Engineering News
October 6 , 2003, Vol. 74, No. 7F

WHY KNOT? Students play a game of Internet-based Twister, with a twist. A consensus is needed for each team to plot its move. This component adds a touch of chess-like strategy to the classic ’60s party game.

Tele-Twister project proves that fun and games can also be educational

IEOR professor Ken Goldberg has put on new twist on Twister. Tele-Twister, his cyber version of the ’60s party game gives it a chess-like element while allowing him to collect data for his teleactor project.

Every Friday, anyone with Internet access can play a lunchtime game of Tele-Twister by logging onto and strategically directing the moves of two actors. The real-time video of the game is then streamed onto the site.

Twister is played by placing hands and feet on the colored circles of a Twister board. The objective is to stay standing while your opponents topple from their precarious, pretzel-like pose. While the spin of a dial determines the next move in Twister, Tele-Twister relies on strategy and cooperation between team players to plot the course of a game.

While only two people can physically play the game, an unlimited number of players can divide into two teams and direct the action.

The project falls under the scope of Goldberg’s collaborative telerobot research project. The idea is to use consensus to allow many Internet users to control one object simultaneously.

The data his research group collects from each game help them answer questions on how large groups achieve coordinated control. Each game of Tele-Twister not only tests the system’s technical capabilities but also compiles valuable statistics on group interaction.

The large-scale goal of the project is to produce an interactive, cooperative, Internet-based program that allows a group of students to have a hands-on, engaging and active educational experience.

“Students learn science better when they are doing things versus listening to lectures. We want to introduce an element of action and competition to the learning process to engage them,” says Goldberg.

The element of competition in Tele-Twister extends beyond team victory by also scoring individual performance. Points are given for being the first to pick the consensus move. This scoring system rewards leadership, strategy, and collaboration.
“It’s similar to chess because you must think ahead to win, but you also need to collaborate with your fellow team members,” says Goldberg.

Along with sponsorship from the National Science Foundation and Berkeley’s Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), Tele-Twister has garnered funding from Intel, which is interested in its entertainment value.

IEOR student Dezhen Song is pursuing a Ph.D. studying the mathematical theory and systems design behind Tele-Twister and related projects. He and Goldberg work closely with other graduate students, such as Jane McGonigal of performance studies, an expert in interactive games, and undergrad In Yong Song, an EECS senior who engineered the advanced Java applet that coordinates user interactions.

“We are bridging the gap between technology and reality and figuring out how to create a cooperative tele-presence environment using technology, like the Internet, that is accessible to the average student,” says Dezhen Song.

For more on teleoperation research visit

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