Category Archives: infovis

Augmented Reality for Everyone

There have been many recent examples of consumer friendly augmented reality applications for smart phone users.  I remember reading about augmented reality research over a decade ago (in an HCI class) and remembering how bulky, expensive, experimental, and out-of-reach it seemed back then.  The systems back then required head-mounted displays and were physically attached to cameras and large computers.  Now it is available for any iPhone or Android smartphone user.

The first example below overlays subway signage and directional arrows to help find your way around the NY subway.  This seems great for tourists who may not be regular users of the metro (wish I had this when I was in the Netherlands last month).

Speaking of the Netherlands, the second example is for Android phones and overlays information about bars, restaurants, and houses for sale in Amsterdam:

These are certainly impressive examples of augmented reality. But another fun and simple recent example is the ball tracker that was used by ESPN:

It is implied but one possible reason we like these (we as in “users”) is that augmented reality applications pre-integrate information for us (in the first two examples) reducing the need for us to do it ourselves (a working memory and time-intensive activity) or they keep information in sensory memory longer than is usually available (ball path) letting us see patterns that would otherwise be invisible.

Population Trends: Age

Perhaps you are like me, and always looking for great images to put in your presentations about why it’s important to consider aging in human factors work. Or perhaps you just like a good, creative visualization. Well, here you go on both counts.

This comes courtesy of Mark Thoma of the Economist’s View blog, created from census data. It shows the percentage of the population at different ages (colors) at different times (x-axis.)


I think it’s great how you can see the baby boomer wave move across the graphic!

Here is his quick comparision between 1950 and 2050. It’s a whole new world:

1950 2050

Emergency Checklists and Aviation

The recent water landing into the Hudson is still being investigated. This AP article focuses on whether flight attendants were trained not to open the back door of the plane during a water landing, but the most interesting bit comes at the end:

Another concern is whether the FAA and airlines need to revise emergency procedures for pilots in the event both engines fail. Those procedures usually involve a sequence of many steps called a checklist. There are different checklists depending upon the problem, but most are based on the expectation that the problem will occur while the plane is flying at a high altitude — airliners typically cruise above 20,000 feet, giving pilots time to identify and correct the problem.

Flight 1549’s first officer, Jeffrey Skiles, told a congressional panel in February that he only had time to make it part of the way through a checklist for restarting the engines when Sullenberger sent the plane into the river.

Sumwalt suggested it would be better for airlines to train pilots to remember one procedure for a low-altitude dual engine failure, rather than go through a long checklist of items while altitude rapidly diminishes.

Acoustic Information from Basketball Courts


I came across an article on ANSI standards that had an interesting human factors anecdote. Thought I would share:

It seems that a critical part any basketball game is the wood flooring, something which the fans generally take for granted, but not so the players. Basketball floors are highly engineered surfaces, made of three-quarter inch thick tongue-and-groove northern hard maple, laid on plywood and supported by sleepers. One manufacturer of the flooring, Robbins Sport Surfaces of Cincinnati, Ohio, even sells a floor that controls its acoustics so the sound of a bouncing ball is more uniform across the surface. A variation in the sound of the bounce could lead players to incorrectly assume there is a dead spot while running down the court for that winning lay up.

Are there other examples of surprising information sources in sports?

Map Information Visualizations = HOT!

I‘ve noticed a trend in the newsworld/blogworld recently. Everyone wants to represent everything on a map. Some of these are genius, others make me wonder “why bother?” I collected some of each for this post… but I warn you, once you notice this pattern you’ll start seeing it multiple times per day.

Job loss from (Usability note: good luck mousing-over your county)


Race in an area compared to toxic waste release from the


Electricity Visualized from (This link has many map options. Wind power pictured below.)


Immigrant Populations from the New York Times (Also an “explorer” graphic with interactivity)


Religion in the United States via the Wall Street Journal


That’s just a taste. Also see:

(post image:

Dashboards meet the 21st century

Reader Darin Ellis sends along this news item from MSNBC about the future of car dashboards (hint: analog is out, glass screens are in).  There is a great quote in the article from the visualization designer of Chrysler:

A lot of usability studies need to be done. Designing these is not a no-brainer.

In addition to this article, here are some other related items that have cross my blog reader.  The embedded video is from a CrunchGear review of the new Ford Fusion (referenced in the MSNBC article).  Check out the dual LCD displays surrounding the center analog speedometer.

The final item is the interior of the new electric sports car Tesla Model S.  The center stack is replaced with a 17 inch touch screen.

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 energy monitor

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.


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!

Interface aid for hyper-milers

I have at least one friend who admits to “hyper miling,” or watching the MPG gauge at all times and trying to keep his average as high as possible. In one way I find this to be a fascinating task that one could use to study multiple-cue learning, pattern recognition, or adoption of superstitious behavior. (After all, was it kicking the car to neutral that saved you that .0005 gallons or the slow acceleration after the stoplight?) In another way I find the amount of attention dedicated to monitoring an in-vehicle interface alarming.

As far as I know, the only display that allows hypermiling shows the current MPG and an average MPG. You have to experiment and learn for yourself what speeds under what conditions change your MPG, and you learn this via the numbers shown. This requires you to remember previous numbers and compare your current performance to past performance.

Honda will augment their normal speedometer with a new display that can give faster (and pre-attentive?) information on your MPG. Called the Ecological Drive Assist System, it gives you a green background when you achieve high MPG, blue for middling, and red for “stop driving like a maniac.”

But that’s not all.

A portion of the dash display is dedicated to a game. Instead of depending on the intrinsic reward of keeping up with your MPG, the Honda will grow you a tiny electronic tree as you cumulatively save gas while driving. I think this is an incredible idea that will create hypermilers out of normal people and absolute fanatics out of hypermilers.

Aesthetically, I’d have made this a little seed that grows into a pretty tree, but I’m sure Volkswagen will eventually run with an idea like that for their implementation.

Remaining human factors questions:

  • What kind and amount of attention is dedicated to this display?
  • Green AND blue are fatiguing colors for night driving. You can turn the display off, but who will actually recognize it is the colors that are making night driving more difficult?

Thanks to Rose Marie Yagoda for sending me the original post from Engadget.