Saturday, December 29, 2012

Using animation for training

On a recent Jet Airways flight in India, I saw animations being used to demonstrate the safety features of the aircraft (i.e., use of seat buckle, oxygen mask, etc). I felt that this was a very creative way to communicate the safety message across to the audience.

Why are animations beneficial?
  • It is universally understood irrespective of age, educational background, and culture.
  • It can be a more creative way to convey the safety message to passengers in a “cool” way and can constitute a part of the customer experience.
  • Though I have no real evidence as to whether animations are superior to traditional (recorded or live) safety videos in terms of better passenger performance in the event of an emergency, animated videos appear to have the potential to capture the attention of the audience to the safety material.

Here is an interesting article on this topic.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Human and Robot

I recently watched the movie “Robot and Frank”.

Some of the human factors aspects that came to mind when I saw the movie:
  • A lot of the fundamental elements that govern human-human interaction, such as trust, dependence, empathy, are applicable even to human-robotic interaction.
  • Just like amongst humans, the trust that a human has on a robot evolves gradually through various experiences.  In the movie, Frank goes from hating the robot to trusting and liking the robot and even calling the robot his buddy.

Now, what tasks should a personal service robot help the elderly accomplish?
  • Support activities of daily living: It is important that robots help the elderly accomplish their day-to-day activities that they cannot carry out on their own, without having to rely on others. For example, in the movie, the robot does all the cooking and cleaning for Frank, which Frank is not good at. He also encourages Frank to exercise and accompanies him on walks. But, it is important to note that the robot only assists Frank in tasks that Frank is not capable to do on his own. This is a crucial thing that designers should keep in mind. Frank, who is a jewel thief, still plans robbery on his own.  Encouraging the human to do tasks that they can do on their own (not robbery of course!) is an important element that will help built trust on a robot.
  • Help improve cognitive functioning: Aging is accompanied by diminished cognitive functioning. Hence, it is important that the elderly engage in activities that stimulates mental functioning. For example, in the movie, the robot urges Frank to do gardening for Frank’s mental stimulation.

As the story evolves, Frank becomes emotionally attached to the robot and refers to the robot as his friend. As a movie spectator, I have to admit that I also started liking the friendship between the characters, albeit the fact that one character was inanimate.

Now, this leads to the question: How much human characteristics should a personal service robot possess? Certainly, to develop trust in the robot, the robot should promote independence while at the same time provide companionship to the human. The robot should also be designed with some empathy for the user.  But how much “human-like traits” should the robot possess? Is too much trust and too much attachment to the robot good for the human? 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Perceptual Illusion and Fashion

Let us look at the Muller-Lyer illusion. Though the line segments in Figure A and Figure B are of the same length, our visual system fools us in believing that the line segment in Figure A (top figure) is smaller than the line segment in Figure B.

Applying this logic to your choice of dresses below:

The dress depicted in Figure 1 has the potential to create a wider waistline than the dress in Figure 2 (in reality the red lines in both Figure 1 and Figure 2 are of equal length). Notice that Figure 1 is like the wider-looking line segment (Figure B) of the Muller-Lyer illusion.

The dress depicted in Figure 3 has the potential to create a slimmer waistline than the dress in Figure 4 (in reality the red lines in both Figure 3 and 4 are of equal length). Notice that Figure 3 is like the smaller-looking line segment (Figure A) of the Muller-Lyer illusion.

Therefore the peplum waist (shown in Figure 1), an iconic look that is in fact back in style, has the potential to create a less flattering silhouette. 

Cant virtually everything be explained through human perception and cognition?

This blog is co-written with Lu Wang.

Photo credit: Gwestheimer via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ergonomic baby carrier

The baby carrier (shown in the picture) has the following advantages:

  • More degrees of freedom: The mother can carry the baby on the back, front or side, thereby providing more options and potentially more comfort.
  • More support for the baby: The infant insert feature in the carrier provides additional support for the baby at the back and the hip.
  • Allows the mother to multi-task: The carrier promotes hands-free carrying of the baby, allowing the mother to perform other tasks when busy, not worrying that the baby is going to grab something dangerous.
  • Carry items that need to be readily accessible: The carrier has pouches that help the mother carry smaller items such as napkins, allowing for easy access, without having to look for these items in other bags.
  • Promotes baby’s sleep: The carrier even has a hood for the baby’s nap time, allowing the baby to sleep without being disturbed by lights and other distractions.
  • Enhanced safety: The carrier also has multiple belts, one at the waist and one at the shoulder, providing better safety.
  • Machine-washable: Helps to easily wash off all the baby spills.

Now this is one carrier that is designed with the mother and baby in mind!

This blog is co-written with Lulu Wang, who is in the picture with her adorable baby.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Gloves for my phone (and hands)!

My friend, Steve, presented me with a pair of gloves and I absolutely love it!

Now living in Minneapolis, gloves go beyond just being an accessory for me. However, gloves restrict the use of touch-screen devices like the iPhone. The capacitive touch-screen in the phone relies on the conductive properties of the human body. Gloves insulate the conductivity of your body, thereby making it impossible to use your touch-screen phone when wearing gloves.

So, I was very excited to find out that the gloves that were gifted to me are touch screen compatible. These gloves use conductive thread to mimic the conductive properties of the human hand.

Now I can unlock my phone, text, and make a call when I am outside and not freeze! I am not sure whether this will work in really extreme weather conditions but it is great for now.

This is what I call human factors in every day life!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Are two heads better than one?

You are sitting at your desk writing a document and a colleague comes by to ask a question or an email notification appears and you feel compelled to read the email. Have you experienced any difficulties resuming your work on the document?

Well, now think of operators working in a dynamic environment (e.g., military command and control, aviation). When these operators are interrupted, resuming the interrupted task involves inferring the changes that took place during the interruption and also determining the consequences of the changes.

This article shows that working with a team mate helps to recover faster when faced with interruptions than when working individually. This is because collaborative work allows responsibilities to be distributed amongst the team members, thereby allowing for the resumption of multiple tasks by each team mate in parallel rather than one individual having to resume each of the tasks sequentially. In other words, faster recovery from interruption is possible in teams due to a distribution of task load.

This team superiority effect is however mediated by the coordination and communication that takes place between the team mates, following an interruption. That is, if team mates needed to communicate more following an interruption, it took them longer to resume their task. This was true only when one person in the team was interrupted and had to inform her team mate that she is back from the interruption to resume the task.

So, what are the implications to a designer here?

It is important that technology/systems that will be used in team settings be designed to help operators obtain a ‘shared view’ of the world.

Photo credit: Unsigned engraving [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, December 10, 2012

Role of Sound in Interaction Design

The inappropriate or excessive use of sound can annoy the user. Therefore, understanding the situations under which audio is the most appropriate is important for creating a good user experience. The advantages of sound include:
  • Promoting safety:  The use of audio can support human performance in situations where the visual channel is overloaded. For example, GPS systems that talk certainly have an edge over those that do not because the former has the potential to help drivers allocate their visual resources to the primary task of driving, which puts a lot of burden on the visual system.
  •  Creating more use involvement:  Sound is an excellent addition in games and simulators to create a sense of ‘presence’.
  • Delivering emotion: Adding good audio has the potential to give a more human touch to products that users interact with.

Several companies are now incorporating sound into their product design.
  • This article describes how GE is incorporating sound into their appliance design. You can listen to the soundtracks here.
  • Ford is pursuing the idea of using sound in their electric cars to warn pedestrians of an approaching electric vehicle. You can listen to the sounds here
      Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons