Portland, Ore. Safety, security and ease of use were on the minds of the more than 1,900 engineers and scientists who gathered here last week at CHI 2005, the computer-human interfaces conference, to review progress in such technologies as eye-tracking interfaces and simplified manual controls for handhelds.
"Our theme this year is 'Technology, Safety and Community,' which reflects the responsibility that our members have for shaping interactive computer systems that reinforce the feeling of community and make people feel safe again," said conference chairman Gerrit van der Veer, a professor at Vrije University Amsterdam (Netherlands).
Several sessions featured gesture recognition or eye-tracking software to simplify navigation on handheld devices without a keyboard or speeding up interfaces with a keyboard. Another aim of eye-tracking software is the use of visualization tools to train workers.
Researchers Amy Karlson and Benjamin Bederson from the University of Maryland and John SanGiovanni of Microsoft Research demonstrated a one-handed user interface, AppLens, which lets users navigate and make one-handed selections with a thumb tip on the tiny touchscreen of a cell phone or a PDA.
AppLens was tested with several variations on an auto-zooming interface to offer multiple views of pint-sized applications on a handheld device. Called a tabular fisheye interface, AppLens divides the screen into a nine-region "keypad map" for navigation and function control.
EyeWindows, demonstrated by researcher David Fono and Roel Vertegaal at Queen's University (Kingston, Ontario), uses eye-tracking software and a conventional computer keyboard to unclutter multiwindowing interfaces. The approach was said to be 72 percent faster than manual window management. EyeWindows automatically highlights a window in response to the user's focusing on that window but does not activate it, zooming it to full-screen size, until the user hits a key. Testing found this method better than schemes that rely only on eye tracking, the researchers said, since the latter auto-zoom any inactive window on which the eye lingers too long and thus may be more susceptible to error.
Other studies presented at CHI 2005 showed how eye-tracking software could shrink training times for human inspectors. Called feed-forward training, the technique was invented by researchers Sajay Sadasivan, Joel Greenstein, Andrew Duchowski and Anand Gramopadhye at South Carolina's Clemson University.
Designed to improve the training of inspectors visually looking for defects in aircraft wings, the authors' study showed the Clemson technique records the eye movements, or "scan paths," of expert inspectors and then graphically represents that information for novice inspectors in the classroom. The authors said the method quickly teaches the novices to scan like the pros as they mimic the experts' eye movements.
Finally, in a paper called "Artful Systems in the Home," Alex Taylor at Microsoft Research and Laurel Swan of Brunel University (West London, England) compared the strict rules that must be followed when using today's operating systems with a proposed toolbox approach that would permit the user to assemble personalized miniature applications.
The paper concludes that users of complex future interfaces would prefer customizable schemes that present a rich set of personalization options to preset interfaces that feature engineer-inspired bells and whistles.