3rd International UBI Summer School 2012

UBISummerSchool.jpgOulu, Finland, 28 May - 2 June, 2012

Event website.

Report by Laura Moss, Agent and Clinical physicist, NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde and the University of Aberdeen.

Highlights

  • Discovering the field of information visualisation and the software and toolkits that implement these techniques
  • Making contacts with other students and postdocs from a diverse range of research backgrounds

Conference report

The 3rd International UBI Summer School was held in the city of Oulu in northern Finland. To the uninitiated, it may seem like an unusual location for a summer school. However, Oulu is a rather unique town as it is being developed as a prototype for a ubiquitous city. A ubiquitous city is one in which technology is seamlessly integrated into the city’s environment, providing enhanced conditions and services for the city’s inhabitants. As ubiquitous computing was the theme for the summer school this was indeed a highly relevant location for it to be held in.

The event was attended by around 50 people, mostly from across Europe. A large number of people (23) were from institutions within Finland. In total, only four people including myself attended from the UK and they represented the following institutions: Loughborough Design School, University of Lincoln, and University College London. The people attending were at a variety of stages in their career, for example doctoral student and postdocs; however, the vast majority were in the first few years of their PhD studies. One noticeable point was that the attendees came from a very distinct range of research backgrounds, for example: architectural design, industrial programming, and computational data analysis.

This extremely intense, yet enjoyable summer school was held over the course of six days and consisted of three workshops for which students had previously applied to attend. The workshops comprised:

  1. Urban Sensoria: Human-Centered Computing in Practice,
  2. Supporting Community through Interactive Public Displays, and
  3. Information Visualisation for UbiComp? Data.

The instructors for all three workshops were enthusiastic experts in their respective fields: Dr. Alejandro Jaimes (workshop 1) is currently a Senior Research Scientist at Yahoo! Research, Dr Keith Cheverest (workshop 2), is a senior lecturer in the School of Computing and Communications at Lancaster University, and Prof. Aaron Quigley (workshop 3), is the Chair of Human Computer Interaction in the School of Computer Science, University of St. Andrews.

Personally, I have no background in Ubiquitous Computing. However, I felt that as more sensor technology is being applied in the medical domain, and subsequently creating large volumes of data, it was a field of research that is becoming increasingly relevant to the research that I carry out. Consequently, I chose to attend the Information Visualisation for UbiComp? Data workshop. Information visualisation is concerned with the computer-supported visual representation and exploration of data. Within the context of ubiquitous computing, data is often multi-dimensional, raw sensor data generated by the ubiquitous computing system. One of the benefits of visualising such data is that a human's perceptual abilities can be exploited to further understand the data, providing a number of advantages compared to computational analysis techniques.

Prior to attending the workshop we were provided with a reading package comprising twelve key papers from the field and we were expected to be familiar with the material before the workshop started. Having no previous experience in this field meant that this was certainly a trial by fire! The workshop itself consisted of a series of lectures and a team project. In addition, a final exam was provided at the end of the week for local PhD students requiring credits. The lectures provided us with an overview of information visualisation and detailed a series of toolkits that implement a number of visualisation techniques, for example: d3.js, JavaScript InfoVis Toolkit, and Processing. For the team projects we were divided into groups of around three-to-four students from differing research and geographical backgrounds. We then had three days to develop our own research idea using sensor data collected either from the town of Oulu or from our own data source. We were encouraged to be interactive with the people from Oulu and develop an application that they would potentially find useful. A wide variety of applications resulted from the teams, ranging from studies exploring which applications displayed on interactive displays draw large crowds vs. applications which attract single users, to the development of applications that visualise how many people are actually using a Wi-Fi hotspot in the city at a given time. In my team project we explored the visualisation of time series sensor data in the form of a line chart, specifically, how complicated could a line chart become before it became meaningless? The work comprised a series of experiments involving members of the public in Oulu. It may not be the best research ever conducted, but it was an excellent way to get to grips with some of the issues in information visualisation. Further details of our study can be found on the UBI blog.

The week concluded on Saturday afternoon with a four-hour session during which all the groups from the three workshops came together and presented their work. It was impressive how much work had been carried out by the groups in such a short time. I was also impressed by the level of creativity shown by the groups. For example, one group from the Urban Sensoria workshop explored the city’s environment from a child’s point of view by developing an inverse periscope attached to a box to be placed on a subject’s head! Another group examined whether people in Oulu purposefully direct their walk through the city to consume the most amount of sunlight.

Overall, I found attending the summer school was extremely useful. The key technology theme that I came away with from this meeting was that in the future our towns and cities will seamlessly integrate technology in a way that will become second nature for all of us; one might argue this change is already happening. This will present several challenges for technology including: the provision of interfaces and tools that will allow humans to interact with this technology, development of methods to extract and present meaningful knowledge from the vast amounts of raw data collected by this technology, and the identification of how this technology can be applied effectively to enhance our urban habitats.