Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Current Trends in Man-Machine interface

Introduction

A man-machine interface can be defined as the mediator between users and machines. It is a system that takes care of the entire communication process, is responsible for the provision of the machine "knowledge", functionality and available information, in a way that is compatible with the end-user's communication channels, and translates the user's actions (user input) into a form (instructions/commands) understandable by a machine. As increasingly complex systems, products and services appear in the market, the necessity for more user friendly man-machine interfaces is becoming progressively more crucial for their utilization, and consequently for their market success. Graphical user interfaces, audio based interaction, speech synthesis and understanding, natural languages, direct manipulation, and multimodal interaction dialogues, as well as ergonomics and human factors evaluation have all contributed to the evolution of more powerful, complex and demanding user interfaces. Recently introduced concepts are expected to have a profound impact on future developments in man-machine interface technology. These include user-tailored environments (interfaces compatible with the user's available communication channels); user-support environments (capable of assisting the user during the interaction process); 3D direct manipulation; multimodal-multimedia interfaces (providing concurrent interaction by means of different media);
alternative interaction techniques and input/output devices; virtual environments (by means of the realization of interaction environments far beyond the physical capabilities of the user and the terminal platform); and co-operative and collaborative environments (that provide concurrent access to the same environment by several, locally-based or remotely located users, allowing co-operation and collaboration between them).Potential users of computer systems and telecommunications products will be required to use the emerging technology, functioning and communicating in a multimodal, multiprocess, and co-operative environ-ment. Disabled and elderly users may have problems in accessing interface entities that use modalities inaccessible to the particular user, or in accessing interfaces that demand high cognitive and interaction abilities. On the other hand, the availability of interface entities in redundant forms (messages, selection menus, workspaces, etc.), the availability of a variety of interaction techniques that utilize alternative modalities (e.g. selection, position, quantity), the selection of adequate interaction metaphors (e.g. the desktop metaphor that is utilized in most of the currently available graphical user interfaces), and the introduction of intelligence in the man- machine systems, can contribute to the provision of interfaces tailored to the user's abilities and preferences, if the requirements of disabled and elderly users are considered at an early stage of the design. This section addresses some of the recent technological advances that influence the design and development of the man-machine interface, while at the same time identifying the possible impact on disabled and elderly people.

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