Monday, May 26, 2008

Interdisciplinary Research in Computer Science and Information Technology: Revisiting the Equator Project

One of my goals is to participate in interdisciplinary research, although I am very much aware that doctoral-level research should focus on a narrow topic, explored in great depth.

Unfortunately, the research articles that appeal to me the most are those that were written by interdisciplinary teams, or by teams that built upon ideas and research from other fields. One of the outcomes of this sort of research is that the knowledge is shared across many research communities. In my opinion, his sort of "distributed cognition" has the potential to support innovative thinking, in the form of software, products, and processes, in ways that we have not yet imagined.

One example of interesting interdisciplinary research was the Equator Project According to the project website, the Equator project ran from 2000 through 2006, with many publications presented at various conferences through 2007. Equator was involved with a "series of research challenges explored (a) new classes of device which link the physical and the digital, (b) adaptive software architectures and (c) new design and evaluation methods, which draw together approaches from social science, cognitive science and art and design. Equator involved over 60 researchers, with a range of expertise encompassing computer science, psychology, sociology, design and the arts."

Right up my alley!

As an undergraduate student, I had a double major in psychology and social science. I took a few courses in the arts at the university level, such as dance and dance composition, jazz, and art education. When I returned to school at mid-life, courses I took included computer music technology, computer multimedia, programming, web development, human-computer interaction, ubiquitous computing, game design, and visualization.

(I'm a school psychologist, so my previous graduate work had an interdisciplinary focus, required for psychologists trained to work in the schools.)

Back to the Equator Project.

On the Equator website, there is a page with links to videos about some of the spin-off businesses generated from project. You can also find video clips of devices and tools that were developed through various research endeavors, playing and learning experience projects, an Infrastructure Toolkit, and much, much more.

Here is a description of the three major challenges addressed by the Equator Project, from the website:

* "The Devices challenge focuses on the devices used to interleave physical and digital interaction. During the last three years, Equator has created a variety of new devices that establish different relationships between the physical and the digital. It has also generated a variety of more generic sensing, display and power technologies that are emerging as a common fabric across the IRC."

* "The Infrastructure challenge focuses on the infrastructure required to support the dynamic assembly of new devices into coherent user experiences. We have taken an emergent approach by seeking to generalise from our experiences across the different installations deployed across Equator. This takes the form of a collection and structuring of the key components developed to support our experiences, reflection on our software architectures and the development of toolkits to reduce the cost of their construction."

* "The Understanding Interaction challenge focuses on outlining the key concepts required to support our understanding of the interweaving of physical and digital interaction, and the methods needed to design and evaluate systems in this area."

Research themes and applications included the following:

The project website has a wealth of teaching and learning resources, including reading lists, images, videos, animations, and presentation slides.

The following information is for the benefit of people who are considering furthering their education in a computer/'technology related field, as it provides information about a wide area of study that most people don't normally associate with computer science or IT. High school guidance counselors need to review this information!

About 12 of the 83 or so researchers on the Equator Project were female, which is important to note.

People involved with the Equator Project, with links to each researcher's areas of interest:
University of Bristol, Wearable Computing Project
Chris Setchell

University of Glasgow, Computer Science Department

Scott Sherwood, Paul Tennent, Matthew Chalmers, Marek Bell, Malcolm Hall, Louise Barkhuus, John Ferguson, Barry Brown, Areti Galani

University of Lancaster, Equator Team (Ubiquitous Computing, Distributed Systems, Human-Computer Interaction, Ethnomethodology)
Oliver Storz, Nicolas Villar, Masitah Ghazali Martyn Welch, Martin Strohbach, Mark Rouncefield, Kristof Van Laerhoven, Jennifer Sheridan, Guy Dewsbury, Alan Dix, Adrian Friday

University of Nottingham, Mixed Reality Laboratory
Shahram Izadi, Rob Anastasi, Martin Flintham, Mark Paxton, Malcom Foster, Kher Hui Ng (Marina),
Jonathan Green, Jan Humble, Holger Schnadelbach, Hazel Glover, Dave Kirk, Daniel Fielding, Damian Schofield, Chris Greenhalgh, Boriana Koleva, Andy Crabtree, Alastair Hampshire, Adam Drozd

Royal College of Art, Interaction Design Research Studio (now at Goldmiths)
Brendan Walker, Gianni Tozzi,

Goldsmiths College, Interaction Research Studio
Toby Kerridge, Sarah Pennington , Konstantinos Grivas, John Bowers, Jacob Beaver, Jac Fennell, Bill Gaver, Bas Raijmakers, Andy Law, Andy Boucher

University of Southampton, Intelligence, Agents, Multimedia (IAM) Group
Wendy Hall, David De Roure, Mike Saywell, Mark Weal, Don Cruickshank, David Millard, Danius Michaelides, Ben Deitch

University of Sussex, Interact Lab
Sam Wolfe, Rowanne Fleck, Paul Marshall, Mark Stringer, Manuela Jungmann, Hillary Smith, Greg Hooper, Geraldine Fitzpatrick, Eva Hornecker, Eric Harris, Cian O'Connor, Anthony Phillips

University College of London, Virtual Environments and Computer Graphics Group
William Steptoe, Vinoba Vinayagamoorthy, Russell Freeman, Richard Milton, Mel Slater, Joel Jordan, Jean-Daniel Nahmias, Celine Loscos, Ashwin Beeharee, Anthony Steed, Andrea Brogni

Other researchers who were involved in this project in some way can be found in the
Publications section of the Equator website.

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