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The Dynamo project (2000-2003) was concerned with how to integrate interactive information devices in shared public spaces with the objectives of (i) developing a model of shared interaction, (ii) constructing a working system, and (iii) evaluating the system in a real working context. Our research was timely; it took place against a background of rapid advances in mobile communication technologies, an increase in the availability of online information, a growing prominence of digital display technologies in public spaces and the widespread adoption of low cost personal devices. The research outcomes from the Dynamo project made a number of significant contributions, in terms of understanding, conceptual developments and system architecture.

EMPIRICAL RESEARCH

The main thrust of our empirical research was to understand the work of those who support large-scale conferences and to understand how public displays in public and semi public spaces could be used to support these. We undertook two major empirical studies in order to understand the nature of interaction with public and shared displays. The first was in a conference setting and the second was in a social setting. Based on the findings of initial ethnographic studies, hypotheses were formulated about the nature of the social interaction and how it could be better supported or enhanced. Interactive prototype interfaces were then designed for shared display use that were then empirically tested.
(i) Distribute team working at conferences and the Offloader system The first exploration considered the way distributed teams communicate and coordinate when providing the audiovisual support at large conference venues. A field study was conducted at the CHI conference examining how a dispersed team of technicians coordinate their work, highlighting the phenomenon of extraneous ‘detective work’ – where much communication, via walkie-talkies, needs to take place to resolve uncertainty arising in their work. One of our main recommendations from the first part of the study was to suggest providing the team of technicians with a new form of communication support, in the form of visualisations that could be updated and viewed on integrated PDAs and a large shared display. In particular, we argued that one way of improving the way team members maintain their awareness of what is going on in different places and times is to offload some of the computation involved, by augmenting the verbal channel with visual information. Using the external cognition framework, we designed the Offloader system that allows salient verbal information to be re-represented as various forms of external cognitive trace on both the PDAs and the shared display. To test our assumptions about the benefit of externalization and computational offloading, we carried out an experiment, with three different conditions: visualization, pen and paper and no cognitive aid. Our findings showed that allowing users to create and view dynamic visualizations improves awareness of what is going on and the way distributed work is coordinated. These findings were used to feed back into our research on external cognition and representational design and also used to inform our guidelines for designing interfaces for shared displays. The findings of the field study were reported in Rogers et al (2002) and the experimental study and guidelines in Rogers and Brignull (2003).

(ii) Social interactions around a public display and the Opinionizer system The second project was concerned with how groups of people socialize around large public displays, the way they move towards them, congregate around them and change from being onlookers to participants and back again. At the time there was much debate about how to design displays in public settings that would entice people to spontaneously use them. Our preliminary research showed considerable social embarrassment and reluctance to do so. To examine this issue further, we carried out a study looking at what people do when an interactive display is placed in a social gathering. We designed a prototype system – the Opinionizer – which we placed in two authentic social gatherings, intended to encourage socializing and interaction. From our findings we developed a model of public interaction flow, which has provided the basis from which to provide design recommendations for encouraging public participation. This research is reported in Rogers and Brignull (2002) and Brignull et al. (2003).

IMPLEMENTING AND EVALUATING THE DYNAMO SYSTEM

The empirical and technical grounding provided by the first phase of the Dynamo project was used to support the development of the Dynamo interactive surface as a novel form of situated display. The surface was designedto support fluid interaction in order to reduce social awkwardness and promote the flow of information to and from the surface. The Dynamo system was designed as a large publicly accessible interactive surface that allows people to gather around, share, display and exchange media with others. The aim was to promote shoulder-to-shoulder collaboration by allowing multiple users to interact simultaneously on the same surface. Users can attach multiple USB mice and keyboards to the surface and also connect remotely via laptops and desktops. Once connected, the Dynamo surface allows users to:
− Manage the surface as a communal resource by claiming areas of the surfaces for use.

− Easily place information on the surface and take information from the surface.

− Display information for extended periods of time and leave items for others.

Each user interacts with the surface through an interaction point. An interaction point comprises input devices capable of delivering mouse, text and media input to the system. Two broad forms of interaction points are provided: – Base interaction points normally consist of a wireless keyboard, mouse and USB slots for attaching media sources such as removable USB disks, digital cameras, MP3 players and web cameras. – Mobile interaction points can allow laptops and PDAs to act as interaction points as each of these has the capabilities to provide mouse input (through stylus or touch pads) and text input (through soft or hard keyboards) and deliver media from their internal disks.

The Dynamo system was successfully deployed for 2 weeks in a 6th form common-room in the UK. An in-depth user study was conducted; the students were videoed using the system over a period of two weeks and interviewed at various points.

The researchers who worked on the Dynamo project have gone onto greater things:

Harry Bringull – UX consultant

Sharham Izhadi – CEO, start-up company: Perceptiveio