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POUTS-The Physical World talks back June 18, 2006

Posted by reto wettach in innovative interfaces, physical interaction design.
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I am quite interested inTangible Interfaces in our daily lifes. Quite nice are in this sense the Fridge Magnets by Microsoft research, which are augmenting your family’s information source by blinking after a certain time. 

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Even more interesting are the POUTS (2005) from the University of Nottingham. Just to explaing the word: “PINS push in and POUTS pop out” – finally the revenge of the physical world!

I really like the idea of notes falling down from a pinboard after the expired!

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Braille for Non-Blinds… June 14, 2006

Posted by reto wettach in biofeedback, innovative interfaces, physical interaction design.
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Oren Horev, one of the last generation student at IDII, is exploring in his MA thesis the potential of ShapeShifters.

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Inspired by the concept of the toy PinPression (here a digital version from 2003) Oren developed the idea of the tactile representation of information on a mobile phone. He is suggesting to having a tactile display area on the back of the mobile, which – from my point of view – makes more sense than the visual display – at least while talking on the phone. Oren is calling his phone the TactoPhone.

In a video prototype Oren is exploring different shapes for tactile icons, or Tactons as he is calling it.

Oren also developed application scenarios, which he is showing through short videos. I especially like the idea of using the Tactons also as input by pressing them like buttons.

When watching one of the video scenarios, I was surprise to see how the hand of the user is interacting with the device: the finger tips are waiting in one row until something tactile sensation arrives. Then they start exploring the surrounding environment. I think that the user would always want to try to grasp the entire area by putting as much as possible of his hand on the area.

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Oren's project is an interesting exploration of Ivan Poupyrev's LUMEN, which is a working prototype of such a display plus the idea of making each tactive pixel also a visual pixel.

Erfassen your world! June 6, 2006

Posted by reto wettach in biofeedback, innovative interfaces, mobile, physical interaction design, rfid.
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I am using the word "Erfassen", because in German it means "to comprehend", but literally it translates into "touching".

A lot of interaction research is trying to enhance the experience of blind people. The digital cane is – of course – one of the favorite places to start such a new experience:

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The UltraCane is a cane, which informs the user of obstacles ahead through vibrating buttons in the handles. Different buttons tell the direction of the obstacle. Here is a nice animation of how the UltraCane works.

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The GuideCane (pdf here) by the University of Michigan is more complex, but also more academic: It not only recognizes obstacles, but also steers the blind person around.

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Another project was presented during the confenrence "Internation Symposium on Intelligent Environments" and is using RFID-technology for a similar purpose: SPOT-IT by the university of Bratislava, Slovakia, is suggesting a system for blind people, which provides contextual information about their surroundings. However, I am not so sure whether this is the right approach, especially as RFIDs have rather short-range reach. Furthermore do I think that there is such a big need for international agreements on standards that it will be difficult to make such a project come true (just think of the fact that there are more than 3 sign languages for German shows how difficult an agreement is in that field).

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Beyond tactile feedback, sound is also an interesting source for non-visual experience of the world and how to navigate it: This reminds me of a project by Haraldur Unnarsson, students in Ivrea, who used music to tell directions in a car navigation system: through emphasis on the left or right channel in the car's stereo system, the user is told how to navigate. Unfortunately this project is not findable online, only here.