Kolab: Improvising Nomadic Tangible User Interfaces in the Workplace for Co-Located Collaboration

Mackay, Gordon (2013). Kolab: Improvising Nomadic Tangible User Interfaces in the Workplace for Co-Located Collaboration. MPhil thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000f154

Abstract

Tangible User Interfaces (TUIs) [Ishii 1997] offer an interface style that couples "digital information to everyday physical objects and environments" [Ishii 1997 page 2]. However this physicality may also be a limitation as the tendency to use iconic representations for tangibles can result in inflexible 'concrete and specialised objects' [Shaer 2009 page 107].

The current research investigates whether by reducing the dependence on specific tangible sets through the use of improvised tangibles we may begin to address the issue of tangible flexibility within TUIs. Improvised tangibles may be characterised by being potentially arbitrary and abstract, in that they may bear little or no resemblance to the underlying digital value. Core literature in the field (e. g. [Fitzmaurice 1996] [Ishii 2008] [Hornecker 2006] [Holmquist 1999]) suggests that a system based on improvised tangibles would suffer from impaired usability and so the research focuses on the impact on usability due to a lack of close representational significance [Ullmer 2000] during co-located collaboration.

Using a prototyping methodology a functional, shareable, TUI system was developed based on computer vision techniques using the Microsoft Kinect [Microsoft2011]. This prototype system ('Kolab') was used to explore an interaction design that supports the dynamic binding of improvised tangibles to digital values. A simple co-located collaborative task was developed using 'Kolab' and a user study was conducted to investigate the usability of the system in a collaborative context.

Within the limitations of the simple task the results of the study show that a) users appeared comfortable with improvising artefacts b) the high rate of task completion strongly suggests that a lack of close representational significance does not impair system usability and c) despite some temporary issues with users interfering with other's action an overall indication of equitable participation suggests that collaboration was not impaired by the 'Kolab' prototype.

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