Attending an ISMAR workshop on creativity in design with & for mixed reality design.

Last week, Michael Nebeling, director of the Information Interaction Lab, attended three conferences in Germay: UIST, the premier forum for innovative user interfaces, ISMAR, the premier conference for augmented reality, and AWE EU, the augmented reality world expo Europe edition.

At UIST, Walter Lasecki, director of the Crowds+Machines Lab, presented our paper on Arboretum, a shared browsing architecture allowing users with, for example, visual impairments to hand-off a web browsing session to trusted crowd workers and friends.

At ISMAR, Michael Nebeling presented a paper co-authored with former postdoc, Max Speicher, on the trouble of augmented reality and virtual reality authoring tools. There is a rapidly growing landscape of diverse tools, but not many so far, in our opinion, adequately address the needs of non-programmers such as many user experience researchers and interaction designers. We reflected on two of our recent tools, ProtoAR and GestureWiz, both presented at CHI this year, presented a classification of existing tools and discussed three major troubles:

  1. First, there is already a massive tool landscape, and it’s rapidly growing. This makes it hard to get started for new designers, and hard to keep track even for experienced developers (except for those who swear upon Unity, which provides support for a lot of AR/VR things, if you’ve spent sufficient time with the tool to master the learning curve and are comfortable writing code in C# to “prototype”).
  2. Second, design processes are unique patchworks. This is not unique to AR/VR interaction design, but it’s especially true there. Basically, every AR/VR app requires a unique tool chain. The tools we identified in lower classes are too limited for most apps, while tools in higher classes, such as A-Frame, Unity, and Unreal Engine, are out of reach for many designers.
  3. Third, there is a significant gaps both within & between tools. Unfortunately, the tool chain is optimized in the upwards direction, allowing export and import only in “higher” tools. This makes design iterations tricky & expensive. We need to build better integrations between tools, to allow multiple different paths, and rapid iteration even if it means one has to go back to an earlier tool.

A particular highlight of the ISMAR workshop was Blair MacIntyre’s, principal scientist at Mozilla and professor on leave at Georgia Tech, presentation on WebXR. We are hoping to start a collaboration with Mozilla soon, so stay tuned!

It was definitely an exciting week, seeing many live demos and having great discussions with old and new friends!

Finally, AWE highlighted the difference between AR/VR in research and industry. While the demos at UIST were all really forward thinking, highly experimental, and very, very diverse, across the AWE EU exhibitions, the dominant theme was AR support for IoT applications. Almost every exhibitor brought a long a physical model (some of which were definitely quite exciting) and then used an AR device to “look under the hood” to configure it with live previews or for training and repair scenarios. While it is true that the research has finally matured to make this possible outside the lab, in research this was one of the first basic applications that was repeatedly demonstrated for at least a decade.