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Multitouch and Tangible Interaction

User-Centered Design of an Application for Disaster Control Management at the THW

Within a co-operation, the HNI and the C-LAB, a joint research and development laboratory operated by the University of Paderborn and Atos IT Solutions and Services GmbH, enriched their research area of multitouch and tangible interaction. This technology is based on a touch-sensitive surface and opens up new possibilities for more natural data input compared to classic devices such as a keyboard and mouse. With the new multitouch technology it is, for example, possible to use gestures to control certain elements on a screen by using several fingers or even both hands.
The ‘graspable interface’ enables the user to experience the system with several other users, in some cases even interacting at the same time. Therefore, one of our goals is to have a detailed look at this new situation under the aspects of usability, for example, to avoid cognitive burdens.

Multitouch Technology in Sustainable Use-Cases

One major challenge, especially in the area of multitouch tables, is defining sustainable use-cases, which increase the effectiveness, the efficiency and the satisfaction of the users. Thanks to a cooperation with Thorsten Meier, Oliver Charles and the other honorary workers of the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) in Detmold, it was possible to create a working environment for a multitouch table to support the headquarter in case of a disaster. Therefore, a user-centered design process has been established and Usability Engineering methods have been performed.

The connection between the useTable and mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, car-pc) will be established in the ongoing scenario.
Using multiple fingers, the useTable allows standard interactions like the positioning and scaling of objects.

Transferring User Requirements from Practice to New Technologies

Based on an analysis of advanced interaction concepts, use-cases for multitouch tables and their technical feasibility were evalu­ated before the so-called ‘useTable’ was constructed. After a large scale analysis including interviews and workshops, the THW ran a live-demonstration where the useTable was confirmed as being a suitable collaborative support tool for disaster control management. The knowledge gained and fundamental work processes of the THW workers were implemented in a first version of the application. In a second phase, further work processes and new interaction concepts were analysed. The integration of mobile devices (smartphone, tablet, car-pc etc.) to the useTable and the development of new natural interactions techniques, like multitouch and tangible objects, are currently being focused on.

Current Status of the UseTable and the THW App

At this time, it is possible to interact on the 55-inch useTable using fingers, digital pens and tangible objects. Working on the table, the THW has the ability to display several digital map views (e.g., satellite and topographic) and manipulate these views by moving and zooming the layers smoothly. It is also possible to display the current damages and linked units of an incident scene on a map with their geo-coordinates as well as classifying or filtering details according to certain criteria. When e.g. in a flooded area pumping is planned, alternative calculations of materials and pump parameters can be automated and lines displayed on the map with a digital pen. THW experts have already confirmed that such simple tools can significantly increase work efficiency. The optional change between different map sources and up-to-date satellite pictures improve the estimation of destroyed infrastructure and possible consequences (e.g. the flooding of lower areas in case of water aggregation in the surroundings).

The ongoing analysis and evaluation results in new requirements. For example, the workers on the field will be able to send pictures of the incident to the headquarter using their mobile phones. Developing a usable solution for the user remains the main goal. The intensive cooperation with the THW in Detmold forms the basis for the elicitation and analysis of work processes and user requirements.