Join us

The Tech&People group is always on the lookout for enthusiastic candidate members with multidisciplinary backgrounds. In our work, we embed ourselves in the contexts we are designing for (formative studies1), we design and build web2, mobile3, wearable4, robotic5, gaming6, and tangible7 interactive systems, and we evaluate them with target users. If you join our group it is likely that you will work closely with end-users, collaborate with a multidisciplinary team (engineers, designers, data scientists, psychologists, clinicians), build novel and impactful interactive systems, eventually publish and present your work internationally, and see your project being used in real-life contexts.

Note about COVID-19:

The pandemic is taking a toll in everyone’s lives. At Tech&People, we regularly engage with end-users, some of them more fragile. This has obviously impacted the way we do our research. Currently, our evaluations and formative sessions with end-users are performed remotely and we have adapted all our workflows to be done remotely as well, to the extent possible. The group has regular online events (weekly project meetings, reading clubs), and an ongoing virtual laboratory using Discord. Independently of the confinement status, working remotely will always be a choice for those that prefer to do so (with continuous involvement in our virtual communication channels).


Below, you can find the master thesis proposals that the group is offering for the year 2020/2021. Also, we present a set of stories of what members of the group did in their masters or are doing now, with the goal to provide some background to the proposals and an overall view of the opportunities you can find at Tech&People. Lastly, you can find a set of Frequently Asked Questions. If you want to know more, get in touch by e-mail, follow us on Twitter, or check our publications.


MSc Proposals 2020/2021


Two children with visual impairments, one attaching a forward and play pieces, and the other feeling the robot and the target object, that walked through a foam path.

Asymmetric Roles in Intergenerational Games

Motivation

Gaming has the potential to prompt feelings of togetherness through a shared activity, based on challenging goals and immersive interaction. However, it is unclear how to design games for heterogeneous groups of people — e.g., families, where there may be wide age gaps or mixed perceptual, physical and cognitive abilities. These divergences may have a precluding impact in group play. Asymmetric roles in cooperative play have been shown to increase players’ perceptions of connectedness, social engagement, immersion, and comfort with a game’s controls.

What you will do

In this thesis you will be challenged to investigate games designed for intergenerational environments and understand how asymmetry roles impact players perceptions.

Team

Tiago Guerreiro
André Rodrigues
David Gonçalves

A blind person with a facial mask walking on the street with the help of a guide dog

I Can’t See You! Coping with Physical Distance in a ‘Social Distance’ Era when you’re Blind

Motivation

Blind people can navigate independently by using their orientation and mobility skills as well as their travel aids - the white cane or the guide dog. The white cane allows its users to identify obstacles/objects and open pathways in order to navigate safely, while the guide dog can follow the user’s instructions while avoiding obstacles and dangerous situations. While extremely helpful, these two mobility aids fall short on supporting blind people when current instructions are to keep physical distance greater than two meters from each other: the white cane can only detect obstacles (or people!) at close distance, and a guide dog is completely unaware of social distancing guidelines.

What you will do

In this thesis, we aim to investigate the challenges that blind people face due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on their difficulties to keep physical distancing. You will conduct user studies early on to understand users’ needs and preferences in order to co-design technological solutions allowing them to keep physical distance while maintaining their autonomy and independence. Then, you will design, develop, and evaluate a technological solution that supports the needs of blind people in a Social Distancing Era.

Team

João Guerreiro
Tiago Guerreiro

Left picture shows two older adults writting. Right picture shows an older adult brushing his teeth

Daily life activity recognition

Motivation

Parkinson’s Disease affects a lot of people, mainly the elderly, worldwide.Clinicians would benefit from having more information about patients’ daily life. Appointments are not frequent, generally, and there is limited awareness of the fluctuations happening thoughout the days, weeks, and months. Activities of daily life can help in capturing details about the disease stage and give clues about possible future problems. Adding to this, capturing thin details about each activity can give more clues about the patients’ disease states.

What you will do

You will explore methods for collecting data in real environments towards building a dataset of activities of daily living for people with PD. After that, you will work towards, first, automatically recognizing those activities, and second, infer fluctuations from daily inertial sensing of those activities.

Team

Tiago Guerreiro
Diogo Branco

An example of a data visualization platform called Datapark

Data-driven platform for Parkinson’s Disease

Motivation

Parkinson’s Disease affects a lot of people worldwide. Clinicians have infrequent contat with patients in short duration appointments. To understand what happens with patients in their daily lives, clinicians resort to diaries and short conversations. It is difficult for the patients to recall all the fluctuations that may have happened during that period of time. On the other hand, clinicians would benefit from having more information about patients’ daily life. The use of smartphone devices or inertial bracelets for activity monitoring is increasing. However, there is the need for clinicians to easily understand what was captured between appointments. Patients also need some kind of feedback if something relevant happened during that period.

What you will do

In this thesis you will be challenged to design, develop and evaluate a tool for data-driven healthcare. You will build a mobile application, to collect data in a clinical and free-living environment and extract relevant clinical metrics (physical activity, gait, freezing of gait, tremor). You will explore how to obtain data from mobile devices, resorting to home and clinical assessments and free-living data collection. Finally, you will develop a platform centered on the patients to allow for simple visualizations and interactions with the data collected.

Team

Tiago Guerreiro
Diogo Branco

Two visually impaired kids playing with tangible pieces and the Dash robot

iRobot - Inclusive robots for children

Motivation

Robots have an enormous potential to support educational activities with children with mixed-abilities due to the sensing capabilities they can afford. Its predominant focus on visual feedback, however, limits its applicability for children with visual impairments. Our prior work with children with visual impairments and their educators identified the characteristics a Robot should have in order to be used by children with mixed-abilities, including: be easily heard and guide children throughout the activities; tactile cues to indicate head direction and sensors’ location; detect and give feedback on maps and objects; rewarding children’s’ actions; among others. The goal of this thesis is to design and develop an inclusive robot (which may be based on existing robots) by allowing it to be felt, listened, inspected and followed.

What you will do

You will design, develop, and evaluate an inclusive robot for educational activities of children with mixed-abilities. You will conduct user studies early on through co-design sessions with children and educators in order to define requirements, aesthetics, tactile and auditory cues. Co-design sessions may include techniques such as crafting, role-play, fiction, among others. This work will conclude with a user study evaluating the robot and its functionalities.

Team

João Guerreiro
Ana Pires

Two people using a VR headset engaging in a virtual date.

Virtual Reality for Blind People

Motivation

Virtual reality is an emerging technology that is slowly becoming available to the masses at affordable prices. VR is currently used in a variety of contexts: gaming, education, shopping, social spaces, employee training, to name a few. As with any emerging technology, it is fundamental we ensure its accessibility among people with different abilities. One of the major challenges blind people face in virtual environments is to navigate/move in the virtual space. While prior work has focused on mimicking real-world techniques, such as a virtual white cane (due to user familiarity), in virtual reality there are many locomotion techniques that vary greatly from application to application (e.g. free teleportation, walk in place, analog stick, directional dashes, waypoint navigation). In addition, blind users in virtual environments will not have the same restrictions as in the real world, nor the restrictions sighted people have due to a lack VR sickness (similar to motion sickness due to visual stimuli). We argue that this combination provides an opportunity to explore novel/fantastical mobility methods that are not possible otherwise.

What you will do

In this thesis you will be challenged to design, develop, and evaluate novel navigation techniques in VR for blind people. You will conduct user studies early on to engage participants in co-design sessions ensuring user engagement and representation. This work will conclude with a user study evaluating the developed set of navigation techniques.

Team

João Guerreiro
André Rodrigues

Screenshot of the rating of an app on google playstore.

New Ratings for App Stores

Motivation

Mobile devices are the “Swiss Army Knives” of today. They support a wide range of tasks, enabling people to access a wealth of information and services through their extensive connectivity; they have the potential to empower people in everyday tasks. Unfortunately, apps are not accessible to all. In particular, people with disabilities and people who are not tech-savvy, often have to struggle to learn how to use a new app, or to adapt to an update. Current store ratings reflect what the popular opinion about an application is, without any nuance evaluation. Comments are available but they can be overwhelming to parse and find the one that addresses these users concerns.

What you will do

In this thesis you will be challenged to investigate what new metrics can be informative to users with disabilities and/or non tech-savvy users. You will have to develop a plugin/service that will overlay/interface with a current app store to provide this information. Throughout the work you will conduct user studies to inform the design of the solution proposed. The work will conclude with a user study evaluating the developed tool.

Team

Tiago Guerreiro
André Rodrigues
André Santos

Picture of Botmap, a system with a tabletop display showing a US map with Ozobots (small robots) on top

Teaching Orientation and Mobility Skills to Children with Vision Impairments

Motivation

Orientation and Mobility (O&M) can be defined as a set of concepts, skills and techniques that enable people with vision impairments to travel an environment safely and independently. Orientation refers to people’s ability to position themselves in the environment, reflected in their awareness of where they are and where they want to go, while mobility refers to people’s ability to move independently from one place to another in a safe, effective and efficient manner. These two interlinked concepts play a very important role in the lives of people with vision impairments in general and are extremely important to children, as the ability to travel independently provides access to a wide range of activities that enable people to participate in society.

What you will do

In this thesis, we aim to investigate current methodologies for O&M training and to design, develop and evaluate novel technological solutions to improve its effectiveness and engagement. We see opportunities for technology to further support O&M training activities both during and after classes with O&M specialists/teachers. Potential areas of research (you may suggest others) that can be explored in this thesis are (one or a combination of): - Virtual Reality to improve immersion by replicating auditory and/or tactile cues of the real-world. - Tabletop Robots to improve map understanding , route-based learning, among others. - Games to improve engagement in learning O&M concepts, techniques, and skills. You will conduct user studies early on to engage O&M specialists and blind children in co-design sessions ensuring user engagement and representation. This work will conclude with a user study evaluating the technological solution developed.

Team

João Guerreiro
Ana Pires

Two xbox one controllers on top of a minecraft screenshot.

Playing by Proxy

Motivation

Mainstream games tend to be highly visually demanding, with players having to assess a scene before deciding how to proceed. Despite the recent efforts in gaming accessibility many of these experiences are still unplayable by visually impaired people. Moreover, due to the nature of most games, adapting the experience and interaction methods to be accessible can lead to a diminished experience. Alternatively, one can play by proxy highly-visual games — just listening to the game audio while someone sighted is controlling the interaction.

What you will do

In this thesis you will be challenged to investigate a new paradigm of play. You will be tasked with exploring how playing by proxy can be provided as a crowd-source service for visually impaired people. The service will be akin to the service provided by interpreters to deaf people - serving as a way to establish a communication channel where there was none, in this case between the game and the visual impaired player. You will have to: 1) understand how to support the communication between visually impaired players, and sighted ‘proxy’ players, 2) define roles and boundaries around play that ensures a sense of control and ownership of the experience by visually impaired people; 3) establish a service that provides playing by proxy. This work will conclude with a user study evaluating the developed service.

Team

Tiago Guerreiro
André Rodrigues
David Gonçalves

A set of wodden programming blocks with tangible 3D icons and crafted top codes for camera recognition

Inclusive programming environments for children

Motivation

Robots have been a popular research tool in education because they are attractive and relevant to learn complex concepts. The use of robots increases engagement in social and collaborative actions which may also effectively impact children’s social development and learning. Besides the fact that robots are now widely available and affordable, minorities are still set apart, and we have still not reached a state where visually impaired children can autonomously interact with a robot. Our previous work focused on creating solutions to bridgethis gap by enabling children with visual impairments to interact with a robot.

What you will do

In this project, you will focus on co-designing, with educators and children with mixed-visual-abilities, inclusive and collaborative environments for situated making and introductory programming class activities (that may build on our previous work). The goal will be to have an accessible tangible programming environment and a set of activities that can be deployed in different disciplines. You will build a setup and deploy it in an inclusive school, assessing its impact over a n-month deployment (optionally, depending on time and confinement restrictions, deployments can be individual and shipped to the children’s home, with their parent’s cooperation).

Team

Tiago Guerreiro
Ana Pires


STORIES


Diogo Marques studied the phenomenon of social insider attacks to personal mobile devices, resorting to anonymity-preserving large-scale online studies, in his PhD. His work won awards at the most reputable usable security conference, and attracted intense media attention, with a highlight to a DailyShow sketch (from minute 3:05). During his PhD, he spent 4 months at IBM Research NY, doing an internship. He is now a user researcher at Google Munich.



Sérgio Alves performed his master thesis in 2017 when he developed Scrapbook, a web platform to enable agile biographic reminiscence therapy, which was used for more than a year in national clinical institutions and care homes (that he presented at the WebForAll conference in San Francisco). Before starting his PhD, he was hired as an engineer in the group to maintain and improve Scrapbook, and was then hired by the Openlab (UK) to maintain the collaboration with Tech&People. He is now researching citizen-led experimentation of user interfaces (advised by Tiago Guerreiro and co-advised by Kyle Montague, Openlab, UK).


scrapbook poster

André Rodrigues performed his master thesis in 2014 working on system-wide assistive technologies. In this work, besides a novel tablet two-handed text-entry method for blind people, he was able to provide a mobile phone access solution to Miguel, a tetraplegic blind young man. He presented his MSc work at BCS HCI in Southport, UK and at CHI (the best international conference in Human-Computer Interaction), in South Korea. After that, he pursued his PhD (LASIGE’s and DI’s Best PhD Student Award 2 times in a row), focusing on human-powered solutions for smartphone accessibility. From his many contributions, we outline TinyBlackBox, a Android mobile logger for user studies that enabled a longitudinal study with blind people, and has been integrated in the popular AWARE framework. During his PhD, he spent 3 months at Newcastle University, where we collaborated in the development of an IVR health system that is now being explored in a variety of contexts. He is now a PosDoc scholar in the group focusing on accessibility, gaming, and virtual reality.


tiny black box poster

Diogo Branco performed his master thesis in 2018 where he focused on extracting metrics from wrist-worn accelerometers and designing usable free-living reports for neurologists and patients with Parkinson’s Disease. The platform has been used since then for a period over 18 months (and going). He presented the outcomes of his MSc at CHI 2019 in Glasgow, and started his PhD in 2019. His work enabled ongoing service contracts with pharmaceuticals and the usage of wearable sensors in clinical trials.


Designing Free-Living Reports for Parkinson's Disease poster

Hugo Simão is an industrial designer doing his master thesis on robots to support people with dementia. In this process, he designed and developed MATY, a multisensorial robot that is able to project images, emit fragrances, sounds, and walk around autonomously. He published his preliminary work at CHI 2019, in Glasgow, and other parallel projects on robots for older adults (e.g., Carrier-pigeon robot at HRI 2020). Hugo is starting his PhD in the group in the next semester, and was accepted for a 6-month internship at Carnegie Mellon University (postponed due to Coronavirus).


Playing With Others poster

David Gonçalves is a current master student (started in September 2019) in the group working on asymmetric roles in mixed-ability gaming. Until now, he performed formative studies with blind gamers (and gaming partners), trying to understand their current gaming practices, and has developed his first mixed-ability game using Unity. He submitted his first full paper to an international conference (under review), and joined Tiago in a visit to Facebook Research London, where they were invited to present their work at the Facebook first Research Seminar Series.


Playing With Others poster


Ana Pires is a Postdoc scholar at Tech&People. She is a psychologist working on Human-Computer Interaction, with a particular focus on inclusive education. In her work, she explores how tangible interfaces improve how children learn, for example, mathematical or computational thinking concepts. In the group, she has been working with Tiago and master students to develop solutions for accessible programming, among many other projects.


Tangible math game for visually impaired children poster

Frequently Asked Questions


I am considering doing a thesis in the group but I am not sure I have the technical skills required. Am I required to know how to program wearables, develop games, know computer vision, or how to resort to machine learning algorithms?

We are a human-computer interaction research group with a strong technical component. Besides working with end-users, we build robust user-facing interactive systems to be evaluated in realistic settings. However, the group already has a set of skills that enables newcomers to have a swift onboarding experience. When needed, we provide internal workshops, pair master students with more experienced researchers, and provide constant support. The group also includes designers, engineers, and a psychologist, to provide support to projects that go beyond the expected knowledge of a student.

What are the future prospects for a student doing a master’s with your group?

User research and user interface development are of the most desired expertise in the market of today. If you search for job offers, you will consistently find user research positions among the most well paid. Our graduates, at the end of their masters, have only faced the challenge of selecting which offer they preferred. While some were eager to join the portuguese market (e.g., Feedzai, Farfetch), we also have ex-master students staying with us as engineers with competitive contracts, several joining us for a PhD, and some going abroad (e.g., Google, Newcastle University).

I want a scholarship. Do you offer those?

The group is currently engaged in four european projects, 2 national projects, and several service contracts. Most of our students are supported by scholarships in those contexts. All students have the opportunity to apply to the LASIGE scholarships; at the end of those scholarships, according to how the work is going, some students are offered a continuation of their financial support. Some projects are supported from the start, if they are developed in the context of a funded project task. From the stories above, all students have been fully supported during their studies. In our current team, more than 50% of the students are supported by scholarships.

What’s the deal with conference travels and internships? Do I have to pay for those?

No. Conference publications are fully supported by the group (travel, hotel, registration, per diem) when submission to the conference is agreed with Tiago. Internships are normally arranged with Tiago and the visited institution, and are also fully covered by funding schemes (e.g., Erasmus+) or by the visited institution/company.

I want to work in the X project but I will need Y technology and a PC with special hardware. Do you have those?

If a proposal requires specific tech/materials, it will be provided, including computers/laptops to work with them (if needed). The group already has access to a wide set of resources like eye-tracker, mobile devices, physiological computing kits, IoT kits, commodity robots, bluetooth beacons, VR headsets, as well as cloud computing, panel, and transcription services.

How can I know more about the group?

You can check our publications, team and research pages, to have an idea of our published work and mission. We also invite you to check our lab memo to have a feeling of how the group operates. Follow us on Twitter. And, for any other business or more detail, come talk to us.

What do you expect from your students?

The group welcomes motivated strong-willed students to pursue impactful work. While it is expected that getting a position will be competitive in regards to a student’s background, we are mostly looking for people that are motivated to work and to make a difference. If you just want to finish your masters in the easiest way possible, this is not the group you should be applying for. Conversely, if you are eager to learn a variety of skills, be challenged, be exposed to real life problems, and seek for fair and effective solutions to solve them, come work with us.