UIST 2016 Conference: Tokyo, Japan

This October, we traveled to Tokyo, Japan, to attend the ACM UIST (User Interface Software and Technology Symposium) conference.

We had an incredible time – the weather was beautiful and the conference was very well attended – registration was full! Because of our jet lag (13 hours ahead of Boston), we woke up very early and had plenty of time to explore before the conference began at 9:30am each day – including walking through the East Imperial Gardens and catching breakfast at the Tsukiji fish market (pictured below).

The conference opened with a keynote from Takeo Kanade, who spoke about the “Smart Headlight,” a project currently under development at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute. This research combines a camera and selective light projection to create a device that could “erase” raindrops or snowflakes from a driver’s field of vision on the road and allow continuous use of high-beam headlights without temporarily blinding other drivers. Dr. Kanade teased the audience claiming that current augmented reality applications that overlay objects on the image of reality (e.g. Pokemon GO) are merely an ”augmented display of reality,” while his device would manipulate how a user perceives their environment and in that sense constitutes “genuine” augmented reality.

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During the conference, we presented a poster on our own work in progress about understanding collaboration around large-scale interactive surfaces. We presented a novel method for analysis and visualization of joint visual attention data from head-mounted eye trackers collected from multiple users working around a multitouch conference table on a collaborative decision-making task.

Beyond presenting our own work it was also a humbling and inspiring experience to be among the UIST community and hear about their research. Coffee and lunch breaks offered spaces for informal discussion of research (not to mention great food), and the conference was packed with paper sessions and demos. Some highlights include VizLens, which makes control panels blind-accessible, Reprise: a design tool for specifying, generating, and customizing 3D printable adaptations on everyday objects, and ERICA: a system that supports data-driven app design with interaction mining and a user flow search engine. The conference ended with a visually stunning keynote by product designer Naoto Fukasawa who shared his design philosophy.

We asked one of the student researchers from the HCI Lab, Midori Yang  (pictured below at an owl cafe in Harajuku) who served as a student volunteer at UIST 2016 to write about her experience:

img_2816“I was incredibly fortunate to go to my first science conference as a student volunteer, and I had no idea what to expect. As a female undergraduate with no paper or poster to present, I was nervous about proving my place there and not making a fool of myself, even though I factually was a fool compared to the industry researchers and PhD students I met. But surprisingly, once I was at the conference, the gap in knowledge between me and these accomplished people was never a source of intimidation. The other student volunteers were incredibly welcoming and receptive to my questions about their research, never losing patience when I asked questions out of ignorance of computer science (I asked many of these questions). It was amazing to hear about the different projects they were developing, and what they were doing to make widen the spectrum of computer science’s applications, whether it was in medicine or the arts or a classroom setting.

The experience that had the strongest impact on me was of the student volunteer who immediately shared all of his research with me when it became apparent that it would help my own. I mentioned that my group for my TUI class was having trouble finding the hardware we needed to properly simulate the sensation of a guiding hand through a bracelet. The student volunteer’s demeanor seemed to change completely, coming into focus, and he told me that his lab had developed an entire glove for virtual reality with similar technology. He launched into a speech about the varying progress his lab had made, showing me demos and user studies and explaining exactly what materials I’d need to build my own glove. He didn’t seem at all concerned as to whether I’d credit him and his lab for their help; he was entirely concerned with making sure that I would be able to make progress and that I knew I could email him anytime with questions. After spending thirteen years as a student in highly competitive schools, I needed a reminder that I wasn’t absorbing knowledge just to raise my own grades and better myself, but also to share it with other people in my communities and better them as well. It finally occurred to me that the whole purpose of scientific conferences was the mass sharing of information in the name of scientific progress, and not a show of who had accomplished more in the past year.”

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