Those who hand out the Ig Nobel prizes, awarded for the most outlandish scientific research, would do well to check up on CHI.
At the 2015 Computer-Human Interaction Conference (CHI) in Seoul this week, there was no shortage of bizarre projects and concepts, all undertaken to innovate the way we use computers and information technology. Since it was held down the road from the Gangnam district of Gangnam Style fame (by Psy, shown here at the conference), there may have been something in the air.
Some research takes a leap of faith, and a sense of fun can't hurt. Even staid academic papers at CHI got a little exclamatory, with titles that ran the gamut from "I Feel Like I'm Taking Selfies All Day!" to "Look, My Baby is Using an iPad!"
In what seemed like a solution in need of a problem, Japanese researchers from Microsoft Research in Beijing presented a paper about magnetic paper. FluxPaper, as the project is called, involves pasting very thin magnetic layers on various kinds of paper -- from printer paper to Post-it notes.
With the former, the sheets of paper can automatically align themselves in a neat stack. With the latter, the notes can be attached to a whiteboard backed by a mechanical magnet that moves around. This causes the notes themselves to move around on the board, for instance reflecting the developments of a brainstorming session.
When the notes are no longer needed, the board can automatically repel them and drop them into a small wastepaper basket below. It's all very neat and tidy – for those who actually need such a contraption. After all, Post-its are designed to be disposable. But for those who want to save all their thoughts, the board could also use OCR (optical character recognition) technology to scan the handwriting on the notes and upload them to a smartphone for organization and sharing.
From Germany's Hasso Plattner Institute, there was Level-Ups, a pair of boots attached to mechanical stilts. At the swipe of a smartphone screen, metal trusses in the stilts extend with a scissor mechanism, instantly giving the wearer about 13cm more height.
The purpose? To give headset wearers a more realistic sensation when climbing stairs in virtual reality. Researcher Robert Kovacs plodded around in them slowly, insisting they offer users more freedom than traditional moving floors used to simulate locomotion in VR.
In another robotics study, researchers from Australia's RMIT University argued that quadcopters can actually motivate people to run. It should be noted that participants were jogging alongside drones in a kind of buddy relationship, and not running from them in fear.
But as far as motivators go, nothing can be a better than a sweet reward. From the same institution of higher learning Down Under comes a project called EdiPulse. Users wear a heart rate monitor and then hit the gym. The sensor is linked to a 3D printing machine that churns out chocolate according to exercise time. The more you work out, the more you can pig out.
South Korean researchers have developed an app that helps people with arm paralysis use smartphones.
Dubbed Dowell, the app is designed to assist people who can't use their hands well, and is targeted at users with muscular dystrophy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), stroke and other ailments that restrict movement.
If you're tired of using your fingertip or a PIN to unlock your smartphone, Yahoo suggests using your ear instead.
The company showed that other body parts can unlock phones in a fast, secure manner.
Zensors is a smartphone application that can monitor an area of interest by using a camera, crowdsourced workers and artificial intelligence.
Vtouch is demoing a Kinect-based pointing system that can control household lights, stereos and thermostats with one 3D camera.
Sound Tap can be used to control a smartphone by tapping its rear surface with a finger once or twice, or by lightly striking the phone itself against various surfaces in the environment.
Appropriately enough, Psy himself was on hand to deliver the closing keynote speech. The son of a semiconductor company chairman, he spoke about his pride in the irreverent song and its off-the-wall video that went stratospheric on YouTube with over 2 billion views.
Far from being a longtime YouTube master, however, the pudgy rapper at first saw no value in the video-sharing service. He initially dismissed his friends' suggestions to upload the song, believing no one outside South Korea would be interested. He now believes the megahit has become a bridge that can unite people around the world.
The moral of the story? Never underestimate what can happen when high technology meets the bizarre.