From feburary 1999 to feburary 2000 Tom Nyvang and I worked out our thesis on Augmented Reality for computer supported cooperative work following our specialization in sociology. We had been doing some work on CSCW earlier and wanted to experiment with the possibilities of designing interfaces for these kinds of computer applications in a fundamental different way.
In the winter 1999 we did some extended theoretical research on cooperative work and the role of the physical room as context for cooperatiwe work. We also dug into the world of augmented reality. In spring 1999 we were ready to begin designing an alternative system which based on the idea of augmenteng the physical room with computer-based infoemation using transparent head-mounted displays. Following a few months of mock-up designing and experiments with this kind of display we stardet implemting the prototype in july 1999. The implementation lasted untill september 25th. (and I can assure you that HMD’s and VR-gloves are not very comfortable to wear for 6-7 hours a day in the summertime 🙂
Having build the actual system and done some usabilitytesting of the prototype as a “proof of concept” we turned to the more methodological issues of the software development process. We had experienced that it was extremly difficult to break with the traditional way of designing interfaces and found that this issue was important for the future development of good new computer systems – not only within augmented reality but also within eg. VR and mobile/wearable computing. This was where the work of architect and philosopher Christopher Alexander came into the picture. I can really recommend his classic Notes on the synthesis of form from 1964.
We then sat down and wrote the thesis in about 3 months.
Instead of concentrating human activity around traditional computer screens we should instead search for a technology that offers the flesibility of the computer technology and computer supported cooperative work (CSCW) without neglecting the quality of working and interacting in a physical room. The possibilities offered by augmented reality (AR) calls for a new paradigm in human-computer interaction that could meet both claims by enhancing the physical room with virtual objects and creating an augmented room for interaction.
Based on the implementation of the AR for CSCW prototype Being There this thesis discusses theoretical as well as methodological aspects of developing CSCW applications using AR. The methodological aspects are given a lot of attention in the need of methods that support a new paradigm instead of promoting old paradigms in human-computer interaction. The distinction between form and context in architect and philosopher Christopher Alexander’s perspective on design, and his concept of a pattern language are used as basis for such a method involving the development of a small pattern language for CSCW.
The theoretical discussion introduces activity theory and the concept of boundary objects as a framework for understanding the social and cognitive context for human-computer interaction and cooperative work. To broaden the understanding of the physical context we use Yi-Fu Tuan’s research in cultural geography and his distinction between space and place to describe the affordances of an inhabited room. The understanding of proxemics in human interaction as described by Edward T. Hall in his research on perceptual psychology and social anthropology is in relation to this used go gain insight in the physical context of cooperative work and to create a model describing the physical meeting.