Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Summer school in St Andrews, Teaching Context-Awareness

I had the privilege to teach a course on context-awareness [1] as part of the SICSA Summer School on Multimodal Systems for Digital Tourism. The summer school was directed by Aaron Quigley (University of St Andrews), Eva Hornecker (University of Strathclyde), Jon Oberlander (University of Edinburgh) and Stephen Brewster (University of Glasgow).

It was very exciting to discuss with the students ideas for novel digital devices to support tourists and come up with new concepts in this domain. Ideas ranged from interactive umbrellas (taking the concept described in [2] further) to digital souvenirs that ensure a lasting memory.

On Monday night Chris Speed gave an inspiring talk on ghosts, memories, and things reflecting on history, the Internet of things and how we perceive the world around us in a very though provoking way. Hi inspired us to think about the stories and memories that surround us and that are inherently linked to all things humans us. … it was in a long time a story about ghosts that made a lot of sense :-)
When going back we saw a great example of a security system that is based on physical constraints... you can open it from the inside but not from the outside:

Aaron asked me to talk on context-awareness. I did the talk along the lines of a soon to appear chapter on To me one of the – still remaining – fundamental challenges in HCI with context-aware systems is that the system as well as the human is adaptive. And as people learn often incredibly fast the adaptation may be contra-productive, hence it is essential to take this into account. Have a look at my slides if you like to learn more about context-awareness and HCI.

When we were there, we learned that St. Andrews is the place to play golf – the old course is where you need to go. Looking more closely it became clear that this is for others ;-) but there is a option for the rest of us. It is called the The Ladies putting Club St.Andrews “Himalayas” – just walk in and play (2 pound per person, and no need to book a year ahead). And if your friends don’t play golf you get away with the photos you take there as it is only 5 meters from the old course.

[2] Sho Hashimoto, Takashi Matsumoto. The Internet Umbrella.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Somnometer – A Social Alarm Clock – Users Wanted!

We have continued our work on the social alarm clock for Android phones. The Somnometer App can be used as a regular alarm clock but offers functions to:
(1) rate your sleep
(2) monitor your sleep duration (manually based on wake-up time)
(3) have graphical representations of the sleep quality and duration
(4) optionally share some of this information with your friends on facebook

Are you interested in trying this alarm clock application? Please have a look at the app home page ( or download it from the android market.

We are looking for volunteers to participate in a study with this alarm clock application. If you are interested in the new functions and if you are an active facebook user, please contact us. There will also be a chance to take part in a comparative study using a different sleep monitoring device and the alarm application. Our email address for the project is:

Monday, 20 June 2011

Self-expression, Belonging, and Respect – Is Taking Risks Part of it?

Seeing someone walking up the leaning tower in Pisa with shoes that were clearly not designed for this situation I wondered about the risks people take in live. We recently had a discussion (with other parents) on the risks kids take today in the digital world – put up regrettable pictures flickr, liking a politically incorrect site on facebook, or posting silly things on twitter.

I sometimes feel in these discussions that I want to put things into perspective… We do a lot of things that are not reasonable in order to express ourselves and to present an image to our peer group (e.g. tattoos and piercings are common and there are risks associated). We want to belong to a group and hence we do things that are expected by our peers or even to impress them (e.g. doing a skateboard trick without protection or skiing where it is not allowed). If think hard there are probably many things you remember where you took major risks (when you were young)…  On TV I saw a yesterday night a documentary on the Hippie movement in the 1960/1970. In comparison to the risks young people took in order to change the world (or to just be different and accepted in their peer group) the risks you take on the Internet seem very tame…

There is a further point we can learn from this: eventually society (and the law) will catch up and some of the innovations will stay and change society. But some will no be accepted… People need to explore boundaries – otherwise progress is unlikely.

For many people who have explored boundaries in 1970ies (ranging from drugs to violence – in a way we have agreed today is completely unacceptable) this has not hindered their careers. People generally see actions in context…  Hence having the “wrong” photo on facebook is probably not harming someone’s career (but probably the time they spend on facebook rather than revising for exams may).

Friday, 17 June 2011

Gestural Input on a Touch Screen Steering Wheel in the Media

At CHI 2011 we presented initial  work on how to use gestural input on a multi-touch steering wheel [1]; a 20 second video is also available [2]. The paper described a prototype - a steering wheel where the entire surface is a display and can recognize touch input. The study had two parts. In the first part we identified a natural gesture set for interaction and in the second part we looked at how such interaction impacts the visual demand for the diver. The results in short: using gestural input on the steering wheel reduces the visual demand for the driver.

Shortly after the conference a journalist from discovery news picked the topic up and did some interviews. This resulted in an article: "Touch-Screen Steering Wheel Keeps Eyes on Road" (Discovery News, 6.6.2011)

ACM Tech News mentioned the Discovery News article News (ACM Tech News June 8 2011).
After this it found its way around and appeared more widely than expected :-) examples include
 There were also a German article "Touchscreen-Lenkrad Wischen wechselt Radiosender" (sp-x, 14.6.2011), e.g. found in:
[1] Tanja Döring, Dagmar Kern, Paul Marshall, Max Pfeiffer, Johannes Schöning, Volker Gruhn, and Albrecht Schmidt. 2011. Gestural interaction on the steering wheel: reducing the visual demand. In Proceedings of the 2011 annual conference on Human factors in computing systems (CHI '11). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 483-492. DOI=10.1145/1978942.1979010

[2] Gestural Interaction on the Steering Wheel - Reducing the Visual Demand. chi2011madness Video.

Keynote at EICS 2011

 I was invited to present a keynote at EICS 2011 in Pisa. In the talk "Engineering Interactive Ubiquitous Computing Systems" I motivated why user interface engineering approaches are well suited for creating user interfaces in the context of embedded and ubiquitous computing systems. Looking at desktop applications and mobile devices I think the quality and ease of use is high - compared to 20 years back or compared to embedded and ubiquitous computing systems. I think a lot of user interface research, and in particular engineering approaches for interactive systems, could have a great impact on real world systems beyond the desktop or phone.

As one example of an engineering process for embedded user interfaces I shared our experience with developing Gazemarks [1]. Gazemarks is a technology based on eye-gaze tracking that reduced the time required for attention switching. It eases tasks that require the user to move attention repeatedly between 2 or more displays or between the real world and a set of digital displays. Application domains could be looking at the street and at the satnav while driving or switching attention between a screen in an operating theatre and the patient.

When investigating development from an embedded user interface to interactive ubiquitous computing systems further issues come up. As we investigate the PDnet project [2] with public displays we see that the concerns of the stakeholders play a much bigger role than in traditional systems and that finding an appropriate business model is very close to the user interface development process. 

In the final part of the talk I shared a future vision of how technology may change the way we live. In the not so distant future we could imagine that the traditional boundaries of perception (mainly temporal and spatial) will fall [3]. This would create an entirely new experience where "Perception beyond the here a now" change fundamentally the way we see and experience the world. The slides  of the keynote are available in as PDF.

From the research we did over the last 15 years I picked some lessons learned:
  • Novelty may be about the values/ethics
  • Implement it and try it out!
  • 20% who like the UI/system are a large market
  • Humans are smart and adaptive
  • Design for creative users
[1] Dagmar Kern, Paul Marshall, and Albrecht Schmidt. 2010. Gazemarks: gaze-based visual placeholders to ease attention switching. In Proceedings of the 28th international conference on Human factors in computing systems (CHI '10). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2093-2102. DOI=10.1145/1753326.1753646

[2] Pdnet project homepage:

[3] Albrecht Schmidt, Marc Langheinrich, and Kritian Kersting. 2011. Perception beyond the Here and Now. Computer 44, 2 (February 2011), 86-88. DOI=10.1109/MC.2011.54