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Human-computer Interaction

Séverine Valerius - 9/05/2017

Inria presents its latest scientific results and innovations in Human-computer interaction at the 2017 CHI conference 

Inria is presenting its Human-computer interaction (HCI) expertise at the 2017 annual CHI conference taking place this year in Denver, USA, from 6 to 11 May. Each year, this very prestigious and selective event rewards the best research carried out throughout the world in the field of HMI. An historic event in the field, this year it is focusing on the theme "Explore, Innovate, Inspire" and will bring together people from multiple disciplines and cultures in order to explore new ways to design, develop and assess methods and systems... Several Inria research teams, who have distinguished themselves as being among the best in the world in this domain, are taking part. Here is a close-up of the work carried out within Potioc, the Bordeaux-based team.

Within the Inria Bordeaux - Sud-Ouest research centre, and jointly with the University of Bordeaux and the CNRS, the Potioc project team explores new approaches that favour a rich interaction with the digital world using inviting and motivating "beyond the mouse" interfaces. Its purpose is to stimulate creation, learning, entertainment and to increase well-being. The team focuses its work on the design, development and assessment of new "popular" interaction methods (3D), mainly aimed at the general public. Of the innovations developed within the team, three projects have received particular attention due to their originality; HOBIT, Inner Garden and Teegi. Here is an overview of the precepts of hybrid approaches that combine aspects from the physical and digital worlds.

Learning, beyond reality

Projet Hobit

The "HOBIT" project (Hybrid Optical Bench for Innovative Teaching) was devised in order to further learning processes by combining real-life experimentation, digital simulation and augmented reality. Traditional optical experiments are not particularly easy to carry out. They require a significant number of high-quality optical components that must be meticulously calibrated and aligned for the experiment to have a chance of reaching a successful conclusion.

What would happen if scientists and students could learn the principles coming from optical experiments in a digitally-simulated environment? Supporters of this idea claim that it would reduce costs, make the process quicker, more secure and, above all, enable new educational approaches to support learning. "The students gain in autonomy, Martin Hachet, researcher at the Inria Bordeaux - Sud-Ouest centre and head of the Potioc project team, underlines.They no longer require the permanent presence of a teacher and can experiment more things through benefiting from digital educational materials integrated within the heart of the physical experiment. This contributes to boosting motivation, which is an important lever in learning processes."

Martin's team already began developing interfaces "simulating" and "augmenting" reality in the field of optics a few years ago, when it was contacted by physicists from the University of Bordeaux who were looking for a method that would enable them to carry out optical experiments without the usual costs and timeframes. In collaboration with these physicists, as well as other researchers from Inria and the University of Lorraine (France), the team has carried out experiments combining reality and virtuality on the Michelson interferometer. 

A user study lasting three months involving over 100 undergraduates as well as seven teachers from the IUT (university technology institute) in Bordeaux, made it possible to demonstrate that the simulated and augmented version of the traditional optical device would significantly improve the learning of concepts relating to Michelson interferometry. HOBIT is now used at the Bordeaux IUT for practical sessions relating to Michelson.

Martin Hachet, who seeks to push these approaches combining reality and precise digital simulation:"Our aim is not to replace reality, rather to augment it through simulation", before adding: "It is like a flight simulator. The exercise takes place in a simulation cockpit that looks like that of a real aircraft, except that danger and costs are lower, and learning scenarios are infinite. It is once they have acquired sufficient knowledge that they will be able to move on to real optical experiments."

The team working on the HOBIT project is now developing a next generation augmented simulator that will enable a large number of experiments to be carried out using a single interactive device.

Cultivating your inner garden

Projet Inner Garden

Technological advances are pushing us to be increasingly connected and more productive, with a definite risk of dissociating us entirely from the present moment. In order to explore alternative ways to enable us to avoid these risks, the Potioc project team has designed an "augmented sandbox" intended for full awareness meditation exercises. Thanks to a projector, the sand takes on the appearance of a tropical landscape and, as with miniature Zen gardens, it is possible to reshape it directly using one's hands. The changes to the appearance of the augmented surface are visible in real time. The landscape simulated in this way is directly connected to the internal activity of the users via physiological sensors. For example, the waves are synchronised with their breathing, providing them with both visual and auditive feedback. It is also possible to make the plant life greener and to make animal noises appear by carrying out breathing exercises. 

This tangible form of meditation should help people to pay attention to themselves and to their environment. Martin Hachet also specifies that this work was carried out following a participative design approach: "during the design phase, the team sought advice from - and had the device assessed by - meditation practitioners. They were able to guide the developments that enabled a consolidation of the calming and revitalising effect of the system. They were very enthusiastic about the potential of this type of technological device designed with well-being in mind." 

That was all that was needed for the little seed to grow into a collaboration with Ullo, a very recent start-up from the Nouvelle Aquitaine region, as Jérémy Frey, co-founder in charge of research and development, attests: "Ullo develops technological aids intended for medical staff as well as health specialists such as psychomotor therapists, neuropsychologists or speech therapists. We design assessment and stimulation tools for the treatment of problems linked to ageing for EHPADs (residential care homes for dependent elderly people) and retirement homes.  Their aim, over time, is to provide the conditions necessary to enable people to remain in their own homes in a vigilant way. Together with the university hospitals, we are working on the creation of devices to help with relaxation in order to improve the treatment of patients during hospitalisation. A relaxation aid enabling multisensorial stimulations such as Inner Garden therefore falls perfectly within the field of our applications. That is a concept that we will continue to push forward thanks to our academic partners."

Observer le cerveau en action

Projet Teegi

Teegi is a tangible EEG (ElectroEncephaloGraphic) interface that uses a physical puppet on which your brain activity is displayed in real time. With Teegi, the main objective is to give novice users access to tools and visualisations that are more adapted than those currently used by experts. By using a tangible type of installation, users can focus on the effects of certain activities (like moving their hands or feet, closing their eyes) and as a result increase their understanding of the processes at work in the brain. Users can also directly move Teegi's limbs in order to observe the areas of the brain involved. Teegi is therefore an ideal educational tool (for example in scientific museums) or for training in the use of BCIs (brain-computer interfaces).

We must also mention that during the conference the team will be offering a class on brain-computer interfaces, which will be a first for CHI.

Keywords: CHI 2017 Physiological signals Tangible Interaction 3D Interaction Cognitives Sciences Potioc Conference Human-computer Interaction Virtual Reality Brain-computer Interfaces Augmented Reality