Sensor glove helps improve human interface design
Frustration at user-unfriendliness could soon be a thing of the past if software developers adopt the technology being developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research (IGD) in Rostock, Germany.
The 25 staff at IGD are working primarily to solve the question – in the words of their boss Budo Urban – "How should we configure the relationship between people and technology?" The EmoGlove being developed in Rostock might go some way towards answering this question. Test subjects put on the EmoGlove to test new software applications.
"We track all movements of the keyboard and the mouse," says Urban. They also observe the movement of the eyes over the monitor and the subjects' gestures. The interesting thing about this project is that the 'emotional glove' registers physiological parameters such us heart rate, skin resistance and body temperature, and then determines emotional states from this information. Because these physiological parameters are difficult to consciously control, they allow direct access to a person's emotions.
Urban says "We use this intelligent system – which has certain parallels with a lie detector – to discover the emotional state of our test subjects,". With it they can identify whether the controls in a piece of software are well designed or whether users become stressed or bored – for games manufacturers, this is practically the most important criterion.
Not all the uncertainty has been ironed out of the system, however. Stress and annoyance are detected 80 per cent of the time, but boredom and other less powerful emotions are only detected 60 per cent of the time. Urban says "We are still researching and expect the results to improve,".
Urban does not see software testing as the only beneficiary of his system. In the future, it will be able to do much more – it will even be able to allow software to respond to emotions. "You could provide an interim test for e-learning test subjects to let them know that they needed to improve their concentration, particularly if they were found to be struggling with a relatively easy lesson," says Urban. If frustration levels became particularly high, the programmers could build in a mandatory break involving physical exercise. This kind of break would also be good for children, to prevent them from spending too long in front of the PC.
According to Randolf Schulz, a researcher at the Institute, software manufacturers are not yet prepared to pay the additional cost that an analysis of their finished products would entail. He says "We sounded out the market to see if the research would support the establishment of an independent company, but unfortunately it didn't work out,". Nevertheless, he still sees this as a possibility, given the increased competition and the growing number of suppliers. It doesn't cost much more to review a program's practical implementation during its development. Schulz says "But at the end of the process, you will have a product with a considerable competitive advantage,".
Friedemann Nerdinger, Professor of Business and Organisational Psychology at the University of Rostock says "The glove is an astonishingly effective method of software evaluation,". He understands that people can feel threatened by technology, particularly in the workplace. He suspects that in bigger companies, Human Resources departments and employee representatives would certainly welcome the adoption of such methods.
(Joachim Mangler, dpa)