Internet of Things | Tech Trends

U Penn xLAB Lets Students Develop New Entertainment Experiences

Imagine a show that responds when children place their action figures in front of the television in order to see their favorite characters. When something happens on the broadcast (like a superhero getting knocked down), the action figure reflects that by falling over too. Or what about a room that flashes in team colors when your football team scores a goal or a yoga mat that displays where to place hands and feet and then restarts a video once you're in the right position? Those are some of the ideas that has Comcast intrigued by the work of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.

The cable company is funding a faculty-inspired lab to explore the Internet of Things (IoT), but specifically, the potential of "content coupled objects." xLAB, as it's named, explores projects tied to the future of entertainment, making connections between digital content and Internet-enabled physical objects. Researchers in the lab — both faculty and students — include people in the fields of engineering, art and design.

These ideas aren't entirely new. A multitude of apps want to tell you where to dine based on your location; your thermostat wants to set the climate to be comfortable for you based on what time it is. But now objects in your environment are getting smarter and being programmed to communicate with each other and share data.

university of pennsylvania xlab internet of things experiement

xLAB evolved as instructors in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the School of Design set up collaborations among their students through the university's Integrated Product Design and Embedded Systems programs. xLAB gives students resources and space to come up with ideas and then work with designers and others to refine and prototype their creations.

"The melting pot of students from disciplines makes things exciting; their priorities and experiences are different, so they can have a lot of things to say to one another," said Orkan Telhan, an assistant professor of fine arts.

Participants don't have to be in any of the founding faculty's courses. The lab has an open door policy to encourage collaboration.

Comcast's goals in funding the initiative are to learn more about interfacing with the Internet of Things, understand interactive advertising, gain experience with immersive entertainment and explore what kinds of relationships young people want with content.

"We are interested in things that are truly a closed loop between the physical world and the cloud," noted Rahul Mangharam, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering. "It's not just about making the next whiz-bang gadget; those systems may be well-designed and engineered, but they don't answer the bigger question of how they fit into people's lives."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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