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Intelligent navigation system to personalise shopping trips

A ground-breaking indoor navigation system is being developed to help improve people’s experiences of a range of businesses, including supermarkets, hospitals and leisure parks.

Mobile app developer RNF Digital Innovation has unveiled the project, which will use smartphones, tablets and iBeacons, following a £500,000 grant from the Technology Strategy Board, the UK’s Innovation Agency.

A further £202,000 investment will come through RNF Digital Innovation and its collaborative project partners, the Bestway Group, plus the University of Lincoln, UK, and Aston University, who will both provide technical and research support for the project.

The grant was one of only a handful of successful applications to the £5m fund set up by the Technology Strategy Board to stimulate innovation in the UK location-based services sector.

The aim of the competitive fund is to support projects that capitalise on the increasing accuracy, coverage and speed of global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) such as GPS and other non-satellite technologies including Wi-Fi and iBeacon – which enables a smart phone or other device to perform actions when in close proximity.

The technology will have applications for a range of sectors. For example in the retail sector, indoor navigation systems would enable the user to work out their quickest and most economical route at the supermarket alerting them to offers and product updates on the way.

Computer scientist Dr Patrick Dickinson, who is coordinating the project for the University of Lincoln, said: “We are really excited to be working on this project with RNF Digital Innovation, Bestway Cash and Carry, and Aston University, who will exploit these services to enable market-leading mobile apps, and new and uniquely personalised experiences for Bestway customers.

“Shoppers will be able to use an intelligent location-sensitive app which integrates with their shopping trip. It will combine their preferences and previous shopping behaviour with information about the store they are visiting, to plan their unique experience in real-time, alert them to points of interest, resulting in a more productive and enjoyable visit.”

Rob Mannion, RNF Digital Innovation Managing Director, added: “This system will allow us to deploy and utilise iBeacons in a way never seen before, enabling the creation of a user experience far in advance of what is currently available.”

Jamil Mohammed, Group E-commerce Manager at Bestway Group, said that by embracing iBeacon technology throughout its network of UK stores and depots, Bestway will be able to offer its customers a unique retail experience.

The indoor navigation system project, including research and development, is scheduled to take place over the next 18 months.

Man using digital tablet

Posted in Research.

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What can the Twitter storm over Benefits Street teach us?

A new research project will investigate how social media can play its part in both inciting discrimination against and building understanding of marginalised communities.

The CuRAtOR (Challenging online feaR And OtheRing) project, led by the University of Lincoln, UK, will explore where and how representations of certain minority groups by government and broadcast media can lead to discrimination driven by social media.

Cultures of fear can be spread, either deliberately or otherwise, by a wide range of agents including the media, government, science, the arts, industry and politics.

Examples of this include the recent portrayal of a (seemingly) whole community of benefit claimants in Channel 4’s Benefits Street. Observations of social media discussions about the documentary highlighted high levels of antipathy, anger and abuse directed at the community portrayed within the programme.

Funded by a £750,000 grant from the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Empathy and Trust In Communicating ONline (EMoTICON) call, the research will focus on understanding how empathy and trust are developed, maintained, transformed and lost in social media interactions.

Principal Investigator, Professor Shaun Lawson from the School of Computer Science at the University of Lincoln, said: “One way of marginalising communities is by instilling fear in the general public. What is not understood at present is the interplay between traditional broadcast media, government messages and what’s happening online with social media, particularly on Twitter and Facebook.

“There are significant unanswered questions on what role online digital media can have in propagating cultures of fear and mistrust. The big question, however, is whether the outwardly vitriolic reaction to the people in programmes like Benefits Street is actually enforcing the negative perception, and if not what is really happening.”

The second aspect of the three-year project will investigate the possibility of creating alternative digital experiences that might counteract the negative effects of this kind of discrimination.

Professor Lawson said: “It’s about making people think more critically and challenge what they view as fact. We need to create the environment to foster that kind of thinking and make sure people are aware of the bigger picture. So, if a company makes a TV programme, how can social media be used to counteract certain negative kinds of messages and make people think more deeply about those issues? How we create those new experiences is what we hope to achieve through the research.”

The project will also look at how the media and emerging digital data contributes to the unfair portrayal of communities. For instance, the release of open crime data is intended to increase confidence in our law enforcement agencies, yet its effect is to increase fear of crime.

The project team, which also involves researchers from Bath, Newcastle, Nottingham and Aberdeen universities, will be investigating whether this type of data can be used in a more critical way.

Dr David Cobham, Head of the Lincoln School of Computer Science, added: “This is the latest in a series of extremely thought provoking projects undertaken by the Lincoln Social Computing (LiSC) Research Centre. LiSC is one of the UK’s leading technology research units investigating the way social media are being used and abused. The CuRAtOR project helps us understand how society can harness the power of social computing for the greater good. Given that our lives are increasingly affected and influenced by social media, this line of technology research is incredibly revealing and is absolutely essential.”

For more on the EMoTICON call, go to http://lncn.eu/uwy2

Fear definition

Posted in Research, Social media.

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Twitter tech used in award-winning garden

Expertise from the University of Lincoln has once again contributed to a win at one of the world’s most prestigious flower shows.

The Essence of Australia garden, which Dr Duncan Rowland from Lincoln’s School of Computer Science worked on, won a Gold Medal and Best in Show at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

Dr Rowland’s research into how Twitter can be used to control and affect external objects was used to regulate a water feature within the garden.

This follows the University of Lincoln’s Gold win at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2013. The unique Twitter-controlled garden, Digital Capabilities responded to live Twitter activity, enabling the public to directly influence how the garden appeared at any one time.

That project was a cross-disciplinary collaboration between academics from the University’s School of Computer Science, School of Psychology and School of Architecture together with designers Harfleet & Harfleet.

The inspirational Essence of Australia garden was designed by the Australian landscape designer, Jim Fogarty, for the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne in partnership with Tourism Victoria, Tourism Northern Territory, Qantas and leading UK tour operator, Trailfinders.

It tells the story of the Rainbow Serpent, an Aboriginal dreamtime story about a mythical creature that lived underground and created the mountains and the gorges. Visitors can ‘wake up’ the serpent by tweeting #EssenceOfAus. The presence of water in the Australian landscape is also an integral part of the design.

The garden celebrates Australian flora and contemporary design, evoking the relaxed feel of Australia and Australians’ love of outdoor living as well as celebrating the states and gardening landscapes of Victoria and Northern Territory as two key travel destinations for British holidaymakers.

Dr Rowland’s primary research interests focus on engaging in creative practice to explore the human condition via relationships with digital devices and more traditional media.

He said: “It was fantastic to see Twitter activity controlling the water feature, which represented the waking of the mythical serpent. But what is also nice on a personal level is that the curiosity-driven research I initially did on interfacing and Twitter has had such immediate utility. I began by simply turning my desk lamp on and off with Tweets and set up a Tweet-able webcam in my office window. The work developed and was then included in the Digital Capabilities garden last year.

“It’s great to be able to evidence the value of blue-sky research at Lincoln and it has been an honour to work with such well-respected horticultural talents again.”

Dr Rowland’s research is also used in the University’s STAN (Science Technology Architecture Networks) research project, which is exploring whether architecture is able to reflect and map human emotions.

The STAN garden, which is controlled by people’s responses via Twitter, consists of an articulating raw steel structure that continuously transforms itself.

It has already appeared at the Garden Up horticultural event in Sheffield and the Lincolnshire Show.

Essence of Australia garden

Essence of Australia garden

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Research presented at international computer vision conference

Two papers from academics in the School of Computer Science were presented at the world’s premier computer vision event.

The CVPR conference, which took place between June 24-27 in Ohio, is the highest-ranked venue in Computer Science.

According to Google Scholar Metrics, it is also the top publication venue in the field of computer vision and pattern recognition.

This year the University of Lincoln’s School of Computer Science was represented with two papers.

The first is ‘Gauss-Newton Deformable Part Models for Face Alignment in-the-Wild’ by Dr Georgios Tzimiropoulos and Maja Pantic.

Dr Tzimiropoulos’ research finds applications in face recognition, facial expression analysis and human behaviour understanding. In particular, prior to recognising someone’s identity or understanding his/her facial expressions, a computer program must be able to accurately detect and localise the facial parts like the mouth and the eyes, as well as track their deformable motion in video.

This very well-known computer vision problem, also known as face alignment, is a difficult one, especially when the faces to be analysed are captured in-the-wild, i.e. there is no control over illumination, image resolution, and head pose variations or occlusions. Dr Tzimiropoulos’ algorithm aims to address all of these challenging cases. A video with illustrative face tracking results can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjCSWTFBrFg

The second paper is ‘A Bayesian Framework for the Local Configuration of Retinal Junctions’ by Touseef Qureshi, Professor Andrew Hunter and Dr Bashir Al-Diri.

This focusses on the development of a probabilistic system to accurately configure the broken vessels in retinal images.

Retinal images provide an internal view of the human eye (retina) that contains forests of blood vessels. These vessels provide useful information which can be used for diagnosing several cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases.

Computer-based automated extraction of significant features from the retinal vessels can help early diagnostics of these diseases.

The correct configuration of broken vessels into trees of arteries and veins is a prerequisite for extracting significant information from the vasculature.

Touseef said: “We achieve remarkable results in the initial experiments and intend to develop fully automated diagnostic system in future. Moreover, the proposed system can be optimized for other applications such as biometric security systems and road extraction using aerial images.”

Touseef outside the conference centre

Touseef outside the conference centre

Touseef with academic poster

Touseef with academic poster

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Become an ultimate Dungeon Master through Twitter

A new fantasy videogame that will give players the power to generate their own levels through Twitter has been launched.

Hashtag Dungeon is unique, in that rather than procedurally generating its own content, the game is tied to the @HashtagDungeon Twitter account which tweets out the code that becomes a whole new level of dungeon generation.

Create dungeons yourself using the built-in dungeon editor and tweet your levels to the world, or venture through levels created by other players. Assume the role of a Dungeon Explorer or a Dungeon Master in order to create a unique dungeon crawling experience.

Developed by graduate Sean Oxspring and current Computer Science undergraduate Kieran Hicks, from the University of Lincoln, UK, the game has been compared to the original Zelda.

Sean, who is a freelance games developer, said: “I had the original idea to create a dungeon crawler from tweets – relating letters to items in rooms. Together with Kieran and Dr Patrick Dickinson in the School of Computer Science we refined the idea and it became a collaborative design tool. Dungeons are made up of combinations of tweets with the same hashtag identifiers. I’m astounded by the feedback we’ve had so far.”

Called a roguelike, Hashtag Dungeon is a sub-genre of role-playing video games, characterized by random level generation, tile-based graphics and permanent death.

The game challenges players to clear every room in a dungeon before taking down a final bad guy, and also allows users to create their own dungeons.

By tweeting code tagged as #HashtagDungeon, players can add new content in the form of rooms filled with monsters, traps and other content. All tagged tweets will automatically be uploaded within the game.

For those whose coding skills may be more basic, Hashtag Dungeon includes an editor option where players can build rooms by dragging and dropping elements and tweeting the results.

Kieran said: “I wanted to create a game that focussed on social integration and user creativity and expression. Using twitter as the means to generate dungeons helps to accomplish this. The whole game is built to be as social as possible; the room design system has a lot of depth to it to allow players to feel like they have control and can make design decisions. The idea now is to follow in the footsteps of games like Minecraft and Don’t Starve by adding content to the game over time based on player feedback.”

Dr Dickinson added: “Hashtag Dungeon is a unique concept which leverages social media in a very interesting way. Kieran and Sean have worked really hard in bringing this project to fruition, and the game is getting better and better, so I am glad they are getting some well-deserved recognition.”

Hashtag Dungeon has been launched on PC devices. To download go to www.hashtagdungeon.com

Hashtag Dungeon

Hashtag Dungeon

Hashtag Dungeon

Hashtag Dungeon

Posted in Games development, School news, Social media, Staff, Students.

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