Category Archives: automation

Consumer RFID technology–The Mirror by Violet

Violet has introduced an interesting computer peripheral called the Mirror that is an RFID reader for home users.  You apply RFID tags to everyday objects, program their actions, and when waved over the mirror, the actions are run from the computer.

When I first saw the following video, I was skeptical–their initial use cases in the video seemed silly.  But around 3:10 in the video, it starts to look really useful, especially for certain populations like older adults.  Imagine a tag on a medication bottle that tells you when you last took your medication and when you next need to take it.

[via Crunchgear]

“Smart” devices may help dementia sufferers remember to shut off stove, live at home longer

From Peter Squire (of The Daily Human Factor) another interesting story on using technology to support aging in place:

smarthome“The whole objective is to enable people to stay at home as long as they can,” says Bruce Carey-Smith, a BIME design engineer. The system reports the wealth of information it collects—from potential problems to successful interventions—to health care providers. “It’s about supporting—not about replacing—the role of care staff,” Carey-Smith says.

He says the system has been installed in the assisted-living residences of two U.K. dementia patients about a year ago—and both trials report good results.

In addition to reminding people to switch off potentially dangerous appliances (and actually shutting them off and contacting help if need be), the system is designed to help people avoid other hazards, such as nighttime wandering and incontinence issues. The system, for instance, senses when someone gets out of bed in the middle of the night and automatically turns on the bathroom light to help them find their way. Or, if the bed senses a prolonged nocturnal absence, the system will play voice recordings that gently remind people that, “it’s awfully late, perhaps you should be getting back to bed,” says Carey-Smith.

[Scientific American]

Lighting up the lives of the elderly – adaptively

From Peter Squire (of The Daily Human Factor):

aginglight

Artificial light affects us in subtle ways. At its best, ambient lighting can relax, soothe or excite, but used poorly it can drain us of energy and disrupt sleep. What if lighting could adapt automatically to meet our individual needs?

The result, say a team of European researchers, would be an improvement in the general wellbeing of anybody who spends long periods in artificially lit buildings, particularly the elderly and the infirm, but also factory and office workers.

The system uses information from biosensors worn by the occupants of a room or building to determine what users are doing and then changes the lighting accordingly. The researchers’ goal is to use the technology to improve the wellbeing of the elderly, people suffering from age-related illnesses and people with reduced mobility, many of whom spend a lot of time confined indoors.

Click for more information and video.

In 2019 I will be 44…

Here is a neat vision of what 2019 will be like courtesy Microsoft Office Labs.  This concept video was produced by Microsoft and shown at the Wharton Business Technology Conference.  Two things that caught my attention were the prodigious use of touch interface and gestures (which I am not crazy about; my finger/hands get tired using my iPod touch to make exaggerated moves), and the importance of information visualization.

Data is being displayed and interacted with in creative ways in the following examples.  Video is after the images below:

home
Home energy monitor

touch
Touch interface on a plane; viewing dynamic tables

Google PowerMeter

We’ve spoken before about the role of human factors in energy conservation. It looks like Google is taking a big step toward raising awareness of home energy usage from your desktop.  With the installation of home energy meters, you may soon be able to track your own power usage:

Google PowerMeter, now in prototype, will receive information from utility smart meters and energy management devices and provide anyone who signs up access to her home electricity consumption right on her iGoogle homepage.

pmscreenshot

They have taken a similar approach to your health maintenance with Google Health by incorporating actual health data from sensors, doctors, pharmacies and showing you the data.

With all of this sensor aggregation comes issues of automation (again), the best ways to present data/visualization, ease interpretation, as well as issues of technology acceptance (e.g., privacy versus utility).  It looks like we human factors people will be busy for a long time, thanks Google!

Smart Cars

Recently, an Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) hit the news in Europe. I’ve always been interested in advanced navigation systems (and their problems), so I check in on some of the research programs occasionally. After all, individual differences from culture to aging all affect how we use navigation systems.

The original article I mentioned briefly addresses the errors these systems may cause:

Drivers’ uncritical reliance on their sat navs has led to a growing number of mishaps. Last year a woman wrecked her £96,000 Mercedes SL500 trying to drive across a swollen ford through the River Sence in Sheepy Magna, Leicestershire, after her sat nav told her it was a passable route.

…but spent most of the time discussing the errors they catch.

In addition to instructions on when to slow down or change gear for the best fuel economy, motorists will also be warned when they are driving erratically and will even be told at the end of the journey if they have caused undue stress to parts of the car.

Of course, getting to the end of the journey may be more difficult using the current navigation systems. This finding comes from Ziefle, Pappachan, Jakobs and Wallentowitz (2008) who gave an ADAS to older drivers to compensate for age-related perceptual declines. They compared younger and older drivers using either audio or visual aids:

When no assistance was present, driving performance was superior than in both assistance conditions. The visual interface had a lower detrimental effect than the auditory ADAS which had the strongest distracting effect. In contrast to performance outcomes, the auditory interface was rated as more helpful by older drivers compared to the visual interface.

With automated tagging, Web links can surprise

I‘ve previously posted on the topic of tagging. As more products attempt to automate the process of creating tags from content, more problems are bound to appear like below.  A pretty clear case of automation gone wrong!:

It wasn’t what anyone expected to see while perusing a news article. But there, in the final paragraph of an online story about the call girl involved in the Eliot Spitzer scandal, Yahoos automated system was inviting readers to browse through photos of underage girls.

Yahoo Shortcuts, which more frequently offers to help readers search for news and Web sites on topics like “California” or “President Bush,” had in this case highlighted the words “underage girls.” Readers who passed their mouse over the phrase in The Associated Press story were shown a pop-up window with an image from Flickr, Yahoos photo-sharing Web site.

With automated tagging, Web links can surprise – Yahoo News

Human Factors Journal Celebrates 50 Years With Special Issue Highlighting Pivotal Research and Applications

The journal, Human Factors, is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a retrospective of some pivotal research and areas. To celebrate, the entire issue is available online for free. Some highlights:

  • The Split Keyboard: An Ergonomics Success Story
  • The Role of Expertise Research and Human Factors in Capturing, Explaining, and Producing Superior Performance
  • Multiple Resources and Mental Workload
  • Putting the Brain to Work: Neuroergonomics Past, Present, and Future
  • Discoveries and Developments in Human-Computer Interaction
  • Aging and Human Performance

Human Factors and Ergonomics Society : Human Factors Journal Celebrates 50 Years With Special Issue Highlighting Pivotal Research and Applications

High-Tech Devices Keep Elderly Safe From Afar – NYTimes.com

First thing every morning, Lynn Pitet, of Cody, Wyo., checks her computer to see whether her mother, Helen Trost, has gotten out of bed, taken her medication and whether she is moving around inside her house hundreds of miles away in Minnesota.

High-Tech Devices Keep Elderly Safe From Afar – NYTimes.com

Overcoming the big downside of tagging

“A tag is a (relevant) keyword or term associated with or assigned to a piece of information (a picture, a geographic map, a blog entry, a video clip etc.), thus describing the item and enabling keyword-based classification and search of information.” [Wikipedia]

Tagging is the process of assigning keywords or phrases to items. To be more concrete, many of us may have collections of bookmarks in our web browser. Tagging each bookmark with a relevant term allows them to be classified and categorized semantically, or by meaning.

But one major downside of tagging is that the user has to actually do the tagging; quite a bit of work if you have many thousands of bookmarks (or emails or photographs). Rashmi Sinha was one of the first people to start thinking about the cognitive requirements (i.e., what happens in the head) when users tag. Here is a figure from her analysis:

sep22_cognitive_tagging.gif

Her bottom line is that tagging is efficient (compared to other methods of organization) because when we are trying to think of keywords, we have lots of choices that come to mind (stage 1). However, I see this as a potential downside. It’s a heavy decision step that must be repeated for every item one needs to tag.

Several new products are on the horizon that aim to automate this very step:

The first (which is in private beta and thus unavailable) is Twine. The New York Times wrote an interesting story about Twine and how it automatically scans your documents to obtain relevant keywords.

Sarah Miller, a librarian at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, became a member of Twine’s test group in November, partly because she and her husband, Ethan, a doctoral candidate, needed a place to organize all the documents they wanted to share with each other about teaching and learning.

Ms. Miller likes Twine’s mechanized tagging abilities.

“If I save the URL of a Web page into my Twine account,” she said, “Twine will skim the page and turn it into tags automatically. It’s a way to tie together things that my husband and I find over days, and months and years.”

Twine has an option that allows people to do their own descriptive tagging, just as they might, for instance, use the Web service del.icio.us to assign labels to Web sites to help keep track of them.

“But my tagging is inefficient,” Ms. Miller said. “Personal vocabulary changes. It’s difficult to be consistent.”

A less automated solution is a new product (also in private beta) called zigtag. Zigtag relies on you entering a keyword, but afterwards will suggest additional keywords.

After entering an appropriate tag for a page, the user is presented with a list of matching keywords, each of which has been defined in Zigtag’s database. For example, after entering “Apple” into the search field, I was able to choose from “the computer company”, “the pomaceous fruit”, and “the record company”, among others. The process is painless and the integrated dictionary is fairly comprehensive. If you happen to stumble across a term that isn’t defined, you can easily request to have it added to the dictionary (and can place your own temporary tag). [Tech Crunch]

While these are nice solutions, i’ve always imagined that one side benefit of tagging was that the very effortful process of tagging could contribute to a more durable memory trace (the classic “generation effect“). Incidentally, some limited research of mine (PDF) has not borne this out. But in reality, how well do we want to really remember our bookmarks? Most of us are satisfied that it is stored somewhere and are less interested in retrieving it later unaided.