Friday, November 7, 2008

Jogging Over a Distance – Supporting a “Jogging Together” Experience Although Being Apart

The authors have created a simple audio communication system for use by joggers. As reported in a survey they conducted, joggers enjoy the company of others while jogging, for conversation and encouragement. However, finding a jogging parter of similar ability and availability is not always possible. To this end, the Jogging Over a Distance system links two joggers who are not physically collocated. Each jogger is equipped with a cell phone, wireless headset, and small computing unit. Joggers hear the conversation of their partner though the headset, augmented to seem localized in space around them based on their partner's speed (ie. If their parter is faster, they will sound farther ahead).

Jogging Over a Distance insightfully a market of users which seem to be in a very receptive position for this device. As the study points out, 54% of surveyed participants said they engage in conversation while jogging. Also, the proposed design retains all the mentioned benefits of conversation while jogging (socializing, motivation, fun, encouragement) while lessening the barriers presented by running in pairs (differing pace, differing geographic location). In addition to this, the 3D audio positioning is an extremely creative, novel way to indicate to the user the relative speed of their jogging parter. This clearly seems to be influenced by research done in the area of ambient/passive displays.

I feel there are several areas in which this system could be improved, or concerns addressed. The device's form factor seems overly cumbersome, especially given the wide availability of mobile phones with adequate computing power for managing both calls and audio positioning. This was pointed out by the authors as an issue which will be addressed, but I wonder why it wasn't a hard requirement since design inception. Also, in relation to the audio positioning, I was surprised to read that off the shelf quadraphonic headphones were unable to give the users proper discrimination between sounds in front and behind them. The solution proposed, to have the forward axis tilted to a 1:30-7:30 orientation, seems undesirable. It would be interesting if the authors could study this orientation with respect to the route runners take, to see if it leads them on a series of gradual right-hand turns (as one runner follows the virtual runner in front of them). Also, if the audio location features were omitted, how is this technology different than a simple cell phone and head set? In this case, the merit of the authors' work is not the technology, but the sociological study they can perform with it.

This brings me to my next line of thought, which is concerned with the marketability of this 'device'. If a jogger typically jogs for an hour, once a week, and uses the Jogging Over a Distance to effectively make a one hour phone call to someone who is too far away to run physically with them, will this not present a large associated cost for the jogger? For the purposes of research, this is not an issue, but if it were to be a consumer product, this would have to be solved.

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