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Research Interests: Edwin Blake

Edwin Blake's research covers ICT for Development and Games and Virtual Environments

My research covers various aspects of interactive systems, including the fields of Virtual Environments (VEs), Computer Games and Visualization (especially in Bioinformatics), as well as the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for socio-economic development, known as ICT4D. There are interesting areas of overlap between the fields. Another way of viewing this is that my research would interest anyone who wants to develop insights and skills about People and our relation to Computers. On the whole I adopt the approach of building applicable systems and then reflecting on the implications: a method that is also known as Experimental Computer Science.

During 2008 I would particularly like to investigate three areas (ICT4D, VEs and Visualization), but I would encourage prospective masters and doctoral students who are interested in related topics within the general areas outlined above to discuss possibilities with me: a really passionate interest is important. Funding from a number of sources and bursaries for South African students are available for these projects.

ICT for Development

Mobile location aware data capture and presentation

In this area we investigate the use of converged mobile phones/Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) for location aware data capture and guides. I would like to continue with further follow up studies on our very successful project, the CyberTracker. This project enabled animal trackers to use a PDA and GPS system to record field observations; it made their expertise available to science and improved their position. One possible extension we are considering is to allow section rangers to view and query the location of animals and other field observations interactively on a handheld device (via WiFi or GPRS). This device would be aware of the location of the ranger and will allow operations previously only possible on the workstations at the base offices. By implementing this section rangers would be able to stay in the field without the need to go back to the office. The work would involve field trips.

Mobile and wireless rural communication

How can we develop software for rural and disadvantaged communities? This research builds on previous work in rural tele-health that set out to develop and deploy useful systems for these kinds of users. We build systems that will enable us to have a useful and sustainable impact. This project is well funded by Dutch and Canadian funders. It would involve site visits and possible travel to neighbouring countries to demonstrate replicability of the work.

Mobile-Phone Electronic Wallets

The ubiquity of cell phones makes them attractive platforms for safe financial and other commercial services. The South African government is promoting the notion of “Banking the Unbanked” and ICT can assist in this. Currently the cash based economy makes people vulnerable to crime and suffers from the physical bottleneck of having to get large sums of cash to collection points. Initiatives to use cell phones for funds transfer currently rely on support staff to handle queries from the semi-literate users. We can reduce costs by providing more suitable interfaces. This project will be carried out in cooperation with the innovative banking firm WIZZIT.

Communication Access for Deaf People

The aim of this project provide Deaf users with a practical way of communicating in their own language, South African Sign Language, and at the same time highlight policy impediments to the widespread adoption of such a solution. The key question is: Can camera equipped cell phones as well as handheld and personal computers be used to pro­vide an effective low-cost and natural communication tool for Deaf people who use sign lan­guage? This project is being done in cooperation with the Bastion of the Deaf in Newlands, Cape Town, and with Deaf Community of Cape Town (DCCT) — a grassroots NGO run by Deaf people to serve the needs of the his­torically disadvantaged Deaf community in Cape Town as well as SLED (Sign Language Education and Development —

Games and Virtual Environments

Presence and Virtual Environment Applications

Collaborative Virtual Environments (CVEs) provide new possibilities for communication and collaboration, with a lot of potential and enhancements for the way we work and exchange information. For such systems to be successful they must provide participants with a high sense of presence; giving them a sense of ‘being there’ in the place specified by the virtual environment rather than just seeing images in the lab.

We are interested in the extent that virtual environments can elicit real emotional responses from participants. We believe that this aim makes for an interesting “hard problem” on which to focus our ambitions. In this work you are likely to build a CVE and then evaluate its effectiveness. You may also try to advance the theory of Presence in terms of underlying causes or in terms of measurement techniques.

A particular application of interest is the use of VE for HIV/AIDS support and storytelling (see below).

Authoring Computer Games and Virtual Environments

Scripting interactions between objects and between users and objects in a Game or a VE is a very time consuming task that currently requires programming skills. We have already developed several successful ways of tacking this problem but there is scope for additional research on paradigms for supporting artists and graphic designers in this task. This project can range form addressing quite technical issues in terms of programming paradigms to more user orientated research.


The development of a theory on the effect of emotional states on persuasiveness in virtual environments. More and more, corporations and governments are making use of virtual environments such as computer games to persuade and entice audiences into buying products or engaging with specific services. The effects of these messages are not well understood; typically, marketing companies make use of the literature on film to engineer these messages. However, as virtual environments have the property of inducing presence in their users, the possible effects of propaganda and commercial messages are more complex. The theoretical work in this project, paired with the use of the simulator for controlled experiments, can lead to seminal work on the persuasive power of immersive technology, and the ethics of virtual presence.

Use of Realism

A reflection on the use of realism in games and virtual reality. This is particularly relevant because our work focuses on the role of content and on low-cost solutions. Both aspects call into question the need for perceptual realism as the primary focus of a Virtual Reality experience. We will consider the degree to which notions of realism evolve (so that what was perceived as realistic at one time becomes crude and artificial later on) and the extent to which an experience is labelled realistic depends on the extent of user presence independent of objective measures of perceptual fidelity to reality.

Cultural Heritage

Develop specific applications of Virtual Environments in Cultural Heritage and develop virtual museum exhibitions and other application of VR technology for education and entertainment. Museums need the capability of conceiving and developing virtual exhibitions themselves to have creative control and reduce costs. Furthermore digital content can be easily be broadcasted to other museums and countries for the appreciation by a wider audience.

The aim is to produce effective low-cost tools for exhibition and conservation of cultural heritage. Lowering costs allow museums to own the tools and creative control. The virtual tools will complement South Africa's oral tradition in passing on history. A rich museum experience will increase awareness and reflection on South African Culture in its living context. The local community will be able contribute and value their cultural heritage. In the long term this should ensure its preservation.

HIV/AIDS Support

Develop the HIV/AIDS support environment. The current environment is designed to provide information support to people living with HIV. It provides information on coping strategies and diet. The environment is designed for extension and an interesting research issue is related to the ability of VEs to change people's sexual behaviour (particularly risky behaviour).

Visualization in Bioinformatics

3-D Treemaps

3-D Treemaps for Visualization of Hierarchical Information in Bioinformatics. Treemaps are able to map a hierarchy efficiently, allowing for large hierarchies to be displayed. A large quantity of Bioinformatics information is hierarchical. For instance, the Gene Ontology (GO) consortium has created a hierarchical vocabulary (Ontology) for the analysis of genome data. Very few previous studies describe the use of Treemaps to visualise the Gene Ontology; while these already provide a more efficient way of displaying the huge amount of hierarchical information output by Bioinformatics Research, we are particularly interested in exploring if 3D Treemaps, i.e., displaying the Treemap in three-dimensional space, could further help Researchers discover existing relations in hierarchical datasets.


New graphical approaches to improve the Distributed Annotation System (DAS). DAS specifies a lightweight protocol to allow feature data for biological molecules to be requested using HTTP requests (i.e. a URL), with the response being returned as XML. By making use of DAS users can take advantage of being able to view integrated information from multiple sources, without these sources needing to be aware of each other. We intend to improve and extend the existing tool and create a new capability for Dasty2 which allows the client to display protein 3D structures and map protein annotation on the 3D view. These systems will have to tested with the target user group. The project allows for a 3-D version which allows the client to display protein 3D structures and map protein annotation on the 3D view. Such a version can be used in an immersive environment.

last modified 2009-08-28 09:52
Contributors: Hussein Suleman, Edwin Blake