Spatiality and sensor technologies

The Spatial Character of Sensor Technology is an academic paper by Stuart Reeves, Steve Benford, Andy Crabtree, Jonathan Green, Claire O’Malley and Tony Pridmore that interestingly propose a framework for analysing the intricate relationships between sensors and spatiality. As the authors point out, it discusses an important fact: the way seams between sensor-based devices such as Wifi or GPS create this spatial character and hence users' reactions.

Some excerpts I found pertinent concerned the examples given by the authors (these are raw excerpts, not very well understandable if you don't know the systems)

Example 1: the spatial character of the network as experienced by players was exploited and repurposed as part of the game. (...) The spatial character of this game arena was thus experienced as very much part of the game’s dynamic as players ‘discovered’ network coverage. (...) Example 2: Can You See Me Now: runners sometimes relied on ‘hiding’ in the GPS ‘shadows’ created by buildings obscuring satellites in order to obfuscate their position from online players until the last moment, when runners would then spring out from the shadows and ambush unsuspecting players. In this example, again, spaces in which interaction is impossible (i.e., GPS shadows) became an exciting and special dynamic within the game, deepening the playing experience rather than being a source of breakdown for runners and players to constantly repair. Here the spatial character was created by the contingencies of GPS coverage; this was experienced for runners as a developing “body of knowledge,” informing them of, for example, ‘good’ times of day for being in particular locations and appropriate places to ‘hide.’ (...) Example 3: Savannah: the invisibility of region boundaries (and occasionally the uncertainties of GPS) caused discrepancies between participants’ views of the action, and thus their ability to coordinate attacks successfully. (...) Example 4: MIT Media Lab’s Kidsroom: The spatial character of the room created by the sensor technology was thus not revealed to participants but was rather worked into the narrative in an endogenous fashion so that the children could be guided into the correct places.

The authors then describe a "spectrum of spatial character" based on those examples:

At one extreme end interaction and interference spaces are revealed to users who are expected to fully manage breakdown as part of their interaction, whereas at the opposing end, such interaction and interference spaces are hidden from the users, and they are guided through the spatial arrangement by the system in some way. Towards the centre are systems in which spatial aspects of interaction and interference are partially revealed, however users are provided with some system support to resolve breakdown. (...) It is thus possible that different design strategies could be appropriate for different demographics of users; for children, a designer may wish to intentionally hide seams for pedagogical reasons, or perhaps in order to create certain forms of experience, such as a “magical” system where the effects produced by the interface are exposed, but the underlying structure is hidden from the user.

Why do I blog this? because this is connected to my PhD research that deals with the link between spatiality and user experience of pervasive computing. The issues described here are very interesting in terms of what should be revealed to the users, surely an important paper for Fabien.