Mementos: A Tangible Interface Supporting Travel
Category: Work

Esteves, A. & Oakley I. 2010. Mementos: A Tangible Interface Supporting Travel. In Proceedings of the 6th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer interaction (NordiCHI 2010), Reykjavik, Iceland, October 16 – 20, 2010, pp. 643-646. [download]

This work was the winner of the Fraunhofer Portugal Challenge 2010.

Independent travelers, in particular, are typically in unfamiliar surroundings, often grappling with unknown languages and dealing with unusual climates whilst they perform complex tasks such as navigation and the collaborative planning of spatial-temporal itineraries based on significant quantities of complex textual information from guidebooks and timetables.

The Mementos system was designed to address these concerns and bring the benefits of tangible interfaces – the physicality, the seamless integration with the environment, the support for memory, epistemic action and collaboration – to the domain of tourism and travel. By doing so, Mementos not only offers a novel vision of how digital technology can support travel, but also provides a practical exploration of the main focus on this paper: how tangible interfaces, and token-based systems in particular, can be designed to support complex real world application domains involving multiple contexts and use scenarios.

As most people do not travel alone, and in order to support the group tasks facing travelers (e.g. planning, navigating, and sharing media from their vacations) the Mementos system is composed of three separate parts: a set of tokens, a kiosk interface and a home interface.


The tokens are small physical objects intended to be held in the hand or stored in pockets and key chains. Two classes were used. One set of concrete tokens represented and visually resembled specific tourist sites. For example, such a token might be linked to the Eiffel tower and take the form of a model of this monument. The other class of abstract tokens represented more general tourist infrastructure such as a set of cafes and transportation points and appeared as neutral coin-like objects identified with graphical logos. This way, sets of such tokens can be distributed for particular locations or cities in much the same way as guidebooks are currently.

The tokens are designed to provide information related to the object they represent through non-intrusive feedback. Most significantly, this is delivered via vibrotactile cues mediated by location awareness – the tokens vibrate when approaching the location (or set of locations) they represent. Furthermore, in the case of the concrete tokens, they also respond to the proximity of transportation links leading to their location. This feedback can be silenced by touching or picking up the token.

The kiosk interface

The kiosk interface was designed as a public display showing an interactive map and capable of recognizing and responding to the tokens. Kiosks are intended to be distributed around a city and at key tourist sites. Interaction is highly constrained and based on three spatially ordered sensing zones – running from left to right in front of the display. Users can place one concrete token and one abstract token on each to visualize and communicate their plans.

The kiosk's interface

Kiosk's interface

The goal of this interface is to create simple queries relating to the kiosk location and other areas or resources of interest and transportation options between these sites. For instance, placing a concrete token on the leftmost sensing zone caused transportation information between the kiosk and concrete site to be presented (e.g. estimates for travelling time and cost by taxi, bus and foot). Adding an abstract café token to the same sensing zone causes dining options to be displayed in the proximity of the concrete site. In a similar manner, the three zones could be used to create multi-leg travel plans.

Kiosk study

Preliminary study

The home interface

The home system allows users to quickly access photos and videos taken during trips on their home PCs. Placing one of the concrete tokens used while travelling on a sensing zone attached to a computer shows the media recorded in the associated site. In this way, the tokens take on a role not only of souvenirs, but also as true keepsake objects, holders of stories and memories. Users will also be able to distribute their tokens to friends and family as a personalized way of sharing mementos of their trips.

Home interface

The home interface


The Mementos system was functionally prototyped using a range of commercially available technologies. The tokens were based on the Bluetooth based SHAKE sensor platform. Among other functions, this matchbox-sized device incorporates a vibrotactile actuator and two surface mounted capacitive sensors.

The kiosk and home interfaces were reliant on RFID technology to identify tokens; three RFID readers were used to produce the kiosk, while the home interface was based on a single reader. In both cases, low-cost touchatag readers, which use coin-sized stickers as tags, were used to develop the system. The kiosk and home interfaces were implemented in Processing and used the touchatag-processing library.

My Facebook My Linkedin My Pinterest My E-mail My RSS