Ubicomp without borders – our report on the NSF IRES project

Orit Shaer and I visited Germany in the summer of 2017 to meet with the students participating in our NSF IRES project. On this trip we worked with our German colleagues, Susanne Boll and Albrecht Schmidt on writing a report about this exciting opportunity for students to gain international experiences. The result is an article in IEEE Pervasive Computing entitled “Ubicomp without borders.”

I hope that our readers will enjoy the report. I also hope that you will join us in our efforts to promote international experiences for students. We feel strongly that international experiences bring value to students, not just as they learn about science and technology, but as they expand their human experiences.

 

Wrapping up Oldenburg Part 2

Of course, not all of our time in Europe was spent working (though working with the Hololens everyday was incredibly fun). Pretty much every weekend was packed with trips around Germany and Europe as a whole.

In a previous post, I mentioned that we visited Milan, where we had gelato and pasta, clearly the most important part, and Heide and Serengeti Park, where we went on rides and looked at animals.


Gelato
Gelato in Italy!

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On the Log Flume at Heide Park

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Giraffe at Serengeti Park

After Poland, I took a weekend to visit Paris by myself. I had a great time visiting the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Notre Dame, and Sacré Cœur (Sacred Heart Cathedral).


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Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

I took a break for the weekend after that, but the next week, the three of us and Calvin, along with his friend, went to Majorca, Spain. Spain was beautiful and relaxing. After weeks of rushing around to see the sights, we finally had the chance to just sit by the beach and enjoy the warm water.


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The beach in Majorca

Paella
The paella we all had for dinner

I had a great time in Germany and had a ton of fun traveling every weekend to places that I had dreamed about, but figured I’d never go. Thank you to everyone who made this experience possible, I had a great time and learned so much.

Bye,
Dana

Wrapping up Oldenburg Part 1

It’s always amazing how quickly time flies in hindsight now that our two months in Germany have come to a close. I had so much fun and saw many new places along with learning a lot about HCI!

My project for the summer was Visualizing Out of View Objects With the Hololens or, as we liked to call it, EyeSee: Beyond Reality. The idea is that on a ship, the bridge is so long that a pilot can only see one side of the ship at a time. However, the pilot still has to keep track of what is on the other side of ship that they can’t see. The solution, therefore, is EyeSee. It creates a visualization of the world around the user and maps objects to that visualization so that the pilot can keep track of these objects in their peripheral.


EyeSee
EyeSee360's UI. The UI as a whole represents the world around you. The inner oval represents your actual field of view. Each dotted line represents a step of fourty-five degrees from the zero lines. Each dot is a proxy for an out of view object. Blue represents far away, while red indicates that the object is close by. Green means that the object is selected. The blue cube is an out of view object.

Of course, I didn’t know how to use Unity at all when I started, so my supervisor, Uwe, had me take a crash course when I arrived. I started with Unity’s Roll-A-Ball tutorial and once I had finished that, Uwe challenged me to port it to different consoles and modes. So the computer game that was controlled with arrow keys became an Android game controlled by tilting the screen, became a Cardboard game controlled by tilting your head, which became a game that was projected on an image and controlled by tilting the image around. That was the version of the game that was ported to the Hololens.

Once I had been brought up to speed, I worked on bringing Uwe’s Cardboard version of EyeSee to the Hololens. Along the way, in addition to Unity and Hololens development, I learned how to deal with errors that were often buried deep in code – how to solve them by myself, and when to ask for help.

In my final week, I worked on developing a game based on our study design using EyeSee. When complete, it will be put on the Hololens store so when people play it, we can gather data from many different people on the usefulness of EyeSee.

I learned so much and got to work with so many cool people! I am incredibly grateful that I got the opportunity to study in Germany. I’m going to miss everybody so much!


Offis
Our coworkers in Germany

Thank you so much!

Dana

Poland and Summer Wrap-Up

These past few weeks absolutely flew by as we were all busy with our week of summer school in Poland as well as finishing up our projects in the few remaining weeks we had in Germany.  Poland was a lot of fun; it was a week filled with informative lectures on new technological applications in human-computer interaction as well as hands-on workshops that involved various skills like sketching and prototyping.  I also got to experience and learn a lot about the culture and history of Łódź, like how the bustling shopping center known as Manufaktura was once a textile factory.  We were lucky enough to be able to zipline off the rooftop of Manufaktura and see the beautiful views from above.

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I met lots of graduate students and professionals at the summer school too, and it was fun collaborating and learning with them during our afternoon workshops.  There were lots of after-school activities a lot of us participated in too, like a walking tour of Łódź where we got to see some really interesting sites like this hallway of broken mirrors formed together to look like flowers.

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I’m not sure when I’ll be back in Poland again, but I had a lot of fun during my week there at the summer school!

Once Midori, Calvin, and I got back to Stuttgart, we were all busy finishing up our projects before the end of our internships.  Although there was a steep learning curve in the beginning, I finally was making a lot of progress with my underwater Unity environment.  I was especially happy with how all of my scripts were turning out, especially with all of the object movement in the scene.  Since Midori and I sat in the same office, I would lean over and make her test my environment to make sure what I was trying to simulate still made sense.  It was a lot of fun working with the Oculus, especially since I had absolutely no experience with virtual reality before coming to Germany.  This is what my setup looked like:

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I was able to finish up the underwater environment and give a brief demo to Tonja and Pascal!  I was really happy with how it turned out, and even though I’ll no longer have an Oculus headset to use, Pascal gave me a lot of useful information of how I can convert the scene to Google Cardboard so I can use my phone and be able to see the scene I built in a virtual environment.

The entire lab also had a summer barbecue party!  There was so much good food and competitive ping pong, it was a really fun way to wrap up our summer in Germany.

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Before coming to Germany this summer, I was nervous about how everything would work out – research at the University, living in Germany, the language barrier – but these past two months flew by in a whirl.  I learned so much, not only about human-computer interaction research, but also about graduate school in general and how to even just live on my own in a foreign country.  I had so much fun this summer, I’m so happy I was able to take part in this opportunity!

Wrapping Up in Stuttgart

My summer in Germany has now come to an end and I’m back in Boston ready for my final year of my master’s! I’ve enjoyed my time in Europe and have truly learned a ton.

As a recap of my research project, we sought to analyze programming language proficiency based on eye movements. In the experiment, participants self-rated their programming skills then looked at a series of programs while the eye tracker recorded their eye movements. We asked participants to enter what they thought was the function of each program. The participants and I were separated by a divider as I monitored their progress (pictured below).

In one summer, I have identified a research question, designed an experiment around it, ran studies, and performed data analysis. I’m really proud of what I have achieved and have learned that I would be happy pursuing a career in research. Sure, there were frustrating times, but I learned to work through them.

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What I enjoyed most about working in the lab has been talking to the PhD students and fellow interns about different research within HCI. Hearing about their projects gets me really excited about the possibilities that this field can accomplish, and I find new perspectives on interesting questions that I have.

The theme of my time in Stuttgart has been encountering a problem and finding a solution to it, to keep moving forward. Not to be too cheesy but I know that whatever happens, I will be able to handle it. That is something that I have shown to myself from this experience. So bring it on, PhD!

A big shout-out and thank you to Dr. Andrew Kun and Dr. Orit Schaer for making the IRES program possible, to Dr. Albrecht Schmidt and his amazing team at the University of Stuttgart for welcoming me to their lab, to all my new friends both at the lab and at the student hotel, and to Jakob Karolus and Thomas Kosch for being the best supervisors I could ask for! I will miss Stuttgart immensely!

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Tchüss!

Calvin Liang

University of New Hampshire