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Co-Habited Mixed-Reality Information Spaces




    A project within the Esprit Long Term Research initiative on Intelligent Information Interfaces (I3), schema of Inhabited Information Spaces.

    Related I3 projects on i3net






Universitat Dortmunt

University of Reading



The COMRIS project aims to develop, demonstrate and experimentally evaluate a scalable approach to integrating the Inhabited Information Spaces schema with a concept of software agents. The COMRIS vision of co-habited mixed-reality information spaces emphasizes the co-habitation of software and human agents in a pair of closely coupled spaces, a virtual and a real one. However, this project does not pursue the perceptual integration of real and virtual space into an augmented reality. Instead the coupling aims at focusing the large potential for useful social interactions in each of the spaces, so that they become more manageable, goal-directed and effective.

The COMRIS project uses the conference center as the thematic space and concrete context of work. The conference center is a structure of places for registration, presentation, refreshment, and so on. At a conference, like the Annual Esprit meeting in Brussels, people gather to show their results, see other interesting things, find interesting people, meet EU officials in person, or engage in any kind of discussion. The possibilities of interaction at such an event are enormous, it is very information-intensive, and the great diversity of topics and purposes that are being addressed make it difficult to get everything done. This clearly motivates our aim of focusing a large potential for interaction such that effectiveness of participation to such or another large event is enhanced.

In the mixed-reality conference center real and virtual conference activities are going on in parallel. Each participant wears its personal assistant, an electronic badge and ear-phone device, wirelessly hooked into an Intranet. This personal assistant - the COMRIS parrot - realizes a bidirectional link between the real and virtual spaces. It observes what is going on around its host (whereabouts, activities, other people around), and it informs its host about potentially useful encounters, ongoing demonstrations that may be worthwhile attending, and so on. This information is gathered by several personal representatives, the software agents that participate on behalf of a real person in the virtual conference. Each of these has the purpose to represent, defend and further a particular interest or objective of the real participant, including those interests that this participant is not explicitly attending to.

The project brings together ideas from different backgrounds (software agents, virtuality, networking, robotics, machine learning, social science) into a coherent concept and technical approach. Hardware challenges (e.g. the parrot on wireless Intranet) are complemented with software challenges. COMRIS pursues a radical information push model, in which information is actively imposed upon the user in its concrete minute-to-minute context of activities. The virtual space and its inhabitants is explicitly designed to facilitate this. In particular its notion of 'space' is defined as potential for interaction; not physical interaction as in real space, but interest-relating interaction. Techniques of interest based navigation bring together those virtual agents whose interests are likely to fit into a productive social process. Their interactions accumulate an information context, mined from a variety of structured and unstructured sources, and related to the different interests involved. At all times, techniques of competition for attention focus the interactions and in particular the stream of information towards the user.

Two major milestones, in which feasibility is demonstrated, are complemented with a series of concrete and rigorous experiments, in which the scaling properties are investigated. After two iterations, in which the COMRIS vision and demonstration objectives are gradually extended, the project will have achieved an integrated package of results, accompanied by a series of recommendations for post-project extension, technical implementation, and exploitation. Throughout the project communication and dissemination, as well as active interest gathering will further the impact. Already at this point evidence of industrial interest has been collected, and willingness to contribute material support to a full-scale demonstration has been secured.

Enric Plaza
Last update: July 9th, 1997

© 1997 IIIA-CSIC