Osmo is turning out to be wonderfully creative at making apps for children that redefine the meaning of games and play. After a big debut last year, today the Silicon Valley startup is proving that again with Osmo Masterpiece, an app that enables kids and adults to become digital artists and regain confidence in their ability to draw. If you’ve ever been afraid to show somebody something you’ve drawn, you know what I mean.
At a time when standardized testing is taking over classrooms, it’s nice to see an invention that gives children the skills to express themselves creatively.
With Osmo Masterpiece, the child can snap a picture of anything or anyone. Then you attach Osmo’s reflective mirror to the iPad and activate an app that taps into Osmo’s artificial intelligence technology. The app uses computer vision to analyze the scene and produce a rough sketch of the object you have photographed. It lays out the important lines that you could use to create a drawing of that image.
Then the kid can set a piece of paper in front of the iPad and trace the lines that Osmo suggests on the image on the iPad screen. The mirror enables the iPad’s camera to capture the movement of the child’s writing instrument and translate it into the image so you can see lines being drawn on the screen. Those lines are guided by the child’s own hand movements. It’s a lot like line-by-line tracing, but instead of tracing something underneath a sheet of paper, the child writes on the paper and looks at the lines on the iPad screen.
That might seem a little hard to picture, but the video below of somebody drawing my own face shows how it works. As you can see from that video, you are merely tracing an image. But in doing so, you are actually performing the strokes that you would use for any kind of drawing. Osmo Masterpiece effectively teaches you to draw by getting you to trace.
“At some point, you realize that you don’t have to trace it exactly,” said Pramod Sharma, the chief executive of Osmo in Palo Alto, Calif., in an interview with GamesBeat. “It’s a different category for us altogether. This is going to be a new medium. We don’t know what is possible. It’s such an open space, a digital interactive medium.”
Sharma said that most people start out drawing in art class when they’re young, but they slowly lose confidence in their abilities and eventually stop.
“I noticed that my daughter, who is 5, spends a lot of time drawing at home,” he said. “Kids love drawing. But as they grow up, by the time they are 10 or so, they become conscious of their drawing. 5 year olds draw simpler things. But your imagination grows a lot faster than what they can actually draw. And at some point, they stop. They become scared of drawing in the same way you become scared of public speaking.”
Osmo Masterpiece is aimed at restoring that confidence and bringing out the artist in everyone.
Osmo Masterpiece uses the same kids hardware tech device that was named one of the best inventions of 2014 by Time Magazine. Last year, Osmo launched its $80 Osmo Base system that consists of a stand for the iPad and the mirror. It could be used for a game dubbed Osmo Words, where you played a game of Hangman and guessed the letters of a word based on an image onscreen. You could throw some block letters in front of the iPad, and Osmo would recognize the letters. Whoever tossed the right letters in front of Osmo the fastest won the round. The game combined the simple trick of using the iPad camera to show what was in front of it and image recognition technology that could discern the letters on the blocks.
Besides Osmo Words, the company also came up with a shape-recognition game called Tangram and Newton, a drawing game where you could draw lines on a piece of paper that, when translated into the image on the screen, could deflect little balls that were dropping from the top of the iPad. Those items have sold more than 100,000 units. These were clever games that combined the physical and digital worlds in ways that created novel forms of play.
With Osmo Masterpiece, the system assists you in drawing better. I asked Sharma if it teaches kids to copy rather than to draw. But Sharma said it assists you by training you to re-create what you are actually seeing in front of you. It nurtures you spatial intelligence and builds confidence in your instincts, he said.
Osmo was so successful that it raised $12 million in additional funding (for a total of $14.5 million), and it grew its staff to 18 people. It won over a lot of teachers and parents who wanted their kids to stop getting lost in their smartphones and interact with other children through interactive play. It is in use at more than 2,000 schools. Osmo is testing Osmo Masterpiece with a lot of the same teachers and parents again. At the Harker School in San Jose, Calif., kids were using the app for 45 minutes at a stretch.
Sharma said the team realized during development that they had created the ability to “turn anything into a mouse” with Osmo. Masterpiece works on any surface and with several types of drawing instruments. Pens on newsprint make a great coloring book, crayons on construction paper make unique and original birthday cards, and charcoal on bristol board makes a piece of fine art, Sharma said. The team created a technical innovation, but one that led to a lot of insights.
Once you are done with a drawing, you can put the paper on the refrigerator. Or you can share a digital copy with family and friends. In fact, as you can see in the video at the bottom, you can share a recording of how you drew the image stroke by stroke. That feature is called Video Capture.
“Masterpiece is a big step forward from what we did in the past,” Sharma said. “Tangram and Words were games. This is more like a tool.”
Other Masterpiece features include an Infinite Library, where images can be captured via camera or pulled in from an Internet search. It’s like a coloring book with an infinite number of pages. It also has AutoLine and AutoShade, where Osmo’s Reflective AI analyzes an image to suggest the best lines and shades to draw. With a feature called Composition, you can rotate, zoom, and move the digital template to fit your imagination. You can combine multiple objects from real life or online images to make completely new compositions.
You can zoom in and zoom out on your drawings, and you can see through an overlay how precisely you drew the lines.
While it is targeted at kids, Masterpiece works for all ages. Anyone who has already purchased the Osmo Base can download Masterpiece for free. Osmo is sold online and in select Apple stores around the world. It is continuing to expand its availability worldwide.
Sharma said, “Picasso once said, ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.’ With Osmo, we want to provide kids with tools to let them express their creativity and build confidence that scales with their aspirations.”