CSE DREU: Summer 2011

Alexandra Reynolds

Research Journal

Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Week 10

Well, it has certainly been an interesting 10 weeks here, to say the least.

Things have been wrapping up these past few days. We're currently rushing to get our final testing completed, so we can write up the results and submit our final paper. A little bit last minute, yes, but c'est la vie--we had a lot of trouble coming up with a testing scenario that would provide new/untested information regarding haptics. A lot of our tests failed (read: proved our harness is pas bon) but I think we've finally gotten some data in favor of haptics. Fingers crossed!

We had a poster presentation session yesterday, and the final one is Friday. Not sure how ready I am for that. I've never really presented a research poster before (or made one, either... that was kind of a pain, I must say). But at this point, I know this project backwards and forwards, so talking about it for five minutes shouldn't be too difficult. I just need to make sure I don't stumble over all of my words. I think the biggest issue is going to be actually waking up for the presentation... my session is at 8:30, and we have to be there for setup by 7:30... ugh. I don't think I've been awake that early in my whole time here. Caffeine ahoy!

But after that, it's time to go home! Research here has been rewarding, but 10 weeks is an awfully long time... I'm ready to hit the road (hit the skies?) and head back home. It'll be time to relax, and give my brain a break after this lengthy workout. Have to get it nice and empty again before school starts, you know?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Week 9

Oh man, we are so screwed.

We're rapidly running out of time. We have to write up our paper and make our poster for all of the presentations next week, and the issue is, we don't really have any conclusive data to write up just yet. Erp.

We're currently user testing, but we're trying to devise a user test that tests/proves something interesting about haptics, other than general user responsiveness to it. We keep coming up with new things to test, only to find a few days later that some other research group has already written a paper on the subject (maybe we should've been more thorough with our background research). We've tested things like environmental awareness of haptic navigation versus traditional paper maps, time discrepancies between the different modes of navigation, etc, but GAH all of those have been done before! What do we do?

We've tested approximately 438029489 people so far, but half of our tests have been nullified because we either didn't document the tester's data correctly, or we had to scrap the test due to unoriginality. It's very frustrating, and also exceedingly stressful, given that we have less than a week to wrap everything up.

But, I have faith that we'll finish... somehow. I'll leave you at that, so I can go test user number 80312983. Adios!

Thursday, July 21, 2011
Week 8

Things are slowly but surely coming to a close. Our project is in its final stages: two harnesses have been constructed, the code works (most of the time...) and we've begun writing our final paper. There are only two weeks left in the program once this week is done, and then it's time to go home! The research here has been an excellent experience, but I am so, so ready to go home. Sorry, dear College Station residents, but this place is beyond boring, and to be honest, I am most homesick. I want to get out of here.

Project wise, things are going well. Our app is polished, for the most part. We're just getting into testing the driving directions portion of our project, though I doubt that we'll actually be using that much. I don't think the world is quite ready (if it ever will be) for haptic driving directions. One of my coworkers and I have devised a new user testing scenario--we're testing to see if haptic navigation allows for a greater awareness of one's environment during the navigation process. I suspect that it will, but we'll see. I won't go into the details of how we're going to test this (research secrets!) but hopefully our tests are conclusive and informative.

Right now, I'm delighting in watching my coworkers bicker. We've been getting a wee bit testy, as we're close to completion but some things that should've been completed weeks ago are still left unfinished, and new problems are arising because of people's failure to update the code properly. Some people also might just need a few more hours of sleep. I'm deeply entertained, though they might not be.

But now it's time to perform our haptic driving experiment... a vibrational driving tour to YogurtLand for some delicious froyo to cool our hot tempers. Heh, I love research.

Monday, July 11, 2011
Week 7

I AM THE SOLDER MASTER~ Well, no, not really. Honestly, I couldn't even spell "solder" as of this morning. But I did just perform my first glorious act of soldering mastery, meaning I managed to solder a new Bluetooth piece together for our harness.

The Bluetooth has been a major pain for the past few days. We've fallen pretty far behind recently--we're supposed to be doing a truckload of user tests, so we can base our code improvements on user responses, but so many things keep malfunctioning in the harness, that we've had to delay things more and more. The Bluetooth is the current issue. It's gotten loose from being taken on and off constantly, and so when people are walking our testing courses, the Bluetooth will suddenly disconnect and we'll have to start the test over again. Bah.

But, at least we've finally started testing more. One of my fellow researchers and I have been grabbing random people from the dorm to try out the harness. I don't think anyone's made it through a test course yet, but at least we're seeing people's reactions to our harness/the technology, and can see what is and is not intuitive. It's kind of entertaining on occasion--one of the test subjects jumped about a foot when the vibrators started going off. I suppose people just weren't listening while we were explaining the purpose of the harness to them. Oh well, that's how testing is I suppose.

Have to get back to work, have to somehow get back on our summer track. How time flies when you're having fun screwed.

Monday, July 6, 2011
Week 6

I had a nice break from the daily grind last weekend, to celebrate our country's independence and whatnot. AMERICA YEAH.

My family flew down from Philadelphia to visit me/celebrate the 4th in the heartland of America. It was nice--I've really been missing them. We drove all over Texas with no real purpose other than to explore. We hit up Austin, Galveston, San Antonio, and some other miscellaneous small towns along the way. It was cool to get out of College Station (finally) and see what else Texas has to offer.

(Meaning, sample all of the delicious pies found here. Heh.)

They left this morning, sadface. I guess it's time to get back to work. At least we can really commence user testing now. We tested the harness on my brother while my family was down here, and HEYO it worked perfectly!


Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Week 5

Sound the fanfare, we finally have a fully functional haptic harness!

It's by no means perfect, and half of it is still held together with tape (though it is black electrical tape now, which is far classier than masking tape), but hey, at least it does something.

We performed our first user test today. Our victim/participant did make it through our entire test course, after much circling and aimless wandering and pauses for confusion. The whole process was really quite helpful. Whereas before we were just kind of working on nitpicky little tasks without a strong sense of direction, the user test immediately pinpointed loads of things that need to be fixed. Structural modifications for the vest, signals that were unclear, suggestions as to how to better document our proceedings, etc.

The only downside of testing: it is far, far too hot outside for such shenanigans.

That's going to be our main issue when testing, methinks. Because the GPS can't get a clear signal when traveling between tall buildings, we have to test out in the open, where the shining Texan sun can smile (evilly) down upon us as we meander along our (too lengthy) course. It is really ridiculously hot in the middle of the day to do such things, and our poor participant today had an excellent harness-shaped sweat stain on his back, lovely. We'll have to perform our tests earlier in the day or in the evening, after the sun has set. It's far too unpleasant to do anything else. We'll never get any participants, and the IRB (the board responsible for keeping research from doing harm to their test subjects) will be on our back when all of our subjects die from heat stroke (or skin cancer, your pick).

But hey, again... IT WORKS. Pats on the back all around.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Week 4

The past week or so has been a rather large struggle.

We're falling farther and farther behind, unfortunately. An essential part of this project is the user testing: when we check to see if the technology we've created is actually intuitive and user-friendly... of course, we also want to make sure that it works, period.

Problem is, it doesn't.

We've been exceedingly close to being able to test, but every day we find another small bug in the program that keeps the haptic vest from being fully functional, and it takes us forever and a bit to figure out how to fix it.

To top it all off, one of my lab-mates (I will not say who, of course) managed to fry the compass we use to get the wearer's bearing, which sets us back even more, as now we have to wait while another compass is being ordered. Excellence. We have the compass built in to the Android phone to use in the meantime, but this just means we'll have to waste more time in the future re-integrating the other compass back into the program once we get it.

But, for now, I think we've managed to work through the bug that was holding us back today, so hopefully we'll be able to test first thing tomorrow.

Of course, we thought we'd be able to do that this morning.

And last Friday.

And the day before that.

Oh well, c'est la vie. We'll see tomorrow, fingers crossed.

Monday, June 13, 2011
Week 3

The good news: I've managed to finish setting up the GPS, the location recognition, the distance calculations, and all other GPS-ly things in the Android code. Success!

The bad (annoying) news: I can't get the stupid GPS coordinates to set up a test course.

What I'm trying to do is get the coordinates at several points around the lab building, so that the course can be a very basic rectangle that moves the user around the building. Problem is, when I'm trying to acquire the coordinates from my phone, the phone can't make up it's mind as to where it actually is in the world. It's like trying to figure out where in the world Carmen Sandiego is, except Carmen isn't entirely sure where she is either. If that example is even relevant anymore.

If I stand in one place long enough, the GPS coordinates begin to creep and steadily increase the longer I stay there. The differences come down to changes in the ten-thousandths place, which seems trivially small, but when we take into account the kind of precision I'm trying to achieve, along with the size of the world and this measurement system, those slight variations can add up to a rather significant problem. I don't want to be told that I'm standing 28 meters from my starting location... as I stand on the exact spot where I began taking coordinates. Bah.

(Okay, the main issue is that I have to stand on these spots for an extremely long time, and I like walking around barefoot. Standing for a very long time in one place at 4 in the afternoon on asphalt in Texan heat = burned feet. But I don't want to sound too whiny.)

At least everything else is working out fine and dandy-like. Hopefully we'll be able to get a prototype shirt up and running so we can finally begin testing on subjects. Mufufufu.

Thursday, June 9, 2011
Week 2

This week has been the equivalent of jumping into a very large pool full of code-I-do-not-understand, if such a thing were possible.

But never fear, I'm learning how to swim (though there were several near-drowning experiences earlier in the week).

We've begun to build our Android code from scratch, in a haphazard sort of way. None of the undergrads in my research team have any experience coding Android applications, so we've all been assigning pseudo-tasks to each other, then wandering off and familiarizing ourselves with all things Android, some related to our tasks, some not. At least, that's what I've been doing.

I've been attempting to figure out how to work with the GPS in Android phones. I made a small application that has a preset course, tells the user their current GPS coordinates every few seconds, and tells them the next destination they should go to once they reach a waypoint in the course. Well, theoretically. After a few days, all I've managed to do is...

Create a program that doesn't crash once asked to do something (anything).

Make it print out text... without crashing... a wild success! (I'm a noob, I know)

Recognize and alert the user as to their current location.

At least I accomplished that last task, so I've basically achieved what needs to be done for now (/self-confidence booster). Along with the above, I've also written an algorithm that takes the bearings of the user and the path of shortest distance to the next waypoint, and decides whether to turn left or right to adjust direction. It sounds rather simple (it probably is) but, sadly, it took me quite a bit of scribbling and staring to come up with the algorithm (which is about 4 lines long... eh). But for the record, if it works, I believe it'll be better than the turn algorithm used in the previous version of this project, which I'm not sure even works correctly anyway.

Again, success.

Now, I'm working to implement all of what I've learned (the few shreds of knowledge) into our official Android code. Should be interesting.

Until we meet again!

Monday, June 6, 2011
Week 1

Hello all! Welcome to the compilation of all my ingenious ideas and activities, AKA my research journal for the summer. Here, I'll be documenting my research experience with DREU in the Computer Science and Engineering department of Texas A&M.

There will be laughing, there will be crying, there may be explosions, and occasionally there may be wild successes (can't guarantee that last one, though). Mostly, I will be rambling about myself and my fellow undergrad researchers sitting in front of computers and attempting to make something (anything) happen.

Stay tuned!