Summer Program Ending but zSpace Team Still Going On

Basic functionality has been implemented!

Basic functionality has been implemented!

With Wellesley’s Science Center Summer Research Program coming to a close, the zSpace team members are taking a moment to asses the current status of their two projects as well as reflect on the trials and tribulations encountered over the summer.

Following a brief stint of time where the fNIRS machine was not working due to a timer issue, Cassie and Jasmine have resumed running user studies. The issue that caused a pause in the this project is one both team members had taken note of before and has been a recurring problem throughout the summer. Unfortunately the timer is an integral part of the fNIRS and while an attempt was made to fix it early in the course of our research, the fix has proven just as unreliable as the machine. During the course of the summer the fNIRS developed a history of not working on Mondays, erratic signal strength due to poor headband (what holds the sensors to a user’s forehead) construction, and overvoltage signals for no apparent reason. Getting the finicky fNIRS to work in conjunction with zSpace proved to be a trial in patience this summer. While sometimes finicky as well, the zSpace proved to be more reliable than the fNIRS though we still ran into a few problems, the biggest of which were unexpected program shutdowns in the middle of user studies. Despite the setbacks and issues with both systems, the zSpace team is still on track to submit a paper to CHI 2015. In the mean time, we’ve created a poster to present some of the current findings of the brain study in the summer research program’s poster session this week.

A lot of progress has been made with MoClo Web Planner since the zSpace team’s last post as is evident by the image included in this blog post. The web version of the surface application has nearly full basic functionality implemented. A new custom theme has been implemented, draggable panels allow users to switch between levels, all parts in Level 0  (stored in the different tabs) can be dragged into, and only into, the correct boxes in Level 1, Level 1 has a combine feature that puts the parts together in different permutations, and any combined part sequence can be dragged into Level 2. Or in salad terms as Cassie is the one that has been figuring out the functionality: In Level 0 a user can select the parts of the salad that they have on hand and place the different food items in the correct boxes in Level 1. The button in Level 1 shows the user all of the possible salads that they can make, and then any number of those salads that seem appealing in Level 1 can be dragged into Level 2. The issues we’ve run into while creating MoClo Web Planner largely stem from learning jQuery on the fly and odd properties of various constricts we’ve implemented for functionality purposes (most notable of these is getting z-index to work in a way that would allow users to drag parts from one panel to another and have parts being visible above the new panel while in the process of dragging). Today the team met with our Boston University collaborators and discussed where we should now focus our energies as well as what functionality of the original MoClo Planner is most important to them.

Even though the program draws to a close, the zSpace team isn’t done. Both Cassie and Jasmine will be continuing to work on the brain study and MoClo Web Planner through August and likely into the school year.


Web Application of MoClo Planner

MoClo Planner Web
During the zSpace team’s previous endeavor to finish 60 use r studies in 10 days, the fNIRS device failed so the team is now pursuing a different project. While waiting for progress on fixing the machine, we’ve started web development with jQuery on MoClo Planner, a modular cloning planner used by synthetic biologists to plan their experiments.  MoClo Planner is a project originally done in 2012 by past summer researchers in Wellesley’s HCI lab. During its creation, the goal of MoClo Planner was to provide a touch compatible interface that allowed for easier information gathering and construct designing in synthetic biology labs. It contains a biological part library that can be filtered and searched through, access to a data sheet and relevant publications from Pubmed for each part, and a layered workspace (the featured  image displays a prototype of the layered workspaces in the web version of MoClo Planner).

Neither Jasmine nor Cassie have much experience using jQuery so there is a learning curve to their development process but they chose to remake the application with jQueryUI, a library that has features like drag/drop and resizability. Their goal is to make the application as similar to the version of MoClo developed for the Microsoft Surface as possible. The web version was highly requested by our collaborators at BU and International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGem) Foundation.

So far, we have made resizable panels that function in the same way as the ones in the surface application. Our short term goals are to make drag and dropping between panels possible. During our process, we are trying to bring the high school interns from the Wellesley-Framingham Outreach Summer Program, Shristi and Savanah, on board with our project to give them a wider base of experience in HCI.

Stereoscopic Vision and zSpace


In the process of exploring new interactions, Wellesley’s HCI lab has a team of students, Cassie Hoef and Jasmine Davis, working with zSpace. The zSpace is a holographic rendering machine capable of displaying objects in 3D using stereoscopic vision. It features: head tracking glasses, a stylus that offers 6 degrees of freedom, and haptic feedback.

In collaboration with Erin Solovey (Drexel), we use fNIRS brain sensing as a supplemental measurement to more traditional performance metrics to investigate the benefits of such techniques for spatial problem solving.

fNIRS is a non-invasive device which sits on the user’s forehead (as shown in the photos above). It shines near-infrared light through the skull and into the brain to measure the amount of oxygenated hemoglobin. The measurement can indicate the amount of workload a user is experiencing which might be a useful indication of how helpful the modes of interacting with the zSpace are.

In order to test this we are using a series of conditions and activities in the interactive stereoscopic 3D environment provided by zSpace to determine if a fNIRS device is a viable option in the collection of supplemental data in an HCI setting. Additional features of zSpace like haptic feedback and stereo vision are toggled between users to assess the fNIRS data’s ability to differentiate between different conditions. During the study the user completes puzzles in our zPuzzle application while wearing the fNIRS device. The levels change in difficulty, so the workload on the brain should change and ideally the change will be detectable between levels.

Some preliminary assessment of the data suggests that there is the possibility of a difference in frustration levels, physical workload, and subjective effort.  The brain data shows a higher level of oxy-hemoglobin during the stereo-haptic condition when compared to the stereo-no-haptic condition. We hope further studies will support and strengthen these initial suggestions.

These days, the zSpace team primarily spends their time scheduling and executing user studies in order to collect more data. In the next few weeks, we will be executing 60 more user studies and beginning data analysis.