The Daily Californian Online

UC Berkeley students exhibit interactive device prototypes

By Kate Randle
Daily Cal Staff Writer
Thursday, May 5, 2011
Category: News > University > Student Life

UC Berkeley students showcased interactive computer devices of their own design - such as a personalized virtual closet, a feedback-giving back brace and a transforming wall - on Monday and Wednesday as part of their final projects for a graduate level class at the School of Information.

The class - Theory and Practice of Tangible User Interfaces, taught by assistant professor of information Kimiko Ryokai - focuses on technology with which people naturally interact. The final projects were prototypes the students had been developing all semester that would naturally relate to people's lives and be tested in an interactive environment to see reactions.

"It's graduate-level because we've challenged students to design new interactive designs that take advantage of our familiarity with the physical and social world," Ryokai said. "The technology should be intuitive and natural."

Ryokai said that the students demonstrated their prototypes on two days in order to gain feedback from visitors. Both graduate and undergraduate students that participated came from a wide array of majors, varying from mechanical engineering to film studies.

A junior architecture major, Kyung Jin Han, said she was inspired by students who sit on the floor while waiting to go to class or to meet with GSIs for office hours.

Han created a wall that would sense a person's presence and adjust itself to form a seat. The "interactive kinetic public space" would be located in the middle of a hallway to create a lounge area for students.

Ryokai said she also had to account for the students' differing levels of computer programming experience by creating basic and advanced tracks and encouraging teamwork.

One of the groups that took a collaborative approach created a back brace that alerts wearers if they have bad posture in order to prevent injury when picking up heavy objects.

The team - made up of graduate students Alex Kantchelian and Walter Koning and sophomore Erich Hacker, who all come from different academic backgrounds - said the device could be utilized by physical therapists or everyday workmen who do heavy lifting.

Melissa Yu - a senior electrical engineering and computer science major - developed an interactive closet that helps coordinate the perfect outfit.

"There's a mirror with a touch screen over it," Yu said. "It displays the weather, and you select the occasion. Then you can scan through your options."

Graduate students Stuart Gieger, Emily Wagner and Yoon Jeong developed a way for humans to send information to each other as computers do. People sitting inside a box play a xylophone with notes that correspond to IP code. Participants learn about the Internet while empathizing with the tedious work that computers do instantly.

"It's really uncomfortable, and you don't really know what you're doing," Geiger said of the experience. "(The manual process) would take six months to send the front page of Wikipedia."

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