Friday, January 25, 2008

Palpable computing: a taste of things to come

Giving control to the user ...

"Virtually everyone stands to benefit from the more pervasive use of computer technology. But while adding microchips to more everyday objects can make lives easier – and even save them – the approach creates some unique problems of its own. “Palpable” rather than “ubiquitous” computing promises a solution.

“Palpable computing”, a term coined by Morten Kyng, a researcher at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, refers to pervasive computer technology that is also tangible and comprehensible to its users.

Ubiquitous computing, in the traditional sense, is based on the vision of making the computers invisible, Kyng suggests. “The problem is that when the technology is invisible you can’t see what it is doing, how it functions or comprehend it.”

Anyone who has tried to connect their mobile phone to their laptop can attest to that. But while the invisibility of ubiquitous computing technology may be a mere inconvenience for many, in some cases it can be a serious, even life-threatening problem. A breakdown in communications that cannot be quickly fixed during a natural disaster can cost lives, as too can interoperability failures in hospital equipment.

By making the technology visible when it needs to be and comprehensible all the time, palpable computing reduces the complications of using the technology, while opening the door to developers creating new applications more easily.
Putting the user in control

The vision of ubiquitous computing has focused on tools honed through use over time and well suited to what they are designed to do, comments Kyng. “The problems arise when you want or need to do something new or different from what the designers intended: the user is not really in control,” he adds.

Over the last four years, Kyng has led a team of more than a hundred researchers from across Europe working on making palpable computing a reality. They have developed software architecture for palpable computing systems as well as a toolbox for developers to create applications that has recently been made available under an open source licence. The researchers, who received EU funding in the PalCom project, also developed several test platforms that have served to highlight the benefits of their approach."    (Continued via Putting people first, ICT Results)    [Usability Resources]

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