Virtual cat is newest 'pupil' at Cambridge school

image copyrightUmbrellium
image captionCinder the cat appears on school laptops and an interactive screen in the main hall

A digital cat is the latest addition to a Cambridge school, taking the place of the traditional pet hamster in a cage.

Cinder, a virtual feline, behaves a little like a Pokemon Go character, popping up on pupils' laptops at Trumpington Community College.

The cat is connected to the school's network and is "fed" on solar power generated by the building.

Teachers hopes the project will encourage pupils to connect with their environment and work as a team.

image copyrightUmbrellium
image captionCinder occasionally dons a jaunty hat while wandering through her virtual world

Students took part in workshops with London-based design company Umbrellium to help create Cinder.

"We [wanted] to give students and staff an insight into, and understanding of, the building they work and play in," said Usman Haque, from Umbrellium.

The augmented reality creature "lives in the school", in a "virtual environment on top of the physical environment", he said.

image copyrightUmbrellium
image captionWhen Cinder is hungry she pops up on laptops asking for food
image copyrightUmbrellium
image captionHer favourite food is sunshine, generated by the school's solar panels

Cinder can appear on pupils' laptops and also on a large mirror screen set up in the hall, where pupils can see her interacting with them.

Mr Haque agreed the cat was "a little like a Tamagotchi" - a digital Japanese "pet" toy popular in the 90s - but "the cat actually looks like a real cat".

image copyrightUmbrellium
image captionThe cat can sometimes appear larger than life, creator Usman Haque said

"When you see it on the screen it moves around you, through your legs and sometimes it gets so big it looks like it's actually looking down at you."

Like any other pet, Cinder needs to be fed, and her favourite food is sunshine.

"The way they do that depends on how much solar energy has been generated, so it's converted into 'solar food'.

"Pupils have a budget of food that's generated through the solar energy, and they get to allocate that to the cat," he said.

"If it gets satiated it might go off and dream somewhere in the network."

Head teacher John Jones said students had been "inspired" by the project.

image copyrightUmbrellium
image captionPupils can interact with Cinder on a large screen

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