Apr. 16, 2005 New research by UK scientists that enables people to interact safely with mobile computers while walking, running or driving, could help to prevent users from putting themselves in danger.
Walking and texting is dangerous. While your eyes are glued to the tiny, hard-to-see display and your thumb is stabbing buttons, you might easily walk into an innocent bystander, a lamppost or under a bus. Those carrying mobile computers find it just as hard to operate a tiny keyboard or scribble with a stylus while walking.
The research, which has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), is being carried out at the University of Glasgow and is developing a solution to this problem using 3D sound and gestures.
"We hope to develop interfaces that are truly mobile, allowing users to concentrate on the real world while interacting with their mobile device as naturally as if they were talking to a friend while walking," explains Professor Stephen Brewster, an EPSRC Advanced Research Fellow from the University of Glasgow, who is leading the project.
If using our eyes is difficult and unsafe in a mobile environment, the next best thing would be using our ears as well as any other movements we might make that did not interfere with the business of walking, running or driving.
The research team found that most previous research into audio interfaces and gesture recognition was based on a static user rather than a moving one. This led Professor Brewster - along with colleagues Dr Rod Murray-Smith, John Williamson and Georgios Marentakis - to develop 'audioclouds', a new way of interacting with computers on the move.
The project is currently half way through its three-year research period, but already the team sees a number of different additional applications, including using simple gestures, like a nod of the head, to change music tracks on your MP3 player.
EPSRC spokeswoman, Lucy Brady, said: "The innovative aspect of this project is that engineering is being used to explore a new paradigm for interacting with mobile computers, based on 3D sound and gestures, to create interfaces that are powerful, usable and safer."
The 3-year project, "Audioclouds: Three-dimensional auditory and gestural interfaces for mobile and wearable computers", started in October 2002 and is receiving EPSRC funding of £238,765. To find out more about audioclouds visit http://www.audioclouds.org.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC invests more than £500 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. Website address for more information on EPSRC: http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/
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