BOOK RELEASE: HCI Outdoors

I’m proud and pleased that our book, HCI Outdoors: Theory, Design, Methods and Applications, is available from Springer Publishing. The book is an edited volume of contributions from 18 groups of authors—researchers in academia, industry, research labs, and think tanks who are defining new ways that technology is explored, designed, and tested for use in outdoor settings. The book is part of Springer’s Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) series, which features books that focus on interactions between people and technology.

The book is divided into five sections, each with multiple chapters. Rural Contexts explores how outdoor settings are different than urban ones, and how technologies designed for urban settings may not work as well and should be designed and evaluated differently. Willed and the Wild examines the wildness that is inherent in wilderness, and how that affects the way we design and evaluate technology. Groups and Communities considers how technology assists collections of people to feel more connected. Design for Outdoors raises questions about the design sensitivities and guidelines important and unique to outdoor settings. And Outdoor Recreation considers how technology affects our enjoyment of outdoor recreation like skiing, walking, and hiking.

Crafting the book was a long and rewarding process, spearheaded by a collection of workshops that helped identify key ideas in the area and bring together interested researchers. Virginia Tech’s Tech on the Trail workshops examined how technology is used on trails, including our nearby Appalachian Trail, in support of exploration, recreation, science, and more. The NatureCHI workshops sought ways to support engagement with nature in an unobtrusive manner to avoid detracting from the outdoor experience. The UbiMount workshops looked at how ubiquitous computing technologies can support mountaineering activities. Finally, the HCI Outdoors workshop at the ACM SIGCHI Conference in 2018 featured the largest collection of participants, with around 20 people taking part in presentations, discussions, and activities that highlighted and categorized the challenges of designing technology for the outdoors. The idea for the book emerged from the final HCI Outdoors workshop in 2018, and almost all of the chapters include authors who attended one or more of these workshops.

The book was vetted through a pair of classes offered at the editors’ home institutions, Virginia Tech and Brigham Young University. Each class dedicated a class session to each chapter, seeking to view it not as a final product but as an early-stage work in progress. The students contributed to constructive feedback for the authors, furthering the discussions with the authors and resulting in a far better product that the editors alone could have helped to create. The final versions of the chapters captured the authors’ views of the HCI outdoors theme, balanced with our desire for a coherent and connected book.

A great many universities have this book in their libraries, and Springer’s MyCopy program allows you to purchase a softcover version of the book through your library for only $25. (Yes, I’m aware that the hardcover and digital versions are much more expensive.) I hope you’ll look it over and consider using it for your own research, teaching, or enjoyment.

GROUP 2020

The ACM GROUP Conference is the premiere destination for research work on groups and technology. Held every year in Sanibel Island, Florida, it We were well represented at ACM GROUP 2020–2 full papers, 4 posters, 1 design fiction paper, and 1 doctoral colloquium presentation from this crowd of faculty, grad students, and alums from Computer Science at Virginia Tech!

Lindah Kotut had an awesome 36 hour stretch at the ACM GROUP Conference, using it to launch her research ideas on social media use in outdoor settings. First she presented her Ph.D. research directions to top researchers in the field in the doctoral colloquium–summarized in the poster session, where her work was chosen by her peers for the best poster award. And in between, she presented her vision of the future of the selling of personal data in the design fiction session of the conference.

Clark University prof and Virginia Tech Ph.D. graduate Shuo Niu presented his investigation of how people establish personal territory on large digital displays–e.g., for a digital tabletop, if two or more people are working simultaneously then they exhibit ownership of the area closest to them and are offended when others invade the area without permission. This work was a chunk of his Ph.D. research.

As always, Sanibel Island is an awesome conference destination, particularly in early January when it’s cold in much of the rest of the United States. The Ding Darling Natural Wildlife Refuge maintains an environment where nature can spread its wings, with trails that lead us human interlopers to places where we can sneak a peek at it. The conference venue is right on the beach, with a handful of good restaurants nearby, and the breaks between sessions allow us to venture off into these destinations. (As if you needed another reason to attend!) Looking forward to a return trip in 2022.

Projects: HCI Outdoors undergrad + grad course Fall 2019

The Fall 2019 instantiation of HCI Outdoors delved into early draft chapters of our upcoming HCI Outdoors book. The results of our discussions will be seen in the book, coming in late 2020 from Springer. Students also undertook projects inspired by the ideas from the book chapters. The project are described next, with pictures for select projects following.

  • Trail Stories. Ph.D. candidate Lindah Kotut, together with Master’s student Liyan Li and undergrad Melissa Mayo, explored how social media platforms Reddit, Twitter, and Instagram are used to tell stories about thru-hikes on the Appalachian Trail and other long trails. The project looks at how these platforms are used in the preparation, experience, and reflection parts of a hike, and how additional digital tools can be crafted to help hikers tell their stories from their data.
  • Shared Outdoor Experiences. Ph.D. candidate Derek Haqq joined by Setor Zilevu and Allison Collier, explored how people can share their outdoor experiences with friends and relatives who are unable to join them. They designed and created three mobile outdoor-centric games: Shared Xperiences supported a user’s sense of a remote outdoor location to foster feelings of a outdoor space; Pairshare developed feelings of connection and shared experience among users; PlanetRunner balanced these features to foster feelings of a shared recreational experience as well as to promote user’s sense of a remote outdoor location. A deployment with 67 users showed initial successes and areas for future work.
  • Navigating with Augmented Reality. Ph.D. candidate Leo Soares, together with Masters student Samat Imamov and undergrads Jean-Marc Cassier and Wesley Nguyen, crafted and analyzed an augmented reality prototype to help groups of hikers stay connected on long hikes–despite the different hiking speeds that often causes conflicts on hikes.
  • FitAware. Shuai Liu, Zhennan Yao, and Jixiang Fan, grad students in Computer Science, are working on a health and fitness app that helps small groups 3-6 people who know each other well to help each other through competition and cooperation. Shuai is continuing the work toward his thesis, to be completed in May 2020.
  • Disorientation and Outdoor Tasks. Ph.D. students Neelma Bhatti and Morva Saati explored how young children become distracted during outdoor-style tasks like plant identification–particularly in busy environments. While tech is a big draw, and competing tech interests (and nature-related occurrences) can draw attention, the biggest distractors came from family and friends.
  • Disease on the Trail. Grad students Tim Stelter and Deepika Subrinaminan examined factors that can be instrumental in creating a system that tracks diseases outdoors. Extended trails like the Appalachian Trail, with large bubbles of hikers that traverse trails over many weeks or months, can create avenues for viruses, tick-borne diseases, and other diseases. Tim and Deepika examined a long list of disease-related apps along the axes of notification, rapid response, and knowledge creation.
  • Biometrics Outdoors. Grad students Grace Wusk, Harsh Sanghavi and Arjuna Sondhi explored how biometrics can be used to understand trail experiences. Specifically, they merged GPS data from a mobile phone with data from the Empatica E4 wristband that records photoplethysmography (PPG), electrodermal activity (EDA), skin temperature, 3-axis acceleration, and 3-axis orientation. It was challenging to collect meaningful biometric data outside of a highly-controlled lab setting, though quiet, distraction-free trails showed promise.
The Navigating with Augmented Reality Project looked at different ways that AR can help hikers stay in touch with each other, particularly when their different hiking speeds cause them to become separated.
The Shared Outdoor Experiences Project examined how people can share their experiences with friends and relatives who are unable to join them physically.
The Disorientation Project explored how young children are distracted from outdoor learning tasks in busy environments.

Virginia Science Festival 2019

The Virginia Science Festival is taking place today, Nov 16, from 10am until 4pm, with a series of lightning talks to follow. The event is geared for young people, but it’s enjoyable to everyone. There are dozens of projects featured at the event, many hosted by the College of Science, the College of Engineering, the Center for Human Computer Interaction, the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, and lots of other clubs and organizations at Virginia Tech and in the area. As in years past, Tech on the Trail has some projects at the event:

  • Shared outdoor experiences lets participants connect with others in a virtual recreation of the Moss Arts Center. The environment lets people traverse around Moss, with alerts for friends who are elsewhere that are intended to get them engaged with the experience. Derek Haqq is leading this project, assisted by Allison Collier and Setor Zilevu.
  • How well do you know your leaves provides information about leaves from trees in the New River Valley area. Visitors to the exhibit will be able to see if they can do better than our image recognition algorithm at identifying leaves. This project, led by Neelma Bhatti and Morva Saaty, is part of a larger effort to see how to keep young children engaged in learning tasks.
Kids are checking out Allison’s demo of the Shared Outdoor Experiences app.
Morva demonstrates the leaves app to an interested young scientist.