Last day in Toronto: Autodesk Research

Today in Toronto I had the opportunity to visit Autodesk Research, invited by ex-Nectarine Tovi Grossman. For those of you unfamiliar with HCI, apart from Tovi, Autodesk Research (previously Alias Wavefront) has an impressive list of names that you keep coming across in this field: Kurtenbach, Fitzmaurice and Khan (among others).

It was a bit imposing to present my 3D-related research in a place where 3D is one of the core strengths… Thanks for hosting me and for the nice dialog about Multi-display environments and 3D perception!

After the visit I got to do some tourism of the city, guided by Susana, an ex-student of the Interaction lab at the U of Saskatchewan. The weather was nice, and the view from the CN Tower stunning.

University of Toronto

My day at U of T started relatively late, which is nice because I could sleep a nice eight hours.

Jonathan Deber, a Master student at DGP organized the visit. The visit included a well attended talk, and demonstrations/chats with a number of students from both the Dynamic Graphics Project where they do a variety of computer graphics and HCI research, and to the Knowledge Media Design Institute, well, to a very small part of it, because if you check their website you will learn that KDMI is actually a huge organization.

After lunch with Ravin Balakrishnan and some students it was time to see the research. Going back and forward between the two floors where DGP and KMDI are located in the Bahen centre, I learnt about what some of their students (and research assistants) are cooking up. I got to meet Kent Fenwick, who is working on assisting  people with and without mild cognitive imparements to remember the names of people you meet and live around (something that would be particularly useful for me now that I’m meeting so many people). In a related project, Masashi Crete-Nishihata is improving the lives of people with memory-related cognitive impairments, their families, and their care-takers by moving memories and identities into media. I had the luck also to finally shake hands with Ron Baeker, largely responsible for all this NECTAR thing, and of too many research projects to mention here. It was also great to see Annette, who keeps NECTAR running smoothly until the end. Then I got Delia to show me the latest develoments of ePresence, KDMI’s brain child platform that allows people to hold seminars, conferences and classes across the university or across continents. Actually ePresence has been used since the beginning by NECTAR to broadcast the voice, text and slides of talks and classes to all the Canadian universities involved.

Back at the DGP I had a very insightful talk with Seok-Hyung Bae about his work on 3D sketching interfaces and other interesting issues in 3D representation, and with Xiao Jun Bi on large displays (which is a topic very dear to me). To finish the day I got to see the prototype for mobile haptic interaction of Koji Yatani, who will make your hands trill with information. Finally, I got to talk to Jonathan about his projects for his masters, which I’m sure he would prefer me not to disclose publicly (yet).

Thanks to all the Toronto people for showing me your research and to Jonathan (and Mike Wu) for taking care of my visit. I’m sure I’ll read about all this research soon in the top conferences.

Queen’s University

First official visit of the NECTAR trip. I get up early to catch the train to Kingston, Ontario.

Everything seems to be fine; comfy train, grab some breakfast, check the presentation again, but…
There is some problem with the tracks. The train will be late. First 20 min, at the end, an hour and a half.
Thankfully everything is taken care of: talk is delayed and the talk goes well, with a wonderful audience making lots of meaningful questions and thoughtful comments.

After lunch I get to visit first Roel Vertegaal’s lab and then Nick Graham’s. It is not a secret that Roel and his students (I met Tim Ginn, Doug Wightman and David Holman) are focussing on the emerging area of organic user interfaces (oui!), where the most prosaic objects are embedded with intelligence and the ability to display information (check their web). They are also building themselves a pretty fancy new lab without a single straight line.

Nick’s students are working around two main topics: collaboration and games. Most often both happen together. Tad Stach’s work is trying to get your lazy uncle to exercise more, challenge you to a virtual bike race and, perhaps, beat you to the finish line. Andreas Hollatz, Banani Roy and Chris Wolfe work building the necessary infrastructure that will allow programmers to easily build games with innovative input (think from Wiifit to heart rate monitors) and allow all kinds of fancy adaptive groupware to work accross computers (check the Fiia framework), also in opportunistic situations. Rob Fletcher is working to bring realistic spatial audio to the next massively-multi-player game experience.

Summarizing, a day full of interesting people, interesting ideas and long train rides…
Thanks to everyone at Queen’s for hosting me and for taking the time to show me around!

Saskatoon Airport

I’m sitting at the airport, waiting for my flight to board. Already missing Kate.

Yesterday I tried to pack so that everything would be carry on… I did not succeed. The motivation not to check in anything is obvious: if they misplace my luggage in any of my 19 flights, I’m going to have to do extra shopping. However, it’s kind of hard to put everything that you need for 32 days on a very small suitcase.

First stop is Toronto. Flight goes through Winnipeg. Tomorrow I’ll take an early train to Kingston, Ontario, home of Queen’s University. Looking forward to seeing Tad again.

Preparing the NECTAR trip

In the next weeks I’m going to be flying around the world as "NECTAR ambassador".

NECTAR, is an NSERC Research Network focused on collaboration
technologies; a research effort of six Canadian Universities (University of British Columbia, University of Calgary, Dalhousie University, Queen’s University, University of Toronto, University of Saskatchewan) to investigate technological and social
issues to make computer-supported collaboration more efficient, more
productive, and more natural.

In its five years of life, the network has produced many research projects and hundreds of top-notch research publications in the fields of HCI (Human-computer Interaction) and CSCW (Computer-Supported Collaborative Work). Now it is coming to an end, and I’m  lucky enough to take part in the process of disseminating some of this research. I have been involved as a student since the beginning of my Ph.D. (4 years ago), and know many of the researchers and professors involved, but the first part of my trip is dedicated to meet some more of the people involved.

The current itinerary is listed below. In most of the places my visit includes a talk about NECTAR and my work within NECTAR.

Feb 22nd – Saskatoon – Toronto
Feb 23rd – Toronto – Kingston (Queen’s university) Kingston – Toronto
Feb 24th – (University of Toronto)
Feb 25th – Toronto – Calgary
Feb 26th – (University of Calgary) Calgary – Vancouver
Feb 27th – (University of British Columbia)
March 1st – Vancouver – Seattle
March 2nd – (University of Washington) – Seattle – San Francisco
March 4th – (Stanford University)
March 5th – San Francisco – Auckland – Christchurch (NZ)
March 9th – (University of Canterbury) – Christchurch – Sydney
March 10th – (NICTA)
March 12th – Sidney – Singapore
March 13th – (National University of Singapore)
March 14th – Singapore – Frankfurt – Copenhagen
March 16th – (IT University of Copenhagen)
March 17th – Copenhagen – Berlin
March 18th – (Potsdam University)
March 19th – Berlin – London – Paris
March 20th – (Université Paris-Sud)
March 22nd – Paris – Dublin – Boston
March 23rd – (Harvard University) – Boston – Atlanta
March 24th – (Georgia Tech)
March 25th – Atlanta – Denver – Saskatoon

My goal is to write at least one blog about each of the locations.