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GUEST POST - Marianna Obrist - A ‘Flavor’ of Things to Come in Human-Computer Interaction

On Wednesday 2nd March 2016 we held our third event in the Tech Beyond The Screen series, around UX & Design for Connected Products. Marianna Obrist, Reader in Multisensory Experiences at University of Sussex, talked about some of the projects her and her team are working on researching multisensory UX for products without screens.

"The SCHI [sky] Lab research lies in the area of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), an area in which research on multisensory experiences makes a difference on how we design and interact with technology in the future. We are an interdisciplinary team exploring tactile, gustatory, and olfactory experiences as novel interaction modalities.

Touch: What is commonly called the sense of touch is, in fact, the integration of multiple sensory signals. A variety of receptors on our skin communicate information about properties of the objects in the outside world. This information is merged with the signals from our muscles, providing our brain with the position of our limbs in space. Touch or haptics is therefore: What we touch, where we touch and when we touch. But the power of touch goes well beyond the crude sensory integration (a problem that, by itself, still presents many mysteries to modern scientists). At the SCHI Lab we study ways to deliver haptic sensations though brand new mid-air technology, play with other senses to manipulate haptic perceptions, and investigate the relationship between haptics and high cognitive functions such as emotions, learning (because, as even John Keats said “Touch has a memory”) and expectations, all spiced up with a bit of psychophysics in order to create novel interactive experiences.

Taste: In most species, the sense of taste is the key to identify and distinguish the potential nutritious and harmful types of food, leading to its acceptance (or rejection). Tastes are encoded by taste receptor cells on the tongue detecting chemicals corresponding to the different taste qualities: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami (or savoury). The sense of taste has been extensively studied to understand how the taste system works, such as its anatomy, pathway, and neural code. However, there is still a lack of understanding on how taste can be exploited in Human-Computer Interaction. This is partly because the HCI field has been heavily relying on vision and hearing, with emerging attention on touch. Our ambition in at the SCHI Lab is to understand taste characteristics and experiences in different HCI contexts, consequently provide guidelines to designers on how to use taste as an interactive channel, or to initiate a desirable affect in users during the interaction. Ultimately the integration of taste and smell stimuli to create flavour interfaces is envisaged.

Smell: The sense of smell is much more than the simple detection of the chemical stimuli in the surrounding ambient. In the human brain, areas are activated both in smell and in emotional processing and scientists claimed that the sense of smell is in fact part of a complex emotional system. Smells are communication tools and, at the same time, devices to elicit emotions in humans. Human-Computer Interaction has recently showed a growing interest in exploiting the connection between emotions and the sense of smell. However, a long way still needs to be undertaken to implement smells in HCI. The understanding of physiological and perceptual processes, as well as technology and delivery systems are current challenges in olfactory research. Our vision at the SCHI Lab is to develop guidelines for creating delivery technologies and for classifying smells, shedding light on crossmodal correspondences and interactions between smell and other senses, directing designers to systematically and fully exploit all the potentials related with the use of smell.

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Thank you to Marianna for her contribution. Sign up to the Digital Catapult Centre Brighton mailing list here to hear about future events at The FuseBox.

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