Please find on this page a description of the research agenda I setup for myself in order to advance the design of Assistive Technologies supporting Active and Assisted Living. I have a particular interest in how we can empower end-users in customizing their own technologies.

Working Title: Accessible Digital Tools for Connecting to the World: How People Create Own Digital Interfaces for Analogue Life Challenges

Keywords: Ubiquitous Computing, Autonomy, Adaption, Customization, Active and Assisted Living, Smart Home, Internet of Things, End User Development, Empowerment.


Introduction: Staying independent in old age is the desire of most, if not all, of us. Given this longing and the growing aging of the Western population, tremendous research into technological interventions for healthy and active aging comes as little surprise. Ubiquitous computing is playing a leading role in allowing people to age gracefully at home, however, much work remains to be done in the domain of the smart home, ambient assisted living or assistive technologies. For example, smart home technologies have been explored and developed broadly from a utilitarian or deficit-driven perspective (see (Rashidi & Mihailidis, 2013) for a good overview article), nevertheless they are not in widespread use to date. As a response, researchers have started addressing the same domain in a more ‘designerly’, exploratory or playful fashion (Pullin, 2011), acknowledging that technology cannot only be useful in compensating deficits of the body, but also in enhancing the quality of life by supporting a more active, healthier life in a broader sense, for example, by fighting social isolation and promoting technology mediated communication (Baecker, Sellen, Crosskey, Boscart, & Neves, 2014).
My research agenda contributes to the more designerly approaches to exploring the design space of assistive technologies. In particular, I am interested in investigating a number of important notions when it comes to aging gracefully, namely autonomy, the creativity of the individual, and empowerment. While I am taking a perspective that is less influenced by technical engineering, I nevertheless investigate these notions through fully implemented interactive prototypes within a design-based research approach.

Read More: Accessible Digital Tools for Connecting to the World

»Bitte keine Kameras im Badezimmer!« (German text only)

Moderne Technologien können zugleich Fluch und Segen sein. Während sie uns befähigen Dinge zu tun, die einst als undenkbar galten, können sie ebenso unkontrollierbare Kräfte freisetzen und ungewollte Kettenreaktionen auslösen. Verschärfend kommt hinzu, dass diese Potentiale nur schwer durchschau- und vorhersagbar sind. Dies gilt insbesondere auch für das »Internet der Dinge« und »smarte vernetzte Sensorsysteme«.

Um die Potentiale und Risiken hinter modernen Technologien besser zu kommunizieren und zu veranschaulichen, haben wir vom Team »Design Digitaler Systeme – IoT« zusammen mit Forscherinnen der TU Wien einen Satz Spielkarten entwickelt (siehe Abbildung), um spielerisch mit interessierten Laien Gespräche über Technologien zu führen.

Der Kartensatz ist explizit für sogenannte »partizipative Design Prozesse« konzipiert worden, in welchen Designer*innen beziehungsweise Forscher*innen mit älteren Personen über ihre Erwartungen gegenüber unterstützenden Technologien für den Heimbereich sprechen. Dabei kann es sich um alles Mögliche handeln – vom Sturzüberwachungssystem bis zum Pflegeroboter. Entscheidend ist, dass die Karten dabei helfen, eine strukturierte Konversation über Dinge zu führen, die den (älteren) Personen so wahrscheinlich nicht in den Sinn kommen würden, weil sie einfach nicht Teil ihrer Lebenswelt sind.

Read More: No Cameras in the Bathroom, please! (2021)

BoostBeans is a research prototype from the Schaukasten project and was created within a participatory design process to support children with cerebral visual impairment (CVI).

The design of BoostBeans draws on the idea of augmenting everyday objects with interactive technology. - It is motivated by observations we made studying the work practices of the CVI therapists: For motivational reasons, therapists incorporated children’s favorite toys into the training sessions and these toys acted as rewards. However, due to a lack of interactivity, these toys or objects were rarely part of the actual therapy sessions.

We identified this missed opportunity and developed an interactive means (the BoostBeans) to augment the children’s favorite toys or other everyday objects, enabling the therapists to make them a more integral part of the vision training.

The prototype for BoostBeans is comprised of a set of small objects (“beans”) that can provide tactile, acoustic, and visual stimuli . The beans can be triggered with different remote controls by the therapist or by the children. The below video shows us debugging a prototype of a 'puzzle remote control' for triggering beans.


Read More: BoostBeans (2017)

Infomate Version 2 is the latest prototype of my series of accessible computers. It seeks to provide computers as easy to operate as necessary by drawing on the Infobricks 'engine'. That is, accessible Infomate computers are created in a two-step process. Firstly, Infobricks is used as a prototyping toolkit to find a suitable design. Secondly, this design is transferred into a finalized Infomate implementation. The transition from step 1 to step 2 is relatively fast as the underlying technology of Infobricks (The Infobricks 'engine') can be used as a starting point or building blocks to establish the final Infomate system.

So far, I have created four accessible Infomate Version 2 computers (Infomate Version 1 is a former approach where I did not use the Infobricks 'engine' as a foundation). Besides being accessible, these computers have a variety of affordances or characteristics. For example, they feature distinct physical designs to fit into people's life. Three of them are comprised of computer and docking station, that is, people can take them and use the main component only (e.g., to take a photo).

Read More: Infomate Version 2 (2016-2017)

Infobricks is a prototyping toolkit for creating accessible computers. It provides software and hardware components that can be assembled by designers or amateurs to quickly put together prototypes of accessible devices. Infobricks comprises modules such as programmable quick access buttons, RFID reader, notification lights, and so on. Most of them are optional and can be used to customize the final product according to the users needs.

Infobricks is also the engine with drives the Infomate Version 2 computers. Here, the toolkit and its underlying infrastructure was turned into a number of relatively finished or polished accessible computers.

Read More: Infobricks (2016-2017)

The Infomate devices are successor products of the TabletCompanions and the predecessor of Infomate Version 2. The overarching goal of Infomate as well as TabletCompanion is to create an Internet computer for senior users that is as accessible as possible. To this end, I have been experimenting with Android-based computers in a variety of different form factors. The newest generation, Infomate, is based on the Odroid-XU4 processor and a 9" multitouch display. In addtion, the following features were carefully incorportated into the design to support the needs of senior users:

  • 1) quick access hardware buttons for the most important functions such as 'home', 'back', 'weather' or 'Internet search'
  • 2) an accessible hardware keyboard as we found in earlier usability studies that senior users had difficuties in using software keyboards
  • 3) photos, text based messages and recommend URLs can be pushed onto the devices by friends/family
  • 4) remote support features for friends/familiy, e.g., remotely sharing the current desktop screen view

This is ongoing design research. That is, user studies are yet to be completed, and it is likely that further iterations of Informtate devices will be prototyped in order to increase usability. The philosophy of this project is to reach an appropriate compromise between relatively quickly-built systems and sufficient fidelity to provide the senior users wiht authentic UX. This approach should allow studying working systems, while at the same time being able to implement multiple iterations. Furthermore, it is part of Infomate's concept to include features (see above item 3 and 4) that support the senior users' friends and family in (remotely) assisting them using the Infomate.


Read More: Infomate (2016)

We are surrounded by an increasing number of smart and networked devices. Today much of this technology is enjoyed by gadget enthusiasts and early adaptors, but in the foreseeable future many people will become dependent on smart devices and Internet of Things (IoT) applications, desired or not. To support people with various levels of computer skills in mastering smart appliances as found, e.g., in smart homes, we propose 'Tangible Programming' for connecting networked devices. Our work can be regarded as a playful ‘experiment’ towards democratizing IoT technology. It enables the users to define or ‘program’ (wirelessly) connected objects. While this approach allows powerful physical and interactive applications, no professional skills are needed since 'tangible-programs' are defined by recording sequences of tangible interactions

Read More: Tangible Programming (work-in-progress)

PhotoGreetings (working title) are mobile phones or tablets, which are 'hidden' in 3D-printed or wooden casings. Consequently, they are not recognized easily as mobile phones. Instead, they look like some sort of digital photo frame. And that's what these devices are actually built for: to display digital photos sent by family or friends, who live at a distant place.


Why not use conventional digital photo frames?

The difference between conventional digital photo frames and PhotoGreetings is that the latter devices can be populated easily by means of a corresponding mobile phone picture application or browser upload form. To share a moment with granny (or with anyone who owns a PhotoGreetings), the user simply has to snap a picture and press send. The result is transferred via Internet and displayed immediately at the remote location. In addition, PhotoGreetings implement Trackaware. Thus, the user gets immediate feedback whenever a person looked at the PhotoGreetings (These displays are always switched on and no touch interaction is required. Thus, the use of Trackaware for checking whether someone has noticed the new photo).

Read More: PhotoGreetings (2015)