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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/M00421X/1
Title: Re-shaping the Expected Future: Novel Interaction Techniques for Base of the Pyramid Users and Challenges to the Orthodoxy for the Rest of the World.
Principal Investigator: Jones, Professor M
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Dr JS Pearson Professor SNW Robinson
Project Partners:
GSM Association (GSMA) IBM UK Ltd Mercy Corps (International)
Microsoft Social Impact Lab Foundation The iHub Limited
University of Cape Town
Department: College of Science
Organisation: Swansea University
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 31 December 2014 Ends: 15 October 2018 Value (£): 710,784
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Human-Computer Interactions
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Communications Information Technologies
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
03 Jun 2014 EPSRC ICT Responsive Mode - June 2014 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Our concern in this proposal is for Base of the Pyramid (BoP) users, that is, those who are the most socio-economically disadvantaged. For these communities, there are several challenges to the digital utopia that governments and industry are regularly heralding. These range from low technological and textual literacy, a paucity of relevant, appropriate content, to a lack of affordable, high-bandwidth data connections. With the ubiquity of mobile phones, it is clear that now, and in the future, these platforms will be the most influential ICT solutions for these users in the poorest regions of the world. Understandably, a good proportion of the work in Human Computer Interaction for Development (HCI4D) and ICT for Development (ICTD) has focused on the technologically lowest common denominators - for example "dumbphones" and "feature" phones, the precursors to smartphones - to reach as many people as possible.

In contrast, this proposal addresses the need to look ahead to a future that promises widespread availability of increasingly sophisticated devices. The most likely future in the next 5-10 years is that BoP users will have access to handsets that developed world users are now taking for granted. This trend is exemplified by the affordability of so-called "low-end smartphones." The GSMA - the global industry body for mobile service providers, one of our partners in this project - predicts that this trend will continue worldwide, with these devices already retailing for as little as £30. These devices are equipped with rich sets of sensors, connectivity facilities and output channels (from audio-visual to touch-output). While there is plentiful research on how to use and extend these platforms for more "natural" interaction (e.g., creating mobile pointing and gestural interfaces), the work has largely been from a "first world" perspective. That is, the techniques have been designed to fit a future, in terms of resource availability, cultural practice and literacy, that is out of joint with that lying ahead for BoP users. Our aim is to radically innovate for key future interaction opportunities, drawing on a network of organisations and individuals deeply connected to BoP users, along with BoP end-users themselves. These stakeholders have helped shape the proposal and will be integral to the work itself. The programme will be comprehensive and integrative, involving three driver regions in Kenya, South Africa and India, each allowing us to consider needs from three perspectives: the urban, sub-urban and rural.

In solving pressing problems of effective interaction for BoP users we will also seek new basis premises of HCI design in the wider developed world. In our view, the established information interaction techniques (like copy/paste) derive from desktop, textual and knowledge work framings of interaction. Mobile interaction articulates an alternative framework - sociality, personal narrative and highly context orientated practices of friendship, family and community. With the emergence of smartphones and their remarkable processing powers, the temptation to make them mini-PCs, with all the interaction principles to match, has led many HCI researchers to avoid designing for those social practices, blurring the distinction between the mobile and the PC. Given that most of those who have access to these devices are living in cultures where knowledge work is the norm, this tends to be accepted - sociality is often achieved through by-passing the device and engaging with 'apps.' The "living lab'' of our BoP communities, where exposure to and suitability of desktop UIs is very low, provides an exciting resource that draws attention to how users seek to appropriate mobile devices for social ends in and through the device itself. This in turn can provide the basis for uncovering new better basic and innovative HCI principles that can allow these ends to be more readily achieved.
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Organisation Website: http://www.swan.ac.uk