Reflections on the NatureCHI Workshop Series: Unobtrusive User Experiences with Technology in Nature

Reflections on the NatureCHI Workshop Series: Unobtrusive User Experiences with Technology in Nature

Jonna Häkkilä, Nicola J. Bidwell, Keith Cheverst, Ashley Colley, Felix Kosmalla, Simon Robinson, Johannes Schöning
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 9
DOI: 10.4018/IJMHCI.2018070101
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Being in nature is often regarded to be calming, relaxing and purifying. While technology has the potential to support engagement with nature, developing systems that provide support in an unobtrusive manner holds many challenges for interaction design. In this article, the authors describe their reflections around the NatureCHI workshop series. The aim with the workshops has been to help foster a research community interested in the design of Unobtrusive User Experiences with Technology in Nature. The first of two workshops ran as part of CHI 2016 in San Jose, California, while the second workshop took place alongside MobileHCI 2017 in Vienna, Austria. With 25 papers presented in total, the workshops demonstrate a rising interest in the areas where nature and interactive technologies meet.
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Introduction And Motivation

The benefits of nature to the public are widely recognised. For example, a recent EU report (Brink et al., 2016) concludes that:

There is robust scientific and practice-based evidence that nature can contribute to addressing health and social challenges that EU citizens are facing.

Mobile technologies (such as sports trackers, electronic tourist guides, mobile phone integrated cameras and omnipresent social media access) have the potential to both enhance and disrupt a user's interaction with, and experience of nature. Our review of the HCI/Design literature reveals surprisingly few examples of research that have studied the role of digital technology in nature since Bidwell and Browning’s review in 2010. Furthermore, the research papers that do report on technology interaction ‘outdoors’ typically focus on the learning domain, e.g., the Ambient wood project (Rogers et al. 2004), the GreenHat Mobile Augmented Reality system (supporting students in learning about biodiversity) (Kimiko and Agogino, 2013), the MobileGIS system (which forms one of the case studies described by Adams et al. (2013)) or a large-scale study on the geography of Pokémon Go (Colley et al. 2017).

In their research on so-called nature-technology hybrids, Edwards et al. (2015) deliberately resisted the use of smartphone technologies because of the potential “captivating hold of the screen” (Edwards et al., 2015). The issue of disruption is further considered by Coyne (2014), who argues “the proliferation of mobile apps brings into sharp relief the power of digital technologies to disrupt, and therefore reveal, aspects of our experience of the natural world” (Coyne, 2014). Technology can be used to bring people to defined rural places to share and enjoy the same experiences (Cheverst, Turner, Do & Fitton, 2016) or to facilitate solitude by providing guidance on how to avoid other people (Posti et al., 2014). It can offer a way to bridge different ways of knowing, such as those of indigenous or rural inhabitants (Turner et al., 2007, Bidwell et al., 2010).

Perhaps the most common examples of smartphone apps that aim to support ‘interaction in nature’ are those that relate to hiking. Indeed, according to the study by Colley et al. (2017), there are over 350 smartphone apps related to hiking. A somewhat different approach to hiking support is presented by Posti et al. (2014), where the authors describe their Hobbit ‘asocial hiking app’ which was designed to provide navigation support that “enables solitary hiking by informing the user of approaching people” (Posti et al., 2014). An example of non-screen navigation support through an augmented hiking stick is presented in (Johnson et al., 2016).

Thus, the combination of technology and nature presents a multitude of interesting aspects and challenges, with a wide range of impacts ranging through, for example, individual wellbeing, sustainability and social issues. As time progresses, one will no doubt see increased levels of urbanization and penetration of technology and design at the intersection of nature and technology will continue to grow in importance.


Naturechi Workshop Series: Emerging Themes And Topics

In order to help foster a research community with a shared interest in the design of mobile technologies that support unobtrusive interaction in nature, the authors have organised and run two NatureCHI workshops. The first workshop (Häkkilä et al., 2016) ran as part of CHI 2016 in San Jose, California and included 11 position papers. The second workshop (Häkkilä et al., 2017) took place alongside MobileHCI 2017 in Vienna, Austria, and included 14 position papers. The workshops comprised both paper presentations (with follow-on discussions) and group activities (see Figure 1). From the collection of research papers presented across the workshops, a wide range of themes and topics emerged. The following subsections present these themes and topics, and associated research papers. To conclude, we reflect on the NatureCHI series of workshops, and potential future directions.

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