Student-Led Gaming Invention Awarded Champlain College’s First Patent

Champlain has been granted its first-ever patent through the Emergent Media Center (EMC) for inventions related to its wildly popular SpaceBox project.

Four years ago, EMC’s SpaceBox team took something ordinary and made it extraordinary. They converted a run-of-the-mill cardboard box into a powerful gaming platform which immerses users in an exciting outer space adventure. After stepping into the box-turned-spaceship, a player simply shifts their body to take control of the ship, dodging asteroids, blasting enemy attackers, and speeding toward their goal by lifting and manipulating the box flaps. This simple, immersive experience magically captures the wonder and joy of imaginative play and shows how designers can unite technological tools with a uniquely creative vision.

The patent protects SpaceBox‘s body-motion-driven interface, which includes a rocking platform, sensors, and a visual display. Through this unique system, which blends reality and imagination, a child can turn an ordinary cardboard box into a spaceship one minute and a submarine or toboggan the next.

The EMC team converted a run-of-the-mill cardboard box into a powerful game-controller which takes users on a thrilling adventure in outer space.

SpaceBox made quite a splash when it debuted, and over the last few years its reputation has grown. An early prototype first appeared at the 2016 South End Art Hop. A few tweaks later, it was featured at the 2017 Game Developers Conference (GDC) Alt. Ctrl exhibit in San Francisco, which is the world’s largest professional game industry event. It has since been embraced by enthusiastic crowds at multiple conferences and museums across the United States and Canada.

GDC Alt. Ctrl was an incredible experience. I showed off work I’m very proud of. I met a couple of heroes of mine in the game industry. I made great connections at places where I would love to work because they were impressed with the SpaceBox project. I also had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play some awesome, inventive, and creative games!

James Keats, ’18 // Game Programming
Champlain’s SpaceBox exhibit at the 2017 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

As you might imagine, SpaceBox is a HUGE hit with kids. Children have been climbing into the box and blasting off on wild adventures since 2017 when the project was first showcased at the inaugural Innovation Playground exhibit at the ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. It made its way to the Chicago Design Museum’s “Hey! Play” exhibit and the launch of the Toronto Kids Digital Festival, where SpaceBox was featured alongside dozens of other digital media projects from around the world.

Oftentimes, three kids would pile into the box to play. Other times, a kid or two would be in the box and multiple other kids would be decorating the outside of the box with markers and pipe-cleaners. It was an interactive experience for all.  

Dylan Beebe, ’22 // Game Design
Children have been climbing into the box and blasting off on wild adventures since 2017 when the project was first showcased in a museum. Here, you see kids taking it for a spin at the inaugural Toronto Kids Digital Festival.

SpaceBox was developed through Champlain College’s Emergent Media Center, an interdisciplinary creative studio where students can apply the skills they learn in their classes to real-world projects. The primary inventors of SpaceBox listed on the patent—who established the concept and built the prototype from the ground up—included:

  • Robin Shafto ’18 – Hardware Developer/Programmer (primary inventor)
  • Evelyn Carlin ’17 – Designer
  • Jake Pierce ’17 – Lead Interactive Designer 
  • Steven Margolin ’18 – Designer
  • Ken Howell, Associate Professor
  • Terry Sehr, Adjunct Faculty
  • Jacob Mushlin, Exhibits Project Manager at ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain

Additional project support included:

  • James Keats ’18 – Advanced Programmer
  • Dennis Dysart – Interactive Designer
  • Amanda Ledwidge ’18 – 3D Modeler 
  • Ricky Rizzo ’17 – Creative Media Artist 
  • Adam Walker – Sr. Project Manager, EMC
  • Jen Adrian – Creative & Communication Manager, EMC
  • Ann DeMarle – Founder and Former Director, EMC

The Emergent Media Center is a collaborative hub known for inspiring the next generation of media creators and leaders. It assembles and supports teams of students from multiple disciplines as they create interactive media, games, and mobile apps for positive change on a wide range of topics, including social causes, health and medicine, business, communication, education, and training.

With a lot of installations and explorative interactive work (especially hardware-based), things always seem to fizzle before the experience has made it to the final product. With SpaceBox, we continued to push the project all the way to the final patent phase.

Jake Pierce, ’17 // Game Programming, Lead Interactive Designer
With this patent, Champlain College and the Emergent Media Center can further develop the SpaceBox mode of custom-controlled games and experiences for a wide array of games.

Not only is the SpaceBox patent a significant milestone for Champlain College, the project itself has helped to shape the career outlook for students. “The EMC as a whole [strives] to emulate the experience of a true studio,” says Jake Pierce, SpaceBox’s Lead Interactive Designer. “Working side-by-side with fellow students in other fields to solve problems for clients made it possible for me to jump into any studio/agency environment with confidence.”

Associate Professor Ken Howell and Robin Shafto, ’18 // Computer Science & Innovation, at the Chicago Design Museum’s “Hey! Play” exhibit. Shafto is listed on the patent as the primary inventor.

“This patent is a testament to Champlain College’s focus on innovation,” says Associate Professor Ken Howell, the faculty lead on SpaceBox. “For the EMC, this patent underscores their commitment to the success of our students and to realizing the unique potential that young people have to expand the relationship of art and technology.”

For more information about partnering with the Emergent Media Center to develop a project or prototype, please fill out the EMC’s Business Development Intake Form.

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