We explore a new approach to programming swarm user interfaces (Swarm UI) by leveraging direct physical manipulation. Existing Swarm UI applications are written using a robot programming framework: users work on a computer screen and think in terms of low-level controls. In contrast, our approach allows programmers to work in physical space by directly manipulating objects and think in terms of high-level interface design. Inspired by current UI programming practices, we introduce a four-step workflow-create elements, abstract attributes, specify behaviors, and propagate changes-for Swarm UI programming. We propose a set of direct physical manipulation techniques to support each step in this workflow. To demonstrate these concepts, we developed Reactile, a Swarm UI programming environment that actuates a swarm of small magnets and displays spatial information of program states using a DLP projector. Two user studies-an in-class survey with 148 students and a lab interview with eight participants-confirm that our approach is intuitive and understandable for programming Swarm UIs.
Ryo Suzuki, Jun Kato, Mark D. Gross, Tom Yeh. Reactile: Programming Swarm User Interfaces through Direct Physical Manipulation. In Proceedings of the CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '18). ACM, New York, NY, USA Page: 1-13. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/3173574.3173773