the Signage Project: Augmenting the Physical for Persistent Association

Signage is an interdisciplinary research project designed to investigate how to support interactions in our physical environments, so that we can spend more time focused on what we're doing, and less time on managing how to do it.

Signs, Signifiers and Signfieds. Research in signage is multifaceted. It's about signs: to have the right information reach us wherever we are, and whenever we need it. It's about signifiers: to find ways to "tag" something - possibly anything - in the physical to return to later in the digital. It's about signifieds: to find new more effective ways to represent the mix of digital and physical information so that it is useful, meaningful for the people who need to get at it.

Signage combines expertise in: pervasive computing, adaptive infrastructure, the semantic grid, and human computer interaction to look at how to build rich, unobtrusive environments for human support.

Scenarios and Prototypes

In order to explore the signage space - the where and how of the physical meeting the digital - we have constructed scenarios through which we can explore possible near futures - and the requirements from back end to front end - for them.

Unobtrusive Support for Background Interactions
Imagine being at an event where you see something of interest while you are speaking with someone. You don't want to interrupt the conversation to start making notes, but you don't want to forget about what you've seen, either.

Instead, you simply press your ring by the sign in front of the object, and carry on with the conversation. Later, you return to a web page that provides detailed information about all the objects you tagged that evening. The page shows you not only information about the objects themselves, with links to related information, but also about where you saw the things, when, and who was with you at the time.

In "forget about it," we have built several prototypes to explore the requirements both for the above interaction and the systems to support it.

Pervasive Awareness for Life Support
You have just come into town to visit with some associates at their office head quarters. You are not sure which building is the right one as you walk up. You take the PDA from your pocket and it asks you if you'd like to link with the site for guidance. On agreement, it recognizes you as an expected guest and directs you to the building, showing you where you are now, and how to get to the front desk to sign in. Your software agents have already negotiated for you with the building agents to keep watch on the train times for getting back home that afternoon. On your way to a meeting with another colleague, a panel in the hallway pages you, and alerts you that your train is delayed by half an hour, and volunteers to reschedule your cab. It also asks, now that you have some extra time, if you would like to see someone who'd been unavailable previously, but who works in your area and is free for a meeting.

Supporting the above scenario is part of our research in semantic web-based services. It draws on intelligent scheduling, location awareness, and service negotiation. On the adaptive infrastructure side, the scenario focuses on device awareness, so that the environment system can respond effortlessly to new devices coming into contact with the system (like a pda or cell phone) and can route services to the most appropriate device for the context. The scenario also touches on issues of social policy for data and privacy protection.

Signage Support

The Signage Project is part of the
Intelligence, Agents, Multimedia Group of the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton, UK.

It is a joint effort among multiple research partners including:

the Advanced Knowledge Technologies (AKT) Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration Project
, focusing on knowledge technologies and the semantic web

Equator Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration Project,
focusing on infrastructure and interaction research in pervasive computing.

Both IRC's are funded by
the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) .

Signage is also a research contributor to the Smarttea project, part of the EPRSRC eScience project CombeChem: research into grid computing for combinatorial chemistry.

Team Members
Nick Gibbins
Steve Harris
Gareth Hughes
Danius Michaelides
Dave Millard
Ian Millard
Mark Thompson
Mark Weal

Dave de Roure
Paul Lewis
Terry Payne
m.c. schraefel (PI)