ERCIM News No.31 - October 1997

I3: Intelligent Information Interfaces Initiative

by Lennart Fahlén

Intelligent Information Interfaces, or i3, is an Esprit Long-Term Research initiative. The aim of i3 (pronounced 'eye-cubed') is to develop new human centred interfaces for interacting with information, aimed at the future broad population. i3 aims at a radical departure from present-day human-machine interface concepts and does this under the assumption that this can only be done guided by a long-term vision intertwining human, societal and technological factors. The initiative aims to launch research on new forms of interaction that will place people as active participants rather than passive recipients of information.

Given their potential use by every citizen, the kinds of applications being explored by eRENA, represent a potentially large future market for IT; one in which Europe might gain an edge. The i3 initiative has a budget of up to 25 million ECU.

eRENA focuses on developing inhabited information spaces in which all participants can be mobile and socially active. Thus, audience members as well as performers and artists will be able to explore, interact, communicate with one another and participate in staged events. Our electronic arenas will eventually support hundreds or thousands of simultaneous participants. eRENA therefore aims to bridge the gap between current small scale, real-time communication technologies such as video conferencing and current massive-scale non-participative broadcast technologies such as television.

eRENA is structured around underlying research challenges, demonstrated through thematic spaces. The research challenges involve the three topics of: production - addressing the spatial and temporal structuring of electronic arenas; participation - addressing the representation and behaviour of different participants in electronic arenas, including humans, agents and crowds; and interaction - addressing navigation, unencumbered interaction and new forms of 'mixed reality' boundaries between real and virtual space.

The outcomes of eRENA will include: new techniques for individual and mass participation in producing and shaping the content of virtual arenas; new ways of structuring electronic arenas so as to afford different modes of interaction, navigation and communication in different virtual spaces or at different stages of an event; powerful new techniques for embodying humans and agents in electronic arenas; mechanisms to support dynamic crowd aggregations, including crowd representations and mechanisms for managing crowd membership; new ways for groups and individuals to interact with shared and projected displays; technical support for building structured mixed realities out of boundaries between real and virtual space; and finally, the demonstration of these techniques through a series of public exhibitions and performances which are complemented by networked experiments over BT Futures Testbed ATM Network.

The eRENA consortium brings together internationally known digital artists from ZKM and GMD; experts in multi-user virtual reality and computer animation from EPFL, Geneva, Nottingham, KTH and GMD; social scientists from Nottingham and KTH; broadcasters from Illuminations and KTH; expertise in CAVEs and other projected interfaces from GMD and BT; and networking expertise from BT.

ESCAPE in I3 ­ Heterogeneous Large Scale Landscapes

The last three years have seen a rapid growth in the development of systems that adopt a spatial approach to the presentation of computer based information. This has been fuelled by the increasingly ubiquitous nature of the Internet and the maturing of 3D interaction techniques. This initial shift has been recognised in the Inhabited Information Spaces schema of the I3 initiative. However, despite the large number of research and commercial explorations into virtual environments (including shared, multi-user virtual environments), little or no consideration has been given to the development of heterogeneous large scale landscapes capable of allowing a wide range of different spaces to coexist. Rather an insular approach has been pursued with each virtual environment being relatively separate from others. This sets the research challenge of developing techniques which will allow a wide variety of different approaches and spaces to co-exist successfully in a seamless manner. Recognising and supporting this diversity of space in itself requires a radical departure from existing considerations of electronic environments. Indeed, it is unlikely that we will see the wide-scale adoption of shared virtual environments in use by the general citizen unless attention is paid to their integration and interconnection without disrupting healthy variation between different environments as a function of their application or of the social group they support or culture they have emerged within.

The central challenge is the means by which future large scale electronic environments will be realised. This requires fundamental research into the formation of a suitable set of paradigms for these environments and the demonstration of the application of these paradigms in practice. This research is essentially multidisciplinary in nature and one of the unique aspects of the eSCAPE proposal is that it brings together a set of previously disparate traditions to address these issues in a concerted manner.

In particular the following skills and expertise are combined with eSCAPE to extend the current limited considerations of inhabited information spaces.

VR Development: eSCAPE will build upon the experiences of SICS in developing DIVE one of the most popular multi-user VR platforms in common use. Access to the source code of DIVE will be complemented by the VR development experience of the other partners at Manchester, Lancaster and ZKM. Studies of Use: eSCAPE has as a central concern understanding use as a means of developing the user centred interfaces requested by the I3 initiative. This tradition grows from the use of ethnographic studies by Lancaster and Manchester and has involved influential studies of the use of VR systems. VR Aesthetic: eSCAPE also involves in a central role the artistic and aesthetic issues central to the development of VR environments. This draws upon the traditions of VR artists at ZKM and work at both SICS and Manchester.

Please contact:
Lennart Fahlén - SICS
Tel: + 46 70 6661539

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