Project : in-situ
Section: New Results
Interaction and design: using proximity as an interface to video-mediated communication
One of the advantages of video over audio for mediated communication is the ability to transmit non-verbal information. Physical proximity between people is a language for non-verbal communication that we all employ everyday, although we are barely aware of it. Yet, existing systems for video-mediated communication fail to fully take into account these proxemics aspects of communication.
The MirrorSpace project  aims at creating an original personal video communication system that takes physical proximity into account. Whereas existing systems aim at creating a single shared space corresponding to a particular interpersonal distance, the goal of MirrorSpace is instead to create a continuum of space that will allow a variety of interpersonal relationships to be expressed. Our work focuses on the understanding of how people's interactions can trigger smooth transitions between situations as extreme as general awareness of remote activity where anonymity is preserved to intimate situations where people can look into the eyes of a remote person.
MirrorSpace units (see Fig. 5) combine a digital camera, a flat screen and a proximity sensor. As we aim to support intimate forms of communication, it felt important to us that people could actually look into each other's eyes and possibly merge their portraits into one, so the camera was placed right in the middle of the screen. This setup allows participants to come very close to the camera while still being able to see the remote people and interact with them.
The proximity sensor that measures the distance to the closest object or person in front of it. This distance is used by MirrorSpace software to alter the remote images displayed, and possibly the local one. A blur filter is applied on the images to visually express a distance computed from the local and remote sensor values. Blurring distant objects and people in MirrorSpace allows one to perceive their movement or passing with a minimum involvement. It also offers a simple way of initiating or avoiding a change to a more engaged form of communication by simply moving closer or further away.
This work started as part of the interLiving project (see above). MirrorSpace was first exhibited in a public setting in February 2003, at Jeune Création, a contemporary art exhibition in Paris. It was then exhibited at Mains d'Oeuvres (Saint-Ouen) (May 2003), Pas vu, pas pris (July 2003) and at the Interactive Design exhibit in the Pompidou Center (Paris December 2003 - February 2004). See http://insitu.lri.fr/~roussel/projects/mirrorSpace/ for more details.