Barrett Ens

Barrett Ens

July 28, 2017 @ 11:30AM

Leveraging Spatial Interaction for Immersive Analytics


Until very recently, most of our information processing activities have been confined to the flat surfaces of books and computer screens. However, recent research suggests that certain tasks benefit from our innate understanding of three-dimensional space. Just as our abilities for spatial memory, rehearsed motion recall and landmark-based navigation assist our everyday actions, they can be leveraged in interface design to enhance our digital experiences.

My research explores how to take advantage of these human spatial abilities for manipulating and understanding information. Maturing technologies such as augmented reality (AR), the internet of things (IoT) and wearable computing devices allow us to begin integrating computing activities into the physical world. This fundamental change in interface design will provide new opportunities to interact with smart environments, explore large data sets, and solve everyday problems.

In this talk, I will outline my past, present and future research, which intersects AR, IoT, spatial interaction and visual analytics. I will provide an overview of several design concepts and implementations that demonstrate imaginative ways to facilitate data understanding within the physical world. These projects explore the distribution of information in surrounding personal space and on surfaces in the environment; wearable interfaces for fine-scale control of virtual data representations; and a spatial interface for authoring virtual logic connections between smart objects. I will also touch on a few current projects, and conclude by proposing several future research directions for immersive analytics – in wearable computing, environmental design, and scientific data visualization.


Barrett Ens studies spatial interaction for next-generation interface design in the realms of wearable computing and augmented reality. He is currently an NSERC Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Empathic Computing Lab, recently founded by Mark Billinghurst at the University of South Australia. Barrett completed a PhD in Computer Science with Pourang Irani at the University of Manitoba. Previously, he received a BSc in Computer Science from the University of Manitoba and a BMus from the University of Calgary, where he studied classical guitar and specialized in Music Theory.

Barrett’s holistic PhD thesis work on Spatial Analytic Interfaces received a Distinguished Dissertation Award from the Faculty of Graduate Studies and a Best Paper Award from the ACM Symposium on Spatial User Interaction (SUI). A journal summary of this work, published in the Computer Graphics and Animation (CG&A) journal, was selected for presentation at a special session of the 2016 IEEE Visualization Conference (VIS) aimed at fostering interdisciplinary collaboration.

Barrett has collaborated internationally with colleagues in academia and industry, including projects with Microsoft Research and Autodesk Research. In 2015 and 2016, Barrett completed two research internships with the Autodesk’s User Interface Research Group in Toronto, and was a visiting researcher at the Media Interaction Lab at FH-Hagenberg, Austria, in 2012. He has published several papers in the proceedings of CHI, UIST, SUI and MobileHCI. Barrett has contributed to program committees for the ACM Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services (MobileHCI 2016), the ACM Symposium on Spatial User Interaction (SUI 2016 and 2017) and the IEEE symposium on Big Data and Visual Analytics (BDVA 2017).