Asthma no fun without a puffer fish

LOUISE RISK
Last updated 11:41 19/03/2012
INTERACTIVE LEARNING: Ben Squires, left, and Daniel Loomb are helping children to beat asthma with the iPad app they developed in conjunction with Asthma Waikato.
BRUCE MERCER/ FAIRFAX NZ

INTERACTIVE LEARNING: Ben Squires, left, and Daniel Loomb are helping children to beat asthma with the iPad app they developed in conjunction with Asthma Waikato.

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Beating asthma has become a whole lot more fun thanks to four Waikato University software engineering students and a fish called Sailor.

Last year computer graphics design student Stephen Sherman and computing and mathematical sciences students Daniel Loomb, Ben Squires and Billy-Jo Hunia worked with Asthma Waikato to help children better manage their asthma.

The resulting iPad app, PUFF'D, has been downloaded 1600 times already.

"We had to get it up on the [Apple] app store for it to get top marks," Mr Loomb said.

Using the asthma association's mascot, Sailor the puffer fish, the four students worked diligently to create a game targeted at 5 to 10-year-olds which would teach them about the triggers that cause asthma attacks.

Mr Squires said a key requirement from Asthma Waikato's perspective was that the children were learning without it seeming like a chore.

The 10-level game was set inside a a set of lungs, with Sailor having to move around the screen, attacking any "enemy" that appeared to be trying to break down the lungs' walls and cause an asthma attack.

The "enemy" changed on each level, with dust mites, cold weather, a flu virus and pollen all on the list.

Mr Loomb said that "smoke" was the worst enemy, so that character could eat away at the lungs' wall faster, but a "reliever" could be activated if Sailor could get to it in time.

He said the message that prevention was always better than the cure was also programmed into the game. Extra strength would be given to the lungs' wall lining if the child selected this option before they started playing PUFF'D.

The project had proven so enjoyable for Mr Loomb that he had been employed by a Waikato app design company during the university holidays, and was working for them part-time now.

He could see himself designing apps fulltime. "I really enjoyed working on it," he said of the game.

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