SoIT's News, Issue 2 2010

Bringing more to the table

Anthony Collins

Anthony Collins has written new search software that will improve the tabletop computing experience, for work, or play.

Anthony is a PhD student in the Computer Human Adapted Interaction (CHAI) research group. CHAI primarily looks at how people interact with computers, and one area of focus is surface computing – using everyday objects as a computer interface, instead of the traditional screen, keyboard and mouse interface.

Anthony has been exploring software applications for touch screen tabletops, looking at how people can access information whilst using them. He explains: “A fundamental function of a desktop computer is file access. I have been looking at how that would work at an interactive table. Here, people will often need to access files stored on a range of devices, and there may be several people around the table all wanting to access their document collections at the same time. An interactive table is ideal for group collaboration, so the software needs to help people access and discuss their document collections.”

Anthony has developed a new search mechanism for tabletops that can retrieve related documents across multiple devices, both carried and remote. The software conducts associative searches to retrieve documents based on content and metadata. For example: “A project manager could see all the files on a particular part of their project. By choosing one document on that topic they could search for similar items across the file collections of everyone who is working on the project. Or if you were going on a family holiday you might have an email from a travel agent which recommends hotels. An associative search on that e-mail might provide all the information that your family members have collected about the hotel. The family could then share and discuss what they have found around the interactive table.”

Anthony hopes that his software will be adopted as a key part of the tabletop experience in products that are already commercially available: “We envisage that tabletops will be very widespread in the future. They have already seen early adoption in some workplaces and public spaces, and could have a significant impact on marketing, education, media… the possibilities for exploring new software for this type of form-factor are endless.”

This research, which is supported by the Smart Services CRC, is hardware-agnostic and Anthony hopes that it will run on any type of hardware: “Tabletop computing is exploding at the moment and there are lots of different hardware manufacturers making large touch screens to use in table configurations or on the wall. The research we are conducting in the CHAI group aims to address the fundamental interaction and software facilities that are important and valuable to all tabletop products. We aren’t tied to any one vendor’s product – our software interface can be applied to a range of tabletop hardware.”