In Depth

Understanding and Optimization of Environments Involving Information Technology
While classical ergonomics has mostly been concerned with single products and often only with interfaces, there is an unmistakable trend that manufacturers now develop and sell experiences created by multi-component systems. Multimedia (multi-modality) systems can simulate a much more enhanced rendering of an environment than a comparable single-modality product. Successful attempts have been made to generate entirely artificial environments that are rather convincing to the extent that humans consider these virtual environments as "real". As people are constantly in environments, many of the artificial environments are essentially an augmentation of their tangible, physical surrounding.

Exploring how multimodal stimulations create integrated percepts is one of the research domains in Human-Technology Interaction. For that, we explore the perception of synchronous occurrence of visual and auditory patterns, how sounds of natural objects arise, and how they can be synthesized (non-speech audio) and be manipulated in virtual auditory scenes. In haptic perception, the feeling of form, and also the perception of physical force, movement and vibration are studied. Force feedback is explored on the level of hand and finger movement in conjunction with a 3D rendering of the corresponding visual impression. Increasing attention is being paid to research of "Social Presence", determining which features of the technologically augmented environment lead to a feeling of presence of other people.

Advances in technological development also have made it possible to have systems that can perceive and act autonomically. By themselves these technologies are fairly limited in their capabilities, but in combination with others they can provide unexpected functionalities; a fact that becomes obvious, for example, in what is called "Ambient Intelligence". In technologically augmented environments, numerous simple sensors and monitors can detect the presence of persons at specific locations in rooms, detect the type of activity they are engaged in and take human-supportive actions. Such actions can range from security (absence detection) to entertainment, and they can include enhanced telecommunication that provides remote control for persons with disabilities (e.g., lung patients) in health care or elderly support. All these various domains leave room for research about the socio-cognitive characteristics and processes behind the specific human-technology interactions.

Social Acceptance of Technology and Sustainable Performance
Pollution, energy use, and resource consumption, fuel environmental, social, and economic transformations of uncertain gravity, which may have disastrous consequences for human societies and the natural habitat of humans. And as the environmental impact of people, whether as individuals, as households, or as societies, can be roughly assessed as a function of their numbers, their affluence, and the technology they use, technology is an essential part of the equation and can, thus, not been set apart from the study of human resource consumption and the sustainable performance of individuals. Accordingly, exploring the factors associated with more sustainable behavior and, thus, promoting extensive behavioral change are the two prime ambitions here.

Although sustainable technology--applied to heating and cooling, lighting, washing, and transportation--may be a main factor to counter overconsumption of energy and other resources and to more sustainable practices, its implementation and social acceptance will depend on human choice and individual motivation. Human motivation in form of individual attitudes, particularly environmental attitude is central as attitudes not only control people's perception of technological risks and acceptance of new technologies but also--quite substantially--individual performance. Thus, the key to socially acceptable policies and behavior change measures can only be found when human motivation (i.e., people's attitudes) is fully understood as a process, which is grounded in personal experiences, social norms, and personal value systems.

One promising strategy involves "smart agents" and employs social feedback and know-how from persuasive communication to persuade people and households into consuming less energy. This so-called persuasive technology is meant to be integrated--as ambient intelligence--into the living environment of individuals and families. Other promotion measures involve system trust and goal setting. If users have confidence in the successful and reliable operation of a technological system, will they then follow the system's advice, or do they still develop reactance to retain control themselves?