Research Area: Interaction Technology

How users interact with the connected devices.

Interaction Technology is one of three research areas IOTAP focuses on. Key questions in this research area include:

  • How can people interact with hybrid things?
  • How do you design place-specific interactions?
  • How do you leverage off co-creation of hybrid things?
  • How much of the infrastructures should be accessible to different users?

Interaction design, as well as computer science, has a legacy of addressing primarily virtual interaction surfaces. Innovative interaction models such as gestural interaction, gaze tracking, and augmented reality are established elements of seminal Internet of Things research, and form important parts of the design repertoire being explored in the Interaction Technology research area. Moreover, in a broader perspective, the emergent infrastructures of the Internet of Things imply that the hardware increasingly becomes part of what can be designed and modified in the context of new products and services – in other words, the “design material” changes from being a predominantly virtual one to a hybrid physical/virtual one, cf. embodied interaction (Höök 2009).

The products and services being designed and developed become hybrid things, where physical form and digital hardware – as well as the software – are open for change and experimentation. This in turn raises a whole range of research questions at the border of interaction design and computer science:

  • How can people interact with hybrid things? At the most general level, it is clear that the new hybrid materials enable new interaction models that need to be explored and assessed. Specific technologies, such as motion- and gesture-based interaction and tangible interfaces, are merely indications of this new area of design-led inquiry that addresses embodied interaction in various ways. Generic mobile devices like smartphones are expected to serve as important transitional interaction points to hybrid things, but the insight of significance for the long term is that the new hybrid materials actually drive innovation in terms of new interaction models.
  • How to design place-specific interactions? When designing interaction surfaces in software on generic mobile devices, there was an understandable focus on anytime-anywhere interaction. As the hybrid materials make it possible to design physical form and digital hardware, it becomes relevant to consider products and services that are not generically mobile but rather embedded in architecture and urban space, tied to specific places and physical structures. Previous work in ubiquitous computing and mobile services demonstrates that much design and research remains to be done in order to better understand the potentials of designing place-specific hybrid things (McCullough 2004).
  • How to leverage off co-creation of hybrid things? The Internet of Things is not a simple one-way operation of connecting existing physical things to the Internet. Rather, recent developments in 3D printing, open-source hardware, and other collaborative-creation frameworks illustrate how physical things can be open-sourced, disseminated, and transformed to degrees that only software was previously capable of. What this means is that the power of grassroots creation and open source will have an increasing impact on physical products and hybrid things (De Paoli and Storni 2011). Research is needed to explore the potential of this development for product development, building and construction, urban planning, and a range of other domains into which the Internet of Things infrastructure extends.
  • How much of the infrastructures should be accessible to different users? Traditionally, in the physical world as well as the virtual, infrastructures have been considered part of the preconditions, receding more or less into the background. The hybrid physical/virtual nature of the Internet of Things implies that infrastructure becomes customizable, visible, and generally much more present in design and use of products and services – which has positive as well as negative consequences. On one hand, it empowers users to tailor their environments to their needs, but on the other hand it sometimes entails unreasonable requirements on users to install, set up, update, and tweak. Such trade-offs and other consequences of the appearing infrastructures must be explored from an interaction design standpoint (MacLean 2008).

Höök, K. (2009) Affective Loop Experiences: Designing for interactional embodiment. Phil. Trans. Royal Society B, Vol. 364(1535):3585-3595.

McCullough, M. (2004) Digital Ground: Architecture, pervasive computing and environmental knowing. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

De Paoli, S. and Storni. C. (2011) Produsage in Hybrid Networks: Sociotechnical Skills in the Case of Arduino. New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia, Vol. 17(1): 31-52.

MacLean, K. (2008) Foundations of transparency in tactile information design. IEEE Transactions on Haptics, Vol. 1(2):84-95.

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