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Notes on the project on Group spatial coordination
Stephen W. Draper
Group spatial coordination
Digital support for group coordination in public spaces
The problem addressed is that when people go as a group to a public
place, keeping track of the others so as to maintain the group conflicts with
giving attention to the surroundings which is the point of the trip in the
first place. This applies in malls, museums, Buchanan St., Grizedale sculpture
forest, a department store. What is wanted is a more convenient way of keeping
track of all the members of the group when wanted, without having to keep so
close together and spend such a large part of one's attention on it. A measure
of total success for an advanced system is whether it allows group members to
be out of sight for long periods, but to link up again as soon as they wish.
Intuitively, a cord of weak elastic linking everyone would be the thing; and
indeed, kindegartens sometimes get the children to hold on to a long rope to
get that effect. However in public places such cords quickly interfere with
other people there. Possible digital technologies might include:
- As for car alarms: one member presses their button, and beepers in other
members' pockets go off or flash. Or a strobe they wear round their heads
gives off a huge flash directed up to the ceiling, which you can see from afar,
without their being dazzled.
- Similarly, on a button press, chains of illuminated arrows on the wall guide
the inquirer to the next member. The timing might be enough to distinguish
between groups i.e. only the arrows or beeps that go off at the moment I press
my button are relevant to me.
- Active badges inform a computer where everyone is. A member has a PDA with a
sketch map of the museum/mall etc. layout, and group members are shown as green
dots on that layout. Everyone else in the building shows as orange dots (which
would also therefore give information on where the crowds and queues were, on
groups that might be landmarks relative to which to find your own group; might
show your child surrounded by taller people, which is why you had lost sight of
Any person whose badge goes outside the range of the system would sound an
alarm to their group (i.e. child wandering away from the mall, party member
leaving the museum altogether is a signal that it's time to leave).
- GPS or indoor equivalent might show bearing (direction) and distance to
another group member.
I.e. consider a wrist device, or pocket device.
Kinds of group:
- Parents and several children
- School parties
- Conference / organised tours i.e. adults, but larger numbers, and not knowing
each other well.
- Children playing "near home"
- *Find a (disabled?) user group for whom this is a severe, critical,
- A group of friends at a Glastonbury festival. (A super-severe issue,
given the huge crowds and consequent difficulty of finding anybody again once
separated. Also, shows the technology should be able to deal with tens of
thousands of people at once.)
Initial field studies could ask organisers of each target site how many and
what kind of problems occur of people losing other group members. But I
suspect that this is an example of something that most people manage OK, but
would adopt something that made it much more effortless.
This is probably analogous to (is there mileage in analysing this?) animals
calling in herds or forests to keep in touch.
Probably this is a great demo/application, perhaps even the "killer
app", of active badges: something they could clearly do, that might be really
useful as it focusses on occasions where people want to make a much higher than
usual density of enquiries, and where mobile/wearable output is required rather
than a workstation display.
Many small variations to explore: different methods of sensing; of display
and information delivery; of how to measure benefit.
Explore whether to design it as supplying peripheral awareness, or supporting
active queries, or even active messages (you push your button and it tells the
others to come and find you).
But if successful, in the longer term could be added to almost any "wired"
environment. E.g. built into audio wands in museums, into PDA museum guides,
etc. etc. and offered as an add-on service. It can expand into wider digitally
supported environmental awareness (i.e. one's own group, where the crowds of
other visitors are, official guides/janitors shown, ....).
Extend it to a facility for helping people meet
each other by arrangement: instead of saying "under the clock", you wait
anywhere until their symbol appears on your display, and then you go towards
where it says they are.
Could try applying
it to meetings in an organisation / dept. (is X coming / on their way?).
How would I do it if I had private resources?
I'm convinced from discussing it that this is going to be important:
i.e. the need doesn't need research, just the methods for supporting it, and
the ways the need appears currently.
Firstly, I'd do some small interview studies with DIFFERENT possible
users: e.g. parents with young children, couples in shops, those with mobile
phones (would they need anything else?), etc. Also, with "managers" of
possible target sites to ask about relevant problems with their clients
they have seen.
Also firstly, I'd play in the lab/local dept. with alternative methods for
delivering it: PDAs, etc. Some would turn out so bad that no one wanted to
take them out of the lab.
The rest, secondly, I'd install in my first test site: a museum, mall, other
public space. And start observations of use.
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