for all users regardless of height, disabilities and restrictions. Adjusting the Microsoft Kinect to work well with various users, like those in wheelchairs, required our developers to be conscious of several variables.

The solution to maintaining a sterile environment was designing the games with gesture-tracking technology, minimizing contact to surfaces where germs can be spread.

To find a solution, DI brought in some hired kids of their own to do the testing. While having a demo version set up in our workshop, DI tested and adjusted as the kids played each game. Who better to test this on than the demographic it was created for? DI’s team tweaked the programming and design to make the theater an enjoyable experience for everyone.

Nick's Theater

A study at England’s Nottingham Trent University found that children undergoing chemotherapy did better when they played games that absorbed their attention completely. The children also required lower doses of pain medication and suffered less from hypertension and nausea than children who were just asked to rest.

“The theater allows family members and children—who might have long-term hospital stays—a chance to escape to another world, to fly away temporarily,” said DI Technology Director Curtis Walker. “And since the theater responds to the children’s subtle movements, it gives them a sense of control, something they often miss during their hospital stay.”

Nurses at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital noted that the theater helps children who’ve long been confined to a room to slowly work their way back into a public setting. The interactive games help them remember how to be an active child again.

University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital/Nick’s Theater won a 2018 APEX Award in the Education & Healthcare category.

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