Please find on this page some explanations of the research agenda I setup for myself in order to advance the design of technologies supporting Active and Assisted Living. I have a particular interest in how we can empower end-users in customizing their own technologies.

Working Title: Accessible Digital Tools for Connecting to the World: How People Create Own Digital Interfaces for Analogue Life Challenges

Keywords: Ubiquitous Computing, Autonomy, Adaption, Customization, Active and Assisted Living, Smart Home, Internet of Things, End User Development, Empowerment.

 

Introduction: Staying independent in old age is the desire of most, if not all, of us. Given this longing and the growing aging of the Western population, tremendous research into technological interventions for healthy and active aging comes as little surprise. Ubiquitous computing is playing a leading role in allowing people to age gracefully at home, however, much work remains to be done in the domain of the smart home, ambient assisted living or assistive technologies. For example, smart home technologies have been explored and developed broadly from a utilitarian or deficit-driven perspective (see (Rashidi & Mihailidis, 2013) for a good overview article), nevertheless they are not in widespread use to date. As a response, researchers have started addressing the same domain in a more ‘designerly’, exploratory or playful fashion (Pullin, 2011), acknowledging that technology cannot only be useful in compensating deficits of the body, but also in enhancing the quality of life by supporting a more active, healthier life in a broader sense, for example, by fighting social isolation and promoting technology mediated communication (Baecker, Sellen, Crosskey, Boscart, & Neves, 2014).
My research agenda contributes to the more designerly approaches to exploring the design space of assistive technologies. In particular, I am interested in investigating a number of important notions when it comes to aging gracefully, namely autonomy, the creativity of the individual, and empowerment. While I am taking a perspective that is less influenced by technical engineering, I nevertheless investigate these notions through fully implemented interactive prototypes within a design-based research approach.

Read More: Habilitation (ongoing) Research Statement

BoostBeans is a research prototype from the Schaukasten project and was created within a participatory design process to support children with cerebral visual impairment (CVI).

The design of BoostBeans draws on the idea of augmenting everyday objects with interactive technology. - It is motivated by observations we made studying the work practices of the CVI therapists: For motivational reasons, therapists incorporated children’s favorite toys into the training sessions and these toys acted as rewards. However, due to a lack of interactivity, these toys or objects were rarely part of the actual therapy sessions.

We identified this missed opportunity and developed an interactive means (the BoostBeans) to augment the children’s favorite toys or other everyday objects, enabling the therapists to make them a more integral part of the vision training.

The prototype for BoostBeans is comprised of a set of small objects (“beans”) that can provide tactile, acoustic, and visual stimuli . The beans can be triggered with different remote controls by the therapist or by the children. The below video shows us debugging a prototype of a 'puzzle remote control' for triggering beans.

 

Read More: BoostBeans (2017)

Infomate Version 2 is the latest prototype of my series of accessible computers. It seeks to provide computers as easy to operate as necessary by drawing on the Infobricks 'engine'. That is, accessible Infomate computers are created in a two-step process. Firstly, Infobricks is used as a prototyping toolkit to find a suitable design. Secondly, this design is transferred into a finalized Infomate implementation. The transition from step 1 to step 2 is relatively fast as the underlying technology of Infobricks (The Infobricks 'engine') can be used as a starting point or building blocks to establish the final Infomate system.

So far, I have created four accessible Infomate Version 2 computers (Infomate Version 1 is a former approach where I did not use the Infobricks 'engine' as a foundation). Besides being accessible, these computers have a variety of affordances or characteristics. For example, they feature distinct physical designs to fit into people's life. Three of them are comprised of computer and docking station, that is, people can take them and use the main component only (e.g., to take a photo).

Read More: Infomate Version 2 (2016-2017)

Infobricks is a prototyping toolkit for creating accessible computers. It provides software and hardware components that can be assembled by designers or amateurs to quickly put together prototypes of accessible devices. Infobricks comprises modules such as programmable quick access buttons, RFID reader, notification lights, and so on. Most of them are optional and can be used to customize the final product according to the users needs.

Infobricks is also the engine with drives the Infomate Version 2 computers. Here, the toolkit and its underlying infrastructure was turned into a number of relatively finished or polished accessible computers.

Read More: Infobricks (2016-2017)

The Infomate devices are successor products of the TabletCompanions and the predecessor of Infomate Version 2. The overarching goal of Infomate as well as TabletCompanion is to create an Internet computer for senior users that is as accessible as possible. To this end, I have been experimenting with Android-based computers in a variety of different form factors. The newest generation, Infomate, is based on the Odroid-XU4 processor and a 9" multitouch display. In addtion, the following features were carefully incorportated into the design to support the needs of senior users:

  • 1) quick access hardware buttons for the most important functions such as 'home', 'back', 'weather' or 'Internet search'
  • 2) an accessible hardware keyboard as we found in earlier usability studies that senior users had difficuties in using software keyboards
  • 3) photos, text based messages and recommend URLs can be pushed onto the devices by friends/family
  • 4) remote support features for friends/familiy, e.g., remotely sharing the current desktop screen view

This is ongoing design research. That is, user studies are yet to be completed, and it is likely that further iterations of Informtate devices will be prototyped in order to increase usability. The philosophy of this project is to reach an appropriate compromise between relatively quickly-built systems and sufficient fidelity to provide the senior users wiht authentic UX. This approach should allow studying working systems, while at the same time being able to implement multiple iterations. Furthermore, it is part of Infomate's concept to include features (see above item 3 and 4) that support the senior users' friends and family in (remotely) assisting them using the Infomate.

  

Read More: Infomate (2016)

We are surrounded by an increasing number of smart and networked devices. Today much of this technology is enjoyed by gadget enthusiasts and early adaptors, but in the foreseeable future many people will become dependent on smart devices and Internet of Things (IoT) applications, desired or not. To support people with various levels of computer skills in mastering smart appliances as found, e.g., in smart homes, we propose 'Tangible Programming' for connecting networked devices. Our work can be regarded as a playful ‘experiment’ towards democratizing IoT technology. It enables the users to define or ‘program’ (wirelessly) connected objects. While this approach allows powerful physical and interactive applications, no professional skills are needed since 'tangible-programs' are defined by recording sequences of tangible interactions

Read More: Tangible Programming (work-in-progress)

Jinglan Zhang, Margot Brereton, Peter Purgathofer, Geraldine Fitzpatrick and me are currently conducting research into enhancing web accessibility for people with a disability. In first line, this work is suppossed to delight people who usually cannot operate a computer by offering them a way for simple web searches which might result in some appealing images.

We propose to utilize RFID tokens to store and materialize website addresses into tangible handles for web access. Most importantly, we use tokens to store frequently used key words and serve as visual aids to enable query through the combination of different search tokens.

As a consequence, the user can search for a preset number of keywords without typing. In the demo video, we show how a image search for "pink cake" is initiated (note, one participant enjoyed browsing images of pink cake on the Internet, therefore we gave the prototype the name of "pink cake"). This works by simply placing the tokens "pink", "cake" and "start image search" on the RFID reader device. Tokens can also hold links to songs or to URLs. The tokens can be configured quite easiliy (see second video).

As a next step, we plan to co-desing customized tokens (tangible objects) and create them with our 3D printer.

Read More: Enhancing Web Accessibility for People with Disability (Work-in-Progress)

Goal:

We aimed to design a microphone to be connected to a tablet or Android sever (e.g., based on Odroid) to offer an accessible interface. This microphone should allow the user to give speech commands with more comfort compared to the built-in microphone of tablets. To increase the usability, the device should also feature a number of hardware buttons that optionally provide access to important functions (e.g., go back; de-/activate speech recognition etc.). These functions should be customizable by the user, therefore the name of “customic”. Customizing can either take place using a software configurator or or using tangible tokens implemented with RFID.

Scenario:

The user gives the speech command “OK Google text message to Alexandra”. As a consequence, the system opens the texting app and the user starts dictating his/her message. However, the speech recognition interprets the last word incorrectly. Therefore, the user touches the delete button next to the mic module → the last word is deleted as a response. As time passes by, nevertheless, the user figures out that he/she doesn’t actually need this function. He/she would rather use the same button as a shortcut for navigating to the music app. Therefore, he/she puts the “programming mode” RFID tag on top of the device → the system is now in program mode. Then, he touches button #1 and places the music app RFID tag on the devices. As a consequence, the corresponding touch button now is programmed to serve as a music app quick access button. Alternatively, the device could also be reconfigured using an app running on the tablet, instead of the tangibles (RFID tags).

 

Read More: Customic (2015)