In the AuraOrbs project we are exploring ways to communicate awareness information through ambient information displays. In a shared community like our lab, it is not uncommon for someone to wonder whether another (absent) person has been there recently, whether they have been in yet that day but stepped out, and so on. Similarly, people may wonder whether an office with a closed door simply means the person is not present or if the person is present but working privately.
AuraOrbs helps lab members know this kind of awareness information. In particular, we employ RFID technology to identify people's presence. Each member of our lab has an RFID tag such as a key fob, a card, or a flat disk and each tag has a unique signal that identifies it to an RFID reader. We have mounted an RFID reader on the pole of a wire shelf near our lab entrance. Lab members swipe their RFID tag past the reader when they enter and exit the lab. Software running on a computer connected to the reader detects each swipe event, determines who the person is, and updates the information display.
The system's interface runs on a large 42-inch flat panel display on the wall of our lab as shown in the picture above. The system uses abstract geometric shapes and colors to represent the awareness information. Each person in the lab is represented by a unique-colored sphere. When an individual arrives and badges in, their sphere appears at a random position on the display. When the individual leaves and badges out, their sphere changes into a circle outline of that same color. The radius of the circle then begins to slowly shrink and will eventually disappear after two hours. This visual representation allows viewers to determine who is "in" and whether a person was recently present but has now stepped out. If a person badges out and then back in shortly thereafter, a new sphere is created. Thus, a number of hollow circles means that a person has been in and out frequently in the recent past.
The display control system also monitors RSS feeds about weather and traffic information in order to present that information on the display as well. In particular, the background color of the view portrays weather information. The left edge of the background indicates temperature, more specifically, today's forecasted or measured high as compared to tomorrow's forecasted high. If tomorrow's high temperature will be much warmer, then the left edge of the display is bright red. If tomorrow's temperature will be much colder, the left edge will be blue. The color is smoothly interpolated between these two extremes to encode the forecasted difference with an in-between purple color indicating a high temperature tomorrow equal to today's high. The right edge of the background is used to encode tomorrow's forecasted conditions. Yellow indicates sunshine, gray indicates clouds, and black means rain is coming.
The number of wavy lines through the display simply indicates the number of traffic incidents on highways frequented by several members of the lab. More lines indicate more accidents and a likely slower commute home.
Two example display views are shown below. The left view shows two people present and many as having left recently. It also displays that tomorrow will be sunny and warmer. In contrast, the view on the right anticipates a cold, rainy day tomorrow.