João Guerreiro's 2021/2022 Thesis Proposals

This page outlines a set of research proposals you can pursue in the year 2021/2022 under my supervision (co-supervised by other professors and researchers). My research focuses on designing, implementing, and evaluating interactive systems that help people with different abilities overcoming accessibility barriers. To that end, I engage with users early on to understand how technology can have a positive (and real) impact on their lives according to their needs and preferences.

My prior work includes a broad set of technologies and research areas, ranging from Human-Computer Interaction and Accessible Computing, to Wearables, Ubiquitous Computing, Sensors, Virtual Reality, Human-Robot Interaction, among others. To see examples of my previous research you can check my publications page in my website or Google Scholar. If you have a research idea that fits my expertise, feel free to contact me so we can draft a new proposal for you!

You can also check the two videos below concerning two projects I have worked on recently at Carnegie Mellon University.

#1 Concurrent Speech Feedback for Blind People on Touchscreens

Advisors

João Guerreiro and André Rodrigues

Motivation

Mainstream touchscreen technologies such as smartphones and tablets support non-visual access through the use of built-in screen readers (e.g., VoiceOver on iOS and Talback on Android). Screen readers enable visually impaired users to interact with the device either through gestures (e.g., swipes or taps) to navigate between elements or through an Explore by Touch approach, where users drag their finger on the screen and the UI elements are read aloud. While these tools provide access to touchscreen devices, efficiency is limited because feedback is restricted to a sequential audio channel that contrasts with the visual information presented on screen. In this thesis, we aim to take advantage of people's ability to process simultaneous audio channels -- the Cocktail Party Effect, where one can focus the attention on a single voice, but still be able to detect interesting content in the background -- to explore solutions to convey multiple audio streams in parallel. We aim to maximize efficiency in touchscreen interaction for blind people, but without affecting their performance.

What you will do

In this thesis, we aim to design, develop, and evaluate auditory feedback solutions that leverage concurrent speech in the context of touchscreen interaction and exploration for visually impaired users. As an example, we expect that in some occasions notifications can be read aloud to users in parallel, without interrupting the user's current task (and feedback). You will conduct user studies early on to engage participants in co-design sessions ensuring user engagement and representation.

#2 Accessible Collaborative Writing for Blind People

Advisors

João Guerreiro and Hugo Nicolau

Motivation

Collaborative writing tools such as GoogleDocs and Overleaf are widely used in professional and academic settings. These tools allow teams to collaborate on shared documents where members can now edit simultaneously, suggest changes, make comments, among other collaborative features. These features are valuable for collaborative writing, but recent research has shown that blind people face many challenges using them due to its lack of accessibility (or usability) for screen reader users. In this thesis, we aim to investigate how to support collaborative features so that blind people can fully - and equally - engage in collaborative writing in teams. In particular, we aim to explore how to effectively and efficiently provide awareness of the other members’ actions, while avoiding disrupting the user’s activities.

What you will do

In this thesis, we aim to design, develop, and evaluate solutions that make the collaborative features of writing tools more accessible and usable for blind people. In particular, we aim to explore the potential of concurrent speech and of non-speech audio to convey awareness of other member’s actions, without significantly impacting cognitive load. You will conduct user studies early on to engage participants in co-design sessions ensuring user engagement and representation.

#3 Orientation and Mobility Games for Blind People

Advisors

João Guerreiro and Ana Pires

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. In particular, we aim to explore how games can improve engagement in learning O&M concepts, techniques, and skills. We see opportunities for technology to further support O&M training activities both during and after classes with O&M specialists/teachers. 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.

#4 Using Mobility Data to Improve Navigation Assistance for People with Vision Impairments

Advisors

João Guerreiro and Joana Campos

Motivation

People with vision impairments are able to navigate independently by using their Orientation and Mobility (O&M) skills and their travel aids - white cane or guide dog. However, navigating independently in unfamiliar and/or complex locations is still a main challenge and therefore blind people are often assisted by sighted people in such scenarios. While navigation technologies such as those based on GPS (e.g., Google Maps) can help, their accuracy is still too low (e.g., around 5 meters) to fully support blind users when navigating in unknown locations. On the other hand, indoor locations do not support GPS and generally do not have a navigation system installed.

What you will do

Our goal is to use data from the crowd (other people who walked the same areas before) to learn more about the environment and be able to provide additional instructions to blind users. A possible approach is to use smartphone sensors to estimate possible paths after an individual enters a building. While the GPS may inform us that users are entering/inside a building, large amounts of data (crowd-based) from smartphone sensors may give us information about possible paths and obstacles to instruct blind users. For instance, one may learn that after the entrance there is a path going left and after approximately 10 meters there are stairs to go up one floor; and another path that goes forward (and so on). While the data from a single user may be erroneous, we plan to use data from many users to make such an approach more robust.

#5 Virtual Environments for Inclusive Online Conferences and Meetings

Advisors

João Guerreiro and Tiago Guerreiro

Motivation

The covid-19 pandemic has changed the way scientific conferences and meetings in general are done, moving from presencial to virtual interactions. While we hope the pandemic will be over soon, such virtual events - or at least hybrid - are likely to be more prevalent in society in the future. Overall, event organizers and attendees have been able to adapt to this shift, and strived to make use of immersive environments that try to replicate real-world interactions. However, such environments are not accessible and end up excluding people with disabilities (e.g., blind people or deaf and hard of hearing). In this thesis, we aim to build an inclusive virtual conference/meeting environment, built on top of the Jitsi platform, that provides an immersive and accessible experience for people with different abilities.

What you will do

In this thesis you will be challenged to design, develop, and evaluate a novel platform for virtual meetings, built on top of an existing virtual conferencing tool (Jitsi). You will conduct user studies early on to understand the requirements of such a tool, ensuring user engagement and representation. This work will conclude with a user study evaluating the developed platform.

#6 Virtual Reality for Blind People

Advisors

João Guerreiro and André Rodrigues

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.

NOTE

This specific proposal is no longer available, but we are interested in other ideas related with VR for blind people. If you're interested in the topic, contact me anyway.

#7 VR Sports for Blind People

Advisors

João Guerreiro and André Rodrigues

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, including in sports both for recreational and training purposes. However, most VR applications (including sports related) are built with a major focus on visual information making them not accessible to blind users. In this thesis, we will investigate how to design accessible sports applications (e.g., table tennis, running, or other) for blind people, making use of VR technologies and auditory and haptic feedback.

What you will do

In this thesis you will be challenged to design, develop and evaluate a novel VR sports application 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.

NOTE

This specific proposal is no longer available, but we are interested in other ideas related with VR for blind people. If you're interested in the topic, contact me anyway.