Integrating Interactive Devices with the Body
Speaker: Pedro Lopes
When we look back to the early days of computing, user and device were distant, often located in separate rooms. Then, in the ’70s, personal computers “moved in” with users. In the ’90s, mobile devices moved computing into users’ pockets. More recently, wearable devices brought computing into constant physical contact with the user’s skin. These transitions proved useful: moving closer to users allowed interactive devices to sense more of their user and act more personal. The main question that drives my research is: what is the next interface paradigm that supersedes wearable devices?
The primary way researchers have been investigating this is by asking where future interactive devices will be located with respect to the user’s body. Many posit that the next generation of interfaces will be implanted inside the user’s body. However, I argue that their location with respect to the user’s body is not the primary factor; in fact, implanted devices are already happening in that we have pacemakers, insulin pumps, etc. Instead, I argue that the key factor is how will devices integrate with the user’s biological senses and actuators.
This body-device integration allows us to engineer interactive devices that intentionally borrow parts of the body for input and output, rather than adding more technology to the body. For example, one such type of body-integrated devices, which I have advanced during my PhD, are interactive systems based on electrical muscle stimulation; these are able to move their user’s muscles using computer-controlled electrical impulses, achieving the functionality of exoskeletons without the bulky motors. Their smaller size, a consequence of this integration with the user’s body, enabled haptic feedback in scenarios previously not possible with existing devices.
In my research group, we engineer interactive devices that integrate directly with the user’s body. We believe that these types of devices are the natural succession to wearable interfaces and allow us to investigate how interfaces will connect to our bodies in a more direct and personal way.
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