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.
At the 2018 ACM SIGCHI Workshop on HCI Outdoors, the organizers and participants decided it was time for an academic book that captured key advances in this area. Scott McCrickard, Michael Jones, and Timothy Stelter were selected to edit the book, to be published as part of Springer’s HCI series in 2020. The book, to be titled HCI Outdoors, will describe human-computer interaction (HCI) challenges and opportunities in outdoor settings for communities, groups, and individuals, in domains to include recreation, education, citizen science, wellness, and games. Scales of impact include individuals with personal devices, small groups using technology to support common goals, and large communities of people whose ways of doing and being are affected by outdoor technologies.
The book will be used in a combined grad/undergrad course in Fall 2019, also titled HCI Outdoors, in which course participants will read chapters toward identifying common themes and connections between them, and will craft prototype-centered projects inspired by them. Chapter authors will be invited to participate through invited talks, project sponsorship, writeup responses, or other means.
More information about the book, including how to participate and tentative chapter titles and authors, can be found on the main book site at http://hcioutdoors.net/book/
Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT) hosts the Virginia Science Festival each year, featuring work from ICAT-affiliated faculty, staff, and students. Tech on the Trail had three projects featured this year:
Derek and Tim are ready!
The Gardenator: How Well Do You Know Your Garden highlights our award-winning garden discovery app made together with the Science Museum of Western Virginia. Grad student Lindah Kotut took the lead on presenting this work, which was implemented by a team of computer science undergrads.
Adventure Meets Research: Citizen Science and Technology on the Trail demoed a challenge (pictured at the right) for participants to “beat the computer” at identifying common plants on the trail. This work featured an app that we have been developing to differentiate between plants found on typical regional hikes. Grad students Derek Haqq and Tim Stelter presented this work, building on the efforts of many others.
Responsive Interior Surfaces: Barklight (pictured at the bottom of this post) is an ongoing effort to create an interactive surface using the bark of a tree and a series of LEDs. A 96″ x 42″ bark panel features a 24 x 48 grid of LEDs connected to Arduinos that are programmed to reflect information and interactions. This represents joint work with faculty Matt Wagner (architecture) and Scott McCrickard (computer science), and students Tianyu Ge, Connor Smedley, Sidney Holman, Shuo Niu, Tom Phan, and many others. This project is funded by an ICAT SEAD grant.
Big thanks to everyone who came out to the festival. It’s been growing every year, and we’re happy to be part of this showcase event for ICAT and the region.
Last summer, ICAT joined the VT Paleobiology Research Group to document the excavation of a phytosaur skeleton. The group worked in the Triassic red beds of Wyoming, hauling over 40 pounds of equipment across ridges in 90 degree heat. ICAT’s role was to take technology on the trail by setting up an array of cameras at the dig site, toward crafting an array of cameras that would capture what went on in a dinosaur dig.
The current state of the project will appear at next week’s Virginia Science Festival, and a completed video, merged with audio, will appear at ICAT Day on April 30, 2018.
Today’s preview presentation started with a description of the experience, touching on the scientific needs but (since it was an artist who was presenting it!) focusing on the crafting of a visually appealing representation of the experience. Video of the experience was collected using a set of 8 GoPro cameras, modified with wide angle lenses. There was a major labor cost in hauling the equipment to the dig site, setting it up, making sure it was properly calibrated, taking it down, bringing it back to the camp site, and spending hours downloading the collected video and charging the devices. The presentation then moved to The Cube to provide a 360 3D immersive experience on what it’s like to dig up fossils.
Our Technology on the Trail initiative has explored how pictures are an important part of many people’s hiking experience. Tim Stelter found it cumbersome to have a single GoPro mounted to his chest on his 50-mile hike (though it did lead to over 2000 pictures of his adventure), so it’s difficult to imagine hauling such a large collection of equipment even a relatively short distance. We’ve explored ways to automatically take pictures that go beyond the mundane. Many people have crafted a time-sequence picture series of their hike. One of Ellie Harmon’s most valued outcomes from her PCT hike was the picture-a-day she identified, whereby she would choose one picture (and no more!) at the end of each day that captured her experience. I’m going to challenge students in my class this spring to identify ways to use sensors to find (potentially) good times to take pictures, similar to the efforts by the Google Clips project.
But this group certainly takes it to a different level. They’ve identified a way that technology can contribute to a better understanding of science by combining the talents of experts in technology, art, and science. I look forward to the next steps from this group!
Cheryl Strayed spoke at the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech tonight, with a talk titled A Wild Life. She talked a lot about her book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail that chronicled her troubled youth and how her time hiking the Pacific Crest Trail was a big part of moving on. But she also talked a lot about what it means to be a writer, including differences between writing fiction, non-fiction, and an advice column (her current gig)—understandable since her visit was co-hosted by the English Department.
She also touched on Technology on the Trail issues, particularly in response to a question about whether hiking in the internet age would have changed her experience. She spoke early in her talk about how she didn’t have the web as a reference, relying on the one book she found at REI to prepare her. She noted that she would have missed the “solitude and silence” that was a big part of her hike. And she honestly responded “I don’t know” but thought it would have still been cathartic.
It was wonderful to see her in person. She comes across as a warm and genuine person who really wants to help others by sharing her experiences, mistakes included. She broke the ice with the worst question she ever received, “Did you ever trade sex for food during your wild and crazy days?” (and her great response, “No, but have you had dinner yet?”…the questioner had already dined and had no follow-up question!)
Grace Fields, our grad assistant who spearheaded the early Technology on the Trail initiative—most notably the workshop—successfully defended her Master’s thesis on August 21, 2017! Her thesis was titled “Technology on the Trail: Using Cultural Probes to Understand Hikers”. Steve Harrison served as chair, and Aisling Kelliher and I were the other committee members.
Gracie employed a cultural probe method toward seeking to understand how hikers collect and share their experiences on the trail. Bill Gaver and his colleagues introduced the notion of a cultural probe as a way to encourage participants to think in an open-ended, creative manner about their experiences. Rather than giving them nicely printed questions on a sheet of paper, a cultural probe provides them with things like photo albums, a media diary, maps, a camera, and similar artifacts that are then paired with non-traditional prompts that encourage creative reflection. Results of a cultural probe then can Cultural probes are not meant to yield repeatable, scientifically-grounded findings, but rather to uncover unique perspectives about the way that
Gracie crafted probes that challenged her participants to reflect on or re-imagine their hiking experiences using several prompts (see the picture at the bottom of this post). Some of her probe prompts include “would you rather” questions that ask participants to choose between two options (e.g., would you rather have a photo you took go viral, or have a photo with you in it go viral), inventing activities for a reflective hike club (with membership size, activities, outcomes), and creating themed scrapbook pages (e.g., people you miss when on long hikes, telling your hiking story). We learned a lot from the cultural probe, perhaps most importantly about how to run a cultural probe!
Gracie’s cultural probes probed a handful of people that she (or I) knew well, who were willing to take part in the probe activities with minimal compensation. The results were sufficiently promising that we are seeking funding for a larger-scale investigation, seeking to understand the breadth of people on the trail and the many motivations that they have for their trail activities. We expect that, by showcasing Gracie’s early results and providing monetary compensation, we will be able to create a rich and diverse picture that reflects current and desired ways that people reflect about trails.
The Spring 2017 school term provided the opportunity for senior grad students across multiple disciplines to help shape Virginia Tech’s approach to the study of technology on the trail. This group had the added motivation that they had the opportunity to interact with attendees at the Technology on the Trail Workshop at Virginia Tech, including invited guests Alan Dix, Allison Druin, Ellie Harmon, and Norman Su. Below is a summary of the projects that they undertook.
NOTE: most of the students continued their work on the projects, and many resulted in papers, theses, and dissertations. This post has been and will continue to be updated with links to new papers.
Identities and Values Reflected in Tweets Regarding America’s Triple Crown Hiking Trails. Master’s student Abigail Bartolome applied topic analysis to collections of tweets pertaining to three distinct American trails–the Appalachian Trail (AT), the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) to see differences in topic models across the three hiking communities. This research compared the most popular topics from each community with their respective mission statements and values. Abigail featured this work in her M.S. thesis, advised by Edward Fox with committee members Scott McCrickard and Jeff Marion. Abigail is now working on a Ph.D. at Dartmouth University.
Would you rather – Probing Tradeoffs with Technology in Hiking and Outdoors Settings Identities and Values Reflected in Tweets Regarding America’s Triple Crown Hiking Trails. Grad students Navya Kondur and Jagath Iyer collected opinions through a “Would you Rather” cultural probe to understand perceptions of humans toward technology in hiking and outdoor settings. This work was continued by Navya toward her M.S. thesis.
Augmented Reality for Outdoor Navigation. Wallace Lages investigated how augmented reality can be used to support the creation of new routes on the trail, crafting the design, implementation, and early evaluation of a system for defining waypoints using the Microsoft Hololens. This research describes and compares two techniques for marking, one based on triangulation and another based on perceptual depth judgment. Initial evaluation shows that both techniques offer similar accuracy in long distances and small baselines, and that triangulation can be better for wide baselines. Wallace completed his Ph.D. at Virginia Tech and has taken a faculty position in Virginia Tech’s School of Visual Arts.
AwareSpace: Supporting Co-located Document Exploration with Touch, Text-mining and Visualization. Shuo Niu used surface technologies, a tabletop computer, and a vertical large display to support dynamic explorations of textual data—with a focus on social media data like blogs and tweets. The displays highlight hints on possible knowledge of interest, often surprising the authors of the blog. Shuo featured the tool at the Technology on the Trail workshop, surprising workshop invited guests Alan Dix and Ellie Harmon with insights about their own blogs. Shuo featured this work in his Ph.D., which he completed in 2019. Shuo is now an Assistant Professor at Clark University.
Zen and the Art of Forest Bathing. Colin Shea-Blymeyer sought to determine if mindful hikers get more out of hiking, and to develop an application to promote mindfulness on the trail. He catalogued a personal experience that demonstrated the scientific and emotional possibilities for this line of research. Colin completed his M.S. degree from Virginia Tech with Ben Jantzen in philosophy.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail with Technology. Tim Stelter was my only student who took me up on the challenge to hike 100 miles noting tech experiences along the way for an automatic “A” in the class. (I was joking, but I assumed anyone who did this would earn that grade.) Tim accrued over a dozen different pieces of technology and recruited his father to go with him on a portion of the Appalachian Trail. He took notes and made audio recordings along the way. His attempt attracted the attention of the Roanoke Times, which featured a story about his journey, along with other parts of our workshop. Tim submitted a diary-style writeup for the course. Since the course ended, he has generated 3 position papers at workshops based on his hike, and he is looking to incorporate the lessons learned from the hike into a thesis or dissertation.
Modeling Hiking Trails in 3D using GPS Tracks. Phillip Summers crafted visualizations of hiking trails in a 3D interactive environment using geographic information from users traveling the Tour du Mont Blanc who uploaded their data to Wikiloc. The project cleaned raw GPS data, aggregated points on a continuous space disconnected from streets and waypoints. Mont Blanc was chosen because, at the time, it was known for many people uploading GPS data for public use.