CPSC 601.56b Physical User Interfaces (advanced topics in HCI)

Note: this course was last taught in fall 2001, and thus excludes more recent work. Still, it offers a variety of good papers on this topic (see below) that should serve as a start to your research into this area.


The course deals with advanced topics in human computer interaction. The actual topic changes year by year. In 1999, the course investigated Physical User Interfaces. This is a restricted enrollment independent studies course structured as a reading and project course, with regular one-on-one meetings scheduled between the student and the instructor. The student studied the literature on physical user interfaces, and identified / pursued a substantial research project on the design and implementation of a physical user interface.


  1. A literature review of physical user interfaces and related topics (30%) Due October 21
    In this report, written as a thesis chapter, you will introduce / discuss / compare / synthesize relevant work in physical user interfaces. The reading list below will be your starting point.
  2. Project: Design and implementation of a physical user interface (70%)

You will design and implement a physical user interface. This may include an architectural infrastructure, an actual device design, or an end-user product. It may also include evaluation, if appropriate. Your project must meet the milestones below.

  1. Sept 26. Project definition. Through a 15 minute presentation, you will propose a physical user interface of sufficient richness and scope to warrant a major project. This must include the motivation for a design, as well as very preliminary sketches/prototypes of competing designs and/or architectures to illustrate what will be delivered. If appropriate, you can also describe how you plan to deploy and evaluate the system. While there is much latitude in what you can do, the instructor has final say on whether your proposal is an acceptable project for the course.
  2. Oct 1. Written proposal. You will deliver a short report including a refined summary of the points presented in the project definition above, and final refined sketches of what they propose to build. This will become your contract for what you will deliver.
  3. Every week, time to be determined. You will show how your work has progressed from the previous week.
  4. Around the last week in November/ first week of December You will deliver:
    • a short paper in CHI format (2 pages) summarizing the project. The expectation is that the quality of the work is good enough to submit to the CHI conference (submission deadline is December 7)
    • a 20-30 minute presentation and demonstration of your project to Grouplab members
    • a video of their system.

With permission from the instructor, you may negotiate the details of the various deliverables to fit your interests in this area.

Reading List - compiled by Saul Greenberg

Here are a variety of papers on this topic. There is some repetition, and there are certainly a few good papers missing. But its a start to your research into this area! Note that the topic categories are broad (inaccurate) indicators.

Ubiquitous Computing

Weiser, M. (1991) The computer for the 21st Century. Scientific American. 94-110, September. [Html]

Weiser, M. (1993) Some computer science issues in Ubiquitous Computing. Communications of the ACM 36(7) July. [Pdf]

Weiser, M. and Brown, J. Designing calm technology, Powergrid Journal, v1.01, July, 1996. [Html]

Tangible User Interfaces

Ishii, H. and Ullmer, B. (1997) Tangible Bits: Towards Seamless Interfaces Between People, Bits and Atoms. Proc ACM CHI'97 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 234-241. [Pdf]

Brave, S., Ishii, H. and Dahley, A. (1998) Tangible interfaces for remote collaboration and communication. Proc. ACM CSCW’98 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, p169-178. [Pdf]

Dahley, A., Wisneski, C. and Ishii, H. (1998) Water Lamp and Pinwheels: Ambient Projection of Digital Information into Architectural Space. Summary of CHI '98, 269-270. [Pdf]

Ullmer, B., Ishii, H. and Glas, D.(1999) mediaBlocks: Physical Containers, Transports, and Controls for Online Media. Proceedings of the 25th Annual Conference on Computer Graphics. [Pdf]

Ishii, H. Wisneski, C., Brave, S., Dahley, A., Gorbet, M., Ullmer, B. and Yarin, P. (1998) ambientRoom: Integerating Ambient Media with Architectural Space (video). ACM Conference Summary of Chi'98 [Pdf]

Anderson, D., Frankel, J., Marks, J., Agarwala, A., Beardsley, P., Hodgins, J., Leigh, D., Ryall, K., Sullivan, E. and Yedidia, J. (2000) Tangible Interaction + Graphical Interpretation: A New Approach to 3D Modeling. ACM SIGGRAPH. [Pdf]

Context-Aware Computing

Dey, A. K., Salber, D. & Abowd, G. D. (2001). A conceptual framework and a toolkit for supporting the rapid prototyping of context-aware applications. Human-Computer Interaction, 16 [Pdf]

Tutorial and downloadable 'Context-aware toolkit' produced by Anind Dey at Georgia Tech. http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~anind/context.html

Pervasive Computing

Ark. W. and Selker, T. A look at human interaction with pervasive computers. IBM Systems Journal 38 (4), 1999. [Html]

The above article introduces the Pervasive Computing Special Issue. IBM Systems Journal. 38 (4) 1999.

IBM Pervasive Computing web site. "Tools and Resources."

Information Appliances

Norman, D.A. The Invisible Computer. MIT Press, 1998. [I have this book in my library]

Danny Rozin, (NYU). The Wooden Mirror

Building Physical User Interfaces

Kaminsky, M., Dourish, P., Edwards, K. LaMarca, A., Salisbury, M. and Smith, I. (1999) SWEETPEA: Software Tools for Programmable Embodied Agents. Proceedings of ACM CHI 99 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 144-151. [Pdf]

Greenberg, S. and Fitchet, C. (2001) Phidgets: Easy Development of Physical Interfaces through Physical Widgets. Proc UIST 2001. [Pdf]

Abowd, G. (1999) Software engineering issues for ubiquitous computing.

Aish, R., Frankel, J., Frazer, J., Patera, A., and Marks, J. (2001) Computational Construction Kits for Geometric Modeling and Design. Panel Abstract, I3D Symposium. [Pdf]

Resnick, M. Behavior construction kits Communications of the ACM 36(7), 64-71. [Pdf]

Phidget Examples and Applications

Gruen, D., Rohall, S., Petigara, N., & Lam, D. "In Your Space" Displays for Casual Awareness.

Heiner, J., Hudson, S. and Tanaka, K. (1999) The information percolator: ambient information display in a decorative object. Proc ACM UIST'99 Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology. 141-148. [Pdf]

Ideo Kiss Design. [Html].

Jordan, P. Putting the pleasure into products.


Wolff, J. RFID Tags - an intelligent bar code replacement. An IBM Pervasive Computing White Paper [Pdf]

Miller, B. Bluetooth™ Applications in Pervasive Computing. An IBM Pervasive Computing White Paper [Html]

Locator Technologies

Lovstrand (1991) Being selectively aware with the Khronica system. Proc ECSCW'91, p265-277.

Roy Want, Andy Hopper, Veronica Falcao, Jonathan Gibbons. (1992) The Active Badge Location System Practice and Experience ACM Transactions on Information Systems 10(1), p91-102.

Ubiquitous Media

Greenberg, S. and Kuzuoka, H. (2000). Using Digital but Physical Surrogates to Mediate Awareness, Communication and Privacy in Media Spaces. Personal Technologies, 4(1), January, Elsevier. [Pdf]

Ubiquitous Media and the Active Office. Buxton W., (1995) Ubiquitous Video, Nikkei Electronics, 3.27 (no. 632), 187-196.

Buxton, W. (1997). Living in Augmented Reality: Ubiquitous Media and Reactive Environments. In K. Finn, A. Sellen & S. Wilber (Eds.). Video Mediated Communication. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum, 363-384. An earlier version of this chapter also appears in Proceedings of Imagina '95, 215-229.

Buxton, W. (1996). Absorbing and Squeezing Out: On Sponges and Ubiquitous Computing, Proceedings of the International Broadcasting Symposium, November 13-16, Tokyo, 91-96. Slightly expanded version (in French) appears as: Buxton, W. (1996). PC et TV vont dans une inforoute. La Recherce, spring, March 1996.

Greenberg, S. & Kuzuoka, H. (2000). Using Digital but Physical Surrogates to Mediate Awareness, Communication and Privacy in Media Spaces. Personal Technologies, 4(1), Elsevier.[Pdf]

Narine, T., Leganchuk, A., Mantei, M. & Buxton, W. (1997). Collaboration awareness and its use to consolidate a disperse group. Proccedings of Interact '97, Sydney, Austrailia, Juy, 1997.

Sellen, A., Buxton, W. & Arnott, J. (1992). Using spatial cues to improve videoconferencing. Proceedings of CHI '92, 651-652. Videotape in CHI '92 Video Proceedings.

Yamaashi, K., Cooperstock, J., Narine, T. & Buxton, W. (1996). Beating the limitations of camera-monitor mediated telepresence with extra eyes Proceeding of CHI '96, 50-57.

Other potential sources

The papers above are mostly older ones; there are many new papers on the topic.

Look in my office library: I have lots of books/proceedings on CSCW that may have related articles.

Check the web site: http://www.hcibib.org/ --- this HCI bibliography has lots of articles (try doing a search on privacy), with many accessible on-line if you are an ACM Digital Library member.

Look at Hiroshi Ishii's web site on tangible media.