CHI 2014 Reflections


Toronto is a lovely city although somewhat colder than expected, even according to the locals. On the Sunday I attended the Sports Workshop together with my colleagues Stina and Jakob that also were the organizers. I presented parts of my work on studying running at night, minimalistic shoes and trail running through blogs. The group of about 20 participants started with a round of presentations and there were quite a lot of different sports represented, although running were perhaps the more pervasive activity. So in short we got to listen to and discuss the use of technology in and around sports like ice-hockey, roller-derby, swimming, climbing, curling, golf, martial arts and more. My main takeaway is how many of the groups are taking a technology-centric perspective to create new and novel experiences that very much transform sports rather than extend or augment them.

The Monday started with an excellent keynote by Margaret Atwood, sci-fi writer and technology visionary, on the topic of “Robots in my Work and Life”. Apart from the robots, I realized we have a few things in common and the one that stuck the most was her description of how she used to take things apart as a child. Imagining, dreaming, seeking, exploring, trying to understand is one part, but technology and sci-fi is dependent on each other and much of the forecasts in sci-fi are actually grounded in current state-of-the-art research.

In the afternoon Martin presented our paper on “Taking things Apart: Reaching Common Ground and Shared Material Understanding”. Of course Martin made sure to mention and highlight the connection to the keynote to the about 500 researchers attending the session. In all it was a very good session and I particularly liked the talk on “Printing Teddy Bears” which explained how felting techniques can be used to enable 3D printing of soft wooly objects.

Later that afternoon we set up for Interactivity and then demonstrated the golf system SwingSound and in my case RunRight – our running app that visualizes accelerometer data in real time. The feedback was a bit surprising, and overall the visitors very much liked the basic idea about getting in situ feedback. The main critical comments was on how to represent the data to the runner without having a second person following looking at the data, analyzing it and give feedback. Many pointed to wearables of various sorts. This will soon be possible to explore as android wear, google glasses and others are pushing such technologies out in the hands of developers (and researchers!).


Over all interactivity had a lot to offer and just to mention two or three of the other systems that caught my attention: faBrickation – a tool for turning 3D models into Lego Bricks, PaperDude – a Oculus Rift VR game inspired by the classic PaperBoy, OJAS – Open Source Bi-Directional wireless power (Awesome for ActDresses and rFlea stuff!!) and Message Bag – the bag that has LED’s to visualize that all essential things are in it.

My highlights from Tuesday were “Circuit Stickers” – peel and stick electronics in the DIY and Hacking session and “Bridging Concepts” from the design theory session. There were a few papers from other parallel sessions that seemed really good that I need to look up and read, especially from the critical design session. Also visited the Human Robot Interaction session in the morning to hook up with some friends from that community.

Wednesday started strong with a panel on “Making Cultures – Empowerment, Participation and Democracy – or Not?”. It highlighted various provoking aspects of societal impact that making could have – for instance in one case a Makerspace was “created” by removing squatters through a political agenda. But those squatters themselves had been crafting and making some quite ingenious things from whatever they gotten their hands on. So the question is if there is a certain class of makers that have values that is more politically appropriate? And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Thursday started with a plenary talk by Elizabeth Churchill from eBay Research Labs. It was about how to stay cheerful in difficult times, a lesson well worth not to forget. It ended with some advices for how to remember and reflect upon the important stuff from conferences. My way is writing down a blog post – just like this one 🙂

I expected quite a lot from the alt.chi session on intimate interfaces, but it did not really live up to the hype. And yes, perhaps we are slightly domesticated by technology – but those things needs to be articulated not exotified. The closing Keynote by Scott Jenson (Google) was really good for me personally. He talked about the future of Ubicomp and innovation and how disruption in technology seems to follow a certain pattern. Furthermore Scott painted a picture of people that want to do cool stuff in the IoT area that they think is just “Awesome!”. I recognized myself quite a lot here. His point was to stay calm and think a bit more outside the box. Clearly the lesson was to turn even more towards design practices rather than starting from technology.

All in all, a very good CHI and I’m really looking forward o the first CHI in ASIA – Gangnam, South Korea 2015!