Nokia and Intel open joint lab for 3D mobile UX research

Published by Rafe Blandford at 12:09 UTC, August 25th 2010

Yesterday Nokia and Intel announced the establishment of a joint research centre, based at the University of Oulu (Finland). The lab, which will have around two dozen researchers, will focus on mobile user experiences, with a particular emphasis on 3D experiences and technology. Likely research areas include 3D virtual worlds, 3D user interfaces and immersive gaming. 

3D virtual worlds on a 2D screen (sometimes referred to as 2.5D, think and Second Life and most '3D' games) is an area that will be explored early on. 3D virtual environments could be used to more closely link the digital and real world, an area which holds great interest for Nokia. Such environments could, in time, be global in scope, but may start as something simpler, such as as a way of controlling objects in a home automation system.

A key question will be how such environments will work on a mobile device; there are questions around how to deal with the inherent physical limitations (power, size and resource constraints), how immersive such environments can be in the mobile context where continuous partial attention is the default mode of operation, and, perhaps most importantly, how we will interact with such environments. For a truly intuitive experience i seems likely something beyond touch or simple point and click will needed.

However 3D mobile user experiences can encompass many forms: from multi-layered 3D user interfaces and immersive 3D experiences, to 'true' 3D holograms and related technology. The holographic communication technology (help me Obi-Wan!) may seem to be in a galaxy far, far, away, but is exactly the sort of area that could explored in a future research project.

At this stage it is too early to be specific about research areas or potential products. Moreover research projects do not, generally, lead directly to commercial products, but rather result in research prototypes, which form the basis for a commercial application, service or technology development program. However it is clear that both Nokia and Intel see 3D mobile experience as very important area for future product development. The work done in the lab in the next few years could result in paradigm shifts in the way we use and interact with mobile devices.

It is clear that the genesis for Intel and Nokia's collaboration in the new lab has grown out of the two companies joint activities around the MeeGo software platform. The majority of the research will be done on top of the MeeGo software platform (netbooks, tablets, handsets), using Qt based development tools and technology. However any results produced are likely to have broader applicability and could be seen in any number of platforms or products. 

The lab will also share the open philosophy of the MeeGo platform. All the parties involved have made a commitment to ensure that research is open and that results will be published on and open source basis. The lab's host, the University of Oulu, is already well known for its research in Internet experiences, 3D virtual environments and future telecommunications, which makes it an ideally suited to host the new joint research laboratory. 

As an example the Unversity of Oulu, in conjunction with a number of local companies, has and continues to develop realXtend. realXtend is an open source virtual world platform that can be used by individuals and companies to build services, content and applications running in an interconnected 3D virtual world. realXtend currently focuses primarily on a PC based usage experience, but extending this to mobile is one area that the new lab is likely to look at.

With such research labs there is always a secondary aim of creating links with local companies and research organisations (so called technology hotspots). Nokia, in the last few years, has increasingly aimed to carry out its research activities in the framework of open innovation, which calls for greater external activities and co-operation. In Nokia's case the primary driver for this has been through deep research collaborations with world-leading institutions such as the University of Cambridge. Clearly an open innovation research philosophy helps promote the creation of technology hotspots.

Technology hotspots are good for the local economy and help amplify research activities. In the case of Oulu there is already a vibrant technology ecosystem, thanks, in part, to Nokia existing research and development activities in the area. The Nokia-Intel joint research laboratory, which is receiving some government funding, will be able to both tap into this and reinforce its potential for growth.


Rafe Blandford, August 24th 2010

Further information is available in this press release and at Nokia Conversations. Additional reporting and information from briefing call and launch presentation.

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