Those who hand out the Ig Nobel prizes, awarded for the most outlandish scientific research, would do well to check up on CHI.
At the 2015 Computer-Human Interaction Conference (CHI) in Seoul this week, there was no shortage of bizarre projects and concepts, all undertaken to innovate the way we use computers and information technology. Since it was held down the road from the Gangnam district of "Gangnam Style" fame, there may have been something in the air.
From Germany's Hasso Plattner Institute, there was Level-Ups, a pair of boots attached to mechanical stilts. At the swipe of a smartphone screen, metal trusses in the stilts extend with a scissor mechanism, instantly giving the wearer about 13cm more height.
The purpose? To give headset wearers a more realistic sensation when climbing stairs in virtual reality. Researcher Robert Kovacs plodded around in them slowly, insisting they offer users more freedom than traditional moving floors used to simulate locomotion in VR.
Some research takes a leap of faith, and a sense of fun can't hurt. Even staid academic papers at CHI got a little exclamatory, with titles that ran the gamut from "I Feel Like I'm Taking Selfies All Day!" to "Look, My Baby is Using an iPad!"
In what seemed like a solution in need of a problem, Japanese researchers from Microsoft Research in Beijing presented a paper about magnetic paper. FluxPaper, as the project is called, involves pasting very thin magnetic layers on various kinds of paper — from printer paper to Post-it notes.
With the former, the sheets of paper can automatically align themselves in a neat stack. With the latter, the notes can be attached to a whiteboard backed by a mechanical magnet that moves around. This causes the notes themselves to move around on the board, for instance reflecting the developments of a brainstorming session.
When the notes are no longer needed, the board can automatically repel them and drop them into a small wastepaper basket below. It's all very neat and tidy — for those who actually need such a contraption. After all, Post-its are designed to be disposable. But for those who want to save all their thoughts, the board could also use OCR (optical character recognition) technology to scan the handwriting on the notes and upload them to a smartphone for organization and sharing.
Other Japanese researchers looked into whether robots pose a threat to the job security of shop clerks. Scientists from Osaka University's Intelligent Robotics Laboratory set up a lifelike female android as a clerk in Takashimaya department store in Osaka and had it chat to customers and attempt to persuade them to buy US$100 cashmere sweaters. The researchers evaluated how good it was at sales.
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