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.

Projects: HCI Outdoors Undergraduate Capstone Spring 2019

The Spring 2019 school term provided the opportunity for senior undergraduate students in computer science to take part in client-based projects related to technology on the trail. Each project was asked to address some trail-related problem through a tech implementation. Below is a summary of the projects that they undertook.

NOTE: some of the students continued their work on the projects, and others were continued by grad students and clients toward being incorporated in grants, papers, theses, and dissertations. This post has been and will continue to be updated with links to new papers.

  • BarkLight. This ICAT-sponsored project augments a large piece of tree bark with LED lights. The lights connect to data streams, including web data and Kinect motion capture data, to reflect changes in the data. This award-winning project was featured at ICAT Day and VTURCS, and we are looking for corporate sites interested in deployment. The project was sponsored by Architecture prof Matt Wagner and CS prof Scott McCrickard.
  • Trail Tweets. Undergrads Max Adler, Aarjab Goudel, and Anthony Medovar reinvented a project that looked at ways to visualize tweet data from the trail, assisted by grad student Shuo Niu and CS faculty Ed Fox. This semester’s group looked at pictures that were tweeted from the trail, seeking to help future trail users identify interesting areas for exploration through a web-based application. Shuo discusses this research further in the future work of his dissertation.
  • Storytelling on the Trail. Undergrads Nicholaus Clark, John Kook, Dylan Finch, and Emily Maher crafted a Picturing Trails app that explored ways that users can create a story using photos that they took on hikes and other outdoor adventures. The slow-moving, nature-focused characteristics of a hike provide a unique opportunity to capture a beautiful experience, but hikers do not want to be disturbed with requests for tags and notes (or even picture-taking). Ph.D. student Derek Haqq is exploring this research direction for his dissertation, under the direction of CS faculty member Scott McCrickard and Communication faculty member Mike Horning.
  • Expanding HEART by Improving Recruitment. Vanessa Lomeli, Phillip Hrinko, Keller Han, and Juan Segura worked with the Human Nutrition Foods and Exercise Department to help develop a web site to recruit pregnant women learn about ways to stay healthy during their pregnancy, particularly through regular exercise, diet, and community building.
  • BirdFeed. Chandler Manns and Stephen Tewes crafted an updated birdwatching app in support of birdwatching in the New River Valley. The students collected task-related information from educators, including Mike Rosenzweig from Blacksburg’s SEEDS center, birding club president Garrett Rhyne, and Biological Sciences prof Dana Hawley. Grad student Tim Stelter seeks to leverage the project findings in his citizen science research.
  • Fostering Digital Cooperative Management on the Appalachian Trail. Undergrads Parker Irving, Daniel Ocheltree, and Campbell Johnson worked with the Outdoor Club of Virginia Tech on a web-based system to support Appalachian Trail maintenance issues, including public reporting, scheduling, work trip reporting, and time management. Club members, and the project host and club advisor Christina McIntyre, can now maintain records of work toward easier scheduling and reporting.
  • Accessibility Mapping at Virginia Tech. Mechanical Engineering student Josh Wenger joined computer science students Yasmine Belghith, Jack Danisewicz, and Mahira Sheikh to provide campus navigation based on user mobility constraints. The group interviewed stakholders, including disabled students and faculty, campus officials working in the accessibility office, and advocates for accessibility. They crafted a high-fidelity prototype that is being used by Hani Awni and Dr. Alan Asbeck from Virginia Tech’s Assistive Robotics Lab, to be used to increase campus accessibility.

HCI Outdoors book

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