UQ Usability Laboratory

Lab and Equipment

In 2009 we received funding from UQ's Major Equipment Infrastructure fund to perform a major upgrade of the UQUL equipment and also to equip the laboratory with portable units for AV recordings in field environments.

The core UQUL working area includes a usability laboratory with a control room and two test rooms; a briefing room for participant meet and greet, instructions, etc; and an AV programming and data analysis room. Offices of technical and academic staff and of graduates are immediately adjacent.

The "usability boutique" with the "flying wing" design. The UQUL layout is based on the "flying wing" design originally conceived in 1998 by Professor Sanderson and colleagues at the SCHIL Usability Laboratory at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia. The layout works well for cognitive engineering investigations in which human interaction with a work layout or with other people is required. We think of the UQUL as a "usability boutique" that supports cognitive engineering applications especially well.

Mirrored glass. The extensive mirrored glazing allows an unconstrained view from the control room of coordinated activity across the two rooms, which is valuable when running investigations that involve networked collaborations. (We calculated the observation and masking ratios provided by various grades of mirrored glass, and can provide advice to others on these matters. We acknowledge the help of Pilkington and G James Ltd.). When a view from the control room into the test rooms is not needed, concertina blinds can be pulled down over all glazed surfaces in the test rooms, creating a warmer atmosphere. AV can still be picked up in the test rooms and relayed to recording equipment in the control room.

AV fitout. The original UQUL fitout used Panasonic dome cameras with inbuilt, remotely controlled, silent pan-tilt-zoom-focus capabilities. The three cameras assigned to each test room can be repositioned to any of 11 locations in each test room, including a centre ceiling location to capture tabletop collaborations. The cameras are also effective in extremely low-light conditions, allowing us to simulate C2 or combat centre operations (eg submarines). Audio pickup is achieved with a sensitive pressure zone microphone in each test room that is mounted high above the glass on the control room side of the room. These microphones provide excellent audio quality without requiring participants to wear lapel microphones or encounter desk-mounted microphones. Altogether, with this equipment participants report that the AV pickup in each test room is very non-intrusive.

Equipment. Increasingly, our equipment must support investigations in the field as well as in the UQUL itself. Equipment for the test rooms includes PC and Mac computers. We have considerable field experience with battery-powered portable headcam data collection methods, which let us record people's activity. CERG's equipment inventory includes various head-mounted camera arrangements and a custom-built eyetracker for field research.

AV recording. In original fitout of the control room, there is redundant equipment for each test room that can nonetheless be flexibly configured to collect AV from test room 1, test room 2, or both. AV input can be collected onto various forms of storage media. Quad, picture-in-picture, and other vision mixing options are available.

AV analysis and editing. In our AV room, we have a wide variety of playback and editing equipment and various video analysis tools. We also have a sound generation workstation with high-end reference speakers for our sonification work.