I am a research scientist (Dr. Tech. / Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Researcher) at the Center for Ubiquitous Computing, at the University of Oulu, in Finland. Core topics of my research are smart city tech, crowdsourcing, wisdom of the crowd, civic engagement, and all types of “mobile stuff” in general. Also, I am very much into real-world situated technology deployments these days, by which I mean resources built to function as integrated parts of everyday environments. Doing research where the things are supposed to ultimately be used simply makes sense.

So, at Oulu we build information systems for real people to use in their daily lives, rather than merely focusing on small parts of larger systems (typical in traditional research laboratories). Take a look at my projects page to learn more about some of the things we have created.

Some of the hotspots in downtown Oulu, Finland
Examples of hotspots in downtown Oulu, Finland (click to see a larger image)

Multipurpose public displays

One of the major themes of my work has been public displays (under the “Open UBI Oulu” umbrella). Specifically, we have designed and deployed a multipurpose public display grid in downtown Oulu and other busy locations.

The hotspots (of which you can see a video here), are multipurpose; much like a smartphone or a computer, these interactive displays offer a multitude of services to their users users.

The Oulu hotspot grid facilitates the study of how un-coached end users—real people—interact with and respond to public display services. With thousands of users interacting with our technology on a regular basis, keeping up with user patterns is a challenging task, but with so many users interacting with our hotspots, they are also a rewarding tool for research.

Social Networking and Civic Engagement

Although technology and social services become increasingly integral to our daily lives, smartphones and computers are predominantly private, rather than public devices. By integrating social networking services into the hotspot grid’s public displays, we have had to face the challenge of developing, implementing, and leveraging a variety of middleware solutions. Together, the software we have developed has helped us to learn how social networking services can work to the benefit of both end users and the public installations with which they interact.

Naturally, there’s a lot more to this exciting technology than a brief introduction can suggest, so if you’re interested in learning more, you can read about integrating social networking services with public displays here.

Public displays can also enable the study of civic engagement. This is especially true if a public display is installed for the public to use, but without a very clearly defined use case, motive or purpose. Because users are encouraged to interact with these installations to do practically whatever they want, public displays are an effective way to communicate with citizens who might otherwise be difficult to reach with traditional media.

When citizens fill out forms, go to offices, read newspaper ads, or interact with others over the telephone, they take a conscious effort to participate in society. On an interactive public display, they often just “kill time.” Public users often just stumble upon displays and begin to explore what can be done with them, which makes this technology an effective tool to encourage civic engagement and to interact with citizens. If you’d like to learn more, you can read about civic engagement on public displays here.

Leveraging Situated Technologies

Situated crowdsourcing is a new and fascinating use case for public displays and for situated technologies in general. Traditional online crowdsourcing has potential to change the how we interact with information, but it has certain limitations. Interactive public displays can be deployed to help solve large-scale crowdsourcing tasks. For instance, attracting high amounts of workers is fairly difficult online, and finding workers with specific, local knowledge is sometimes so difficult it can seem almost impossible. While online crowdsourcing is often seen as abusive way to outsource work for less money to people living in countries with a lower cost of living, this issue can be mitigated by the local situation of public displays and other tech suitable for this purpose. Learn about our situated crowdsourcing projects here.

Situated technologies can also be used to share content. One of our earlier concepts focused on creating intelligent artefacts capable of storing, transferring, and managing content. This kind of messaging allows for many kinds of highly entertaining and anonymous uses of technology which can make our daily lives much funnier and maybe just a little bit better. After all, life is not supposed to be so serious. See how we enabled content transfer via intelligent artefacts here.

I’m always available for collaboration, so please contact me if you have an idea in mind!