II-EN: Device and Display Ecologies

Start Date: 02/01/2011
End Date: 01/31/2015


We propose institutional infrastructure to support research into interactive computing that extends into the everyday life of individuals, groups, and society. The intuition that drives this proposal is that as personal devices of various form factors (from smart phones to laptop computers) proliferate, their potential to support human activity can be fully realized when these devices function in concert with a broader technology environment and with each other. They need to operate in ecologies of mutually supporting, interacting, and cooperating (or competing) technology elements. This proposal anticipates the day when such technology envelops society, and in concert empowers individuals to function more effectively both within themselves and as members of society.

Our proposed infrastructure comprises two related subgroups. First, we propose a Rapid Prototyping Laboratory (RPL) where faculty and students can develop new devices to populate the ecologies. The RPL will support electronic and single-board-computer designs, printed-circuit board prototyping, and 3D object construction. Second, we propose infrastructure to construct the larger environment to be populated by these devices. This environment includes a variety of large to personal display technologies and a set of tracking technologies to enable devices to situate themselves in space.

We have assembled two sets of research projects that benefit from this infrastructure. First we investigate how our envisioned ecologies may be realized. We will study how this myriad of technologies may interoperate to give the user a set of consistent expectations of interaction across devices and display environments. We shall also investigate HCI methodologies for humans to function within the 3D world populated by device and display ecologies. Our second set of projects investigate various uses of our envisioned ecologies. Extending the ecology analogy, each use scenario furnishes a habitat that contextualizes the ecologies within it. We advance a set of research areas: education and learning; universal access; insight formation; smart homes; usable security; mediated social interaction; and electronic-textiles to furnish such contexts where technology-interoperation and user-interaction may be explored.

Finally, we set forth an implementation and management plan to ensure proper deployment and effective use of the proposed infrastructure. First, we will employ our existing Center for Human-Computer Interaction (CHCI) student-run infrastructure management system in which, any student or faculty member may reserve equipment and related research space. This serves three purposes: 1. It gives students and faculty a sense of ownership of the infrastructure to encourage use and care of the equipment; 2. It provides for community-based expertise on the equipment as our student ‘lab-czars’ maintain an evolving list of ‘experts’ for each piece of equipment in our inventory. This makes the lab self-sustaining without large recurring technical support costs; and 3. It encourages collaboration among students and faculty across the CHCI and beyond. Second, we propose a phased deployment of the infrastructure designed to give us a ‘running start’ so that the equipment will be used from early in the first year of the grant. Third, we introduce the concept of rapid prototyping mini-grants as a key feature of our proposal. We will set up a program where student/faculty groups can propose projects that require materials and components. The PI team along with other CHCI faculty will serve as the evaluation committee to decide on the proposals and offer design guidance and advice to mini-proposal. This will guarantee that components pur-chased on the grant will find timely and effective use. As these mini-projects end, reusable pieces of the infrastructure will be returned to inventory, further encouraging prototyping with existing components.

Intellectual Merits: The intellectual merits of this proposal are three-fold. First, we introduce the concept of contextualized device and display ecologies within habitats defined by application. We believe that modern devices will achieve their potential only when they function in concert with each other and with environmental technology to support human activity. Second, our RPL and environmental technologies encourage a kind of computational thinking among our researchers that span the digital and physical environment. Third, we assemble a set of research projects to investigate the realization and use of our envisioned ecologies. The substance of these research project constitute intellectual outcomes of this grant.

Broader Impacts: The broader impacts of this project accrue in four ways. First, the infrastructure will facilitate a broad interdisciplinary research. The CHCI has a strong track record of such interdisciplinary work and has a system in place to ensure broad use of the equipment by the proposing team and beyond. Second, we will be using the infrastructure in the classes we teach. Again, we have a good track record of doing so, and in bringing undergraduates, and individuals from underrepresented populations into our research programs. Third, we plan to extend outreach to the user communities through our publications, presentations, web presence, and broader collaborative interactions. We will share our software with the community using open-source mechanisms. Fourth, our team has a solid track record of working with undergraduate students, and in bringing women and individuals from underrepresented populations into research. We will continue in these efforts. The CHCI has an active REU site that brings students from HBCUs and minority institutions into our research. We have involved a good number of students in research using such vehicles. 




Grant Institution: National Science Foundation

Amount: $600,000

People associated with this grant:

Chris North
Doug Bowman
Denis Gracanin
Francis Quek