Tomlinson Honored with Prestigious NSF CAREER Award

By Anna Lynn Spitzer

Irvine, Calif., March 27, 2006 -- Bill Tomlinson, assistant professor of informatics and Calit2 academic affiliate, has received a $500,000 National Science Foundation CAREER award to further his research in human-computer interaction. 

“An Agent-Based Approach to Human-Computer Interaction for Systems of Collocated Devices” examines ways in which multiple “collocated” devices – PDAs, mobile phones, laptop computers – can work together as a system.

Bill Tomlinson

Specifically, the research seeks to explore and evaluate the use of embodied mobile agents – animated characters that can transfer seamlessly among different devices – as a way for multiple devices to interact. The research is a continuation of Tomlinson’s work with the “Virtual Raft” and “EcoRaft” projects.

Tomlinson explains collocation this way:  “Most of us have five or six devices near us – desktops, laptops, cell phones, PDAs. When we interact with those devices we are interacting with each independently of the other devices in the room. But if the devices could have some awareness of what other devices were near them and potentially allow that collocation to improve their functioning, that could make them more efficient.”

Collocated device systems can be used in many applications, from industry to entertainment to education. Tomlinson says the systems could allow business executives to manage more contextual information, teach science to school children and develop new computer game genres.

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award is one of the National Science Foundation's most prestigious grants. The program supports early career-development activities of teacher-scholars who effectively integrate research and education into their organizations.

Tomlinson, whose lab in located in the Calit2 Building, credits the institute for helping him attain the NSF award; Irvine Director Albert Yee wrote a letter of support for the funding. In addition, a Calit2 Nicholas Foundation award made in 2005 to Tomlinson and Lynn Carpenter, ecology and evolutionary biology professor, funded the EcoRaft project, leading to numerous published articles, which are a CAREER award prerequisite.

“It’s great to have recognition on a national scale for the work my group has been doing,” Tomlinson said. “It’s nice to have both the funding support to help us continue with this research and the acknowledgment that the National Science Foundation thinks it is important work.”