Keynote at the Pervasive Displays Symposium: Kenton O’Hara

Kenton O’Hara, a senior researcher in the Socio-Digital-Systems group at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, presented the keynote at the pervasive displays symposium in Porto on the topic “Social context and interaction proxemics in pervasive displays“. He highlighted the importance of the spatial relationship between the users and the interactive displays and the different opportunities for interaction that are available when looking at the interaction context.

Using examples from the medical field (operating theater) he showed the issues that arise from the need of sterile interaction and hence avoiding touch interaction and moving towards a touchless interaction mode. A prototype, that uses a Microsoft Kinect sensor,  allows the surgeon to interact with information (e.g. an x-ray image) while working on the patient. It was interesting to see that gestural interaction in this context is not straightforward, as surgeons use tools (and hence have their hands not free) or gesture as a part of the communication in the team.

Another example is a public space game; there are many balls on a screen and a camera looking at the audience. Users can move the balls by body movement based on a simple edge detection video tracking mechanism and when two balls touch they form a bigger ball.  Kenten argues that “body-based interaction becomes a public spectacle” and interactions of an individum are clearly visible to others. This visibilility can lead to inhibition and may reduce the motivation of user to interact. For the success of this game the designing of the simplistic tracking algorithms is one major factor. By tracking edges/blobs the users can play together (e.g. holding hands, parents with the kids in their arm) and hence a wide range of interaction proxemics are supported. He presented some further examples of public display games on BBC large screens, also showing that the concept of interaction proxemics can be use to explain interaction .

TVs have change eating behavoir. More recent research in displays in the context of food consumptions have been in contrast mainly pragmatic (corrective, problem solving). Kenton argued that we look at the cultural values of meals and see shared eating as a social practice. Using the example of eating in front of the television (even as a family) he discusses the implications on communication and interaction (basically the communication is not happening). Looking at more recent technologies such as phones, laptops and tablets and their impact on social dynamics probably many of us realized that this is impacting many of us in our daily lives already (or who is not taking their phone to table?). It is very obvious that social relationships and culture changes with these technologies. He showed “4Photos” [1] a designed piece of technology to be put on the center of the table showing 4 photographs. Users can interact with it from all sides. It is designed in a way to stimulate rather than inhibit communication and to provide opportunities for conversation. It introduces interaction with technologies as a social gesture.

Interested in more? Kenton published a book on public displays in 2003 [2] and has a set of relevant publications in the space of the symposium.


[1] Martijn ten Bhömer, John Helmes, Kenton O’Hara, and Elise van den Hoven. 2010. 4Photos: a collaborative photo sharing experience. In Proceedings of the 6th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction: Extending Boundaries (NordiCHI ’10). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 52-61. DOI=10.1145/1868914.1868925

[2] Kenton O’Hara, Mark Perry, Elizabeth Churchill, Dan Russell. Public and Situated Displays: Social and Interactional Aspects of Shared Display Technologies. Kluwer Academic, 2003

Guests in my multimodal interaction class

Today I had brought 3 more professors with me to teach the class on multimodal interaction (I learned from Hans). As we have the pd-net project meeting Nigel Davies, Marc Langheirich, and Rui Jose were in Stuttgart and ‘volunteered’ to give a talk.

Nigel talked about the work in Lancaster on the use of mobile computing technology to support sustainable travel. He explained the experiments they conducted for collecting and sharing travel related information. In the 6th Sense Transport project they look beyond looking at understanding the current context into predictions and eventually ‘time travel’ 😉

Marc presented a one hour version of his tutorial on privacy introducing the terminology and explaining the many facets this topic has. We discussed the ‘NTHNTF’ argument (Nothing To Hide Nothing To Fear) and Marc used an example of to show the weaknesses of this argument. Marc suggested some reading if you want to dive into the topic, see [1,2,3,4].

Rui focused in his lecture on pervasive public displays. He gave an overview of typical architectures for digital signage systems and the resulting limitation. The pd-net approach aims at creating an open platform that allows many different applications and use cased. He showed once concept of using virtual pin-badges to trigger content and to express interest in a certain topic.

There is more information on the pd-net project on

[1] David Brin. The Transparent Society. Perseus Publishing, 1999.
[2] Simson Garfinkel: Database Nation – The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century. O’Reilly, 2001.
[3] Lawrence Lessig: Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. Basic Books, 2006.
[4] Waldo, Lin, Millett (eds.): Engaging Privacy and Information Technologygy in a Digital Age. National Academies Press, 2007.