After conversations with a number of potential partners, I ended
up submitting a proposal to the Being Human Festival 2019 in collaboration with
Norfolk Castle Museum and Art Gallery. The idea is to develop an experimental interactive
experience, using the LEAP Motion Controller (LMC), that can be used to explore
hitherto overlooked texts in the museum archive. ‘Touching the Past’ will
initially be run as a closed workshop and then at a follow-up event at Norwich
Castle during the week commencing the 18th of November.
“’Touching the Past’ is a series of workshops that encourages young people to explore overlooked stories in Norfolk Museums’ collection through digital experience and gestural interaction.”
The picture is purely for promotional purposes as is often the case with events where the promotion takes place before the work has actually been made.
From a production perspective – I chose Unity over Unreal Engine as a Leap-friendly development platform. This is partly due to some prior familiarity with Unity, which I used to make Play Table, and a greater working knowledge of programming with C# over C++. It was relatively easy to get the LEAP sensor up and running with Unity although there are a few gotchas, like LEAP currently requiring an older version of Unity to work. Most of the LEAP examples in the latest version of the Unity Orion library are geared towards VR with a head-mounted sensor. Some adaption is required to work with a table-mounted sensor.
The visual metaphor I have chosen for this early work is that of post-it notes. The idea being that the user selects a post-it note containing a single word which then reveals a more detailed item of text. The detailed view can then be reverted back to its original brief form and another keyword chosen for investigation, by rotating through all available post-it notes.
The interaction metaphor is not fixed completely but I am currently experimenting with the following control scheme:
These are a couple of screen shots of the work as it currently stands.
After engaging in a period of early ideation, and thinking about the application of gestural interaction within an information discovery experience, I had a look round a couple of museums to take stock of existing interaction design in context. Of particular note was the Museum of London, visited on the 11th of July 2019, which has a large number of interactive displays incorporating touch. I was particularly interested in the touch experience about disease in London, which had some game-like mechanics. It was well designed, with a bespoke screen and appealing interactive elements, however, for one reason or another it was not working properly. Users were becoming frustrated with the lack of responsiveness to touch, which may have been the result of a dirty or misaligned sensor. On my journey back to Norwich, I reflected upon the maturity and ubiquity of touch screen design for museums. This led me to consider gestural interaction though motion tracking as an emergent form of interaction design, specifically the LEAP Motion Controller, or LMC.
This is a small USB device designed to face upwards on a desktop or outwards on the front of a VR headset. It makes use of two infrared cameras and three infrared LEDs to track hand position and movement in 3D space
A useful primer on the topic of LMC within the context of 3D HCI is the review by Bachmann, Weichert & Rinkenauer (2018) which notes
the use of touchless interaction in medical fields for rehabilitation purposes
the suitability of LMC for use in games and gamification
the use by children with motor disabilities
textual character recognition (‘air-writing’)
sign language recognition
as a controller for musical performance and composition.
A common concern is the lack of haptic feedback offered by the LMC: “the lack of hardware-based physical feedback when interacting with the Leap Motion … results in a different affordance that has to be considered in future physics-based game design using mid-air gestures.” Moser C., & Tscheligi M., (2015). Seeing as LEAP has recently (May 2019) been acquired by Ultrahaptics, a specialist in the creation of the sensation of touch in mid-air, this situation is likely to change.
About the design of intuitive 3D gesture for differing contexts, Cabreira & Hwang (2016) note that differing gestures are reportedly easier to learn for older or younger users, that visual feedback is particularly important so that the user knows when their hand is being successfully tracked and that clear instruction is imperative to assist learning.
Shao (2015) provides a comprehensive technically oriented introduction to the LMC, including a catalogue of gesture types and associated programmatic techniques.
Shao also notes the problem of self-occlusion, where one part of the user’s hand obscures another part, resulting in misinterpretation of hand position by the LMC. (2015).
In Bachmann, Weichert, & Rinkenauer (2015), the authors use Fitts’ law to compare the efficiency of using the LMC as a pointing device vs. using a mouse. The LMC comes out worse in this context, exhibiting an error rate of 7.8% vs 2.8% for the mouse. Reflecting upon this issue led me to a report concerning the use of expanding interaction targets (McGuffin & Balakrishnan, 2005) and the general idea of making an interaction easier to achieve by temporarily manipulating the size of the target. In fact, an approach I have subsequently adopted is to make a pointing gesture select the nearest valid target, akin to gaze interaction in VR where the viewing direction of the headset is always known and can be used to manage interaction. In VR, this is often signified by an interactive item changing colour when intersected by a crosshair or target rendered in the middle of the user’s field of vision.
Bachmann, D., Weichert, F. & Rinkenauer, G. (2015) Evaluation
of the Leap Motion Controller as a New Contact-Free Pointing Device. Sensors 2015, 15, 214-233..
Bachmann, D., Weichert, F. & Rinkenauer, G. (2018)
Review of Three-Dimensional Human-Computer Interaction with Focus on the Leap
Motion Controller. Sensors 2018, 18,
Cabreira, A., and Hwang, F. (2016) How Do Novice Older Users Evaluate and Perform Mid-Air Gesture
Interaction for the First Time? In Proceedings of the 9th Nordic Conference
on Human-Computer Interaction (NordiCHI ’16).
McGuffin, M. & Balakrishnan, R., (2005) Fitts’ Law and
Expanding Targets: Experimental Studies and Designs for User Interfaces. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human
Interaction, Vol. 12, No. 4.
Moser C., & Tscheligi M., (2015) Physics-based gaming:
exploring touch vs. mid-air gesture input. IDC 2015.
The Being Human Festival 2019 first came to my attention in January. The festival is an umbrella organisation led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy. It has a national remit of promoting public engagement with humanities research and over the last few years has seen a sharp rise in participating academic organisations.
The festival consists of single events and ‘hubs’ hosting multiple events. As an artist-turned academic myself, only just recovering from the baptism of fire of getting a new course up and running, I saw the festival call-out as a good cue to re-establish my neglected practice-based research interests. Having considered the remit of public engagement with humanities research and the Being Human 2019 theme of Discoveries and Secrets, I began thinking about connecting a text-based interactive experience, building on previous works Data Flow and Journey Words, with a hitherto overlooked archival resource.
I started to develop ideas about forms of interaction, initially thinking about touch, while considering a suitable underlying information architecture, knowing that it would be difficult to connect an interactive experience with an existing archive ‘as-is’. I conceived of a simple two-level structure consisting of individual items of content each with one or more associated keywords. The keywords being used to traverse the information hierarchy and ‘discover’ one or more items of content.
As for the interaction design, I was originally thinking about touch screen and how multiple touches might be used to discover and combine keywords.
I was quite pleased with the results but decided to pause development until conducting a round of research, more of next.