Nods drive audio interface

June 18/25, 2003

The interface between human and computer is less than ideal, especially in an age when computers are becoming more portable.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow and the Canadian National Research Council have devised a pair of interaction techniques that allow people to manipulate mobile computers without looking at or talking to them.

The first technique is a three-dimensional audio menu that presents users with sounds or speech that seems to come from different directions. Users select items by nodding in the direction of the audio choice.

The second technique involves tracing shapes like X, N, and / onto a screen. Key to the no-look method is audio feedback. The screen is divided into nine squares, and one of nine different chords sounds depending on where the user's finger is. The researchers' prototype employs 12 shapes to control an MP3 player.

The techniques, which require headphones and a head-tracking device, are designed for mobile environments where people cannot take their eyes off another task, and for situations too noisy for speech recognition.

The methods are ready for practical application, according to the researchers. The work was presented at the Association of Computing Machinery Computer-Human Interaction (ACM-CHI) conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, April 5-10, 2003.

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