Blog Author: Sven

Improving User Interfaces for Robot Teleoperation


The FXPAL robotics research group has recently explored technologies for improving the usability of mobile telepresence robots. We evaluated a prototype head-tracked stereoscopic (HTS) teleoperation interface for a remote collaboration task. The results of this study indicate that using a HTS systems reduces task errors and improves the perceived collaboration success and
viewing experience.

We also developed a new focus plus context viewing technique for mobile robot teleoperation. This allows us to use wide-angle camera images
that proved rich contextual visual awareness of the robot’s surroundings while at the same time preserving a distortion-free region
in the middle of the camera view.

To this, we added a semi-automatic robot control method that allows operators to navigate the telepresence robot via a pointing and clicking directly on
the camera image feed. This through-the-screen interaction paradigm has the advantage of decoupling operators from the robot control loop, freeing them for
other tasks besides driving the robot.

As a result of this work, we presented two papers at the IEEE International Symposium on Robot and Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN). We obtained a best paper award for the paper “Look Where You’re Going: Visual Interfaces for Robot Teleoperation” in the Design category.

Using Stereo Vision to Operate Mobile Telepresence Robots


The use of mobile telepresence robots (MTRs) is increasing. Very few MTRs have autonomous navigation systems. Thus teleoperation is usually still a manual task, and often has user experience problems. We believe that this may be due to (1) the fixed viewpoint and limited field of view of a 2D camera system and (2) the capability of judging distances due to lack of depth perception.

To improve the experience of teleoperating the robot, we evaluated the use of stereo video coupled with a head-tracked and head-mounted display.

To do this, we installed a brushless gimbal with a stereo camera pair on a robot platform. We used an Oculus Rift (DK1) device for visualization and head tracking.

StereoBot and Gimbal.

Stereobot telepresence robot (left) and stereo gimbal system (right).

We conducted a preliminary user study to gather qualitative feedback about telepresence navigation tasks using stereo vs. a 2D camera feed, and high vs. low camera placement. In a simulated telepresence scenario, participants were asked to drive the robot from an office to a meeting location, have conversation with a tester, then drive back to the starting location.

An ANOVA on System Usability Scale (SUS) scores with visualization type and camera placement as factors results in a significant effect of visualization type on the score. However, we observed a higher SUS score for navigation based on a 2D camera feed. The camera placement height did not show a significant effect.

The following two main reasons could have caused the lower ratings for stereo: (1) about half of the users experienced at least some form of disorientation. This might have been due to their unfamiliarity with immersive VR headsets but also due the sensory distortion effect of being immersed visually in a moving environment while other bodily senses report sitting still. (2) the video transmission quality was not optimal due to interference of the analog video transmission signal by objects in the building and due to the relatively low display resolution of the Oculus Rift DK1 device.

In the future we intend to work on improving the visual quality of the stereo output by using better video transmission and head-worn display. We furthermore intend to evaluate robot navigation tasks using a full VR view. This view will make use of the robot’s sensors and localization system in order to display the robot correctly within a virtual representation of our building.

Ego-Centric vs. Exo-Centric Tracking and Interaction in Smart Spaces


In the recent paper published at SUI 2014,”Exploring Gestural Interaction in Smart Spaces using Head-Mounted Devices with Ego-Centric Sensing”, co-authored with Barry Kollee and Tony Dunnigan, we studied a prototype Head Mounted Device (HMD) that allows the interaction with external displays by input through spatial gestures.

In the paper, one of our goals was to expand the scope of interaction possibilities on HMDs, which are currently severely limited, if we consider Google Glass as a baseline. Glass only has a small touch pad, which is placed at an awkward position on the devices rim, at the user’s temple. The other input modalities Glass offers are eye blink input and voice recognition. While eye blink can be effective as a binary input mechanism, in many situations it is rather limited and could be considered socially awkward. Voice input suffers from recognition errors for non-native speakers of the input language and has considerable lag, as current Android-based devices, such as Google Glass, perform text-to-speech in the cloud. These problems were also observed in the main study of our paper.

We thus proposed three gestural selection techniques in order to extend the input capabilities of HMDs: (1) a head nod gesture, (2) a hand movement gesture and (3) a hand grasping gesture.

The following mock-up video shows the three proposed gestures used in a scenario depicting a material selection session in a (hypothetical) smart space used by architects:

EgoSense: Gestural Interaction in Smart Spaces using Head Mounted Devices with Ego-Centric Sensing from FX Palo Alto Laboratory on Vimeo.

We discounted the head nod gesture after a preliminary study showed a low user preference for such an input method. In a main study, we found that the two gestural techniques achieved performance similar to a baseline technique using the touch pad on Google Glass. However, we hypothesize that the spatial gestural techniques using direct manipulation may outperform the touch pad for larger numbers of selectable targets (in our study we had 12 targets in total), as secondary GUI navigation activities (i.e., scrolling a list view) are not required when using gestures.

In the paper, we also present some possibilities for ad-hoc control of large displays and automated indoor systems:

Ambient light control using spatial gestures tracked by via an HMD.

Ambient light control using spatial gestures tracked by via an HMD.

Considering the larger picture, our paper touches on the broader question of ego-centric vs exo-centric tracking: past work in smart spaces has mainly relied on external (exo-centric) tracking techniques, e.g., using depth sensors such as the Kinect for user tracking and interaction. As wearable devices get increasingly powerful and as depth sensor technology shrinks, it may, in the future, become more practical to users to bring their own sensors to a smart space. This has advantages in scalability: more users can be tracked in larger spaces, without additional investments in fixed tracking systems. Also, a larger number of spaces can be made interactive, as the users carry their sensing equipment from place to place.

AirAuth: Authentication through In-Air Gestures Instead of Passwords


At the CHI 2014 conference, we demonstrated a new prototype authentication system, AirAuth, that explores the use of in-air gestures for authentication purposes as an alternative to password-based entry.

Previous work has shown that passwords or PINs as an authentication mechanism have usability issues that ultimately lead to a compromise in security. For instance, as the number of services to authenticate to grows, users use variations of basic passwords, which are easier to remember, thus making their accounts susceptible to attack if one is compromised.

On mobile devices, smudge attacks and shoulder surfing attacks pose a threat to authentication, as finger movements on a touch screen are easy to record visually and to replicate.

AirAuth addresses these issues by replacing password entry with a gesture. Motor memory makes it a simple task for most users to remember their gesture. Furthermore, since we track multiple points on the user’s hands, we do obtain tracking information that is unique to the physical appearance of the legitimate user, so there is an implicit biometric built into AirAuth. Smudge attacks are averted due to the touchless gesture entry and a user study we conducted shows that AirAuth is also quite resistant towards camera-based shoulder surfing attacks.

Our demo at CHI showed the enrollment and authentication phases of our system. We gave attendees the opportunity to enroll in our system and check AirAuth’s capabilities to recognize their gestures. We got great responses from the attendees and obtained enrollment gestures from a number of them. We plan to use these enrollment gestures to evaluate AirAuth’s accuracy in field conditions.

Improving the Expressiveness of Touch Input


Touch input is now the preferred input method on mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets. Touch is also gaining traction in the desktop segment and is also common for interaction with large table or wall-based displays. At present, the majority of touch displays can detect solely the touch location of a user input. Some capacitive touch screens can also report the contact area of a touch, but usually, no further information about individual touch inputs is available to developers of mobile applications.

It would, however, be beneficial to capture further properties of the user’s touch, for instance the finger’s rotation around the vertical axis (i.e., the axis orthogonal to the plane of the touch screen) as well as its tilt (see images above). Obtaining rotation and tilt information for a touch would allow for expressive localized input gestures as well as new types of on-screen widgets that make use of the additional local input degrees of freedom.

Having finger pose information together with touches adds additional local degrees of freedom of input for each touch location. This, for instance, allows the user interface designer to remap established multi-touch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom to other user interface functions or to free up screen space by allowing input (e.g., adjusting a slider value, scrolling a list, panning a map view, enlarging a picture) to be performed at a single touch location that usually need (multi-) touch gestures that require a significant amount of screen space. New graphical user interface widgets that make use of finger pose information, such as rolling context menus, hidden flaps or occlusion-aware widgets have also been suggested.

Our PointPose prototype performs finger pose estimation at the location of touch using a short-range depth sensor viewing the touch screen of a mobile device. We use the point cloud generated by the depth sensor for finger pose estimation. PointPose estimates the finger pose of a user touch by fitting a cylindrical model to the subset of the point that corresponds to the user’s finger. We use the spatial location of the user’s touch to seed the search for the subset of the point cloud representing the user’s finger.

One advantage of our approach is that it does not require complex external tracking hardware (as in related work), and external computation is unnecessary as the finger pose extraction algorithm is efficient enough to run directly on the mobile device. This makes PointPose ideal for prototyping and developing novel mobile user interfaces that use finger pose estimation.