Issuing commands to tomorrow's computational devices could be assimple as tapping out a few beats on a touchscreen or trackpad,French researchers suggest. Researchers at the University of Paris-Sud have investigated thefeasibility of issuing commands to computers and electronic devicesby tapping beats on the devices themselves, a practice they calledrhythmic interaction. Little academic work has been done on the feasibility of usingrhythmic patterns as a form of user input. But rhythmic interactioncould provide handy shortcuts for issuing commands totouch-sensitive computational devices, said Emilien Ghomi, whosummarized the researchers' work at the Association for ComputingMachinery's Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, beingheld this week in Austin, Texas. |
Tapping on a device may be a particularly effective way to issuecommands to devices that have limited user interfaces, such assmartphones or music players, Ghomi argued. While they would not beideal as the primary interface, they could be handy as shortcuts,much like computer hot-key combinations are used today. While on a smartphone, a user could tap out a command on the backof the handset while continuing to talk. A few taps on a musicplayer with a very small touchscreen, such as an Apple iPod Nano,could trigger commands that would otherwise require a tediousdigging through successive layers of menus, Ghomi noted. Buildingin the capability to recognize taps would be a trivial task for anyOS maker, and a program to intercept taps would take up minimaldevice memory, he said.
The researchers conducted two sets of experiments involving 14people, using laptops that would accept a series of finger taps ona trackpad as a form of input. The researchers created 30 rhythmicpatterns, or motifs, out of a possible 799 patterns that could begenerated with six beats or less. Each motif is a different combination of three different types oftaps. In a long tap, the user keeps the finger on the trackpad fortwo beats.
A short tap consists of a single beat, and a pulse tapis a quick tap on the touchpad. The researchers assume that eachcombination of taps would be carried out across a regular intervalat about 120 BPM (beats per minute) though the speed of theinterval could be easily changed to match the user's dexterity. In their tests, the researchers had found that users could easilylearn and reproduce this series of taps, and could then use thesetaps as shortcuts for commands. After the tests were completed, 9of the 14 participants preferred using the rhythmic patterns overthe hot keys, and another two had no preference. The research could open a new form of user interface, notedPrinceton University computer science assistant professor RebeccaFiebrink, who moderated Ghomi's talk.
People all over the world cannaturally recognize and respond to rhythms. "Rhythm is somethingpeople have an innate ability to perform" yet it's not used as aninput very often, she said, adding that someone does not need to betrained as a musician to easily learn the researchers' rhythmicmotifs. Ghomi did not estimate how many tap patterns a user could potentialmemorize, though he speculated that it would probably not be thatmuch different than the total number of hot-key combinations usersremember. He referred to earlier studies showing fluent computerusers memorize about eight hot-key combinations. Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technologybreaking news for The IDG News Service.
Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson . Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com.
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