From Aug 11th to Aug 16th, I was invited to participate and give a 1 hour talk on our conceptual framework of Blended Interaction at the SummerPIT event of Aarhus University in Denmark ( This great event was organized by the Centre for Participatory IT (PIT), the Centre for Advanced Visualization and Interaction (CAVI), and the centre of Digital Urban Living (DUL) at Aarhus University.


It was an intense five day programme (more like a small conference with a lot of workshops) starting with very inspiring talks about participation and participatory design for urban spaces and interactions. I particularly liked the talk by Martijn de Waal from the University of Amsterdam about urban imaginaries of the 1950s in Rotterdam (Pendrecht by Lotte Stam-Beese) and the 1960s in London (Plug-in city by Archigram) and what we can learn from their visions of a “republican” vs. “libertarian” city for our future sustainable, connected, and “smart” cities.


My talk was more about concrete problems of interaction design and how the framework of Blended Interaction, which I developed together with my former advisor Harald Reiterer at the University of Konstanz, might help to support design decisions. In particular I described the cognitive mechanisms that can explain when an interaction is perceived as “natural” or “intuitive” by its users or not, similar to our journal article on Blended Interaction from last year ( There was a lot of interesting feedback and in-depth discussions about the topic and I am looking forward to follow up activities with my great Danish hosts, Kim Halskov, Susanne Bødker, Peter Dalsgård, Clemens Nylandsted Klokmose, Henrik Korsgaard and many more…

A summary by Moritz Behrens

After having presented a paper [1] at the International Symposium on Pervasive Displays last year, I aimed to approach the research community this year again. At PerDis has always been exciting research presentations with a technical as well as an applied perspective towards pubic displays. In particular I was interested in joining this year’s conference, as media facades seem to become a growing research area within the public display domain.

The 3rd International Symposium on Pervasive Displays (Per Dis) took place at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark during June 3rd and 4th 2014. The conference was organized by Sebastian Boring (General Chair) and Aaron Quigley (Program Chair). Monday evening started with a welcome reception on a boat taking us through the channels of Copenhagen.

The conference kicked off on Tuesday with a keynote by Peter Dalsgaard from Aarhus University. Peter summarised his research on HCI and media facades by presenting identified challenges when designing, deploying and researching interactive urban media installations. He argued that large-scale public displays such as media facades, are a new medium, which researchers are only beginning to understand. Hence new forms of content suiting this medium will need to be explored in more detail. Consequently the development of new techniques and tools to explore the design space frame key aspects of working in this field. At the same time urban places host a variety of situations and practices, which therefore require the design of systems that are flexible enough to accommodate these activities.

With this keynote in mind the presentation of our paper ‘Smart Citizen Sentiment Dashboard: A Case Study Into Media Architectural Interfaces’ [2] at the end of the first paper session fit well into this spirit. We introduced the notion of media architectural interfaces (MAIs), which describe the relation between users engaging with dynamic content on media façades through tangible artifacts on street level. We then illustrated the notion of MAIs through reporting on the technical set up of a field study, in which we deployed a novel tangible user interface (TUI), called the Smart Citizen Sentiment Dashboard (SCSD). This device gives citizens the opportunity to express their mood about local urban challenges. The input from this TUI is then instantly displayed on a very large (3700 sqm) media façade. As a result of this study we identified emergent behavior in the immediate space around the TUI and the wider urban space. We contributed with this paper through highlighting challenges in the design and deployment of large-scale media architectural interfaces. Questions at the end of our presentation were mainly asking if we could measure the impact of our installation on decision-making processes of stakeholders. Unfortunately we had to admit that the deployment period was simply too short for identifying any impact on stakeholders.


Figure 1: Picture from the Smart Citizen Sentiment Dashboard paper.

In the further course of the following paper sessions I will only highlight the once that I consider relevant to my research.

Fabius Seeburger’s paper [3] presentation was about the physical Yes/No buttons, which enable people at a bus stop to ‘Vote With Your Feet’. The system was used as a platform for Local Community Polling on Urban Screens. One aim of this set up was the exploration whether this kind of interface on foot level might lower participation barriers. Fabius found some indications suggesting that participants feel enticed to step on the buttons on foot level.

Another research that has been conducted at QUT in Brisbane, Australia was presented by Markus Rittenbruch [4]. He introduced a framework called CubIT, which is a multi-user, large-scale presentation and collaboration framework. In his paper he applied this framework on the novel interactive display (The Cube) at the new Queensland University of Technology premises in Brisbane, Australia.  The studied prototype gave personalized access to the new display through an RFID interface. It allows logging in through participants’ building access cards. As a result challenges of getting access and creating meaningful applications for this particular multi-touch interface were presented.

In this sense Nick Gillian from MIT Media Lab presented an ecology of about 100 networked sensors and 30 public displays across the Media Lab building [5]. The set up gave passers-by the opportunity to access personalized data through facial recognition and browsing their data through gestures.

As these novel possibilities for a more tailored usage of public displays comes with privacy issues such as users feel observed when entering their passwords on public displays, Frederik Brudy demonstrated design methods that make it harder for passers-by to do “shoulder surfing” one’s content [6].

From a more technical perspective this year’s PerDis conference explored ‘Scheduling Interactive and Concurrently Running Applications in Pervasive Display Networks’ [7] or ‘Tandem Browsing Toolkit: Distributed Multi-Display Interfaces with Web Technologies’ [8].

A few projects that were outstanding as they challenged the PerDis community conceptually were the megaphone project by researchers from Montreal [9] and Lisa Koeman’s project [10], who aimed to get “research in the dark” back into day light through turning pavements into chalkboards for community purposes.

At the very end of all paper sessions there was a critical position paper by Simo Hosio [11] who challenged the common assumption of the purpose of public displays and their economic value.

In addition there have been three video presentations of projects, which included ‘The ‘Making of’ MÉGAPHONE, an Interactive “Speakers’ Corner and Digitally-Augmented Agora in Public Space’ as well as the launch of our documentary about the UCL research project: ‘Screens in the Wild: Exploring the Potential of Networked Urban Screens for Communities and Culture’.

In summary, I appreciated the diverse paper sessions and the high quality of the research findings. Overall I got the impression that this year’s PerDis conference was focusing on how to customize access to public displays. In other words, new toolkits and frameworks are have been explored that let user access their private data on a public display. I assume that this might be an attempt to intervene recent observations from UBIOulu researchers who found out that their public Wi-Fi network, which allows people to connect their individual mobile interfaces to the internet, increasingly becomes popular whereas the usage of the embedded public displays (Ubi Hotspots) drops [12].

However, I wished that there had been more discussions around certain topics, as the few minutes of Q&A after each paper presentation was not touching certain topics in depth. In this sense, Simo Hosio’s attack on popular public display assumptions would have enriched a critical view on our work in this field. Panel discussions at the end of each paper session might have been a way to provide this platform. Also the paper sessions could have been more arranged in accordance to the topics of the presented papers.

The demo and poster session, which took place in the evening of the first day, did not quite get the stage they deserved.

perdis 2

Figure 2: Happy Wall

Peripheral activities:

On Monday I gave a talk about my “Screens in the Wild” involvement and current PhD research at the Copenhagen Business School in the Department of IT Management. There is a small research group that aims to explore the smart city from an ethnographical research perspective.

Right after the conference finished, I went to see a talk by Christian Kray from the ‘Institut für Geoinformatik der Universität Münster’ at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID). Christian presented his recent research about navigation of dense crowds through public displays and a DIY cave (iPED), which allows designers to do rapid prototyping of public displays in urban context. Followed by a tour through the CIID facilities and an introduction to staff and researchers.

Of particular interest in Copenhagen was the recently opened Happy Wall. It is basically an analog low-resolution display, made out of rectangular wooden tiles. On one side the tiles are painted in black. On the inner side they are coloured. Mounted with flexible hinges to a construction wall of a major construction site on a central square in Copenhagen the tiles can be manually flipped by people. Consequently participants were able to create colourful patterns or write names.

 References and selection of PerDis publications:

[1] Behrens, M., Fatah gen. Schieck, A, Kostopoulou, E., North, S., Motta, W., Ye, L., Schnädelbach, H. (2013). Exploring the effect of spatial layout on mediated urban interactions. In: (Proceedings), PerDisp’13: The International Symposium on Pervasive Display. ACM library

[2] Behrens, M., Valkanova, N., Brumby, D., Fatah, A. (2014). Smart Citizen Sentiment Dashboard: A Case Study Into Media Architectural Interfaces. In: Proceedings, PerDis’14: The International Symposium on Pervasive Display, Copenhagen, Denmark. ACM library

[3] Steinberger, Fabius, Foth, Marcus, & Alt, Florian (2014) Vote with your feet : local community polling on urban screens. In Third International Symposium on Pervasive Displays, 3-4 June 2014, Copenhagen, Denmark.

[4] Rittenbruch, Markus (2014) Evaluating the use of a very large-scale presentation and collaboration framework. In Proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium on Pervasive Displays, ACM Press and Digital Library, Copenhagen, Denmark.

[5] Gillian, N., Pfenninger, S., Russell, S., Paradiso J. (2014) “Gestures Everywhere: A Multimodal Sensor Fusion and Analysis Framework for Pervasive Displays” in 3rd International Symposium on Pervasive Displays (PerDis’14), Copenhagen, Denmark, June 2014

[6] Brudy, F., Ledo, D., Greenberg, S., Butz, A. (2014) “Is Anyone Looking? Mitigating Shoulder Surfing on Public Displays through Awareness and Protection”

[7] Elhart, I., M. Langheinrich, N. Memarovic, and T. Heikkinen (2014) “Scheduling Interactive and Concurrently Running Applications in Pervasive Display Networks”

[8] Heikkinen, T., J. Goncalves, V. Kostakos, I. Elhart, and T. Ojala (2014) “’Tandem Browsing Toolkit: Distributed Multi-Display Interfaces with Web Technologies”

[9] Fortin, C., Hennessy, K., Sweeney, H. (2014)“Roles of an Interactive Media Façade in a Digital Agora”

[10] Koeman, L., Kalnikaite, V., Rogers, Y., Bird, J. (2014) “What Chalk and Tape Can Tell Us: Lessons Learnt for Next Generation Urban Displays”

[11] Hosio, S., Goncalves, J. , Kukka, H., Chamberlain, A., Malizia, A. (2014)“What’s in it for me: Exploring the Real-World Value Proposition of Pervasive Displays”

[12] Luusua A, Ylipulli J & Ojala T (2013) Situated displays vs. municipal WiFi: Comparing the interactivity of two public infrastructures. CHI 2013 workshop Experiencing Interactivity in Public Spaces (EIPS 2013), Paris, France.

















Moritz Behrens is an architect and maker, an interaction designer and researcher aiming to combine architecture with human-computer interaction. His work focuses on technology-mediated interactions in urban spaces, which support citizens and communities to engage with social challenges in their city. His recent project aims to design, deploy and research media architectural interfaces that are built on tangible user interfaces as mediators between citizens and interactive media facades. As part of the EU funded “Connecting Cities” network and in collaboration with Nina Valkanova, Moritz has been invited to produce an installation for the Ars Electronica festival later this year.


Currently Moritz is a PhD candidate at UCL The Bartlett in London. Previously he was employed as research associate in the EPSRC funded ‘Screens in the Wild’ project at UCL The Bartlett, which explored networked urban screens for empowering communities.


Moritz has been working as an architect in residential and exhibition projects in Berlin. In London he has been working in different practices as a design consultant for major retail companies. Prior to that he gained a MSc in Adaptive Architecture and Computation from UCL The Bartlett in 2011 and received a masters in architecture from Technical University of Berlin in 2009. Moritz started his career working as a cabinetmaker in the south of Germany.


Monday July 7th sees the Tour De France begin in the UK and make its way across the Channel.  Part of the great celebrations of this event will be taking place in London’s Green Park.  ICRI Cities UCL team have been working hard on creating an interactive questionnaire box for attendees to get involved in and provide feedback as to how they are feeling and how connected they feel to both the event and one another.

The Vox Box has been created by Sarah Gallacher,  Lorna Wall and Connie Goldsteijn of ICRI Cities and members of the public are very welcome to come along and get involved.




As part of our on-going research and collaborations with other Institutions, ICRI Cities at UCL have recently had an exchange visitor from the University of Porto, Paula Trigueiros.

Paula began her career as an architect and even created and ran her own studio.  Since 1993 Paula has been a Design Professor at a number of Portuguese universities based in Porto, Lisbon and Coimbra.  She studied a Masters in Product Design at the University of Porto and specialized in Inclusive Design.  She has written and published a number of studies on architectural and design projects and been a guest speaker at numerous events across the continent, especially related to the theme of Design, Creativity, Accessibility and Inclusion.   In 2003 she founded the group PLIM – Free Projects, Ideas in Motion, which is a philanthropic group dedicated to creative exploration of ideas.

Whilst visiting the ICRI Cities centre at UCL Paula engaged with a number of researchers and departments, to further her research.  This culminated in a workshop set around the idea of how individuals experience information in an urban environment. set within their own ‘galaxy’.  It was well supported by the ICRI Cities UCL members and other individuals from around UCL and provided some great feedback and information for Paula’s on-going work.

Paula has now returned to Portugal, but will be greatly missed around the Centre and we wish her all the very best with her future research and endeavours.

Wednesday 28th May marked the first UK workshop by Smart Citizen at the Manchester Science Park.  This workshop saw the kick off of a local community engaged with the development of better tools for citizens to participate in the production of their cities.

The Smart Citizen project uses low-cost sensors to enable people to capture and share data in their local environment, to help understand the effects of urban living on the environment and local citizens.  The platform is open to anyone, anywhere and Manchester marks the beginning of a UK community, with two other communities already established in Barcelona and Amsterdam.  It is hoped that the data collected and shared can be utilized to help build more sustainable and connected cities in the future.

To find out more about the Future Everything event in Manchester click here.

ICRI Cities have produced a second video in a series of videos highlighting the development of Smart Citizen and this can be watched by clicking on this page here.


A few of our ICRI Cities members attended the recent Maker Faire UK in Newcastle last month.  Maker Faire UK is a two day family friendly festival of invention and creativity, bringing together over 300 hackers, crafters, coders, DIYers and garden shed inventors from across the globe – people who love to make stuff and who want to share their passion with the public.  Members of our Intel contingent set up a stall to display some of our latest ideas to engage the public with technology and show how sensors in the community work.   According to Duncan Wilson, one of the favourite devices they brought along was an inter-active bubble machine, whereby members of the public could send texts to the device, which would then blow out bubbles in response.

Users text the bubble machine at Maker Faire uK

Users text the bubble machine at Maker Faire uK

You can find out more about Intel’s experience at the Maker Faire UK here.

Duncan Wilson and Greg Jackson discuss air quality sensors in a short video here.  These air quality sensors lie at the heart of some of our on-going projects, as the data they provide will help our researchers to find the best solutions to some of the most prominent urban centric problems in relation to future sustainability.

The Maker Faire Paris is due to run on the weekend of the 21st and 22nd June, and looks set to be another wonderful weekend of show, tell and discovery.


ICRI Cities PhD student and co-founder of Smart Citizen, Tomas Diez was in Manchester to mark the launch of the Smart Citizen kits.

The Smart Citizen Kit is an open-source package developed at Fab Lab Barcelona for monitoring the environment in a user-friendly way. The kit comprises 3 technological layers: electronic hardware, an online interface and API, and a mobile app. The goal of the project is to allow anyone to collect environmental data, visualize it, and share it with others with very little hassle.

The hardware used by the Smart Citizen Kit consists of 2 printed-circuit boards: an interchangeable daughterboard or shield, and an Arduino-compatible, data-processing board. The shield included in this version of the kit is dubbed as the Ambient Board. As its name suggests, it carries sensors that measure:

  • Air composition (CO and NO2)
  • Temperature
  • Light intensity
  • Sound levels
  • Humidity

ICRI Cities have created a short video highlighting Tomas’s work and the exciting prospects this brings for the future of sustainable connected cities, which can be viewed on our ICRI Cities Vimeo site, here.


Mara Balestrini has recently returned from Ensenada, Mexico, where she has been deploying the first stage of her JokeBox project on enhancing social connectivity.

The JokeBox is an urban installation whose primary purpose is to promote social interactions in the public space, encouraging collaboration and conversation between people. It is a technological device that consists of two pedestals with buttons, which can detect the presence of individuals in a limited radio. When detecting their presence, the JokeBox asks people if they want to hear a joke. To do so, users need to press both buttons at the top of the pedestals simultaneously.

There is much evidence that social connectedness can increase the well-being of individuals and communities. However, little research in HCI has studied the key factors involved in designing robust and easy-to-use interfaces to encourage social interactions among strangers in the public space.  The JokeBox Study is a research prototype that allows us to gain insights into this challenging domain.

The JokeBox is a prototype of ubiquitous technology created by researchers Mara Balestrini, Jon Bird and Paul Marshall (University College London, UK), Raymundo Cornejo and Monica Tentori (CICESE, Mexico), with the help of students from both institutions. The study has been supported by the Ubihealth project, aimed at fostering research on technologies that promote the well-being of individuals either to prevent disease or promote healthy behaviors.

The first prototype of the JokeBox was created in November 2013 in London, where a small semi-controlled usability test was held in order to improve the design. Later, in March 2014, an in-the-wild study was held in Ensenada (Mexico) to test the JokeBox in four different locations (a park, a food stall, a shopping plaza and a bus stop), over four weeks. The collected data is now being analysed, with further in-the-wild studies planned over the coming months.

The JokeBox study received significant media attention in Ensenada and was published in different local newspapers, TV channels and radio stations.



ICRI Cities to Jointly Sponsor CHI Party Event at CHI Toronto, Canada


ICRI Cities are proud to be involved with hosting a small party event to celebrate London researchers and their work at the upcoming CHI Conference, to be held in Toronto on Tuesday 29th April.

The ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems is the premier international conference on human-computer interaction and is a hugely popular and well respected event.  ICRI Cities are proud to be involved with this event and are excited to confirm that a number of our researchers have had their papers both accepted at CHI as well as receiving honourable mentions for their exemplary work. The SIGCHI Best of CHI Awards honour exceptional submissions to SIGCHI sponsored conferences.  Receiving an Honourable Mention Award indicates that the paper submitted was identified by the CHI Associate Chairs as being among the top 5% of all submission to CHI 2014.

Honourable mentions include:

“Understanding Sustained Community Engagement: A Case Study in Heritage Preservation in Rural Argentina”.  Authors: Mara Balestrini, Jon Bird, Paul Marshall, Alberto Zaro, Yvonne Rogers.

“Never Too Old: Engaging Retired People Inventing the Future with MaKey MaKey”.  Authors: Rogers, Y., Paay, J., Brereton, M., Vaisutis, K., Marsden, G., and Vetere, F. (2014).

Other papers accepted:

“Bigger is not always better: Display Size, Performance, and Task Load during Peephole Map Navigation”  Authors: Roman Rädle, Hans-Christian Jetter, Jens Müller, HaraldReiterer

“Poverty on the Cheap: Estimating Poverty Maps Using Aggregated Mobile Communication Networks”. Authors C. Smith-Clarke, A. Mashhadi and L. Capra.


The Guardian newspaper recently ran an article on ‘Ten social Innovators to Watch’ about the ten most exciting people to watch out for on the digital innovation front.  Highlighting the importance of digital creativity in providing more sustainable and collaborative ways in which to enhance our environments and society, ICRI’s very own Tomas Diez was named number one.

1. Tomas Diez, co-founder, Smart Citizen kit @tomasdiez
Tomas Diez is the co-founder of the Smart Citizen Kit project – an initiative that empowers citizens to improve urban life through capturing and analysing real-time environmental data. The Smart Citizen Kit is based on two components: the “kit” itself and the platform used to share data between people operating a kit. It is built on the open hardware product Arduino, and equipped with sensors that can measure air quality, temperature, sound and humidity. Via the platform anyone who owns a kit can share and visualise their data.

Great work Tomas!