Interactive technologies to help you focus

Are you paying attention? Dr Eduardo Velloso may well be able to tell – and to help.

His research uses emerging technologies to create interactive experiences that help students and knowledge workers make the most of the time they spend learning and thinking.

His approach combines elements of computer science, engineering, design and psychology and is part of the rapidly emerging field of study into human–computer interactions, and, in particular, AI interactions.

Dr Eduardo Velloso smiling and looking off camera with blurred trees in background
Dr Eduardo Velloso

Dr Velloso leads several multidisciplinary projects at the University of Melbourne’s School of Computing and Information Systems, part of the Melbourne School of Engineering where he is also a senior lecturer.

He says the aim of the research is more than maximising attention span and minimising cognitive load; everyone eventually loses focus. His work explores both how to optimise cognitive engagement and also how to recognise when and why it begins to fail.

I don’t see technology just as the platform over which we will deploy our systems, but as an actual material – in the same way a sculptor might think of clay or a painter might think of ink and pastels

“We are at the stage of exploring different sensors, exploring different algorithms that can help us make inferences about users’ cognitive states. From that, we can then go into a design stage, which could include interventions that would support the user,” he says.

Tracking eye movements is a crucial part of his research, but he says there is still much to learn about the eye-tracking technology itself as a design material, including the limits of its interaction with users.

“I like to think of technology as my main design material. I don’t see technology just as the platform over which we will deploy our systems, but as an actual material – in the same way a sculptor might think of clay or a painter might think of ink and pastels.

“When we are looking at technologies that we don’t fully understand, there is a lot of exploratory work that needs to happen before you can figure out what you can do with it.”

Group of people including Dr Velloso in a room with images projected on all walls
Dr Velloso presents the immersive projection system

Eye trackers provide the coordinates of where a user is looking, and the direction of their gaze. But Dr Velloso says that, in learning about eye trackers and the kind of data they produce, he has also been learning about how eyes function, and their limitations, too.

Combining studies in eye movement with cognition, he is keen to bring insights from cognitive sciences to inform the design of interactive systems for learning and work.

“I think learning is a great application scenario to explore, but my research goes further than that. We are also thinking about new ways of capturing information that we couldn’t before, and incorporating that into interactive systems.”

His approach is demonstrated through a project to develop a spinal mobilisation simulator to help teach physiotherapy students.

Dr Velloso’s team worked with specialists in physiotherapy, observing how they teach students and then incorporating these insights into the design of the simulator.

When we are looking at technologies that we don’t fully understand, there is a lot of exploratory work that needs to happen before you can figure out what you can do with it

The psychology field provided knowledge about how motor learning works and how students can make the most of learning through the interactive device. Meanwhile, engineering and computer science provided the skills help to build the simulator and program it to optimise its learning experiences.

“So the disciplines of computer science and engineering, design and psychology all converge into the work that we do towards the design of future interactive systems,” Dr Velloso says.

Read more about Dr Velloso’s work:

Related topics

AI and data Medical and pharmaceutical technologies

School of Computing and Information Systems