Ubiquitous Computing- A Reflective Essay

Introduction

This course “Experience Design for Ubiquitous Computing” has had a focus on both the social and the technical aspects of Ubiquitous Computing, and how User Experiences can be designed keeping in mind all the myriad considerations. We began this course by looking at what was to be the lynchpin of the rest of our journey- Mark Weiser’s vision of the Ubiquitous Computing future [1]. We are arguably two thirds or so of the way there and his vision has materialized in some way albeit not exactly as he had envisioned. Now I will attempt to show my own vision of the future, for the next few years and even beyond.

Beyond the Western UbiComp Worldview

One of the key issues that was discussed time and time again was how Mark Weiser’s vision and UbiComp literature in general seemed to revolve around western culture. Of course, this was addressed by Dourish and Bell in their book [2], but there weren’t any examples. I will attempt to explain how UbiComp technology and design affects the part of the world not focused upon by current literature.

A vision for UbiComp – Convergence of Current and Future Technology

Mark Weiser showed us all his vision of the future in 1991[1]. He envisioned multiple portable computing devices in various form factors, being cheap enough so that people would have many of them at hand and could trade them around like hall passes. One of the foundations of this vision is Moore’s law, which recently completed 50 years of existence. Added to that is the proliferation of big data- tremendous amounts of user generated data being created, collected and now even harvested in some cases. There are also some technologies at the fringes of UbiComp, like augmented and virtual reality. Allow me to show you my vision of the future, with all these technologies taken into consideration.

Moore’s Law continues to hold true, and scientists eventually find a means to miniaturize computing capabilities to such a small scale that it can be measured in a Nano scale. These devices will drive the next generation of Ubiquitous Computing. Often referred to as “smart dust” [8], this concept has far reaching applications in the future. I can imagine smart dust being deployed in farmlands and agricultural fields, giving relaying soil nutrient and other such data to central governmental cloud services, from where farmers can get real time updates about their soil conditions whether they would need fertilizer, etc. This may ensure that farmers would not require to learn about complex systems for computing.

This brings us to the future of location and context awareness. [3, 5] One of the major changes that I see happening is the proliferation of augmented reality. I envision the use of this technology in a scenario that not many pay close attention to, the field of social networking and social media. If you observe what social media giants like Facebook are doing these days, you will observe a heightened interest in big data, and augmented and virtual reality. Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus and messaging platform Whatsapp is proof of this. In my opinion, Facebook’s mission for the future is to permeate into every aspect of an individual’s life. A person wakes up in the morning, his smart device by his side, a multitude of smart dust sensors scattered all around the environment. Wearable devices tell him he should get something to eat, because his blood sugar levels are quite low. His sleep pattern has been erratic over the past few weeks due to an upcoming work deadline, and he can see this through a head mounted display. Wherever he goes, the head mounted display [4] provides him up to date contextual data about the surroundings, his neighborhood, and allows him to take pictures simply by blinking his eyes. This technology brings forth an exponential increase in the amount of user generated data on social networks, with some people allowing social networks to showcase each and every minute by minute detail of their lives, and Facebook provides the facilities to do so. Increase in computing power allows people to live stream to hundreds or thousands of people at once through their phones or their wearables, be it talking to family, or a social gathering, or simply just entertaining personalities who use this as a means to reach out to their followers and perhaps gain some revenue through online payment mechanisms.

One of the major sectors to be influenced greatly by the proliferation of ubiquitous computing will be education. In ancient times, students would get individual attention from teachers.  This kind of teaching was reserved for the upper echelon of society of course. After the industrial revolution, the modern metaphors of classrooms with class teachers and tens if not hundreds of students being taught by one teacher became the norm. The internet brought about a revolution called e-learning. People of all ages could now access eBooks and video lectures from around the world. However, I feel that in the future, the confluence of contextual awareness and an exponential increase in the data available to people will bring about the next revolution in education. Children these days have access to smart devices with internet connections, and they are able to search for things simply by typing in queries in search engines. The rise of UbiComp based design will create a new kind of education system, which would be like a personalized digital teacher. Like Alexander the Great had a teacher and mentor in Aristotle, children will have at their disposal a digital teacher that will teach them exactly based on the child’s needs, based on data gathered through wearables, communication via voice and other input modalities, and various other means. Parents will have a control over and will be able to keep a track of their child’s progress, and will know what their child is learning. Technology, if influenced by the research about child psychology, will be able to cater to even special needs children through this new system. These days we see e-learning platforms like Lynda.com, but they are limited in their effectiveness, as they are not personalized for each and every individual student.

Of course the usual question arises, “What about privacy? Will people allow technology to permeate into their lives to this extent?” I believe so. As Langheinrich [6, 7] said, about 60-70% of people fall under the category of privacy pragmatics. As technology continues to permeate into our lives, and marketers continue to sell smart devices, wearables and even services to the consumers, it will create a level of dependency on these services that we would perhaps find hard to get out of. Just look at our increasing dependence on Google services, for example. Most consumers and small enterprises use Google services for email, cloud storage and even collaborative documents. As this dependence increases, we will slowly allow more and more technology to permeate into our very lives, and we will become more accepting of it as well. Just have a look at how instant messaging has changed family dynamics. I frequently chat with my family on instant messaging platforms like Whatsapp, which recently integrated a calling feature. An immediate result was me getting calls from my distant relatives, just because it was possible. This is an integration of various affordances into systems that increases adoption and acceptance. This also means there’s an increase in the “messiness” of the whole system. Free market competition means that cross-platform communication will probably never be as seamless as some people would like. This can be especially important if we move forward to a vision of connected homes, with the “internet of things” concept.

Another aspect that is important is the energy requirements for powering all these devices. Battery technology has not sufficiently advanced, and techniques like energy scavenging [10] have not yielded significant improvements. This could prove to be a major stumbling block for the proliferation of UbiComp.

Speaking of stumbling blocks, one of the concerns I have is whether all the questions that we have considered over the course of the semester will even be considered by creators of UbiComp systems going forward. I have observed that many of the case studies have been a post rationalization of systems by researchers, to look at what was right and what went wrong. Will the major players in UbiComp consider the socio-technical challenges while creating new systems? In the ethnography discussion [9] Dourish and Bell show in a way, that sometimes introducing technology into different scenarios needs some analysis. Sometimes, you need to know when not to introduce technology, rather than how to introduce new technology into each and every new niche or domain.

Conclusion:

Ubiquitous Computing seemed like a field that was myopic in the sense that it was so heavy on western influences. The key focus areas seemed to be sensors, person tracking and connected environments like the smart home. However, the more that I read into it, especially the two texts “Ubiquitous Computing Fundamentals” and “Divining a Digital Future” that not only showed the technical but the sociological considerations of this field. Being on the cutting edge of technology, UbiComp poses some novel questions and concerns that are not apparent at a surface level evaluation of the field. Designing systems for Ubiquitous Computing therefore should be in essence a multi-disciplinary approach.

References:

  1. Weiser, M. (1991).The computer for the 21st centuryScientific American 265 (3), 94–104.
  2. Dourish, P. & Bell, G. (2011). Contextualizing ubiquitous computing. In P. Dourish & G. Bell, Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing(pp. 9–43). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  3. Estrin, D., Culler, D., Pister, K., & Sukhatme, G. (2002). Connecting the physical world with pervasive networksIEEE Pervasive Computing, 1(1), 59–69.
  4. Starner, T. (2013, April–June). Project Glass: An extension of the selfIEEE Pervasive Computing, 12 (2), 14–16.
  5. Dey, A.K. (2010). Context-aware computing(Chapter 8, pp. 321-352). In J. Krumm (Ed.), Ubiquitous Computing Fundamentals. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis/CRC Press.
  6. Langheinrich, M. (2010).Privacy in ubiquitous computing (Chapter 3, pp. 95–160). In J. Krumm (Ed.), Ubiquitous Computing Fundamentals. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis/CRC Press.
  7. Dourish, P. & Bell, G. (2011).Rethinking privacy. In P. Dourish & G. Bell, Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing (pp. 137-160). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  8. Warneke, B., Last, M., Liebowitz, B., & Pister, K. S. (2001). Smart dust: Communicating with a cubic-millimeter computer.Computer34(1), 44-51.
  9. Dourish, P. & Bell, G. (2011).A role for ethnography: Methodology and theory. In P. Dourish & G. Bell, Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing (pp. 61–89). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  10. Paradiso, J.A., & Starner, T. (2005).Energy scavenging for mobile and wireless electronicsIEEE Pervasive Computing, 4(1), 18–27. (doi)
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FilmSite- Design by Contextual Inquiry

Description

The goal of this project was to design a system that could augment filmmaking capabilities with the help of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

Requirements Gathering:

Our Project involved observing the setup, production and post-production activities that take place during filmmaking projects. This included observing all activities related to videography, light and sound, Computer Graphics, and the synchronization between all these various aspects of the filmmaking project.

We observed the behaviors of the various people involved in the activities, their routines, and the procedures that were involved. We conducted interviews to gather more information about the various issues encountered while conducting activities pertaining to filmmaking. The constraints they had to work within were of importance to us. The observed environments consisted of film sets, office spaces, and Post Production facilities that had computer workstations.

Conceptualization through contextual models

We took note of all the artifacts used, and the methods involved with using them. Contextual notes were taken, and diagrams were made, which were then consolidated. Based on the information gleaned from the aforementioned diagrams, we envisioned certain designs and a storyboard was created collaboratively.

Flow Model

Below is a representation of the coordination, communication, interaction, roles, and responsibilities of the film crew.

H561FlowModel

 

 

Sequence Model

The step by step process of film production is described below in the sequence model. Intent, triggers, activities and breakdowns are discussed.

H561SeqModel

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Physical Model

Below is a model that represents the physical environment where the work tasks are accomplished within it.

H561PhyModel

Artifact Model

The artifact model gave us some insight on possible inefficiencies with using heavy equipment that requires power outlets and manpower in order to move. This gave us a little insight on how we could use drones in order to make some of these tasks less physically tedious and more efficient.

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Cultural Model

The cultural model reflects the close interaction among the film crew.

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Affinity Diagram

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Visioning and Storyboards

FilmSite is envisioned as a on-the-go visualization and film production tool that would allow directors, film crews, and post-production VFX designers to plan film scenes from any location, at any time that inspiration hit using a combination of real world imagery and simple mock-ups. FilmSite will allow for scene and camera planning and an instantaneous ability to share work through the application or be lending a mobile smart phone to another to view completed work.

H561Vision

The following storyboards illustrate scenarios of envisioned use:

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User Environment Design

User Environment Design

 

Low Fidelity Prototype

H561LF1.png

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High Fidelity Prototype

H561HF1

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Interactive Prototype

http://invis.io/S82OVMYMY

Evaluation

Key Strengths:

  • Users appreciated the high-level intentions of the design idea
  • The 3D perspective in the pre-visualization was considered helpful
  • Ability to restrict the view to specific camera choices was extremely useful for multiple shot planning
  • Mobile platform is convenient for use when ideas come to mind, or you want to show ideas to colleagues by handing your phone to them

Key areas of Improvement:

  • Improved definition between sections that cater to different subsets of production (pre-production, production, and post-production)
  • Filming section is considered ambiguous, as  the entire application is designed for the process of filming
  • The exportation of the 3D environment in pre-visualization needs more clarity as to what it does
  • Show different angles of the 3D environment so perspectives can be seen within the prototype for better expression of the prototype’s intentions

FULL REPORT: You can view the full report, which includes all of the detailed information here: Full Reportbox_expand-512