Research Projects

Future Spaces For Living

Understanding people doing activities in their private settings, such as their homes , and how they conduct cooperative and interpersonal activities with others, such as cooking together, or how they interact with digital personal assistants can be difficult to study in-situ. There have been many different solutions to this problem. We propose an effective way of accessing this information, Digital Ethnography, which specifically looks at YouTube videos to gain access to people’s homes and private moments and activities that they share with others. In the Cooking Together project, we adapted research and annotation methods from sociology for mapping people’s movements in a space to analyse the formations people make when they cook together. We then classified these formations with respect to different cooking activities that took place. This work provides a foundational understanding of domestic interactions, supporting the design of technological interventions for homes. This included work that focused on supporting intergenerational relationships over a distance, including through the act of cooking together.

Being able to work with others in a face-to-face situation allows people to negotiate and relate to each other in ways that are beyond spoken words, voice inflections and facial expressions. Adding shared documents into this workspace allow people to point to and move shared objects and information while working remotely with others. Our blended spaces project created a virtual shared space where people can work with documents over a video conference system, while at the same time being able to interact and relate to each other using natural modes such as eye contact and gestures, that one would use at a similar meeting held in the same physical space. Through careful design of physical space and interactive software objects, we created a unique environment where people who were remotely located could feel like they were talking and passing around documents as if they were co-located.

VR for Learning

Virtual Reality (VR) as an environment to simulate situations can be used for workplace learning, especially in situations where there is a safety concern for the learner. The Safety at Work project works with SCOPE and Swinburne PAVE to look at the safe training of Disability Support Workers, through the simulation of home situations with clients, where the learner must make the right choices to help the client in moments of stress. In the Safe and Successful Places project we are using VR to simulate different street conditions for people to allow people to evaluate their experience of different conditions with respect to how they provide feelings of safety and enjoyment, to design successful streetscapes in future planning for cities. This project is a transdisciplinary investigation under the Future Spaces for Living and Future Mobility programs of the Smart Cities Research Institute and supported by Transport New South Wales and iMOVE.

Virtual Reality (VR) can also be used to create experiences of past innovations in design, such as the architectural explorations of new materials and technologies that took place at the World Expositions. These temporary, and yet highly influentiual, constructions seldom survive beyond the life of the expo. Some are transported to new locations and reconstructed, while others are lost forever to human embodied experience. VR can be used to reconstruct and give students and scholars a virtual experience of walking through these designs, inspiring future design thus contributing to design and planning of innovative aspects of future cities. The Learning from Lost Architecture project has reconstructed the Italian Pavilion from the 1937 Paris Expo, and will continue to add to this experience with other structures that can be experienced through VR.

Contextual Computing

Augmented reality makes it possible to superimpose a layer of information over the world. Using the camera facility provided by smartphones we have made early explorations into how to augment the world with either facts or fictional content. Using the phone screen as the view-finder we have introduced the use of AR into several different contexts of use. Examples include, using AR on a mobile phone for knowing more about the city around you, for weaving fictional stories around familiar places that you travel to, for siting your new home on your block of land and creating redesigns in a contextual architecture mode, and for putting a layer of transport information on the world, such as how far away the next bus is from your current location.

Health behavior change is a relatively new research area for technological intervention. Persuasive technology design and positive computing are both areas of interest for people looking into technology solutions for helping people to change behaviors that are detrimental to their health, or to increase people’s general well-being. We have worked with smokers to rethink the concept of the “mobile health app” analyzing what it can and cannot do to help people quit smoking. Through field studies with users, we discovered the idea of combining the convenience and just-in-place attributes of the mobile phone in the daily activities of a person who is trying to quit smoking, with the efficacy of personalized counseling. Taking advantage of the smartphones abilities to automatically register certain characteristics of context, coupled with simple user reporting on smoking events, we were able to create an app that reportedly helped people in their attempt to stop smoking. I have also been involved in presenting work with technology supporting people with dementia. Using Internet of Things technologies, including sensors embedded in everyday objects and identifying tags carried by residents, a system was designed to deliver relevant snippets of information to a carer’s smart watch. The information linked a resident to a nearby object that was meaningful to them, making it easy for carers to start a relevant and meaningful conversation involving the patient’s memories. We have also studied the elderly and creativity, doing field studies with MakeyMakey toolkits in their homes, inviting groups of older adults to explore technology and propose novel ideas of possible future applications for their everyday lives.

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