EAGER: Spatial Awareness Through Sapient Interfaces

Project: Research project

Project Details


Spatial awareness is the key to successful orientation and wayfinding. While navigation through familiar terrain allows us the luxury of reaching our destination without guidance, unfamiliar or only partially familiar environments require the use of external spatial information, which is most often presented verbally or in the form of maps. If we were to ask a knowledgeable local person for directions the information imparted to us might point out some landmarks along the way or inform us about a structuring present in the street names (e.g., that they are alphabetically ordered). People have long exploited the capability to recognize salient objects, and to use those objects to understand a space and guide their actions. But mobile GPS-based navigation systems typically overlook our abilities in spatial knowledge construction and application. The growing popularity of such devices has resulted in an increasing dependence on individual location-action pairs (e.g., turn left here) to guide us step by step; this has the drawback of not affording an overall understanding of the spatial environment, which in emergency situations, for example, may prove harmful. With spatial information now available in a much wider array of formats, with better currency and increased fidelity, it is time to rethink how to provide spatial information for orientation and wayfinding from the perspective of creating spatial awareness, via what the PI refers to as sapient interfaces. In this project the PI will explore first steps toward this goal, by drawing on theories from different fields that contribute to our understanding of the cognition of spaces. The central research question to be addressed is: How can spatial awareness be supported by a mapping system that focuses on the cognitively ergonomic organization and presentation of spatial information? The PI will seek a systematic understanding of the factors contributing to the development of spatial awareness (e.g., object saliency), and to identify principles and derive design guidelines for mobile navigation mapping systems that focus on the cognitively ergonomic organization and presentation of spatial information. A critical part of the research will be the cross-validation of formal approaches to spatial analysis; project outcomes will include a theoretical foundation of spatial awareness that is grounded in formal spatial analysis measures.

Broader Impacts: The growing dependence on GPS-based navigation systems has negative impacts on our ability to think spatially, because current devices provide information in a manner that fails to build an understanding of spatial relations. This project will rethink the way in which spatial information is provided by such systems, so as to foster rather than impede spatial thinking and to thereby avoid spatial illiteracy in coming generations.

Effective start/end date9/1/098/31/12


  • National Science Foundation: $149,705.00


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