Connexus: A Communal Interface - Eric Paulos

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Connexus: A Communal Interface - Eric Paulos

Connexus: A Communal InterfaceEric PaulosIntel Research2150 Shattuck Avenue, #1300Berkeley, CA 94704paulos@intel-research.netAbstractHuman communication and interaction comprise a widerange of verbal and nonverbal cues. Further adoption ofnovel telecommunication methods such as e-mail, chat,instant messaging (IM), mobile phone SMS textmessaging, and videoconferencing; have augmentedour mediated interaction abilities. However, asignificant (and important) amount of humanexpression and interaction information is nevercaptured, transmitted, or expressed with currentcomputer mediated communication (CMC) tools. Wealso lack ambient methods of maintaining contact whennot co-located with family and friends. CommunalInterfaces is a new research effort aimed at the studyof nonverbal human cues: their intent, motion,meaning, subtleties, and importance in communication.In this paper we address issues involved in the design,construction, and evaluation of Connexus, one suchcommunal interface.Figure 1: Nonverbal, ambient, colocated,awareness communicationobserved during initial user studiesPermission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this workfor personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided thatcopies are not made or distributed for profit or commercialadvantage and that copies bear this notice and the full citation onthe first page. To copy otherwise, or republish, to post on serversor to redistribute to lists, requires prior specific permission and/or afee. Copyright 2003, ACM.©2003 ACM 1-58113-728-1 03/0006 5.00KeywordsAmbient Telepresence, Instant Messaging, SMS, TextMessaging, Awareness, Tangible Interfaces, HapticCommunication, Nonverbal Cues, PersonalCommunication, Wearable Computing, Co-Presence.Industry/categoryMobile phones, pagers, text messaging, computersupported communication devices, multimediamessaging systems (MMS).


2Figure 2: Sensing andactuation layoutFigure 3: Wireless Dot styleMoteProject statementHumans communicate and interact among each otherin rich and complex ways. When co-located we adeptlytrade off between a wide range of cues, both verbaland nonverbal. However, when we examine thetechnologically mediated communication tools we usewhen not co-located, we quickly see our informationchannels restricted to primarily verbal channels such astext and speech. While there is emotional augmentationsuch as emoticons for text messaging and timbre,pitch, intensity, and inflection for voice calls, there is aneed to explore nonverbal interfaces between non colocatedpeople.Our research in communal interfaces is focused ondeveloping novel, mediated communication tools toexplore methods of nondisruptive interaction when notco-located. People send such messages quickly,efficiently, and often without being distracted from theircurrent task. These signals are also typically verypersonal in nature, involving touching and other formsof physical contact.Communal interfaces should allow for easilyestablishing and maintaining emotional, ambientconnections. Our studies of co-located humaninteractions led us to the following design criteria forcommunal interfaces: (1) non-disruptive I/O (i.e.,ambient), (2) always on, (3) personal association to thecommunication artifact, (4) support for nonverbalcommunication, and (5) attempt to provide some levelof exchange of human emotions (i.e., emotionalinterface).ProcessWe initiated our exploration of this research area bywatching nonverbal interactions of co-located peoplewho had prior established relationships [1]. Theseobservations primarily occurred at public markets,shopping districts, parks, sporting events, and on publictransportation. The results point to a fundamentalhuman urge to maintain some open communicationchannel at almost all times when co-located.We speculate that these activities serve an importantrole in the development of human relationships.Related ResearchStrong and Gaver initiated exploration of devices thatsupporting implicit, personal communication asopposed to the explicit, goal-oriented style typicallyfound in CSCW research [2]. Researchers have alsoaddressed the “glancing” metaphor with the explorationof MediaSpaces, Portals, and awareness devices [3, 4].Various physical interfaces have enabled remoteindividuals to arm wrestle [5], blow kisses [6], transmithugs [7], exchange simple touching [8, 9], and sendgestures [10]. Similarly, there has been a tremendousamount of sociological studies of mobile phone usage.Research DetailsAn important part of our research was the constructionand evaluation of at least one such communal interfacecalled Connexus. A Connexus is a small, simple, wristwornpersonal object augmented with simple sensing,actuation, and ad hoc networking support. The focuswas to design a system that would allow exploration ofhow humans would communicate when not co-located,without the use of text or speech. The basic idea was tocreate a small collection of sensors to capture


3We repeatedly observed couples,friends, and families thatmaintained some form of physicaltouch with each other even whentheir attention was drawn toanother task or they were directlyinvolved in a conversation withanother person. This contact didnot always manifest itself asdirect handholding but rathermore subtle touching of fingers,hands, arms, legs, backs, andshoulders.We also noted a high degree ofreaching out with simple handand body gestures to connect tothe other individual. Often weobserved directed glancing.Rather than to establish directeye contact, this occurred moreoften for simply checking on theother individual’s location,activities, and attention. What’simportant to note is that thisambient awareness techniquewas rarely used as a method toinitiate further directcommunication. There wassufficient satisfaction in simplygaining some knowledge of theother person’s state of being.information from one end and transmit them to theother end for expression using various actuators.Rather than creating a fixed mapping of sensor toactuator, we were motivated to explore the interaction“language” that would evolve through individual userdrivenpersonalized mappings. This customization isperformed through a simple Web interface to amessage mapping server. Since all Connexus messagesare handled by this server, we also have a convenienttool to perform evaluations of the system usage outsideour laboratory. The overall design is based on researchinto small, wireless Smart Dust using the Mote [11]hardware platform for the prototype.SensingRather than overwhelming the user with sensing wechose a few reasonable sensing modes that werereadily available. These design decisions were driven bythe initial user studies performed. While we admit thatwe may not have chosen optimal sensing modes, wewere more interested in moving towards a prototypethat we could begin evaluation on rather thanexhaustively iterating through sensing technologies.Force sensing resistors provide pressure detectionover a low resolution surface array on the top of theConnexus. This allows for simple touching to be sensed.By time stamping the sensed data, rich signals such asa user swirling their finger along the surface of theConnexus can be detected. Ambient light is easilysensed with a photocell. As a user moves inside,outside, or places their hand over the Connexus, asignal is generated. A small heartbeat sensor allowsdetection of an individual’s pulse. This provides accessto a personal “life signal” of another person.ActuationSimilar to the sensing, we simply chose a fewreasonable actuators to provide a sufficientlyinteresting set of output modes. When electrical currentis applied to a Peltier Junction, a temperaturedifference is created with one side of the thermocouplebeing hotter than room temperature, and the otherbeing cooler. This allows the Connexus to heat and coolthe skin it is contacting. Using an array of superbrightLEDs, we are able to output a range of subtle glowingcolors, not unlike a typical mood ring. Intentionallyavoiding literal text, we were able to explore innatehuman responses to illumination and color. Simplevibrations are easily and privately felt through skincontact. Various vibration patterns and duty cyclesprovide a number of output possibilities for theConnexus. We used simple, flat, pancake vibrationmotors to induce vibration.PrivacyThe communal interfaces described in this paper touchheavily on issues of privacy. While initial prototypesand usage studies are designed to be conductedbetween individuals with strongly establishedrelationships where privacy is less of a concern, we arenot insensitive to the importance of privacy whendesigning such communication systems. Initial studieshave exposed a stronger emotional connection toindividual messages if the Connexus pair is firstexchanged between users face to face. Thecommunication model is then restricted to send andreceive messages only between that pair of users(rather than between others in a group). This“friendship bracelet” model seems to strengthen thebond and impact of the messages.


4Figure 4: Connexus Scenario:Tapping to send message,received as ambient glowing, andsliding finger to acknowledgemessage.Everywhere EvaluationThe physical Mote hardware in each Connexus allowswireless communication on the 915MHz band withintens of meters. However, the intended usage is overmuch wider areas, similar to mobile phone networkcoverage. Therefore, we have architected a system thatallows the Mote to communicate with a mobile phoneand hence utilize General Packet Radio Service (GPRS)to send and receive messages. This allows Connexususers to maintain connections at almost any location,such as in buildings, at baseball games, in a mall, on abus, or at the park.ResultsOur research into the design of communal interfaceshas reinforced our appreciation for the intrinsic value ofambient nonverbal awareness cues used effortlessly byco-located humans. Fundamentally, we believe thatsuch ambient communication is essential in buildingand maintaining human relationships, establishingtrust, and enabling persuasion. We are currentlyperforming a new set of user studies with the Connexusprototype to learn more about its acceptance and usagemodels. Humans are physical beings where touch,warmth, and holding evoke vital emotions. Finally, it’sclear that our current computer mediatedcommunication tools fail to support the rich gamut ofsuch communication styles when not co-located. Thehope is that our studies and those of others will lead toa better understanding of this significant genre ofambient human communication and interaction.References[1] E. Rocco, "Trust breaks down in electronic contextsbut can be repaired," ACM SIGCHI, 1998.[2] R. Strong and B. Gaver, "Feather, Scent, and Shaker:Supporting Simple Intimacy," ACM CSCW, 1996.[3] P. Dourish, A. Adler, V. Bellotti, and A. Henderson,"Your place or mine?" ACM CSCW, 1996.[4] L. E. Holmquist, F. J., and J. Wigström, "SupportingGroup Collaboration with Inter-Personal AwarenessDevices," Journal of Personal Technologies, V3, 1999.[5] N. White, "Telephonic Arm Wrestling," 1986.[6] IDEO, "Kiss Communicator," 1999.[7] N. Grimmer, "Heart-2-Heart," 1999.[8] S. Brave and A. Dahley, "inTouch:," SIGCHI, 1997.[9] A. Chang, et al. "ComTouch: Design of a VibrotactileCommunication Device," DIS, 2002.[10] B. J. Fogg, L. D. Cutler, P. Arnold, and C. Eisbach,"HandJive: a device for interpersonal hapticentertainment," ACM SIGCHI, 1998.[11] M. Horton, D. Culler, K. Pister, J. Hill, R. Szewczyk,and A. Woo, "MICA: the commercialization ofmicrosensor motes," Sensors, vol. 19, 2002.

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