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Designing communication technologies based on physiological sensing

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Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Fakultät für Mathematik, Informatik und Statistik


The human body, that marvelous chamber of secrets, reveals myriads of information about its owner’s physical, psychological, emotional and cognitive state. In the last century, scientists in the medical field achieved huge leaps in identifying, collecting and analysing of signals generated inside the human brain and body.The advancement in the technology of sensing and collecting those physiological signals has finally matured enough; making the mysterious human body a more attainable source of information to regular non-trained users. Research in the field of Human Computer Interaction has always looked for new ways to interface between humans and machines.With the help of physiological sensing, a new channel of information originating inside the human body becomes available. The opportunities this new channel provides are limitless. In this thesis we take this opportunity to look at our own bodies as a source of information, to better understand ourselves, and others. In a world where partners and friends are in long-distance relationships, meeting rooms are distributed over cities, and working teams are remote, efficient communication mediated over a distance becomes crucial. We see our bodies as a direct interface for communication: our heartbeats reveal how excited we are, our brain reveals how focused we are, and our skin reveals how stressed we are. How can we use this information to create an implicit communication channel between people? Can we increase empathy, connectedness, and awareness, if we include the body as a source of information in our communication systems? What are the ethical and social implications of this type of novel sensing and sharing of information? These are some of the questions this thesis is concerned with. The field of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) has a long rich history. In this work, we extend on the means of mediating communication to include the body at the source, and the sink, of a communication system. Through a user-centred design process, we first start with a requirements gathering stage in which we investigate the expectations of users towards implicit physiological sensing and sharing of information. We build on top of existing CMC concepts to include bio-signals of the human body within communication.We chart our view of an extensive design space that includes implicit sensing opportunities and dimensions that consider new trends in communication including the distribution and remoteness of users. Through a set of research probes, ordered by one dimension of our extended design space, namely the number of senders and receivers, we explore how signals from the human body can be collected, visualized, and communicated. Starting with self-reflection as a form of communication, we look into how the revealing of information about one’s own body to oneself can enhance their understanding and interaction with systems in different contexts. Using electroencephalography signals from the frontal lobe of the brain, we build a system that aims to aid information workers in understanding how their attention varies during different tasks, and aids in scheduling and increased awareness. In a second research probe, we investigate the effect of revealing affective valence information collected through heart rate and electroencephalography to car drivers and its impact on driving performance. Looking at one-to-one personal communication, comprising the bigger part of our 21st century relationships, we develop two probes which use intimate information collected from the human body to enhance empathy, awareness and connectedness. We explore ways to visualize and communicate heart rate in online chat scenarios and how users deal with such an intimate yet ambiguous source of information. In another probe we introduce the idea of, not only implicitly sensing emotions as an input from one sender, but also using an actuating component at the output side of the communication channel. We explain and develop our concept of embodied emotion actuation using electroencephalography on one side and electrical muscle stimulation on the receiver’s side to enhance the connection between communicating partners. Communication in the large, with multiple senders and receivers who may be distributed or collocated over time and place, is the subject of our final set of research probes. Here we explored the area of audience sensing using physiological sensors to provide feedback to presenters or stakeholders. In two probes we investigated the use of electroencephalography to collect feedback from multiple audiences, in collocated, or distributed scenarios. In one probe, presenters can view real-time or post-hoc feedback to their presented material to evaluate and enhance it. In the second probe, visitors in a museum can implicitly rate their interest in exhibits which can be used by museum curators for better understanding of their audience. Finally, throughout our developed and evaluated research probes we reflect back on the design space presented in the beginning. We derive implications and recommendations for design as well as a conceptual architecture for physiologically augmented communication. We dedicate a discussion to the ethical and social implications of implicit physiological communication derived through our field and lab evaluations of our developed probes.We conclude with a vision of computer mediated communication for the next 20 years and discuss opportunities of future work.


Hassib, Mariam (2018): Designing communication technologies based on physiological sensing. DOI: 10.5282/edoc.24399. München: Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Fakultät für Mathematik, Informatik und Statistik