Ensembles of On-Body Devices
a workshop at Mobile HCI 2010
Tuesday, September 7th, 2010
Lisbon, Portugal
Accepted Papers | Summary | Workshop Overview | Submissions | Workshop Format | Contact | Call For Papers

Accepted Papers


Submissions due: April 30 May 10, 2010
Acceptance notification: May 21, 2010
Workshop: September 7, 2010; 6 hours


With the continuing miniaturization of powerful computation into mobile devices, there exists an opportunity for re-envisioning how we interact with our personal technology. In addition to a core computational/interaction component such as a mobile phone, there could be substantial benefit to a user by offering an ensemble of multiple mobile devices that can be used together. Such devices could provide novel input or output capabilities, or distribute user interactions in a more effective way. Our goal with this workshop is to foster discussion about what possibilities such collections of devices might offer.

Ensembles of On-Body Devices

There has recently been a surge of interest in combining various forms of mobile computing with multiple other devices, either simultaneously or in succession. This idea has been called “dynamic composable computing” [5], “personal information environments” [2], “ensembles of devices” [4], or “computing ecologies”. The emphasis thus far has largely been on easily adding and subtracting multifariously-featured, but overall quite capable, devices, for example by dynamically attaching a laptop to an available display in a room [1]. This work has enabled the use of nearby capabilities such as those in the environment including large-screen displays, speakers, printers, and input devices. However, there are situations when environmental resources are unavailable or otherwise occupied.

Mobile phones—now powerful general-purpose computers—offer many advantages; however, due to their small sizes and handheld-focused interaction, their usability is often limited. We believe there is an opportunity to overcome these limitations in the fully mobile space by using analogous concepts put forth by previous research combining mobile devices with fixed infrastructure.

In this workshop, we will explore ways to take advantage of the affordances of several computing items associated with a single mobile user or amongst a set of mobile users. By utilizing several devices or peripherals, the mobile platform can be enhanced to provide increased capabilities. Bluetooth peripherals—such as hands-free headsets, which allow one to interact with the phone without it being in one’s hand—offer a hint at the possibilities inherent in using several mobile devices in conjunction.

There are many new technologies that offer expanded—and distributed—input and output for mobile devices. Pico projectors are beginning to appear in commercial products, including mobile phones; some wristwatches include Bluetooth communication and display functionality; and tiny LCD displays can be purchased. Small and cheap sensors such as accelerometers, gyroscopes, strain sensors and miniature cameras are now widely available and can expand the capability of the user to do input. Bluetooth offers a low bandwidth interconnect for on body devices, and there may be new opportunities for high bandwidth peripherals using new technologies such as Ultra Wide Band radios, or Low Power WiFi. Wireless power is also becoming a reality [3]. A single user may also have multiple handsets (i.e., both home and work mobile phones) that could be used in conjunction. A user may also have other mobile computers with unique capabilities such as e-book readers with electronic ink displays. Devices could also be shared across multiple users, further increasing the number and type of components with which users might interact.

The purpose of this workshop, then, is to encourage discussion and exploration of how collections of on-body devices may be created, supported, and utilized. There are many open research questions in this space, but we intend to concentrate discussion on HCI issues. The open questions that we intend to use as a starting point for discussion include:

  • What kinds of devices can be used as peripherals? What are their affordances and limitations?
  • Under what circumstances might users be content with lower-fidelity input and output, and how can such limitations be made clear?
  • With a given collection of devices, what novel interaction techniques can be explored? Are there interactions that cannot be realized in any other way?
  • How can a user interface be distributed across an arbitrary number of devices with varying capabilities?
  • How can such a UI accommodate the dynamic nature of mobility—with peripherals appearing and disappearing (often without warning) and the user’s context changing—possibly making some modalities less useful or even dangerous?
  • What are the technical usability challenges to such an endeavor?
  • What types of applications would leverage an on-body ensemble interface and how might existing applications be adapted?
  • What existing research points in this direction, and what devices and techniques could be adapted to become part of an on-body ecology of devices?


  1. Trevor Pering, Roy Want, Barbara Rosario, Shivani Sud, and Kent Lyons. Enabling pervasive collaboration with platform composition. In Pervasive Computing, pages 184–201, Jan 2009.
  2. Jeffrey S. Pierce and Jeffrey Nichols. An infrastructure for extending applications’ user experiences across multiple personal devices. In UIST ’08: Proceedings of the 21st annual ACM symposium on User interface software and technology, pages 101–110, New York, NY, USA, 2008. ACM.
  3. Alanson Sample and Joshua R Smith. Experimental results with two wireless power transfer systems. In IEEE Radio and Wireless Symposium, pages 1–3, Oct 2009.
  4. Bill N Schilit and Uttam Sengupta. Device ensembles. IEEE Computer, 37(12):56–64, Jan 2004.
  5. Roy Want, Trevor Pering, Shivani Sud, and Barbara Rosario. Dynamic composable computing. In HotMobile ’08: Proceedings of the 9th workshop on Mobile computing systems and applications, Feb 2008.


Submissions should be a maximum of four pages in the ACM Mobile HCI 2010 format and address open research questions on the topics of interest which will be used to foster workshop discussion. Submissions are due by April 30th, 2010 by 23:59 PDT (UTC-7) and should be emailed to ensembleworkshop at burx.com.

A small committee will peer-review submitted papers. Papers will be selected based on several criteria:

  • Does the paper fit the theme of the workshop?
  • How potentially transformative are the ideas in the paper?
  • Does the paper address the research questions of the workshop, or pose new research questions?
  • Is the paper well-written?

Notification of acceptance will be provided by May 21st, 2010. Please note that accepted workshop papers will NOT be published in the conference proceedings nor in the ACM Digital Library. However, the accepted papers will be disbursed to all participants so that they may familiarize themselves with the workshop material prior to attending.

Workshop Format

The workshop will follow the full-day format to allow for as much discussion as possible amongst the participants. We will divide the workshop into four parts (pre- and post- break for the morning and afternoon). During the first session, each participant will give a very short presentation (duration dependent on number of accepted participants) explaining his or her research and ideas to the other participants. To encourage discussion, a “back channel”—a web page simultaneously editable/viewable by many users—will be available to participants. During presentations, the other participants will be encouraged to use the back channel to note directions for further discussion. After the morning break, we will hold a group discussion about themes which emerged across the participant’s talks. Those themes will be the focus of the first half of the afternoon’s agenda. There will be 3–5 breakout groups formed to discuss in-depth some of the ideas and issues that were noted during the morning. In the remaining time, the participants will be brought back together, and a representative from each group will present the results of the discussion and talk about future opportunities.


Daniel Ashbrook, Ph.D.
Daniel Ashbrook is a Senior Researcher in New Mobile Forms and Experiences at Nokia Research Center Hollywood. He received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2009. In over a decade of research in mobile technology, he has concentrated on the creation and usability of new wearable and on-body technologies. His thesis concentrated on microinteractions — interactions with a device that take fewer than four seconds to complete.

Kent Lyons, Ph.D.
Kent Lyons is a Research Scientist at Intel Labs in Santa Clara. Kent received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2005. His research interests are focused on the interaction issues surrounding mobile, ubiquitous, and wearable computing. He has performed research examining and overcoming the limitations brought about by mobile devices; and more broadly, is interested in the integration of HCI and mobile devices and their use to enhance everyday life.


If you have any questions or comments about the workshop, please email Dan and Kent at ensembleworkshop at burx.com