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A Conceptual Vision of HiSpace (artists rendering)


The key to developing the next generation human to information interface is to move beyond the limitations of small computer monitors as our only view into the electronic information space and keyboards and mice as the only interaction devices. Our physical information space, which includes walls, tables, and other surfaces, should now be our view into the electronic information space. People perform physical interactions with information every day by picking up a book, building a model, or writing notes on a page. Similar interactions need to be developed for electronic information. Providing these types of interactions in the electronic world would allow us to interact more quickly, naturally, and hopefully more effectively in the broader context of information exploration.

The HITLab and Battelle are actively researching and developing just such a next generation information interaction environment called the HI-SPACE. A vision of the HI-SPACE is shown in the image above. This system utilizes knowledge from many areas of research, including Psychology, Human-Computer Interaction, Virtual Reality, Kinesiology, and Computer Science, to create a workspace that blurs the boundaries between physical and electronic information. The most desirable aspects of both the physical and electronic information spaces are used to enhance the ability to interact with information, promote group dialog, and to facilitate group interaction with information to solve complex tasks. The HI-SPACE is being developed to support leading edge HCI features, such as:

  • taking advantage of the redundancy of multi-modal (gesture, speech) input,
  • direct interaction, which allows a more natural interface,
  • support groups of people interacting with the same data at the same time and in the same space,
  • enable users in different physical locations to interact with each other and with the same data set,
  • support the fluid transfer of information and interaction between the physical and electronic spaces, and
  • maintaining an unencumbered work environment.

We envision a new physical command post workspace environment for presenting and analyzing information, one in which all elements integrate to enhance the decision-making process.

Battelle has a working proof-of-concept HI-SPACE system at its facilities and has a second system at the University of Washington's Human Interface Technology Laboratory. In these systems the sensors (camera, radio frequency tagging antenna, and microphone array) are placed over the table to capture user interactions with a table display. The display itself is a rear-view screen being fed by a standard LCD projector. The emphasis of our research in on the development of new interaction techniques and technologies as well as creating the information workspace. Towards this objective, we are taking advantage of technologies that are already in the mainstream pipeline, including new projector technology, large-screen displays, and high-resolution cameras.

Image: A diagramn of a HiSpace table set up, with a 3d interactional volume between overhead sensors and  a 2 dimensional display surface.

The HI-SPACE places the user interaction space between the sensor array and the 2D display surface, as depicted in the figure at right. This creates a 3D interaction volume that allows the user a much greater degree of freedom. The system has the potential to interpret gestures or actions anywhere in the interaction volume and respond accordingly, giving the HI-SPACE much greater potential for advanced interactions than technologies that only mimic touch screen type functionality.


We are pursuing multiple lines of research and development in the evolution of the HI-SPACE. Perhaps the best way to show our vision of the system is by a short example. Consider a group of commanders in a command post environment for an exercise or simulation event. They walk into the room where several support personnel are working at normal desktop workstations. These support stations feed the central HI-SPACE station a multitude of external and internal information streams. The command staff move directly to the HI-SPACE system where the exercise theater (bodies of water, ocean depths, terrain, urban regions) is displayed on the table top. On the walls are other information, status reports, and detailed maps. Also electronically displayed on the table and walls are the tactical units for friendly, neutral, unknown, and hostile forces. Without having to don any devices, a commander can query the system to display the current weather conditions. At the same time, another commander points to a particular unit to see unit details and status information. Another commander wants the same information for several units but rather than clutter the table top display the information is displayed on a wall or on the commander's hand-held PDA.

Now the group begins to discuss options and formulate plans by simultaneously talking with each other and working with physical and electronic information sources. Marks can be drawn on the table to show points of interest. Regions of the displays can be zoomed or overlaid with additional information as needed. At some point one commander decides to introduce a new unit into the scenario as part of a `what if' option. This is done simply by placing a physical icon or phicon [Ullmer and Ishii 1997] on the table. A phicon is a small object that is recognized by the HI-SPACE but also has standard military symbology printed on it for immediate user recognition. Once placed on the HI-SPACE the phicon will effect all other elements of the electronic information space. The process of placing or moving a phicon is a simple matter of picking up and setting down the object. The phicon can be moved or even removed by the users as desired. Many phicons can be placed on the system to support simple interaction with complex, multiunit scenarios where some units are represented by phicons and others by software icons.

During the exercise, command personnel for each team would have been using HI-SPACE systems at each command center. During the debriefing, the systems could be linked up to form a collaborative environment. Now when a commander points to an object on the table or wall participants at all locations can see what is being discussed. Tactical plans developed in one command center can be freely transmitted and displayed to the others for discussion.

The above scenario, while indeed a vision, is what we are working toward. To achieve this vision, advanced research in many areas needs to be conducted. Some of these include but are not limited to:

  • 3D interaction: allow users to select objects by pointing at them utilizing hand-eye coordination or electronic pointing devices. This direct interaction model will support more natural and robust interactions.
  • Gesture Interaction: It is imperative that we support simple natural gestures to facilitate communications in a small group. This will minimize having to force memorization of a new command dialog.
  • Blending Realities: We must develop extensions to existing phicon research to support the utilization of physical objects as retainers and handles for electronic information. This will also support the use of physical interactions with virtual objects.
  • Collaboration: The HI-SPACE affords new and enhanced collaboration capabilities. Increased spatial understanding is possible by utilizing the large display surfaces to show `shadows' of remote users. The system seems equally viable for promoting local (a group of individuals at the same location) as well as distance collaboration (groups of people at different locations).
  • Public and Private Spaces: Supporting private user spaces whether on a section of the HI-SPACE table or on a separate PDA is an important aspect of the HI-SPACE design. There will be time where each user needs a different filter on the information space. It may not be possible to show all these filtered views on the large displays for everyone to interact with.

The HI-SPACE is a research effort that has tremendous potential to dramatically change the way groups access and interact with electronic information. We are aggressively seeking partners to assist in advancing the state of this developing technology.


Richard May <rmay at>