Coronavirus, working from home and cybersecurity

Post by Neeshé Khan (2018 Cohort)

As coronavirus sweeps across the globe all sectors are looking towards governmental bodies to issue statements that outline the next steps to contain this pandemic. Even from its early days, coronavirus demonstrated its far reaching impact on economies through effecting major sectors such as hospitality, tourism, governmental operations, hospitals, exports, imports and education (to name a few).

Italy is on an incredible total lock-down that hasn’t been seen by any developed state in recent memory. Wuhan’s lock-down is an incredible feat albeit too late. The US takes a more relaxed stance but has seen a number of cases where businesses are encouraging or mandating employees to work from home (WFH). In the UK, the Chancellor has just announced a £50b emergency response budget to the national health services, companies with less than 250 staff will be refunded for sick pay (for a period of 2 weeks/employee) and Statutory sick pay will be paid to all those who choose to self-isolate, even if they don’t have symptoms. I have also had conversations with people in the health service who are taking an unpaid leave of up to a month during this time to safeguard themselves. So things are getting serious and business can allow employees to work remotely for at least without suffering financially.

The dilemma with many businesses is that they’re not setup correctly or securely enough to allow remote working. This is no surprise as it costs businesses a great deal of money to secure remote channels that can access their information systems and ties in closely with their existing software and hardware architecture. Plus, it’s a complex operation to roll out and debug.

If your cybersecurity is compromised whilst WFH, sure enough someone (most likely you) will be held accountable. So, what does it mean for you if you’re at small business/start-up/charity/governmental department that’s just implemented a WFH policy.

Before leaping for joy at how convenient this might be for you (cutting out commuting time, money and health risks from mouth breathers) take a beat and consider doing the following:

Safe working space at home

This is a big one. Homes have a lot of distractions so what would this mean for your productivity? Would you end up putting in more time to make up for it? Is there enough structure at your place to allow you to take timely breaks and balance out your professional and private life? Would you remember to lock your device every time you step away or risk your child hopping on and sending out an email you were drafting and cause a formal cyber incident? Would it just mean more work for you? A ‘safe’ space should be your first thought when considering WFH.

Insurance coverage

Check what your company’s insurance policy is. If you (or your cat) accidentally spills something on your company device, is it covered off office premises? You don’t want to be out of access and be out of pocket for a policy implementation that wasn’t well thought out and you didn’t know what the risks would be.

Cybersecurity when WFH

Both elements above involve cybersecurity. Insurance coverage also covers the Availability aspect of cybersecurity and working space at home covers cyber accidents and incidents. Not many people would even know what a VPN is and wouldn’t have this set up for their home broadband. And that’s OK for your personal use! But when working on your home Wi-Fi it could impact your cybersecurity levels when WFH. Before you begin, ask your employer if they have systems in place that ensure your cybersecurity levels while working remotely are equally secure as when you’re on the premises. This could entail things such as encryption that add an additional layer of security when working remotely.


I found out through experience that while small companies offer a ‘basic version’ of working remotely it can come with a lot of lag (you have a portal you go through via a personal device to access your work computer’s desktop). If systems aren’t set up correctly (well configured) your access can hang or crash. This could mean you’ll end up doing the same task for the tenth time! If you’re using your personal device to remotely access your computer and are frustrated with the system not working, you might be tempted to move files to your personal devices (so it all ends before you enter your kill zone) – don’t! This becomes more hassle than it’s worth and it’s much easier to get in touch with your IT department to report the issue to fix before you can begin your work on that task again – so sip some tea in the meantime.

In some cases the drives can be separated so while it all appears normally on your work computer this might not be the case for when you’re working remotely. Check with your employer if there’s a specific drive you need to move your documents to (while on premises) to ensure you have access to them remotely.

If you have a company provided computer such as a laptop then you’re clear of most of the headaches that come with lag, crashing systems and availability of documents – hurrah!

Prefer conversations instead of emails or texts

Try to have as many skype/video/call conversations as possible. This ensures that you are actually speaking to the person who you think you’re speaking to so your communication has what is known as Integrity in cybersecurity. Access through an insecure connection (such as your home Wi-Fi even if it has a strong password) can mean your account gets compromised and you have a man-in-the-middle intercepting and responding to your confidential company communications.

These are just some of the things that came to my mind when thinking about WFH cybersecurity and I hope it helps! If you’re a team leader encourage your team to adopt these practices. If you’re an employer, certainly consider these aspects prior to enforcing remote working. It would be good for companies preparing to have their employees WFH, to have a session that outlines best practice scenarios, remits of liability and answer any concerns or queries while we wait for coronavirus to pass.

–originally posted on Neeshé’s blog

Call for Participants: Detecting fake aerial images

PhD researcher Matthew Yates (2018 cohort) is currently recruiting participants to take part in a short online study on detecting fake aerial images. Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) have been used to create these images.

Hello. I am 3rd year Horizon CDT PhD student partnered with the Dstl. My PhD project is about the detection of deep learning generated aerial images, with the final goal of improving current detection models.

I am looking for participants from all backgrounds, as well as those who have specific experience in dealing with either Earth Observation Data (Satellite aerial images) or GAN-generated images.

Purpose: To assess the difficulty in the task of distinguishing GAN generated fake images from real satellite photos of rural and urban environments.  This is part of a larger PhD project looking at the generation and detection of fake earth observation data.

Who can participate? This is open to anyone who would like to take part, although the involvement of people with experience dealing with related image data (e.g. satellite images, GAN images) is of particular interest.

Commitment: The study should take between 5-15 minutes to complete and is hosted online on

How to participate? Read through this Information sheet and follow the link to the study at the end.

 Feel free to contact me with any queries.


Continue reading “Call for Participants: Detecting fake aerial images”

A Reflection on The Connected Everything and Smart Products Beacon Summer School 2020

post by Cecily Pepper (2019 cohort)

My first summer school started with an invite via email. Despite my interest in the topic, my first thought was that robotics was not my area of expertise (coming from a social science background), so maybe I shouldn’t bother applying as I’d be out-of-my-depth. Although after some consideration, I thought it would create some great opportunities to meet new people from diverse backgrounds. So, I stopped worrying about my lack of knowledge in the area and just went for it; and I got a place!

The summer school was held digitally due to COVID-19 restrictions, which had both its benefits and pitfalls. On the first day, we were welcomed by Debra Fearnshaw and Professor Steve Benford, and were then given the opportunity to introduce ourselves. From this it was apparent that there was a wide variety of delegates from several universities, with a range of disciplines including social sciences, robotics, engineering and manufacturing. The first day mostly consisted of talks from experts about the challenges we face in connecting technology and the potential of co-robotics within the fields of agrirobotics, home and healthcare. The main task of the summer school was to create a cobot (collaborative robot) that could overcome some of the issues that COVID-19 has created or exacerbated. The issue that the group chose to address had to fall into one of the categories introduced on the first day: food production (agrirobotics), healthcare or home. Along with this challenge, more details were needed on function, technological components, and four key areas of the cobot design: ethics, communication, learning and safety. These aspects were introduced on the second day. After being split into groups at the end of the first day, I felt happy as my group had a range of experience and expertise between us, which I felt would bode well for the challenge as well as being beneficial for myself as I could learn something from everyone.

Similarly, the second day consisted mostly of talks, this time based on the four themes mentioned previously. The ethics discussion was interesting and included in-depth explanations around aspects to consider when reflecting upon the ethical consequences of our designs, such as privacy, law, security and personal ethics. An online activity followed the ethics talk but was soon interrupted by a technical glitch. Despite this, we were able to engage with alternative resources provided in order to reflect upon the ethics of our cobot design. This was useful both for our eventual design, as well as applying this to our own PhD research.

The other themes then followed, including a discussion around interaction and communication in technology. This was an insightful introduction to voice user interfaces and alike, and what the current research is focusing on in this field. While fascinating on its own, it was also useful in thinking about how to apply this to our cobot design, and which features may be useful or necessary for our cobot’s functionality. A talk on the third theme of learning was then delivered, including details about facial recognition and machine learning, and the applications of these in the field of robotics. Likewise, this was useful in reflecting upon how these features may be applicable in our design. Finally, the theme of safety was considered. This talk provided us with the knowledge and ability to consider safety aspects of our cobot, which was particularly apt when considering COVID safety implications too. Overall, the first two days were quite lengthy in terms of screen time (despite some breaks), and I found myself wilting slightly towards the end. However, I think we could all understand and sympathise in the difficulty of minimising screen time when there is a short space of time to complete all of the summer school activities.

On the final day, we split into our teams to create our cobot. This day was personally my favourite part of the summer school, as it was fantastic to work with such a variety of people who all brought different skills to the group. Together, we developed a cobot design and went through the themes from the previous day, ensuring we met the design brief and covered all bases. Probably the biggest challenge was keeping it simple, as we had so many ideas between us. Despite our abundance of ideas, we were strict with ourselves as a group to focus and keep the design simplistic. Additionally, the five-minute presentation time meant that we had to keep our design simple yet effective. We then presented our home assistant cobot, Squishy. Squishy was an inflatable, soft cobot designed to assist carers in lifting patients who were bed-bound (as occupational injuries are a significant problem within the care industry). Squishy’s soft design enabled comfort for the patient being lifted, while the modular design provided a cost-effective solution and the possibility of added-extras if necessary. Along with this, Squishy was beneficial in that it consisted of wipe-clean surfaces to enable effective cleaning in light of COVID-19, as well as aiding social distancing by reducing the need for carer-patient contact. Other features of Squishy included machine-learned skeletal tracking and thermal cameras to aid safe functionality, and minimal personal data collection to maintain ethical standards. After the presentations and following questions, the judges deliberated. Results were in…my team were the winners! While I was happy to have won with my team, the most fruitful part of the experience for me was meeting and learning from others who had different backgrounds, perceptions and ideas.

Overall, I felt the summer school was well-organised and a fantastic opportunity to work with new people from diverse backgrounds, and I was very glad to be a part of it. I’m also pleased I overcame the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ feeling of not believing I would know enough or have enough experience to be a valuable delegate in the summer school. So, my advice to all students would be: don’t underestimate what you can contribute, don’t overthink it, and just go for it; you might end up winning!

The Summer School was funded by EPSRC through the Connected Everything II network plus (EP/S036113/1).


COBOT Collaboration for Connected Everything Summer School

post by Angela Thorton (2019 cohort)

Baymax (Hall, D., Williams, C. (2014).

Say hello to Squishy initially inspired by Baymax (Hall, D., Williams, C. 2014). This COBOT concept was co-created during an intensive online Summer School in July 2020 run jointly by Connected Everything and the Smart Products Beacon at the University of Nottingham.

The online event, running over two and a half days, involved 28 delegates from various UK universities and culminated in a brief to design a COVID-ready COBOT (collaborative robot) to work in either Food Production, Healthcare, or the Home. Squishy was the collaborative brainchild of myself and the other five members of my group – the BOTtom Wipers… The group comprised me and Cecily from the 2019 cohort at Horizon CDT and Laurence, Hector, Siya and Robin from Lincoln, Strathclyde, and Edinburgh/Heriot-Watt universities, respectively.

The day and a half leading up to the design brief set the context through a series of related talks on the challenges of working in the different sectors as well as discussions on core aspects such as Ethics, Interaction and Comms, Learning and Safety. Hence by Friday morning, we were ready for our design challenge – to design a COBOT relevant to the COVID world we currently live in and present the concept in five slides lasting five minutes – and to achieve this by mid-afternoon the same day!

Our group quickly worked out to make the most of our individual and different backgrounds ranging from robotics and machine learning to neuroscience and psychology. The challenge we decided on was situated in the home, lifting bed-bound residents since it places considerable physical strain on carers and requires close contact with individuals; obviously less than ideal in a COVID world.

Our solution was Squishy: a cost-effective assistive COBOT inspired by the fictional superhero Baymax (Hall, D., Williams, C. 2014) and the caterpillar robot made using a 3D printer that could output soft, rubbery material and hard material simultaneously (Umedachi, T., Shimizu, M., & Kawahara, Y., 2019).

We decided on a soft, modular COBOT since we felt this would be more comforting and comfortable for the individuals being lifted. Manufacturing costs can limit access to assistive robots so Squishy was inflated using pressurized air with different air pockets allowing his shape to be modified to suit individuals of different body sizes/shapes.  To ensure stability and safety as well as hygiene, we chose a two-body system comprising flexible 3D printed silicon moulds overlaid with wipe clean textile. Being able to keep Squishy clean was critical given COVID.

Our next challenge was to ensure that Squishy could lift and put down an individual safely. We decided to use input from thermal cameras and real-time skeleton tracking using OpenPose since this is a relatively straightforward and cost-effective system. We planned to teach Squishy to hold and lift safely via incremental learning of holding/lifting varied body shapes and weights, either from data sets or by imitation. The use of thermal cameras and skeleton tracking also allowed us to provide two additional modules if required. The first option was temperature screening (37.8 degrees Celsius or greater potentially indicating COVID infection) and the second was for Squishy to gently rock the individual to comfort them if required. A rocking motion has been shown to promote sleep in infants and, more recently, also in adults, (Perrault et al., 2019).

For ease of use and safety we deliberately kept the input and output communications simple namely a wearable control bracelet or necklace with buttons for basic functions e.g. lift up/down as well as an emergency stop button which would signal that assistance was required.

Ethical issues were key, both in terms of the collection and storage of personal data but also the psychological aspects of Squishy interacting with humans. We decided to only collect the minimum personal data required for a safe and comfortable interaction such as height, weight and BMI (which could be combined with skeleton tracking data) with the individual requiring assistance only being identified by a unique identifier. Data would be stored in a safe storage system such as Databox. Databox is an EPSRC project involving collaborators from Queen Mary University of London, the University of Cambridge and the University of Nottingham and a platform for managing secure access to data. All our data processes were GDPR compliant.

The individual’s response to and relationship with Squishy was also central to the design both in terms of the COBOT’s appearance, feel and touch and the use of slow, comfortable movements which engender relaxation and trust.

Having discussed and honed our design ideas we then had to consolidate them into five slides and a five-minute presentation! We were each involved in different aspects of the brief following which we collectively refined the slides until we had the final version.  Getting across the key elements in five minutes proved to be a challenge; with our first run-through coming in at closer to seven and a half minutes but on the day, we just managed to finish on time. It was interesting to see how many people really struggled with the time challenge, and I am sure my experience at summer school will be useful for when I enter the Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) in 2021…

And the outcome of all this hard work and collaboration? I am delighted to report that The BOTtom Wipers and Squishy won the COBOT challenge. J


Hall, D., Williams, C., 2014. Big Hero 6 (Film). Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Perrault, A. A., Khani, A., Quairiaux, C., Kompotis, K., Franken, P., Muhlethaler, M., Schwartz, S., & Bayer, L. (2019). Whole-Night Continuous Rocking Entrains Spontaneous Neural Oscillations with Benefits for Sleep and Memory. Current Biology, 29(3), 402-411.e403.

Umedachi, T., Shimizu, M., & Kawahara, Y. (2019). Caterpillar-Inspired Crawling Robot Using Both Compression and Bending Deformations. IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, 4(2), 670-676.


I’d like to thank Connected Everything and the Smart Products Beacon at the University of Nottingham who organised and ran the Summer School so efficiently, my lead supervisor Alexandra Lang who read my draft copy and is always helpful and inspirational and the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (UKRI Grant No. EP/S023305/1) for supporting my PhD.

Participating in a doctoral symposium online

post by Kadja Manninen (2018 Cohort)

As we all know, the current pandemic has banned mass gatherings for the foreseeable future. This has meant cancelling academic conferences or trying to deliver them online. When submitting for The British Academy of Management (BAM) conference in February 2020, I was looking forward to an exciting trip to Manchester involving lots of networking with fellow PhD researchers and more established academics. But, as it happens, the virus is still spreading amongst us, and instead of a nice Manchester-stay and sophisticated conversations over fancy conference meals, I was stuck in my study in front of a computer screen for four full days, detaching myself from my laptop only to grab a quick bite to eat.  

The postponement of the live conference until 2021 was initially somewhat of a disappointment. But when the time arrived, however, (and perhaps motivated by the long-lagging six weeks of school holidays), I was, in fact, quite excited to usher my child back to school and start engaging with the online event. I was hoping that the symposium could offer me an opportunity to meet other early career researchers specialised in entrepreneurship and/or cultural and creative industries, and also, as my professional background is in event management, I was keen to see how an event that traditionally takes place in a live setting can be adapted into an online environment.  

For those of you who are not familiar with BAM (founded 1986), they are the leading authority on the academic field of management in the UK, with a mission of supporting and representing scholars, as well as engaging with the international business and management community. BAM has over 2000 members, out of whom 25% are located outside the UK, and 30% are PhD students. They publish two academic journals; the British Journal of Management and the European Journal of Management Research, and every year they organise the BAM conference, which usually gathers around 900 delegates worldwide.

This blog post is about the doctoral symposium, which kicked off the conference week with a one-day event and was followed by the three-day main conference. I have two focuses with this post. First, I will highlight some key moments from the symposium, which I hope can be useful for other postgraduate researchers. Second, I will discuss the online conference experience from a participant’s as well as an event manager’s perspective.  

Symposium highlights 

The BAM Doctoral Symposium brought together over 160 participants from all over the world for a full day of Zoom sessions aimed at postgraduate researchers. In the welcome speech the organisers stressed that thanks to the online delivery of the event, the event had attracted more international participants than in the previous years. This was most likely due to the online conference format being significantly more affordable with a lower conference fee and lack of travel costs. The symposium was fully conducted on Zoom, and the programme was split into sessions aimed at both early and later stage PhD students, meaning that we could decide ourselves which sessions were the best suited for our needs.  

The first highlight of the day was a session aimed at early-stage PhD students, entitled “Conducting a literature review” and led by Prof David Denyer & Dr Colin Pilbeam. Although I’m already starting the 3rd year of my PhD, I have recently been revising my literature review (a never-ending task, I guess…), and therefore decided to join this session. The presenters began by stressing that it’s fundamental to get the literature review right, as otherwise is very hard to justify the research question. Next, they moved on to discuss, among other things, the common traps PhD students fall into when writing a literature review. Out of the seven traps, I found that “the broad and unfocused review question” trap resonated strongly with me. I couldn’t help thinking back to the numerous hours I’ve spent reformulating my review questions in the past year. Below is a useful example of a question that lacks focus and needs narrowing down.  

What was particularly good about this session, however, was the presenters’ use of the recently launched Mentimeter software, which enabled them to conduct live polls during the session. Mentimeter has also a free plan that is suitable, for example, for students, and even some of the premium plans are quite affordable. I’m definitely on trying it out with my next online presentation.  

The second highlight of the symposium relates to the perhaps most dreaded question amongst PhD students. I guess each of us is at least once during the PhD journey faced with the question “What is your contribution to theory?” In fact, this happened to me already in my first annual review, and hoping to provide a better answer next time, I signed up for Professor Ashley Braganza’s session entitled “Exploring Theory as a Lens for Research”.  

Professor Braganza began his presentation by underlining the relevance of the unit of analysis to doctoral studies. To be honest, I had never asked myself what the unit of analysis in my research was, but I do agree that the question seems highly pertinent and can guide you in the right direction when selecting your theoretical framework. 

In addition, he argued that when selecting a theory or theories, you should not go over three theories, but try using a maximum of one or two theories, and the rest can go under the research context. This was somewhat comforting to me, as it is a topic that I have struggled with over the summer while revising my literature review and trying to locate my conceptual home in the broad array of multidisciplinary literature. Again, I think that having too many theories to choose from is very likely to be a common issue for interdisciplinary researchers.  

The final highlight of my symposium day was a paper presentation session, where selected PhD students were presenting their research, and were offered a chance to receive some feedback from the audience as well as a senior academic. I decided to watch two presentations in the entrepreneurship track, focusing on female and family entrepreneurship. It was very inspiring to hear of fellow PhD students’ work, and compare their journey to my own. I didn’t submit a paper to the doctoral symposium, as our developmental paper had been accepted for the main conference, and I found that being in the middle of my second phase of data collection wasn’t probably the best time to present findings from my research. I did end up regretting my decision though, and blaming my perfectionism for it, as in fact, it would have been totally fine to present some initial findings from my research. Nevertheless, it was reassuring to realise that others’ papers were nowhere near to be finished or polished pieces of writing. I guess the main advice I can give to other PhD students is that you shouldn’t hesitate to submit to doctoral symposiums, even if your work is still far from perfect. Luckily, I will still have a chance to do so next year.  

The online experience 

From a technological perspective, everything worked smoothly, and Zoom proved to be an adequate platform for hosting over 160 people for a one-day event. The larger sessions were conducted on Zoom webinar mode, meaning that cameras are only on for the speakers, while everyone else was muted and could asks question in the Q&A section. During the smaller sessions, we were able to have our cameras on and join the conversation if we wished to do so. However, Zoom is not a conference platform as such. This meant that every session had a different URL, and you had to constantly navigate between the PDF programme, where the video call links were, and the actual Zoom app. As I was also taking notes, and occasionally tweeting, the whole experience was quite laborious as it involved continuous switching from one browser page onto another depending on what I wanted to do. I do hope this pandemic and the increased demand for all-in-one virtual conference platforms will motivate companies to develop more user-friendly platforms that can handle large numbers of participants, as I haven’t yet been lucky enough to come across one.  

To sum it up, a virtual conference simply cannot compete with the real thing – at least not yet. However, until technology develops enough to provide a smoother experience, it remains the best option we have for maintaining at least some aspects of normality. That said, the main difference between the online and live conference formats was undoubtedly the lack of ad hoc networking opportunities, those random conversations that in real life might take place during a coffee break, or over a conference meal. For instance, we were able to ask questions during presentations on the Zoom Q&A section, but there were no real opportunities to engage in a conversation with fellow PhD candidates.

It is evident that spontaneous digital engagement between people who have never met each other is extremely difficult to achieve in a virtual setting, as it doesn’t occur naturally or without encouragement. However, I do realise that this is only the beginning of what might be an era of virtual events, and the technology for conducting this type of events is developing at a rapid pace. I think that it’s important also that event organisers take the risk of experimenting with different software and try out new ways of structuring their events. For example, and perhaps because of time restrictions, this event didn’t have any time allocated for networking, meaning that 160 participants didn’t have a real opportunity to meet each other. This was not the case during the actual BAM conference, where plenty of time was allocated to networking in custom-made virtual coffee rooms, but as it was not compulsory or moderated, only a handful of delegates made the effort of engaging with others.  

From the virtual doctoral symposium experience, I think the main takeaway is that it sparked my appetite for the BAM live conference and introduced me to a like-minded, extremely inclusive research community. As my research basically sits in between arts and business, I remember that last year after participating in the Audience Research in the Arts conference, I did end up feeling a bit like an interdisciplinary alien. That’s why I’m happy to say that with the BAM conference this year I didn’t feel like that at all, on the contrary, I felt like the business and management community was (virtually) embracing me quite warmly. My fingers are tightly crossed in the hope that in 2021, I can take part in the doctoral symposium and BAM conference in person and I’ll promise to be very grateful for every little opportunity for small talk or any form of live conversation. 

Plastic Buttons, Complex People

post by Velvet Spors (2017 cohort)

Publishing a Paper about In-Person Interactions at a virtually held Conference (CHI PLAY)

The National Videogame Arcade (now National Videogame Museum) is a games festival-turned-cultural centre that celebrates games and the people who make, play and interact with them. While more traditional museums might now allow visitors to directly interact with their exhibits, the NVM encourages this direct interaction in an open, genuine way: “Games are for everybody” is one of the core values of the museum. Outside of being an educational and creative hub for everything games-related, it is also my PhD’s industry partner.

Before the NVA moved to Sheffield in September 2018 to become the NVM, I was lucky to join my research partner for most of their last month in Nottingham. Since my research is centred around exploring ideas of (self-)care through a justice-, collective- and games-informed lens (to paint a picture with broad strokes), I was very keen on figuring out how people in the NVA made sense of it, how they created meaning in their interactions with the space and others: To do so, I joined visitors during their “journey” through the NVA: I watched people play games, enjoy themselves (or get frustrated!) and share and make memories.

After carefully analysing the data (and a couple of busy months with other studies), I asked two of my fellow doctoral researchers if they would be interested in exploring the data once again and writing a paper together: Gisela Reyes-Cruz (my go-to-person for everything interaction and ethnomethodology-related!) and Harriet “Alfie” Cameron (who has a keen eye for everything museum- and power-structures-related).

Together, we wrote and submitted “Plastic Buttons, Complex People: An Ethnomethodology informed Ethnography of a Video Game Museum” to CHI PLAY 2020, where it got accepted!

The paper explores how people interact with each other through establishing practices in and around the playable exhibits, but also between each other. It finishes with some ideas and design implications that spaces that want to engage people in co-located play can take on to support or disrupt group interactions.

Here is our abstract as a teaser:

“This paper reports on an ethnomethodology-informed ethnography of a video game museum. Based on 4 weeks of ethnographic fieldwork, we showcase how groups of visitors to the museum achieved the interactional work necessary to play games together and organise a museum visit as a social unit. By showcasing and explication excerpts of museum visits we make the taken-for-granted nature of these interactions visible. Embedded within an activity map that outlines how people prepare, play, wind down and exit games, we showcase the sequential, temporal, and carefully negotiated character of these visits. Based on our findings and the resulting Machinery of Interaction, we propose three design implications for spaces that aim to exhibit video games and/or try to facilitate co-located, collective video gameplay.”

It is a weird feeling to present our first paper in a virtual format, but it is a tremendously joyful occasion (and a very enriching learning experience)!

This paper would not have been possible without the support of my supervision team Martin Flintham, Pat Brundell and David Murphy; the lovely and wonderful folks at the NVA/NVM, all of the visitors who took part in research and Stuart Reeves for valuable comments on one of the earlier paper drafts!

Writing and Presenting a Paper

post by Harriet Cameron (2018 Cohort) 

Hiiii everyone, it’s Harriet here. Hope you’re all doing well and finding ways to support yourselves and the folks around you. I’m going to share a few words about my experience of writing and presenting a paper at the Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) conference in this, the year of our undoing, 2020. Now I know you are all sick of reading about this so I’m going to get it out of the way early and then only reference it in thinly veiled metaphors where I absolutely have to. Obviously, when we first had our paper accepted into DIS, we weren’t expecting a pandemic to barrel in and seal off the opportunity to hop over to Eindhoven for the week, present our paper in person, and have a good ol’ chin wag with other researchers about our findings. So this blog post might be a little different given that chunks of it will be dedicated to navigating a virtual conference and the changes that have resulted from that.

So first of all, I’ll start you off with an introduction to the paper. I was a co-author on the paper with a number of other amazing and talented folks – Dr Jocelyn Spence (lead), Dr Dimitri Darzentas, Dr Yitong Huang, Eleanor Beestin, and Prof Steve Benford. It was about a project called VRtefacts [4], something I have written about previously[1]. The TL;DR for VRtefacts is that it was a fantastic project which came about as an offshoot of the GIFT project [2] – a series of international projects funded through Horizon 2020 that look at ways of using gifting to enhance cultural heritage experiences. VRtefacts used a combination of physical props and virtual reality to encourage visitors to a museum to donate personal stories inspired by a small selection of artefacts on display. Our paper explores how the manipulations and transitions embedded in VRtefacts can enable personal interpretation and enhance engagement through performative substitutional reality, as demonstrated through storytelling.

I first joined the squad because my background in human geography offers up a different approach to HCI analysis that can draw out themes of place, space, and identity in novel ways. For this research, we conducted thematic analysis on post-experience interviews and videos of participant stories captured in the deployment. I primarily focused on conducting a section of the analysis to examine how space and place were represented and understood throughout participants’ experiences. Through the different passes conducted for the thematic analysis [1], these loose concepts of space and place evolved into how physical distance and scale affected the experience, and how the transitions between different spaces and places – both physically and emotionally – impacted on the storytelling. At the same time as I was working on this, Jocelyn and Yitong were conducting their thematic analyses on the data to explore other concepts that came up like contextualisation of stories, attitudes towards the objects and the museum, and the influence of touch and visuals.

Working together like this was a really interesting experience. I’m familiar with NVivo [3] – the software widely used for this type of qualitative coding – having used it a few times before in my work. However, finding ways to navigate NVivo as a team – exploring how to compare notes, cross-reference emerging codes, and merge/condense/combine the codes that overlapped – offered a whole new challenge. The version of NVivo we had access to did not allow multi-party editing of one database and we were using different operating systems (which each have their own incompatible versions of the software), so we had to get slightly creative in just how we did team working. After some trial and error, we decided to each work on our own dataset and periodically combine them into one master document. Sometimes this meant having to compare the documents and painstakingly comb through them for wayward spaces and capitalisations just so that we could merge our files – a great joy to be sure. But we also regularly got together and went through our codes side-by-side with the other members of the team, deciding on how best to combine our efforts. By doing so, we essentially added a new kind of ‘pass’ per pass that sure, created extra work, but genuinely helped us to better understand and be able to justify not only our own codes but each other’s as well.

This was an approach that we also extended somewhat to the paper writing itself. We each branched off and wrote our own specialised sections, and then came back together to work on the overall flow and content. Across several iterations of the paper, we worked out what the core findings were and how best to present them, ultimately landing on performative substitutional reality as understood through manipulations (of physicality, visuals, and scale) and transitions (between spaces and through storytelling). On a personal note, it was really validating and exciting to see my contribution come to life and become such an integral part of the paper. It was also a brilliant first foray into paper writing – to have such a supportive and generous team to work with took large amounts of the panic away from ‘am I doing this right?’ and ‘how does all of this even smoosh together?!’ If you get the chance to work with others for your first paper-writing experience, I super duper recommend it. Especially for when it gets to the final details: formatting, submission, keywords etc etc etc, where I wouldn’t even have known where to begin without the (very) patient guidance of Jocelyn and Dimitri. For a whole host of reasons beyond the control of anyone, the paper came to its final form just a couple of hours before the submission deadline, with three of us sat on overleaf culling, and prodding, and spellchecking on the night of Brexit. The fireworks erupting in the distance just as we agreed it was done added a special kind of bathetic farcical atmosphere to the completion of my first paper.

The paper was accepted with only minor adjustments and we were off to Eindhoven. Except not really, because of “the event”. Instead, we were asked to put together a 10 minute video presentation which would be broadcast as part of the newly styled virtual DIS 2020. We divided the presentation up into chunks and Jocelyn, Dimitri and myself each took a few slides and narrated over them. Recording over presentations is a skill I haven’t had much reason to use since GCSE ICT, but increasingly it’s been becoming an essential skill, and one I am rapidly reacquainting with. You know. Because of “the issue”. Unfortunately, when the time for the conference itself came about, DIS wasn’t particularly interactive and presentations and papers were simply left online for people to interact with as they came across them. I did engage with the hashtag on Twitter regularly and found some new academics to follow, but aside from that, there isn’t much to say on the reception of the paper. I did, to the bemusement of my housemates, however, go rather overboard in the kitchen to make the most of the situation e.g. breaking into the last of my waffles, lovingly made according to the recipe of my fabulous friend’s Oma, to make the Dutch experience come to me. The ultimate power move.

Being involved in the GIFT project in the ways I have, but particularly from being part of VRtefacts, has completely changed certain paradigms through which I approach my PhD. Not only has it provided a grounded example of how integral donation can be as a framing device to bridge the gap between audiences and galleries, but it also offered me an amazing chance to practise multi-disciplinary writing which spanned both of my subject areas (HCI and human geography). I’ve already had opportunities to be involved in other parts of the GIFT project and we have also submitted an article to the HCI Journal special issue on time, exploring how manipulations of time and time-space contributed to the experience of VRtefacts. I’m looking forward to seeing what other opportunities come my way from being part of these papers and practising my shiny new paper-writing skills in the future.

[1]          V. Braun and V. Clarke, “Using thematic analysis in psychology,” Qualitative Research in Psychology, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 77-101, 2006/01/01 2006.

[2]          GIFT Project. (2019). GIFT Project. Available: (Accessed: 8/5/2019)

[3]          QSR International. (2018). NVivo 12. Available: (Accessed: 01/07/2020)

[4]          VRtefacts. (2020). VRtefacts Homepage. Available: (Accessed: 28/05/2020)


Influence in my Research from my Participation in CHI One Year Later

post by Gustavo Berumen (2017 Cohort) 

This was my first experience at a conference in the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). The Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, also known as CHI and pronounced “kai”, is the most prestigious conference on HCI in the area. In 2019, the conference was held in Glasgow. It was quite special for us, the members of the Mixed Reality Lab, because the lab celebrated its 20-year anniversary and had a designated space in the exhibition area. We presented several of the MRL demos, such as the broncomatic and the VR playground. 

Since CHI is a fairly large conference, I will focus on my participation in the two workshops in which I presented a paper, as well as on my attendance at a panel discussion. In addition, I will reflect on the learning outcomes from CHI conference that are still guiding my research today. 

CHInclusion: Working toward a more inclusive HCI community

The objective of this workshop was to reflect on our research practices and how researchers can make HCI a more inclusive space. I collaborated with a short paper of a reflection about my personal experience doing research in an international environment [1]. In the first part of the workshop, we reflected on the effects of “privilege”. We talked about the struggles faced by people who belong to minority and marginalised groups in their professional development due to privilege and related issues. In this workshop, there was a fairly vibrant environment in which people not only did perceive a problem but were also willing to propose solutions and promote changes to reduce the influence of privilege.  

The participants of the workshop were not only young researchers but also academics with a long university career who perceive the need to create a fairer society. We carried out various group activities in which we discussed our personal experiences regarding discrimination. We then presented possible solutions to promote change in our fields of expertise. This conference was quite stimulating and encourages me to think that a fairer academic environment is possible. 

New Directions for the IoT: Automate, Share, Build, and Care 

The objective of this workshop was to talk about cutting-edge topics in the development of ubiquitous technologies, innovative ways of conducting research and designing solutions that serve people. This workshop brought together researchers interested in the IoT area, which is related to my Ph.D. topic. The researchers’ interests were diverse and covered a wide range of areas such as social interactions, the smart home, and cooperative robots, among others. 

The workshop consisted of two parts: The first part, in which each of the attendees gave a talk about their research, and the second, in which we answered questions from the attendees. Here, I presented my workshop paper titled “Finding Design Opportunities for Smartness in Consumer Packaged Goods”[2]. The paper presented analysis methods that I designed to study the use of items in the cooking process, analysing information from an auto-ethnographic study. In this workshop, I received helpful and insightful comments that have helped me further develop my methods in a larger study.  

Finally, we participated in an activity in which we shared our ideas on how to develop IoT technologies that serve people’s needs first and foremost. We were divided into groups and used Post-it Notes to share our thoughts with the rest of the participants.  

Roundtable — Rigor, Relevance, and Impact: The Tensions and Trade-Offs Between Research in the Lab and in the Wild 

CHI is a fairly large conference attended by thousands of attendees. At such a scale, it is inevitable that several of the presentations that one would like to attend occur at the same time. Luckily, the talk can later be found online in the conference YouTube channel and the papers can be found in the conference proceedings.  

I was recommended to attend as many roundtable panel discussions as possible. These panels joined together a diverse group of researchers who engage in discussions that one can be a part of. This kind of experience can hardly be found online.  In these panels, researchers who would not normally interact are integrated in order to share their experiences and enrich the conversation with the discussions they can generate when professionals from different areas get together. Personally, I found this panel inspiring. There were researchers in the area of ​​industry, such as Google’s Shumin Zhai, and academics, such as Enrico Costanza, University College London. They discussed both how to do research that has a greater impact on society and how to take research outside the academic space. Attendees had the opportunity to be part of the conversation in a welcoming, friendly environment. 

Learnings that Continue a Year Later 

My participation in CHI was profoundly fruitful, as it gave me the opportunity to approach cutting-edge research in the area as well as get to know researchers at all levels closely, from renowned professors to young students who were excited to be entering part of this field. The lessons I learned at the conference have emboldened me to carry out my research, and I have been able to apply them to various aspects of my work, such as organizing my own workshop. I certainly think the impact of participating in a conference lasts much longer than the period over which the conference takes place. 

  • Knowledge about research results and methods that I still cite and use on my research. 
  • Techniques I learned in the workshops I have applied in my own workshops. 
  • Motivation to make HCI an environment inspired me to work every day. 

Venue: CHI 2019, Scottish Event Campus, Glasgow, Scotland, UK.  




In the pandemic, cities are scrambling to expand cycling infrastructure: Big Data can help

post by Gregor Engelmann (2014 cohort) and Maria Catalina Ochoa

The coronavirus (COVID-19) and lockdown measures have created immense challenges for urban transport. But they also provide an opportunity for cities to rethink the future of mobility. Cycling, in particular, is enjoying renewed attention. This is not surprising, as biking offers many advantages that make it an attractive form of urban transport both during and after the pandemic: bicycles can ease the pressure on public transit systems, allow for easy social distancing, contribute to better public health, and reduce air pollution.

Yet we have a long way to go before cycling can become a mainstream transport option for urban residents. Motorized transport is often the default choice—even to destinations within easy cycling distance—and most observers are concerned that traffic will come right back once the virus subsides.

One major obstacle is infrastructure… or the lack thereof. Even in cities that have actively promoted cycling, such as Rome, Paris, or Bogotá, cycling networks are often fragmented, forcing cyclists to make use of busy and dangerous roads. Over the past decade, Bogotá has constructed 500 km of bike paths, locally known as ciclorrutas. These have contributed to a big increase in daily cycling trips, from 421,000 in 2011 to 635,000 in 2015. Despite this investment, gaps in the network and maintenance issues continue to affect the paths’ usage and residents’ overall mobility. 

If we’re serious about harnessing the full potential of cycling, it’s essential that cities address these issues and connect disjointed bike paths into cohesive, user-friendly networks. But where do you start? With limited fiscal resources, which parts of your city should you focus on to expand biking infrastructure? How can you ensure cycling investments benefit the highest number of people?

To answer these questions, urban planners traditionally rely on online or household surveys. But these are slow and expensive, often taking months or years from initial data collection to the planning stage. Recent advances in digital technology, however, are creating new ways to collect and analyze data. Insights from anonymized mobile phone data are particularly promising.

In our latest research together with the Secretaria de Movilidad de Bogotá and UC Berkeley, we used Bogotá as a case study to show how mobile phone data can improve our understanding of mobility patterns and inform the planning of new infrastructure. We first tapped into data from a local fitness app called Biko to analyze how cyclists move around Colombia’s capital and identify the biggest gaps in the ciclorrutas. We also mined data from cell towers to get a better picture of overall mobility across all modes, including private cars, public transport, and walking. We found that there are 4.1 million short- to medium-length journeys across the city every day that could be completed using a bicycle instead of a car. This clearly demonstrates that potential demand for cycling in the city is much higher than the 635,000 average trips in 2015.

Cyclist in Bogota, Colombia. Photo: Secretaria de Movilidad of Bogotá
Photo: Secretaria de Movilidad of Bogotá

Our analysis found a clear link between the presence of bike paths and the number of cycling trips tracked through Biko, while the inclusion of cell tower data highlighted how gaps in the ciclorrutas impacted the volume of potential cycling trips. We also noted that the cycling situation varies significantly from one neighborhood to the next depending on the socioeconomic context: this is particularly evident across low-income areas south of the center, where bike paths are less common and cycling accounts for a smaller proportion of trips vis-a-vis its potential. Hence the paper recommends prioritizing infrastructure investment in the southern area and in a series of specific links throughout the city to address the potential demand, where a lot of short trips are happening that are well-suited for cycling.

Already a cycling champion in its region, Bogotá is now better equipped to design a more comprehensive cycling network that would fit the projected demand and provide citywide connectivity. In an ideal scenario, that means cyclists would be able to complete their journeys safely and seamlessly without having to leave a bike path.

More broadly, our research demonstrates how mobile phone data can help gain insight into mobility trends and anticipate future needs. If used properly, Big Data can lead to better decision-making, improve development outcomes, and help decision-makers respond quickly and effectively to unexpected challenges such as COVID-19. And of course, as more and more people carry phones in their pockets, the approach we piloted in Bogotá can easily be replicated elsewhere.

Whatever the post-COVID reality looks like, it’s safe to say that data-driven planning will become an integral part of our new normal. We are excited to see what Big Data has in store for urban transport, and we stand ready to help cities make the most of it.

–originally posted on World Bank blog