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About this book

Advances in network connectivity, power consumption, and physical size create new possibilities for using interactive computing outdoors. However, moving computing outdoors can drastically change the human outdoor experience. This impact is felt in many kinds of outdoor activities such as citizen science, personal recreation, search and rescue, informal education, and others. It is also felt across outdoor settings that range from remote wilderness to crowded cities. Understanding these effects can lead to ideas, designs and systems that improve, rather than diminish, outdoor experiences.

This book represents the current results emerging from recent workshops focused on HCI outdoors and held in conjunction with CHI, GROUP, UbiComp, and MobileHCI conferences. Based on feedback at those workshops, and outreach to other leaders in the field, the chapters collected were crafted to highlight methods and approaches for understanding how technologies such as handhelds, wearables, and installed standalone devices impact individuals, groups, and even communities.

These findings frame new ways of thinking about HCI outdoors, explore logistical issues associated with moving computing outdoors, and probe new experiences created by involving computing in outdoor pursuits. Also important are the ways that social media has influenced preparation, experience, and reflection related to outdoor experiences.

HCI Outdoors: Theory, Design, Methods and Applications is of interest to HCI researchers, HCI practitioners, and outdoor enthusiasts who want to shape future understanding and current practice related to technology in every kind of outdoor experience.

Table of Contents


Finding Human–Computer Interaction Outdoors

Human–computer interaction, as a discipline, has shifted from an examination of computers in controlled indoor environments to the study of technology use in a broader collection of settings, including the outdoors. This chapter seeks to explore the evolution of HCI outdoors as an area of study, seeking to identify the considerations that make it an important and unique domain. We begin by examining the tensions and opportunities that have long existed between technology and the outdoors, pointing to the unique position of HCI as a discipline for probing these issues. Using HCI as a lens, we then seek to understand what is meant by the outdoors, and how humans, computers, and their interaction together have evolved to a point that they can address issues of outdoor use. We introduce several seminal efforts related to the study of technology use in outdoor settings, including a collection of recent workshops and events that helped identify and bring together important ideas in the field. We conclude with a categorization and introduction of the chapters in this book on HCI outdoors. The chapters in this book present new theory, design, methods, and applications that will shape the emerging field of HCI outdoors.
D. Scott McCrickard, Michael Jones, Timothy L. Stelter

Rural Contexts


The Walk Exploring the Technical and Social Margins

Walking has long been an instrument of political activism, such as the Jarrow March in Britain and the Salt March in India in the 1930s, and before that of war. It has been a spiritual practice, a source of literary inspiration and in some cases regarded as an art in itself. In the case of psychogeography, the act of walking is an integral part of academic and philosophical practice. However, it is fair to say that walking is not a typical part of HCI research methodology. From mid-April to the end of July 2013, I walked the perimeter of Wales, a distance of 1058 miles (1700 km). This was partly a personal journey encircling the country of my birth, not without overtones of pilgrimage, certainly a symbolic act, and maybe, depending on your definitions, art. It was also a research journey, seeking to understand the social and community issues of the ‘margins’ (literally and metaphorically) of a modern nation, including the impact or otherwise of information technology. This layering of aims and approaches could be regarded as post-modern, but I preferred the words of the Dean of Cardiff School of Art and Design, who described the methodology as mediaeval, and subsequently the blog about the walk was compared with the writing of Gerald of Wales written in 1188. In this chapter, I explore some of the things I have learnt from this perambulatory research; we will consider the design of mobile technology, the meaning of community and the role of the subjective in academic study. However, the ‘results’ of this are as much questions as answers. Remote rural communities in Wales, and across the world, often face a deepening of the existing social and economic divides, often fuelled by the digital revolution. Can appropriate design and policy counter the apparently inevitable technological entrenchment of existing power? Methodologically, is there a role for this level of slow-paced physicality and ethically is there a place for physical pain? Finally, a critical aspect of the walk was its permeability. I laid myself open to others as a living lab, and the data gathered was being made available to the entire research community. It started as my journey, but one of the first tangible outcomes was a digital exhibition by others, inspired by, but not ‘about’, the walk. Just as the act of walking collapses the distinction of places into a threaded narrative of journey, is there also a space for research that defies the discretisation of publications as metricised outputs, and dissolves the cabalistic divisions of disciplines and groups, a space for methods of work that link, join and lay themselves open to use by all?
Alan Dix

Threats of the Rural: Writing and Designing with Affect

Drawing from the author’s background and fieldwork in the rural West and Midwest, this chapter presents findings that are, at times, evasive and ambiguous. Stylistically, the writing foregrounds the unnamed and subliminal intensities that circulate in and out of the rural and onto the body. These rural affects give rise to our emotions shaped by social culture. This chapter is a provocation toward writing ethnographically inspired work in human–computer interaction (HCI). I suggest that the hallmarks of HCI research—deep analysis and clarity of argument—may unduly simplify the complexity of the rural, particularly its inhabitants. This chapter presents an alternative to normative modes of writing HCI, inviting multiple readings, interpretations, affects, and, indeed, “designs” from readers.
Norman Makoto Su

Willed and the Wild


Moving HCI Outdoors: Lessons Learned from Conducting Research in the Wild

Researchers are increasingly adopting ‘research in the wild’ approaches to design and evaluate prototypes in public spaces and to understand how city dwellers interact with them. Although ‘in the wild’ studies can provide more ecologically valid findings compared with typical performance measures collected in the lab, there are challenges associated with designing for and deploying in emergent contexts. A huge amount of work is involved, especially navigating the range of pragmatic and logistical concerns that inevitably arise. It is messy, expensive, time consuming, and unpredictable where often things don’t go according to plan. However, such practicalities are rarely discussed in published studies. The importance of the ‘behind the scenes’ work in making research in the wild happen should not be underestimated. In this chapter, we focus on three case studies where technology prototypes were evaluated in the wild. These are discussed in terms of: technology and design, space and place, social factors, and sustainability. Finally, we provide a set of practical recommendations for researchers and practitioners in the field.
Mara Balestrini, Sarah Gallacher, Yvonne Rogers

Wild Birthplaces of Behavioral Media

Interactive digital technology provides an unprecedented new way to communicate through rich behaviors that sense and react to the world. Our most complex designs still pale in comparison to the richness of the behaviors of the simplest living creatures. We do not yet know the key techniques and aesthetics involved in arranging these configurations of creatures, environments, and computers to be able to truly harness this new behavioral medium. Just like living creatures, the behaviors of our technological devices are shaped by the context in which they develop. We need to expose our technology to a vast array of new situations, experiences, and contexts in order to mature programmable technology beyond its status as a simple tool into a ripe new medium. Naturalists studying animal behavior conduct their work in uncontrolled, wilderness field sites because it is only there that you can observe the full range of a creature’s behaviors that have evolved to fit the specific milieu. Likewise, contemporary Human–Computer Interaction researchers are conducting studies “in the wild” where technologies are experienced in situ. This chapter explores using different sites of scientific field work (expeditions, field courses, and field stations) as fertile areas for developing interactive media.
Andrew Quitmeyer, Kitty Kelly

PlantShoe: Botanical Detectives

This chapter discusses the design and deployment of a citizen science application to inventory iconic medicinal non-timber forest products in the wild, such as black cohosh, ramps, and Bloodroot. The application is called PlantShoe (a pun on ‘Gumshoe’) and is used on mobile devices to collect data in the field about forest medicinal plants and their growing conditions. The users’ data is fed into a database, which they can manage, study, and share. Plantshoe data is a part of a larger regional community and consortium which is collecting information about the ecology and distribution of medicinal forest plants. Such analyses can help forest farmers and wild stewards in their processes of site selection and management of these valuable botanicals. We describe our usability engineering in the development of the PlantShoe application and enumerate key design tradeoffs we encountered. Thus, the design decisions and results of PlantShoe provide rich material for the design of future technology on the trail.
Nicholas Polys, Peter Sforza, John Munsell

Groups and Communities


Opportunities in Conflict on the Trail

People spend time on trails for a great many reasons. Often their reasons overlap—sometimes in positive ways but occasionally in conflict. Although there have been studies of individuals and unique groups that utilize the trail, there is a need first to first understand trail users. These users span different groups that use the trail, and the communities that inhabit the region surrounding the trail. It is importanat to the understand the group–community interaction especially in the presence of technology. In this chapter, we methodically consider these groups and communities, and identify relationships and tensions that emerge from their interactions with each other. We argue that exploring tensions provide a space to identify design opportunities to mitigate conflicts and improve the sense of community on the trail.
Lindah Kotut, Michael Horning, D. Scott McCrickard

Shared Family Experiences Over Distance in the Outdoors

When family and friends live apart, they often want to connect over distance to stay in touch and be a part of each other’s lives. Yet this can be challenging with existing technologies. Video chat systems begin to bridge this gap by providing views into remote spaces and of remote people. However, such systems are often designed to support conversations and not richer activities that a person might like to do with a family member or friend as if they were together in person. For example, this might include going for a walk together, riding bicycles, or site seeing. We have designed a number of ‘shared family experiences’ over distance that allow family members and friends to participate in outdoor activities together regardless of where they are located. The emphasis is on two-way video and audio links. Through two example projects—Shared Bicycling and Beam Geocaching—we describe the challenges and nuances of designing to support shared experiences over distance in the outdoors. We focus on how feelings of presence can be created, the sensations of the outdoors, and privacy challenges from the participation in ‘private’ activities in public spaces.
Carman Neustaedter, Yasamin Heshmat, Brennan Jones, Azadeh Forghani, Xiaoxuan Xiong

Designing Technology for Shared Communication and Awareness in Wilderness Search and Rescue

Wilderness search and rescue (WSAR) is a carefully planned and organized team operation, requiring collaboration and information sharing between many volunteers who are spread out across various locations in the outdoors. Workers play a variety of roles, both on the ground and at a command post, and they need information and awareness specific to those roles. In our work, we are interested in understanding how this information is gathered and passed around, how it helps WSAR workers achieve their goals, and what challenges they face in sending and receiving information as well as in maintaining proper awareness. We conducted a study where we interviewed WSAR workers and observed a simulated search. Our findings reveal that WSAR workers face challenges in maintaining a shared mental model when radio and network connectivity are sparse. Our insights reveal opportunities for new communication modalities, such as (but not limited to) video communication, augmented reality, drones, and team-collaboration platforms to provide awareness and make communication and coordination easier remotely across various locations, but particularly between the field teams and Command workers. However, such technologies should also be designed to anticipate gaps in radio reception, and provide opportunities for workers to communicate asynchronously and see relevant ‘offline’ information in a context-dependent manner. We present design ideas that pursue some of these opportunities.
Brennan Jones, Anthony Tang, Carman Neustaedter, Alissa N. Antle, Elgin-Skye McLaren

Design for Outdoors


Technology and Mastery: Exploring Design Sensitivities for Technology in Mountaineering

The idea of man’s ‘mastery over nature’ is ubiquitous in western philosophy and in western thinking. Technology has been widely used in support of this end. Given the growing interaction design opportunities for personal digital technologies in supporting outdoor and recreational nature activities such as mountaineering, it is timely to unpack the role that technology can play in such activities. In doing so, it is important to consider the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations at play for the individual and the accepted social norms or ‘rules’ that are associated with the activity through its community and passed on through its community of practice. Technologies that may be considered as a form of ‘cheating’ when first introduced (such as handheld GPS) can later become accepted through common practice, although the rules are often nuanced. For example, it is widely regarded that GPS should not replace the skill of map reading and navigation. In this chapter, we consider different forms of mastery over nature that technology can support and reflect on the design sensitivities that these provide.
Keith Cheverst, Mads Bødker, Florian Daiber

The Design of Outdoor Technologies for Children

Children have different needs, motivations, interaction styles, and perspectives than adults as they utilize technology and explore the world around them. We present an overview of technologies for children outdoors and lessons learned from developing some of those technologies as well as a survey of adults’ experience with technology while hiking. The literature and our experience inform our recommended design considerations for technology for children outdoors, namely that it should: support social interactions; accommodate groups that are generally led by an adult; motivate via a narrative that piques children’s interest; promote exploration in open, generative and creative ways; and keep children safe and allow communication with parents.
Jerry Alan Fails, Michael Jones

CommunIT Building

An Interactive Environment Exemplar Advancing Social Interaction in Underused Public Spaces
Despite the promise of social media to bring the world closer together, large segments of local communities, globally, remain misunderstood by or invisible to mainstream society. This problem is attributed, in large part, to digital media’s ascendancy over physical, public space as the locus for civic discourse—the loss of informal and structured encounters between members of communities there. This chapter presents our development and early evaluation of a novel cyber-physical platform, communIT, for community building across diverse local community groups. Deployed in underused public spaces, communIT is an origami-like, folding, robotic surface of billboard scale, with embedded peripherals, that changes form in response to group needs for group co-creation and sharing of media. By collaboratively making and sharing media with communIT, local groups can tell stories, share experiences and aspirations, and advocate within the larger community. Such civic discourse promises the potential to transform personal identity and self-representation, community awareness and responsibility, and wider social relationships with policy-makers.
Carlos Henrique Araujo de Aguiar, Keith Evan Green

Outdoor Auditory Wearable Interfaces: Bone Conduction Communication

Our senses not only connect us to the world around us but also protect us from harm. On any given day, we are involved in numerous activities and communication tasks but we are also exposed to a wide range of potential dangers. Whether it be hazardous toxins, slippery roads, or reckless acts that place us in such situations, our senses allow us to perceive threats in advance and provide us the opportunity to defend ourselves. However, technological advances created to make our lives better have frequently become double-edged swords limiting the effectiveness of our sensory shield by absorbing our attention and distracting us from receiving environmental warnings. Such situations recently became more prevalent and dangerous due to the wide-spread use of computers and digital technology in all aspects of our lives. For example, the use of smartphones with cellular, texting and media player capabilities, and portable computers with related visual and audio contents frequently detract us from hearing surrounding activities, which becomes especially dangerous in outdoor and hostile environments. However, in such situations, the utilization of active or open-ear wearable interfaces, such as bone conduction systems, can enable users to attend to streams of technology-based communication and/or entertainment (e.g., directions, phone conversations, music) without compromising their ability to sense the natural world and all of its salient beauty and danger. This chapter provides an introduction to auditory wearable devices, with a specific focus on bone conduction hearing and bone conduction head-mounted devices, while discussing auditory wearable device applications in outdoor environments in the context of human-computer interactions.
Rafael N. C. Patrick, Tomasz R. Letowski, Maranda E. McBride

Outdoor Recreation


Designing for Interaction in Outdoor Winter Sports

Winter sports define a wide variety of different activities, which are adopted especially in northern countries. The winter context sets special requirements for designing interactive systems, as the activities are typically conducted in cold temperatures, with heavier clothing and equipment than summer sports. This chapter describes the authors’ experiences when designing, prototyping, and evaluating computational enhancements for use in outdoor winter sports. The chapter presents four case studies addressing different winter sports, namely cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating. As a conclusion, we discuss the common themes, challenges, and lessons learnt from the case studies as a whole.
Jonna Häkkilä, Ashley Colley

Creating a User-Controllable Skiing Experience for Individuals with Tetraplegia

Outdoor recreation improves the quality of life for individuals with tetraplegia, however, a range of barriers exist in accessing these sports. This chapter describes the iterative design and field evaluation of the Tetra-Ski, a novel power-assisted ski chair for individuals who use a power wheelchair. Users control the Tetra-Ski with a joystick or sip-and-puff controller either independently or collaboratively with a tethered skier through a Shared-Control scheme. A field study of the Tetra-Ski demonstrated the usability of the system. The chapter also reflects on the Shared-Control approach to controlling Tetra-Ski, which effectively supported the unique abilities of different users. These findings inform the future application of this Shared-Control approach for use with other assistive technology and less-dependent forms of outdoor recreation. Finally, we describe some of the challenges we have faced developing and deploying a sports activity (skiing) for individuals with tetraplegia.
Ahmad Alsaleem, Ross Imburgia, Andrew Merryweather, Jeffery Rosenbluth, Stephen Trapp, Jason Wiese

Rethinking the Role of a Mobile Computing in Recreational Hiking

Mobile computing devices, especially smartphones, are part of the recreational hiking experience in the United States. In our survey of over a thousand people in the United States in 2017, about 95% of respondents reported that they prefer to bring a smartphone when they go hiking. A smartphone used during hiking is simply a tool. That tool can improve or worsen the quality of a hiking experience. In this chapter, we propose a vision of interactive mobile computing design for hiking which may improve the quality of the hiking experience. Our vision of interactive computing and hiking is built on three principles: time spent outdoors is good for individuals, computing can play a positive role in outdoor recreation, and human–nature interaction is more important than human–computer interaction. We illustrate our approach using an extended scenario.
Zann Anderson, Michael Jones

Modeling Gaze-Guided Narratives for Outdoor Tourism

Many outdoor spaces have hidden stories connected with them that can be used to enrich a tourist’s experience. These stories are often related to environmental features which are far from the user and far apart from each other. Therefore, they are difficult to explore by locomotion, but can be visually explored from a vantage point. Telling a story from a vantage point is challenging since the system must ensure that the user can identify the relevant features in the environment. Gaze-guided narratives are an interaction concept that helps in such situations by telling a story dynamically depending on the user’s current and previous gaze on a panorama. This chapter suggests a formal modeling approach for gaze-guided narratives, based on narrative mediation trees. The approach is illustrated with an example from the Swiss saga around ‘Wilhelm Tell’.
Peter Kiefer, Benjamin Adams, Tiffany C. K. Kwok, Martin Raubal

Conflict Between Trail Users Related to the Culture of Conservation

Hiking is a popular recreational activity for many—from tourists strolling through Yosemite Valley to thru-hikers dedicating months of their lives to their relationship with the trail; hiking is an activity that is widely accessible. Because of the diversity in motivations for hiking, there is inevitably a variety of hiking cultures. Exploring these different cultures and understanding how they relate to each other can help in engaging stakeholders of the trail. Understanding how different trail cultures relate to each other is an important step toward finding ways to encourage environmentally friendly outdoor recreation practices and developing hiker-approved (and environmentally conscious) technologies to use on the trail. In this chapter, we highlight the culture of conservation and how the values of conservancies conflict with their own missions. By studying tweets, we identify cultural differences between trail communities. We also identify the most significantly discussed forms of trail depreciation. Identifying the most significantly discussed forms of trail deprecation is helpful to conservation organizations so that they can more appropriately share which Leave No Trace practices hikers should place extra effort into practicing. In contrast, the lack of discussing conservation highlights the idea that preservation may not be a priority in hiking communities.
Abigail Bartolome
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