SPIRE-EIT (Summer Program for Interdisciplinary Research and Education – Emerging Interface Technologies) at Iowa State University is a 10-week interdisciplinary summer experience for 10 undergraduates that integrates research and education in emerging interface technologies. Since the site’s inception in 2006, students’ commitment to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields has been demonstrated, as well as producing research publications. Students are provided with classroom training and gain hands-on experience using cutting-edge instruments, equipment, computers and cyberinfrastructure. Classes in computer programming and graphics, interface design, human-computer interaction, research skills, team skills, and ethics occupy approximately one third of the students’ time. In an unusual structure that is focused on building a community of practice, students conduct interdisciplinary research projects in groups of two or three, with all students co-located in Iowa State’s Virtual Reality Applications Center (VRAC). Each group interacts with VRAC graduate students under the supervision of VRAC faculty. The research projects are presented at an end-of-the summer campus-wide research symposium in the form of posters, demos, and a five-page research paper. Frequently the students present their research at research conferences later during the school year.
Two major trends are driving research in Emerging Interface Technologies (EIT): a dramatic increase of interface technologies themselves, and the ubiquitous permeation of technology into our everyday lives. Correspondingly, this research focuses on new interfaces that enhance people’s perception, understanding of complexity, and work performance. The SPIRE exposes students to three broad areas of EIT: information visualization, virtual/augmented reality, human-agent interaction. In particular, previous projects have focused on improving cockpit sensor displays for pilots, the optimal use of emotional cues by intelligent agents during crisis situations in the International Space Station, use of virtual reality for improved drone navigation, use of augmented reality for reducing errors in factory assembly lines, reducing cyber sickness, improved user interfaces for faster traffic incident management, design tradeoffs of wearable biosensors and use of wireless electroencephalography (EEG) caps with people who have Parkinson’s disease.