June in Stuttgart

Hallo!

My name is Lauren Futami, and I’m spending June and July here in Stuttgart, Germany, working in the Human Computer Interaction Lab at Stuttgart University.  I’m here with two other students – Midori Yang from Wellesley College and Calvin Liang from Tufts University.  We each have our own projects and supervising graduate students to guide us in our work – I’m working with Tonja and Pascal (they’re both incredibly nice and fun to talk to!).  They’re working on a virtual reality research project and the effects of haptic feedback on users in the virtual environment.  This haptic feedback is possible in the virtual world by using drones equipped with various materials that float in front of the user so that when the user physically reaches out to touch something in the virtual environment, she can actually “feel” the virtual object when she consequently touches the drone.

My project for the summer is to create an environment that naturally causes the user to interact with the drone in three different ways – reaching out to touch an object (active), having the drone bump into the user (passive), and having the user reach out and grab an item from the drone (like a key or a coin).  I decided to create an underwater scenario in which the user will reach out to touch a fish, feel jellyfish tentacles as they swim by, and pick up a worm from a fishing line that conveniently hangs in front of the user.  I have never worked with Unity before, and it’s been a bit difficult to get used to working with it, but I’ve learned so much about its capabilities, and I’m having fun solving the problems that arise in my underwater scene.  Luckily, Tonja and Pascal helped set me up with a monitor, so I have a large screen to spread all of my thoughts out.

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That’s not all, though!  Tonja, Pascal, and I are reading through a virtual reality book together filled with useful background information on the technical and behavioral aspects of VR!   We have these weekly meetings where we discuss the most recent chapter we’ve read, and I’m having a lot of fun listening to Tonja (who has incredible knowledge on the psychology and human behaviors to VR) and Pascal (who knows all about the technology and physics behind VR).  I’ve really been enjoying the work!

Midori, Calvin, and I have also been traveling a bit!  We were able to attend a day workshop on wearable technology in Saarbrücken, a small city near the German/France border.  This is us taking a picture outside of the lab at the university there.  Even though the abbreviation is MCI (for Mensch-Computer-Interaktion), we liked to think the “i” was just a lowercase “L” so it really stood for “Midori, Calvin, and Lauren.”

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I also traveled to London a few weeks ago!  I went with Midori while Calvin went to Barcelona to visit his friend there.  Midori and I both have never been to London before, but we both really enjoyed it!  We did a lot of sightseeing and just general walking around.  While we were in London, we were also able to visit Stonehenge, a place I’ve always seen in pictures but never thought I would actually get to see in person.

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We also just celebrated 4th of July with the lab!  Every year, the American interns throw a barbecue for the entire lab, so we did our best this year to bring in some fun American cheer!  It was a strange feeling coming into the lab on the 4th of July and having everyone treat it like a regular work day while I talked to my friends back in Boston who were already celebrating.  Even though it was just us three organizing the barbecue, I think we managed to pull it off pretty well.  I had fun and I think others did too!  This is mostly everyone who was at the barbecue (Calvin took the photo).

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Anyway, we’re all off to Łódź, Poland tomorrow for the weeklong summer school on methods in HCI at Łódź University of Technology.  I’m excited to visit Poland and learn even more about HCI!

Bis dann!