Connected Nation - Interview: Mike Fraser, University of Bristol

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Mike Fraser FRSA is a British computer scientist. He is a Professor of Human-computer interaction in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Bristol.

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Mike Fraser, University of Bristol

I'm Professor Mike Fraser from the Computer Science Department and Faculty of Engineering in the University of Bristol. My research project that we are exhibiting today is Resonant Bits, and it's a project which developed out of collaborative work we were doing with magician Stuart Nolan in which we looked at all different techniques which magicians use for resonant interaction with audience members, and started to think about how we could turn those into technologies that people could use to interact in more natural, engaging ways with mobile devices.

So we have everything from a very low-tech pendulum - so a piece of string with a pin on it - which we use to illustrate the technique that we’re drawing on, which is about people’s micro-movements in their body and how we can pick up on those and exploit them; through to mobile phone apps which can detect those movements in your hand and use them to, in a very spooky way, read your mind about what you're thinking about your device, for example to select items on the screen. So, so far we've been expanding the applications we think this might be useful for; working through what areas of industry might be able to exploit these more intuitive or engaging techniques that we’re developing, and we will be looking over the next couple of years to spin those out into a new company but also thinking about how the intellectual property might get tested and licensed to existing industries.

In our research lab in Bristol we've always operated ‘problem first’. We think about where there might be a challenge and then what science we might develop which can address it. I think we're very lucky, I guess, in Bristol to have an amazing network of support - so both incubator space, entrepreneurial support, funding schemes - but also just those kind of ecosystem issues, like having a fantastic support in terms of Art and Design, SME’s, all of those kinds of things which operate out of places like the Watershed in Bristol which have been an amazing part of our infrastructure and network, to be able to create companies.

So what I would say to people who want to get involved in doing that, is find your local network first, work out what support there is available and then think about how that support might help you get from where you are to where you want to be. The Watershed have been amazing actually, in all sorts of ways for us, the Pervasive Media Studio that sits at the back is just brilliant and I spend a day of my week there. We've hosted artists in residence that have been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the AHRC, out there in our lab at the top of the hill but we’ve also spent a lot of our time as researchers down there and it's been a really great bi-directional relationship for us. They’re very supportive and really useful people, and actually we've ended up hiring each other as well, it's got to that stage now, so yes if they weren’t in Bristol it would be much poorer place in my opinion.

EPSRC have been extraordinarily dedicated and supportive of the research that we're doing and that's made every difference to our ability to have an impact on the real world. So if you wanted to me to add anything, it would be a thanks from our lab. It has been the difference between us doing nothing important and something important.