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Reflections on UIST 2005

Meredith Morris gives her reflections on the recent UIST 2005 conference in Seattle.

Seattle’s accessible location and multitude of HCI-oriented institutions was a fortuitous combination for UIST 2005 – this year marked the highest UIST attendance ever, with over 260 people converging on the Seattle area to learn more about cutting-edge research on user interface software and technology. Upon arriving in the Emerald City, I headed to the Pike Place Market, where I browsed at the farm stands, flower shops, and fresh-fish vendors. After stocking up on locally-produced honeys and jams, an easy ten-minute walk took me to the conference hotel, the Seattle Westin, where my twenty-fourth floor room provided a stunning view of the Puget Sound.

Gary Starkweather’s opening keynote set an imaginative tone. Starkweather, perhaps best known for having invented the laser printer, discussed his visions of how advances in technology could improve the user experience. For example, he postulated that someday the computers people carry with them might only be I/O devices, with no CPU or disk, and that all resources would be accessed over a network. He also discussed the benefits of paper, and suggested that rather than focusing on replacing paper with computer technology, that successful future systems would integrate paper into the information interaction model.

Thirty papers and technotes were presented over the course of the three-day conference. Topics included tools for creating and testing novel interaction methods (such as Metisse, an experimental windowing toolkit), gestural input (especially techniques for interacting with large, wall-size displays), projection technologies (including systems for projecting onto moving surfaces), and end-user customization. The single-track organization ensured that everyone had the opportunity to take in all of the talks, and provided a common frame of reference for snack-break small talk.

A “one-minute madness” session gave attendees a quick overview of the work presented at the doctoral symposium, poster session, and demo reception. Contributors to these three venues had sixty seconds on-stage to advertise their research, and a number of them used this opportunity to show off their creativity as well, entertaining the audience with minute-long songs, raps, and videos about their work.

At the demo reception, conference-goers had the chance to try out a number of interesting systems. In addition to the fourteen refereed demos, paper authors and corporate sponsors also came to show off their latest prototypes. Highlights included a chance to try out teddy-bear remote controls, draw with a dual-mouse system, prototype with a physical interface toolkit, dictate drum music via vocal percussion, and manipulate digital images using a multi-touch display.

UIST also provided an excellent opportunity to learn more about the myriad of HCI-related research going on in the Seattle area. Intel Research Seattle held a demo session during lunch the second day, and conference-goers had a chance to check out the lab’s work on location-aware systems and on activity sensing. The University of Washington’s Human Interface Technology Lab invited UIST attendees to stop by after sessions finished on the last day, and gave demos of systems for surgical simulation, navigating in virtual reality environments, and gaming on augmented tabletops.

The conference banquet was just a short monorail ride away from the Westin, at Seattle’s Science Fiction Museum, which is located in the same park as the iconic Space Needle. We had the run of the museum, which was chock-full of sci fi collectibles including posters, props, and costumes from classic science fiction movies. The banquet was also where awards were announced: Gordon Kurtenbach received the Lasting Impact Award for his work on marking menus, and Michael Bolin and his colleagues from MIT received the Best Paper Award for their work on the “Chickenfoot” web-customization system. The most memorable part of the evening, however, was Anind Dey’s presentation on “Supporting Interspecies Social Awareness,” a humorous exploration of technology support for lonely dogs. Anind presented some very “scientific” related work on animal communication technologies, such as the Poultry Internet project, and then detailed the unique pawticipatory design process used in his own inter-species research. Perhaps we’ll be lucky enough to hear about his proposed follow-up work on Extra-Terrestrial Interfaces (it’s difficult to use a keyboard with webbed fingers!) at next year’s UIST in Montreux, Switzerland!

Gary Starkweather delivers the keynote address on “Personal Computing in the 21st Century."

Karen Parker (left) demonstrates her Tractor Beam tabletop interaction system to student volunteer Kate Everitt.

Björn Hartmann shows off his prototyping system during the demo reception.

Seattle, iconified by the world-famous Space Needle, provided a scenic conference venue.

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