When advances are made in different areas of technological development, there is a recurring last barrier that needs to be overcome. This barrier, which is not always met, is that the technology that improves our lives from the outset is effectively adopted and used successfully by the users – all of us.
If all of this text just one idea remains, then it should be this: it is essential to understand the user to improve any technology or service.
PIU = Perception + Interaction + Usability
Our group PIU – Perception, Interaction, and Usability – addresses issues of adapting technology to the user by applying methodologies for human factors, ergonomics, and usability to technology development.
These disciplines have their genesis in the cognitive sciences and the PIU group also had its genesis in a laboratory of experimental psychology at the University of Minho (UMinho) dedicated to psychophysics, the area of study of human perceptual phenomena.
It was a bit like this: we started in a fundamental research laboratory on visual and hearing perception, and then we grew up and started participating in increasingly applied projects. Initially, with a mix of surprise and then much satisfaction, we realized that we were able to transfer the knowledge from fundamental research to more applied research with real value to the industry and companies have collaborated with us.
1- Study of distance perception in CAVE (2016)
2- CAVE Visual Perception Study (2014) | 3 – CCG’s PIU Applied Research Domain Team (2018)
We started this adventure in more applied areas, placing our projection and virtual reality systems, of which CAVE laboratory is an example and reference in Portugal, sometimes serving as a high fidelity prototyping tool. This way we can get the user to interact with new interaction systems even before they are physical prototypes and long before they move into production. Through finely controlled observation of human-computer or human-machine interaction variables, we can draw conclusions about the quality of interaction and, if necessary, intervene at the interface design level to ensure that they are efficient and safe.
More recently, and with this immersive system, we have been focusing a lot on transport-related interaction technologies. Other applications have used this space for biological motion capture, posture analysis of a worker interacting with a machine, or ergonomic weightlifting studies. The possibilities are many, all aimed at the physical and cognitive comfort of the future user.
Because we have the two components of recreating study environments and analyzing behavioral variables, our team is multidisciplinary. The team is scientifically coordinated by Professor Jorge Almeida Santos of the UMinho School of Psychology and is composed of professionals trained in Experimental Psychology, Ergonomics, Industrial Design, Electronic Engineering, Informatics, and Acoustics.
Sailing the seas of Acoustic Perception
Part of our laboratory activity is related to Acoustic Perception.
We are interested in how humans perceive sound stimuli and how we can incorporate this knowledge into the interaction technology that makes use of our auditory system. We believe that sound interfaces, acoustic branding, and sound design will be much more valued in the future, and we are preparing for this by incorporating this modality into our most recent studies.
We are particularly interested in this area because we find that the effort to develop and study sound interfaces is not at all similar to that put on visual stimuli, which sometimes leads to the careless design of sound interfaces. Examples are alarm systems in a wide range of contexts (from car to hospital), sometimes leading to risk and insecurity when acoustic alarms are ignored or misunderstood.
One of our works in the field has a very practical application, which is alarmistic in medical devices. When we enter a hospital there is a large percentage of noise coming from the acoustic alarm systems of medical devices. Aggravatingly, people operating in this environment every day have found it difficult to associate a sound with the source of the problem, as well as the fatigue associated with alarms. The human factor study component is missing how to improve these alarms themselves. In this context, we collaborate in an FCT project, with UMinho and the University of Aveiro, the PATErSoN project. This aims to create a library of audible alarms with more usability. For this, our laboratory has researchers and experts in acoustic engineering and sound design.
From the lab to the road: the Automotive Simulation
Another environment where we work in collaboration with UMinho and Bosch Car Multimedia is in the development of studies in the area of driving simulator transport. This is a lab environment that can be visited and where we do this fundamental study of human factors in the role of the driver.
- What catches the eye on an interface?
- What kind of feedback achieves the highest degree of driver confidence?
- Moreover, considering autonomous cars, how to keep the driver’s attention on the primary driving task or, in the event of distraction, how to draw attention to it so as to be informative and not to frighten the driver?
While the first project of this partnership was mainly focused on the development of new in-vehicle systems and the traditional areas of development of Bosch Car Multimedia, the second edition of this project allowed us to focus on the future by studying how the driver will react to the transition to the various levels of autonomy.
1 – Driving simulator study (2019) | 2- Sound modeling of an operating room at the Biomedical Simulation Center of Coimbra (2015)
3 – AnPeb project study with a static participant (2019)
Projects: a bridge between the present and the future
The outlook for the future of PIU is reflected in our ongoing projects.
One of them, the ANPEB project, consists of placing in a very controlled environment (CAVE) people interacting with approaching vehicles, and trying to study what is the decision making process when crossing and how does this relate to critical variables such as approaching car speed the existence or otherwise of the vehicle’s external communication, the existence or otherwise of auditory feedback and what type (combustion engine or electric car sound).
This simulated environment has the interesting feature of representing streets that actually exist in Guimarães and Braga – streets modeled afterwards in software for this purpose, which allows comparisons between the real and the simulated until we obtain a satisfactory level of simulation fidelity.
1) Teixeira de Pascoais street at Guimarães
2) Respective Blender Modeling of the street (2018)
This environment could be used in the future to study issues such as the need to communicate with pedestrians in a mixed road environment, where cars with some level of automation coexist with cars without automation, pedestrians, cyclists, and other vulnerable road users (VRUs). Nowadays, when any pedestrian tries to communicate with a vehicle, he looks inside to try to understand what the driver intends.
Soon, when the streets have driverless cars, this communication will have to be replaced by another equally encouraging communication and feedback. We plan to study some external communication systems, such as lights, acoustic actuators, among others.
This project involves the development of a vehicle interior prototyping platform that not only brings visual reality but aims to add to it the faithful perception of physical surfaces. Its purpose is that the touch results in a faithful perception of what is the interior surface of a car using only haptic actuators with the right configurations, to be defined in this project.
1 – Product In Touch project
2 – 5G-Mobix European project
This is a challenge where we are working on the technology frontier. Not so long ago, haptic actuators were large, heavy and uncomfortable, which affects any experience or sensation of immersiveness in a virtual environment. Working together with INL aims to develop actuators at the micro-level, and to be able to put these haptic actuators in a glove, to offer various types of haptic perception, which in itself will have many applications in the future.
Finally, the 5G-MOBIX project in collaboration with the CCG group of Urban and Mobile Computing, will try to understand how the 5G communication type and the new systems inherent in this technology could be used by the target audience. To this end, acceptability studies will be carried out at the European level. It is also our future goal to understand how 5G systems can contribute to safer living between different road agents.
Recipe for the future: Interfaces, Security, and Usage Experiences
The PIU group has recently started active participation with three members in international standardization groups (ISO) in the transport area, namely in the ergonomics group for road vehicles. We think this is a great way to take our scientific results a little further than publications, even taking you to the decision-making processes of international expert committees.
The overall vision of our group and the future ahead is less noisy, although it has more sound interfaces, it is safer, even though it has fewer drivers and more passengers. It sounds dichotomous, but if we know the human factors of technology makers thoroughly, we will be able to reach it safely and with good user experience.
Carlos Silva | Development Coordinator @CCG, ARD PIU
Master in Experimental Psychology (Psychophysics) – UMinho, completing a Ph.D. in Informatics focused on Human-Computer Interaction and the development and validation of immersive environments.
His research interests range from the applied study of immersive audiovisual environments to the basic study of human perception mechanisms. He has published scientific work in the areas of human perception and psychophysics, human-computer interaction, and the development of virtual reality systems.
Author and co-author of multiple scientific publications resulting from the applied R&D projects in which it has participated. He is also an associate researcher at INESC TEC and UMinho’s Visualization and Perception laboratory.