Thesis Defense: David Merrill on Gestural Interaction

September 15, 2008


Wiesner Room


The graphical user interface has become the de facto metaphor for most of our diverse activities using computers, yet the desktop environment provides a one-size-fits all interaction. Tangible and ubiquitous computing research, along with recent consumer products such as the Wii and the iPhone, suggest an opportunity to enable more compelling and natural interactions through the co-design of sensing hardware, software algorithms, and physical form. For the computer to realize its potential as a tool that significantly extends our intellectual and expressive abilities, new interaction techniques must call upon our bodily abilities to manipulate objects and must be more usable in our everyday physical environments. Furthermore, the technology enabling these techniques will increasingly need to bridge the boundaries of traditional research specializations. The result will be a new generation of interactive tools that bend to our needs, rather than bending us to meet their limitations.
In this thesis Merrill introduces a new human computer interaction concept, named embodied media. An embodied media system physically represents digital content such as files, variables, or other program constructs with a collection of self-contained, interactive electronic tokens that can be manipulated gesturally by users as a single, coordinated interface. Such a system relies minimally on external sensing infrastructure compared to tabletop or augmented reality systems, and provides a more general-purpose platform than most tangible user interfaces. Merrill hypothesizes that embodied media interfaces provide advantages for applications that require one or more users to efficiently arrange and adjust multiple digital content items. Siftables is the first instantiation of an embodied media user interface; it is a set of small, interchangeable, electronic tokens that incorporate inertial and neighbor sensing, color graphics, embedded computation, and wireless communication. Merrill built 180 Siftable devices spanning three platform iterations, and developed a number of different applications to explore the possibilities of the concept. He also created a high-level application programming interface (API) to support academic and industrial researchers in their experiments with embodied media. He collected extensive feedback from these developers, and designed and performed two experimental studies to evaluate a Siftables-based digital image manipulation application.

Host/Chair: Pattie Maes


Joe ParadisoScott R. Klemmer

More Events