Human-Centered Computing, Online Communities and Virtual Environments

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1 Human-Centered Computing, Online Communities and Virtual Environments Report on the first joint European Commission/National Science Foundation Advanced Research Workshop 1-4 June 1999 Bonas, France Judith Brown (University of Iowa, USA) Andy van Dam (Brown University, USA) Rae Earnshaw (University of Bradford, UK) Jose Encarnacao (Fraunhofer IGD, Germany) Richard Guedj (INT, France) Jennifer Preece (University of Maryland Baltimore County, USA) Ben Shneiderman (University of Maryland College Park, USA) John Vince (Bournemouth University, UK)

2 Index Page 1. Introduction and Background 3 2. Objectives of the Workshop 4 3. The Workshop Program 5 4. The Results from the Workshop Virtual Environments and Human-Centered Computing Diversity of Technology and Users Research Integration Multiple Disciplines Pure and Applied Research Key Application Drivers The Networked Community A Taxonomy of Human-Centered Systems Report of the Working Group on Virtual Environments, Augmented Reality and Mobile Systems Introduction Critical Areas Recommended Areas for Future Research Report of the Working Group on Applications and Tools Introduction Applications Tools and Components Conclusions and Summary Report of the Working Group on Foundations of Future Interfaces: Devices, Hardware, and Software Introduction and Background Research Issues Report of the Working Group on Online and Networked Communities Executive Summary Online and Networked Communities Definitions Research Agenda Eight Agenda Items for Funding Report of the Working Group on Business, Academia and Government Introduction Reference Model Applications and Demonstrations Recommendations Additional Activity in Europe Conclusions and Summary of Recommendations Acknowledgements 59 Bibliography 60 Participants 62 Report and Recommendations from Joint EC/NSF Workshop, 1-4 June

3 Human-Centered Computing, Online Communities and Virtual Environments Report on the first joint European Commission/National Science Foundation Advanced Research Workshop, 1-4 June 1999, Chateau de Bonas, France 1. Introduction and Background This joint Workshop was set up under the auspices of the Joint European Commission/National Science Foundation Strategy Group that had its first meeting in Budapest, 3-4 September The meeting derived from a joint collaboration agreement between the EC and NSF in August 1998, signed by Dr George Metakides (Director, Information Technologies, EC) and Prof. Juris Hartmanis (Director, CISE, NSF). The collaboration aims to facilitate the joint development of knowledge and applications in key emerging science and technology areas of mutual interest. Successful cooperation holds the promise of more cost-effective investment of research funds in the USA and the European Union. National initiatives in the USA and many European countries are recognizing the benefits to scientific research in supporting larger groupings, often with interdisciplinary teams of researchers. It is possible to achieve results with national and translation groupings that it is not possible to achieve on the same time scale with an institutional one. This model has also been used for a number of years by the European Commission to facilitate research development in European countries, and accomplish faster technology transfer to European industry by company participation in projects. These initiatives have recently been extended to include non-european partners on a self-funded basis. Collaborative links have also been established with Japan. It is clear that with the increasing globalization of research and development there is a need for research laboratories and companies to develop products that are viable in world markets. Thus what is being proposed by the EC and NSF is a logical extension of existing paradigms for securing significant progress in key research areas. It was felt desirable to arrange a series of research Workshops to enable early identification of key research challenges and opportunities in information technology. It was intended that each Workshop should bring together eminent scientists and technologists in the USA and Europe in the area being addressed, and that the themes would emanate from the research community. Report and Recommendations from Joint EC/NSF Workshop, 1-4 June

4 At the meeting of the Joint EC/NSF Strategy Group on 3-4 September, a number of possible themes were identified. These included "human-centered computing and virtual environments", "large-scale scientific databases", and "intelligent implants". Scientists on this Strategy Group included: Prof. Andy van Dam (Brown University, USA), Prof. Paul Messina (California Institute of Technology, USA), Prof. Rae Earnshaw (University of Bradford, UK), Prof. Giorgio Baccarani (University of Bologna, Italy), Prof. Rolf Eckmiller (University of Bonn, German) and Prof. Gilles Kahn (Inria, France). It was agreed that the first joint research Workshop should concentrate on the themes of humancentered computing and virtual environments. Human-centered computing is perceived as an area of strategic importance because of the move towards greater decentralization and decomposition in the location and provision of computation. The area of virtual environments is an area where increased collaboration should facilitate more rapid progress in solving some of the more intractable problems in building effective applications. It is intended that further Workshops should follow this one, either on separate topics or on specific issues arising out of this first Workshop. 2. Objectives of the Workshop The objective of the Workshop was to concentrate on the research frontiers of human computer interaction and virtual environments. Of particular relevance are the desires that interaction be more centered around human needs and capabilities, and that the human environment be considered in virtual environments and in other contextual information processing activities. The overall goal is to make users more effective in their information or communication tasks by reducing learning times, speeding performance, lowering error rates, facilitating retention and increasing subjective satisfaction. We believe that improved designs can dramatically increase effectiveness for users who range from novices to experts and who are in diverse cultures with varying educational backgrounds. Their lives could be made more satisfying, their work safer, their learning easier and their health better. Research areas to be addressed included: - high level content descriptions and their access, such as metadata and MPEG7 - reducing cognitive load and providing more scope for creativity - cross-disciplinary interaction and how to make it work - handling interaction in specific social contexts and with cultural differences - dealing with universality and the problems of the differently-abled - interaction styles and their implications - consistency of cognition models across information appliances - paradigms for emerging new kinds of interaction; beyond WIMP interfaces: multimodal and perceptual user interfaces - challenges for virtual environment technology and interfaces - usability issues and measuring the effectiveness of symbiosis - design and evaluation of online communities for intranet and internet - scaling online communities to support millions of people - universal access, social and ethical issues Report and Recommendations from Joint EC/NSF Workshop, 1-4 June

5 Each participant at the Workshop produced a position paper on a selected topic, which was used to feed the discussions at the Workshop. The participants then formed Working Groups to discuss in detail the research issues in particular domains. These areas were defined by the functional research issues that came into the Workshop through the position papers, not by any external body. The results and recommendations from the Workshop are intended to inform the process of collaboration between the EC and the NSF on the development of mechanisms to support international level collaborative research and to identify optimal areas in which cooperation could take place. These results are also being circulated to the community in journals and newsletters for discussion and comment. This present document is the formal Report to the European Commission and the National Science Foundation on the Workshop. A book is also to be produced containing the material considered at the Workshop. 3. The Workshop Program International researchers and key actors in the fields of virtual environments and human-centered computing were invited to prepare position papers in areas covered by these areas. Figure 1 shows the attendees at the Workshop. Front Row (left to right) Karine Iannelli (Secretariat) Ute Fahrholz (Secretariat) Emilie Monferran (Secretariat) Prof Richard Guedj (INT, France) Co-Chair Margaret Denison (Secretariat) Judy Brown (University of Iowa, USA) Prof Rae Earnshaw (University of Bradford, UK) Co-Chair Mrs. Simone (host) Second Row (left to right) Lisa Manekofsky (Brown University, USA) Prof Bertram Herzog (Fraunhofer CRCG, USA) Junji Yamaguchi (Independent researcher, Japan) Dr Larry Rosenblum (Naval Research Laboratory, USA) Prof Ben Shneiderman (University of Maryland College Park, USA) Prof Jenny Preece (University of Maryland Baltimore County, USA) Dr Wendy Kellogg (IBM T. J. Watson Research Center, USA) Dr John Thomas (IBM Research Hawthorne, USA) Third row (left to right) Prof Tosiyasu Kunii (Hosei University, Japan) Prof Andy van Dam (Brown University, USA) Co-Chair Debbie Van Dam Jo Herzog Report and Recommendations from Joint EC/NSF Workshop, 1-4 June

6 Dr Matthew Turk (Microsoft Research, USA) Dr Charles Koelbel (National Science Foundation, USA) Dr Jürgen Schönhut (Fraunhofer IGD, Germany) Prof Mikael Jern (AVS and Linkoping University, Sweden) David Leevers (VERS, UK) Christoph Busch (Fraunhofer IGD, Germany) Prof Tom DeFanti (University of Illinois at Chicago, USA) Fourth Row (left to right) Hartmut Chodura (Fraunhofer IGD, Germany) Dr Sudhir Mudur (National Centre for Software Technology, India) Dr Thomas Kirste (Fraunhofer Institute, Germany) Dr Deb Roy (MIT Media Laboratory, USA) Dr Turner Whitted (Microsoft Research, USA) Back row (left to right) Prof Tom Furness (HIT Laboratory, University of Washington, USA) Prof Bill Buxton (Alias Wavefront/Silicon Graphics, University of Toronto, Canada) Prof John Vince (University of Bournemouth, UK) Also attending but not shown: Victor Abrash (SRI International, USA) Prof Daniel Andler (University of Paris X, France) Jehan Bing (SRI International, USA) Prof Ole Bernsen (Odense University, Denmark) Prof José Encarnação (Fraunhofer IGD, Germany) Dr William Newman (Xerox Research Centre Europe, UK) The position papers submitted to the Workshop determined the first cut at possible research priorities, and they were grouped into the following principal areas: Virtual environments Augmented reality and mobile computing Devices for display and interaction Future interfaces Applications and tools Online communities Foundations for interaction Collaboration between industry, academia and government Following the initial review of the areas, they were combined into the following: Virtual environments, augmented reality and mobile computing Applications and tools Devices and future interfaces Report and Recommendations from Joint EC/NSF Workshop, 1-4 June

7 Online communities Collaboration between industry, academia and government Working Groups in these five areas further considered the detailed research issues. Their reports follow this summary. 4. The Results from the Workshop 4.1 Virtual Environments and Human-Centered Computing Although virtual environments and human-centered computing are rather different areas, it proved to be very useful to have researchers joining together to consider the issues on the lines of continuum between the two areas. Virtual environments face challenges, especially in the areas of display technology, interaction methodologies, update rates and collaboration between users in different geographic locations. A mobile augmented reality environment is challenged by portability issues, devices, interfaces and communications. It is difficult to make computing human-centered with standardized technology such as keyboards and mice, impedance mismatches, and the current shift towards ubiquity. As a result of this ubiquity, the computation will become incorporated in mobile devices or embedded in the infrastructure or the environment, rather than in a particular desktop device with which the user can interact. There are challenges in steering technological innovation towards meeting human needs, in ensuring that the results of empirical research are useful to designers and in orienting the system developer to think more in terms of the human user. Output devices can range between the two extremes of light emitting polymers for coating wall paper (for large-scale, wall-sized displays) and smallscale retinal displays, where the image is focused directly on the retina. Recommendation 1 More research consideration should be given to human needs and requirements, rather than technology functions per se. Recommendation 2 Research is required to identify the critical parameters involved in the design and evaluation of technology to meet user needs. 4.2 Diversity of Technology and Users The current diversity of the field, such as in displays, is both a challenge and an opportunity. Current developments in technology and content generation, and the rapid rise of new uses and applications, require diverse kinds of interdisciplinary expertise in order to exploit the technology effectively. There is a diversity of technology (hardware, software, and networking), a diversity of users (especially in areas where technology has not yet made significant inroads) and an increasing gap between what users know and what they need to know to use current systems effectively. All this bears testimony to tools and systems being technology-driven rather than user-driven. Much more attention needs to be given to end-to-end design and integrating the needs of the user from the very beginning. Critical parameters in the design and evaluation process need to be much more firmly identified, quantified and rigorously upheld. Research is needed in this area. Report and Recommendations from Joint EC/NSF Workshop, 1-4 June

8 4.3 Research Integration The wide range of expertise available at the Workshop enabled us to recognize the challenge of diversity and seek to address it. It was agreed that the breadth of the field is not being taken into account by current research. The experts in converging areas are not working together, and research programs are not getting the right kind of interdisciplinary expertise, or support, to give added-value integration. Indeed, the need for a greater degree of integration and greater attention to scalability pervaded many of the research issues highlighted at the Workshop. Recommendation 3 Mechanisms and procedures for facilitating interdisciplinary research collaborations are needed. 4.4 Multiple Disciplines One important area of future work is the behavior of individuals and communities in their relationship to each other and to the world. There is a long history of educational, psychological, social psychological and sociological studies, but methodological innovations are needed to capture and understand the complex nature of individual and group behaviors that occur while using technology. Analytic and descriptive studies can provide useful insights, but there is a strong need for more prescriptive outcomes that can guide designers of new technologies. Guidelines are available for basic user interface design, and these need to be extended to accommodate new technologies. In addition, validated metrics, user surveys, task taxonomies, ethnographic methods of observation, participatory design methods, usability testing strategies, expert review techniques and software development methodologies would all help produce more orderly development processes for new technologies. Social impact statements prepared in advance of implementations could facilitate broad discussions of critical technologies and thereby minimize the number and severity of unanticipated side effects. Recommendation 4 A greater emphasis is needed on quantitative and predictive methods for analyzing user behavior and user requirements that can be used to inform the technology design process and its interface to the user. Understanding community relationships becomes even more critical when it is a community of users interacting in a shared world or information space, such as on the World Wide Web. The interface needs to be appropriate to the task to be performed, the social behavior of the user (or groups of users), and the maintenance of relationships. Research programs should be developed in this area. Recommendation 5 Research programs should be developed on interfaces for tasks, social behavior of users, and the maintenance of relationships. Strong encouragement should be given for universities to support multidisciplinary activities and to reform traditional computer science departments so that they include a human-centered approach throughout their research and educational programs. A specific suggestion for moving Report and Recommendations from Joint EC/NSF Workshop, 1-4 June

9 the center of gravity in this direction would be to fund graduate fellowships in human-centered systems. Recommendation 6 To provide practical and political support for multidisciplinary approaches, funding should be made available for graduate fellowships in human-centered systems. 4.5 Pure and Applied Research The resistance to a full recognition of the value of interdisciplinary research was felt to reside in both funding bodies and academia. Academia prefers promotion criteria that emphasize "pure" science, with elegant solutions being derived for somewhat arbitrary intellectual problems; funding bodies promote research areas recommended by scientific peer groups in the same tradition. This roadblock to interdisciplinary research must be overcome. Currently academia is losing many valuable people to industry simply because industry is paying them to do the kind of exciting and meaningful research they are unable to do in academia and get tenure. There is a lack of synchronization between academia, the changing nature of the world and the research needed to shed light on important current issues. Recommendation 7 Current roadblocks to interdisciplinary research should be overcome, e.g. in the review of research grants proposals, and faculty tenure considerations. Much stronger promotion of evaluation and empirical testing of systems in the context of work is needed. This evaluation and testing should be both controlled and ethnographic, in the laboratory and in the field. Needs, requirements and behavior of the users, as well as the range of problems they need to solve, should be considered. Progress in VR, online communities, universal usability and other user-centered areas will be dramatically increased if the funders insist on some form of assessment. Recommendation 8 Funding agencies should insist on evaluation and testing of systems in the context of their intended domain of use. 4.6 Key Application Drivers Problems to be solved can be key drivers in the domain. These represent in some sense "pull" requirements from the user that need to be considered alongside the more normal "push" technology from the vendors. The Working Group that considered the agenda for collaboration between industry, academia, and government, proposed the "Content" age as the key driver for Content is needed for human media technology, augmented reality, digital story telling, interactive broadcasting and multimedia workspaces. Indeed, the whole nature of the humancomputer interface may move away from one operating on a model of sequential task definition and processing. The new human-computer interface could operate on a model of behavior, context, cultural background, information awareness and imagination, namely "story-telling" at the interface, thus drawing on its own values of context and history. Recommendation 9 Report and Recommendations from Joint EC/NSF Workshop, 1-4 June

10 Content should be a key driver for the next phase of developments, and this will open up new interface requirements. A working model and methodology is needed for the Content Age. The technology should be user-centered and mobile with new types of interaction technology and information display. Three key application domains have requirements for this technology: Health and continuing medical education (both doctors and patients) Environment Cultural heritage Recommendation 10 A working model and methodology for content must be defined. It is proposed that a follow-up Workshop should be organized on this theme with content experts, perceptualization experts and representatives of potential funding sources from governments and industry. The objective would be to stimulate and integrate government and academic research agendas in this area. Recommendation 11 A Workshop should be arranged on the theme of a working model and methodology for the content age, with content experts, perceptualization experts, and representatives of potential funding sources from governments and industry 4.7 The Networked Community Current developments in online communities present a major strategic opportunity for the information technology (IT) community. This is another key application driver. Although the nature of these new communities is not well understood, because of their rapid growth, they have the potential for changing the world, especially in the developing countries. As the community moves towards the "million person interface" what will the needs and requirements of the community be, and how should they be supported? How can multi-cultural and multi-lingual requirements be handled and represented? These are complex and difficult challenges, and there is an opportunity to make a significant impact on the world stage. Recommendation 12 An analysis should be performed to determine the need and requirements of the emerging online community. Universality need not imply a loss of functionality for particular domains and applications, nor should it be seen necessarily as "lowest common denominator" IT. However, the global nature of the online communities phenomenon does present a major strategic opportunity for governments to collaborate on research in this area - thus benefiting from the pooling of expertise from different cultures backgrounds, and countries. Recommendation 13 Report and Recommendations from Joint EC/NSF Workshop, 1-4 June

11 We must take advantage of the strategic opportunity, available through the online community, to collaborate on Research and Development issues with potential global significance. 4.8 A Taxonomy of Human-Centered Systems An initial taxonomy for human-centered computing in the context of virtual environments was produced. This provides a framework for an understanding of multi-channel input and output, the skills of the user, the particular technology selected for a task and the task to be performed (whether simple or complex). A foreground and background task model is proposed, and it highlights two key issues for the future: How to get foreground and background to assist each other How to increase the effective contribution of the background (i.e. to make the computer more aware of the user's context, needs, and requirements at any point in time). Recommendation 14 We should create a classification of user tasks into foreground and background activities, in the context of an overall framework for human-centered computing, in order to understand how to get technology to assist the user, both directly and indirectly. The following sections report the results from each of the five Working Groups: Virtual environments, augmented reality and mobile computing Applications and tools Devices and future interfaces Online communities Collaboration between industry, academia and government 5. Report of the Working Group on Virtual Environments, Augmented Reality and Mobile Systems John Vince (lead author), Bill Buxton, Larry Rosenblum, Rae Earnshaw, Thomas Kirste 5.1 Introduction A proposed taxonomy of computer systems is as follows: Report and Recommendations from Joint EC/NSF Workshop, 1-4 June

12 Figure 2 Mapping of User to Technology The diagram shown in Figure 2 is an attempt to represent the mapping of the human's skill-set onto the task to be done via appropriate technological prostheses. The aim should be to have a set of tools that optimize the skill and sensory capabilities of the user and make them more effective. What tends to happen at the moment is a technology "push" on to which the users have to interface their requirements. Technology should seek to reduce complexity rather than increase it. Recommendation 15 In order to effectively utilize technology, the complexity of the user's task(s) must be reduced. Tasks can be divided up into foreground (where a conscious action is required) and background (where actions can take place independently of the user's intervention). In the latter area, agents are an example. The diagram shown in Figure 3 represents the relationship between foreground and background tasks. Report and Recommendations from Joint EC/NSF Workshop, 1-4 June

13 Figure 3 Foreground and Background Actions In current user interaction and user interface design, much attention is focussed on foreground activities, such as the design of a graphics user interface, and the background task area tends to be ignored. Usually a background task is brought to the foreground to interrupt the user and request an action (e.g. a printer is needed to output the results of a process). This identifies the following issues: Issue 1. How can we get foreground and background to assist each other? Issue 2. How can we increase the effective contribution of background? Issue 3. How can we integrate sequential and parallel capability? 5.2 Critical Areas The working group was charged with reporting on the critical research areas for Virtual Environments, Augmented Reality and Mobile Systems. These are extremely large topics, and our recommendations identify what we considered to be the critical issues for immediate investigation. In coming to our conclusions, we have ignored the specific requirements of individual application areas and concentrated on the fundamental issues of technology, algorithms, user interfaces and system configuration. Report and Recommendations from Joint EC/NSF Workshop, 1-4 June

14 In the area of Virtual Environments, we considered the representation, integration, perception and display of complex data sets to be paramount. Considerable research work has already taken place in these areas, but much more research is needed. In the area of Augmented Reality, it was felt, from the results of current research, that substantial research effort is required in user registration in 3D space, overlay algorithms for synthetic and real data, the use of real-time predictive algorithms for improving system efficiency and reducing latency, instrumenting the user s workspace and situation monitoring. The area of Mobile Systems is still in its infancy and is highly dependent upon current technologies. Nevertheless, the following research topics were identified as central to this very important subject: battery technology, networking issues, multi-user communication and wearable systems. On a system design note, it was felt that, with the trend towards more modular complex systems, designers should make such systems more intelligent by making them adaptive to the user s requirements and aware of their own connectivity. Recommendation 16 Areas for future research in virtual environments, augmented reality and mobile technology are set in Section 5.3 of the report. 5.3 Recommended Areas for Future Research Virtual Environments Large Data Spaces Multi-resolution Algorithms for portals Viewer-dependency issues Watermarking Display Spaces Display technologies (resolution, size, portability, contrast ratio, brightness, etc.) Novel 3D displays (retinal, holographic, volumetric, etc.) Tracking technologies Data Modeling Dynamic level of detail Integrating real and synthetic data sets (hypertext, 3D geometry, scalar, vector, etc.) Physically-Based Modeling Simulating physical behaviors Real-time algorithms Haptics Fidelity Report and Recommendations from Joint EC/NSF Workshop, 1-4 June

15 Less intrusive devices Aural Use of 3D sound as awareness cues Sensitivity to user Natural language interfaces Olfactory Output devices Latency issues Others Temperature and wind cues Multi-modal interaction Navigation paradigms Motion sickness Adaptive interfaces Augmented Reality Registration and data fusion Tracking systems Information mapping and interoperability How much information to place on a display Predictive algorithms Task modeling (multi-tasking, priority resolution, executable, incrementally modifiable, ease of use for the end user) Instrumenting the workspace Knowing where everything is Situation monitoring Ontologies for describing the physical context Mobile Technologies Battery technology Discharge/recharge cycle Power to weight ratio Portability issues Exploiting the wearer as a source of energy Wearable designs Health & safety Radiation Report and Recommendations from Joint EC/NSF Workshop, 1-4 June

16 Bandwidth, latency, and networking issues 6. Report of the Working Group on Applications and Tools William Newman (lead author), Judy Brown, Mikael Jern, Chuck Koelbel, Jürgen Schönhut 6.1 Introduction The group took as its starting point the review presentations of Mikael Jern 1 and William Newman, and position papers contributed by Judy Brown, Chuck Koelbel, Jürgen Schönhut and others. The group s report incorporates a number of points made during the three plenary sessions at which interim proposals were presented. The two main topics covered here, Applications and Tools, owe their importance partly to their bearing on methodology. Research in these two areas can lead to improved methods for conducting research and development in other areas. For example, a better understanding of applications can assist those working in Virtual Reality technologies through the provision of specific application scenarios against which to test proposed designs. Better tools can lead to more rapid prototyping and can in turn enable designers to work in closer partnership with users. Recommendation 17 Research must be conducted into applications and tools that lead to better methodology. This report reviews the main points arising during the meetings of the working group and during the plenary discussions. It concludes with a number of recommendations for future research. 6.2 Applications The issue of applications is crucial to both of the workshop s subtopics, Virtual Environments and Human-Centered Computing. For Virtual Environments (VE), Virtual Reality (VR), and Information Visualization (InvoVis), the only direct route to gaining a return on research investment lies through applications. For Human-Centered Computing (HCC), it is much the same: applications provide the primary context in which HCC methods and techniques achieve payoff by enabling users to interact with technology. Applications cannot be ignored, therefore, without increasing the risk that research effort will be wasted. At the workshop, application-related issues surfaced in many of the working group discussions and presentations. The issues can be treated under four main headings: Methods for identifying applications The principal issue here is how to discover new applications that offer payoff from any given technology, including VE, VR and InfoVis. Fitting technology to the needs of users 1 EC funded research project CONTENTS Report and Recommendations from Joint EC/NSF Workshop, 1-4 June

17 Here the concern is to find effective ways to shape the technology and the user s activity in order to achieve the best possible match. Identifying performance metrics These are needed in order to track improvements in the ability of technologies to support applications. Metrics are needed both for supporting technologies and for applications themselves. Specific applications and their requirements All of the above issues contribute to identifying and understanding specific applications. The working group focused attention primarily on the first three issues, and these are discussed below. Some specific applications did arise and are mentioned in the report. In addition to these technical issues, the group identified stable infrastructure as an important area of concern for enabling research, and we discuss this in more detail below Methods for identifying applications Progress in fields of advanced technology such as VE can be greatly assisted by identifying applications. Many benefits are thus gained: Technical decisions can be informed by the requirements of known applications Early exploitation of technology can be achieved by applying it to easily addressed applications Identified applications enable stronger arguments to be made for research investment Focused marketing studies can be launched to assess business prospects Policy makers can better understand technology benefits when these are described in terms of known applications. Methods for identifying applications are therefore needed in order for researchers to reap these benefits with the minimum expended effort. The working group discussed the granularity of identified applications. The field of VE has been linked with several domains of application, including health, education and entertainment. These are domains of considerable breadth, which can be advantageous in making arguments for VE research investment. However, their breadth is a disadvantage when trying to make technical decisions or look for easily addressed applications. What is needed then is a taxonomy of more narrowly targeted applications. Such a taxonomy can also be extremely useful in helping enumerate possible applications for VE, as a step towards identifying new opportunities. One such targeted application for VR is virtual endoscopy. Here the current manual method of internal examination of the patient, using a flexible probe, is replaced by scanning the patient (e.g. by Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and then exploring the scanned data using VR. An application such as this can provide a basis for other applications, such as inspection of mechanical parts by automatic scanning followed by creation of a 3D image that the inspector can explore more efficiently than the original part. These two examples illustrate how families of targeted applications may cut across the broad application domains. Report and Recommendations from Joint EC/NSF Workshop, 1-4 June

18 The working group agreed that a taxonomy of applications could provide a more methodical way of exploring the space of possible uses for VE and VR. In this way, the risk of overlooking highpayoff applications could be reduced Fitting technology to the needs of users Human-Centered Computing (more widely known as Human Computer Interaction or HCI) has a primary concern with methods and techniques for designing interactive systems that meet users needs. The working group discussed ways in which these methods and techniques could be brought to bear on applications for VE, VR and InfoVis. To some extent, any HCI method, such as user-participatory design or usability engineering, should be helpful in applying VE. One particular approach discussed by the working group was rapid prototyping with the aid of software components. This is discussed further below under the heading of Tools. There was also an ongoing discussion of how to know when new technology is really required. Some technology-driven projects have been justly accused of introducing a more advanced technology than is needed to solve the problem. This follows the adage that if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. The working group saw application-driven research as a possible way to address this problem. If more attention is paid to the identified goals of the application, less effort may be squandered on inventing new technology that fills no real need, and instead invention will be directed towards delivering essential functionality and/or performance Identifying performance metrics Performance is an important issue across all fields of computing, including the design of applications. It is a dominant factor in hardware developments, and it is of importance to all who develop software components. There are metrics by which advances in all these fields can be measured, enabling developers of applications to track improvements in the performance of supporting hardware and software. The performance of applications themselves is another matter, however. Metrics are not easily identifiable for, say, an augmented-reality system for aircraft maintenance, or a visualization system for exploring digital libraries. One reason for this is the potentially radical change that the technology may cause to the supported human process, whether this process involves work or play. But even when fairly mundane technological changes are introduced, such as new versions of office software tools, agreed metrics do not exist for measuring performance improvements. It is often impossible, therefore, to demonstrate what quantitative benefit the user will gain from performance improvements in hardware and software components. As has been said in other contexts, performance is one thing that often fails to make it across the last foot between screen and user. The need to deliver demonstrable performance gains to the user is being voiced increasingly frequently and loudly. These gains will not be demonstrable until there are agreed metrics for measuring the performance of the applications in question. Generic usability metrics are a step in Report and Recommendations from Joint EC/NSF Workshop, 1-4 June

19 this direction. However, for much the same reason that we need to enumerate the range of targeted applications for VE and VR, we may need also to identify application-specific metrics in order to assess the true performance gain delivered to the user. For example, the gains from virtual endoscopy almost certainly need to take into account the amount of time the surgeon or radiographer spends conducting the inspection. While this is a relatively straightforward case, the earlier example of digital library exploration presents a much harder problem of metric identification Polarization of the marketplace There are indications that the marketplace is becoming more polarized. On the one hand, the progress of Moore s Law and resulting gains in price/performance are turning interactive systems into commodities. This effectively raises the relative cost of new technologies (such as VE and VR) that have not yet been commoditized. The added cost, in turn, discourages introducing the technologies into new applications. On the other hand, the demand for organizational systems to support work processes is as strong as ever, but with a constant need to develop an individual solution that meets the organization s needs. A question mark hangs over the commercial prospects for more specialized software products, such as CAD and visualization packages, which have traditionally provided opportunities to test advanced technologies in the marketplace. The plenary discussions identified this as a serious issue for the VE and HCC communities. If investments are to be made in highly innovative technologies such as VE, pathways need to exist to the marketplace. It is not clear what actions could help create these pathways. Some suggestions included long-term research support for fundamental research in VE/VR components, building VE/VR research on commodity engines, and small-scale demonstration projects to identify opportunities for VE/VR-based solutions. Many governments profess to support the first option, but this is difficult to sustain in the face of political pressures. Many current projects do use commodity components, but again there is the question of stability in the future. Demonstration projects presuppose that the technology is ready for use, which begs the question of how it will be developed. We conclude that there is no single solution, but that the commoditization of the marketplace must be addressed in any long-range planning for the field. 6.3 Tools and Components The working group s discussion of Tools focused primarily on the single problem of ensuring adequate software infrastructure for research into applications in VE, VR and InfoVis Component-based software Component-based programming has come to represent a major next step in developing new applications that plug easily into the existing infrastructure through well-defined interfaces. Assembling applications or high-level application components from modular components can increase the overall reliability and maintainability of an application because individual components are usually tested, are well specified and are designed to support an agreed-upon functionality. In addition, component-based development offers increased flexibility, allowing more rapid development of applications. Like any new method, however, component-based development is not without its problems. For example, using components from different sources may lead to problems of inconsistent design architecture a problem that large APIs implicitly avoid. In order for components to be of value, therefore, design and implementation must follow strict rules and common architectural models. Report and Recommendations from Joint EC/NSF Workshop, 1-4 June

20 Application components need to be developed to meet with the specifications of at least one of the major request broker architectures. These include CORBA, Microsoft s DCOM (Distributed Common Object Model) and Sun s JavaBeans Sustaining the infrastructure The potential benefits of the component-based approach, and indeed of VR research as a whole, cannot be sustained unless the software infrastructure is sustained too. Recent events such as the evaporation of support for Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) indicate just how vulnerable the research community has become. Figure 4 suggests diagrammatically the problem facing applications developers. Applications software depends on layers of software, possibly including libraries of components, and inevitably resting on basic software platforms such as VRML and OpenGL. If the basic platform ceases to exist, the supported software must be moved to a new platform, a wholly unacceptable situation whether faced by researcher, developer or user. Figure 4. Inverted pyramid - User abstraction model and system architecture The situation is more complex than Figure 4 suggests, for hardware platforms and operating systems play supporting roles and have their own cycles of obsolescence. However, these parts of the infrastructure tend not to disappear entirely in the manner of VRML. In many applications, hardware complexity is further increased by the heterogeneity of the computers. For example, systems based on wearable computers with inputs from external sensors have both hardware and software components. A single application may also evolve to include new components (e.g. by upgrading) or even new hardware (e.g. in reconfigurable systems). The problem now facing developers of VE applications is the risk that support for platforms will erode, leading to the collapse of dependent businesses. It is essential to find a solution to this problem. In the past, platforms such as VRML, Java3D and OpenGL have been developed and supported by hardware vendors. These hardware vendors have no business incentives to Report and Recommendations from Joint EC/NSF Workshop, 1-4 June

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