News: Yorkshire firm aims to up its game

If you enjoy playing video games you’ll already be familiar with the satisfaction to be had from a slick move which defeats your enemy, wins you a race or scores a spectacular goal.

But imagine if that same controller or game pad had the power to change the environment around you – lighting, sound, image and video.

Frode playing the Xbox Controller

A small firm Yorkshire-based firm already has and, as a result, people with severe learning or physical disabilities have been able to enjoy control over their environment or the pleasure of playing music – simply by applying pressure on the buttons on a games console controller.

The familiar wireless Xbox controller is incorporated into Apollo Creative’s Ensemble technology which also employs other sensors, switches and pressure pads to trigger sounds or images linked to a theme of the user’s choosing.

“It could be outer space or the rainforest; a musical performance or interactive storytelling session; it really does depend on the images or sounds available as a resource,” said Apollo’s creative director Mark Hildred. “One of the advantages of the Ensemble software is that it’s adaptable and easy to change.”

Often young people with physical disabilities can be put-off by the specialist equipment which can appear to be too childish or emphasise their differences. However, the games controller comes with an inbuilt ‘cool’ factor, plus the fact that it’s often already familiar.

“We’ve seen youngsters master simple tunes with the controller – and derive a great deal of pleasure from it,” said Mr Hildred.

“I recently encountered a young man who had a very severe physical disability and only really had control over his head movement. With careful positioning of the controller he was able to play the joystick using his chin. In fact he was the best player we met that day, easily out performing the more able bodied performers.”

The Ensemble package has already helped the company reach the final of the ICT Special Educational Needs Solutions category at the British Educational Training & Technology (Bett) Awards in London at the end of the month (Jan 30 – Feb 1), and Mr Hildred has confirmed 2013 could see Apollo widening its appeal in the broader education sector.

“We primarily supply Ensemble equipment to the special needs market, but have a number of situations where it’s used in mainstream settings including a pilot project to introduce nursery children to music,” said Mr Hildred.

“We’re hoping the Bett Show and awards in London gives us a platform to promote the concept. The audience will be representing education providers from around the globe so it’s a massive opportunity for us – and we need to make sure we grab it with both hands.

“If you’re serious about learning a musical instrument, then there’s no substitute for the real thing – but let’s say your objective is just to pique the interest of a class of children or to teach them the rudiments of music.

“Wouldn’t it be great if you could hand them something they’re probably already familiar with and associate with fun?”