Project : in-situ
Section: New Results
Tools, methods, probes and prototypes to help family members stay in touch
The interLiving (see section 7.1) project has generated several new design methods  including the Interactive Thread, , a technique for obtaining a large quantity of labor-intensive data and technology probes  which combine traditional social science goals of recording data about users and the design goal of inspiring ideas for new technology. We ran numerous workshops with family members, including two that combined Swedish and French families, to generate ideas for new technologies. We developed a series of technology probes, including: VideoProbe , for sharing candid snapshots, MessageProbe, for sharing hand-written notes, Knocking Probe, for sharing sound patterns and StoryTable, for collaborative video editing. We also developed a more complete prototype, called MirrorSpace   which lets family members use the proximity of their bodies to a mirror to control the degree of intimacy in a super-imposed live video image of two remotely-located people. We installed and tested the probes in the families' homes over periods of weeks and months.
We call this type of interactive communication system a communication appliance, to capture the idea of a single-function, very easy to use method of staying in touch over time and space. Although other researchers have prototyped communication appliances, none have ever left the laboratory. Yet it is clear from our work with families, that such systems are highly desirable.
The key finding of the interLiving project has been the identification of the critical missing element: currently, we do not have an easy way to create and manage the corresponding networks that underlie communication appliances. So we developed FamilyNet , which has a tangible interface easy enough for a child to use, and enables family members to configure asymmetrical, dynamic, overlapping networks of communication appliances. Such networks are, by definition, very small in scope and require secure data transmission.
We are currently in the process of patenting the hardware interface to FamilyNet (based on cards and RFID tags) and plan to release the software under a free-software license, to maximize potential use. Both Philips and Intel have expressed interest in the concept and we plan to explore further collaborations with industry in 2004.