Reflecting on UIST 2021

Published in
8 min readOct 22, 2021


UIST 2021 took place virtually, with the main program on October 10–14. We had a total of 565 attendees representing 29 countries on 5 continents. We thank everyone who participated and made this year’s UIST conference another memorable one.

A screenshot of the participant statistics for UIST 2021

Of course, none of this would have been possible with the amazing 40 student volunteers! To conclude UIST 2021, we would like to share a recap written by the publicity student volunteers, Bekzat Tilekbay, Faria Huq, Kamala PT, to reflect back on the conference.

The Opening Keynote

A screenshot of the keynote session by Dr. Tessa Lau

The opening keynote was given by Dr. Tessa Lau from Dusty Robotics. Dr. Lau presented her journey that led to building Dusty Robotics, which began with the purpose of designing “Robots for humanity”. Being driven by the potential of robots to impact people’s lives, Dr. Lau was involved in the creation of several robotic systems such as robots for hospitality, autonomous mobile robots, etc. before getting into automation in construction. According to Dr. Lau, the development of Dusty began with research aimed towards understanding the pain points that the workers experience during the construction process. The insight that a sizable number of days and budget is involved in manually making each floor’s layout and fixing corresponding errors, resulted in the creation of Dusty. Dusty is a “FieldPrinter automated layout robot” that takes digital layout drawings and prints them full-sized on the construction site. In Dr. Lau’s own words, Dusty prints “Ikea instructions for construction”. As a result of automation, it was observed that the time and labor required as well as manual errors, were considerably reduced. Dr. Lau’s presentation touched upon the ethical aspects of replacing humans with robots on the construction site and its corresponding benefits, of making the construction site safer for the workers. While it felt like automation could result in loss of jobs, Dr. Lau clarified how bringing construction robots could catalyze the construction process, resulting in more construction, thereby more jobs being created. By presenting the story of Dusty’s creation, Dr. Lau showed how construction can be turned into a data-driven manufacturing process.

The Mid-conference Keynote — Ludic Design for Accessibility

A screenshot of the keynote by Dr. Manohar Swaminathan

The keynote by Dr. Manohar Swaminathan was on “Ludic design for accessibility”, which highlighted how centering “Play and Playfulness” can aid towards designing for accessibility. Dr. Swaminathan briefly presented how his mission to design for social good eventually landed him in designing for accessibility, specifically visual impairment. According to Dr. Swaminathan, current research on accessibility is more utilitarian and misses to cater to the needs of a culturally diverse population. More generally put, his claim was that solutions for disability are to be locally created, to suit the local population. As a result, his work currently addresses the visually impaired population of the global South, specifically children. Ludic design for accessibility introduces pure-play interwoven with designed-in, constructive side effects in designing for accessibility. Dr. Swaminathan’s team has been partnering with the Vision Empower Trust with the goal of introducing “Computational Thinking for Children for the Blind across India”. One of the projects that Dr. Swaminathan presented was Ludic Design for Numeracy, where he showed how the Ludic Design methodology can be implemented in a Numeracy game. By showcasing examples and video clips from various studies conducted by his team, Dr. Swaminathan demonstrated how impactful and fulfilling can Ludic Design be, in enabling learning for visually impaired children. In concluding with reflections, Dr. Swaminathan’s presentation accentuated how “Local innovation and creativity” is the core of the Ludic design approach.

The Closing Keynote — More Human HCI

A screenshot of the keynote by Dr. Melody Ivory

This year’s closing keynote titled “More human HCI” was given by Dr. Melody Ivory, where she discussed the intersection of Tech harmony and Tech harm. Making it interactive from the start, Dr. Ivory posed questions to the attendees, regarding different harms that have been experienced with tech products which eventually segued into a detailed description of Tech harms and its categories. Based on an online research study, Dr. Ivory and her team developed the ACE (A: Awareness, C: Concern, E: Expertise) map, which categorizes people based on their archetypes. To elaborate, Dr. Ivory showed how the level of awareness on tech harms, expression of concern (or lack of) regarding the same, and expertise (domain knowledge) can result in the development of archetypes namely Sleeper, Newbie, Practitioner, Budding Pro, Specialist, and Generalist. Showcasing statistical evidence and quotes gathered from the research study, Dr. Ivory’s presentation emphasized the impact of tech harm. By showcasing the CARE (C: Concerned, A: Aware, R: Responsive, E: Engaged) the Tech Diamond and REBELS (R: Refocus, E: Evaluate, B: Block, E: Engineer, L: Look, S: Solve) frameworks, Dr. Ivory discussed ways in which we, as designers and researchers can intervene, in mitigating Tech harm. By re-reframing Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) as Human-Computer Relationship (HCR), Dr. Ivory urged us to move from the current transactional HCI to “more human HCI”.

Visions — Ken Hinckley (Faria)

This year, the UIST Vision talk was given by Dr. Ken Hinckley on- The “Seen but Unnoticed” Vocabulary of Natural Touch: Revolutionizing Direct Interaction with Our Devices and One Another. This UIST Vision argues that “touch” input and interaction remains in their infancy when viewed in the context of the seen but unnoticed vocabulary of natural human behaviors, activity, and environments that surround direct interaction with displays. Ken Hinckley also talks about his past research projects driven in this domain on how direct interaction can encompass the full rich context of individual use (whether via touch, sensors, or in combination with other modalities), as well as a collaborative activity where people are engaged in local (co-located), remote (telepresent), and hybrid work.

The Lasting Impact Award

KinectFusion enables a user holding and moving a standard Kinect camera to rapidly create detailed 3D reconstructions of an indoor scene.

The Lasting Impact Award was given to KinectFusion: Real-time 3D Reconstruction and Interaction Using a Moving Depth Camera (UIST 2011)(Shahram Izadi et al.) in recognition of its pioneering explorations of real-time 3D reconstruction using standard devices.

KinectFusion enables a user to hold and move a standard Kinect camera to rapidly create detailed 3D reconstructions of an indoor scene. Only the depth data from Kinect is used to track the 3D pose of the sensor and reconstruct, geometrically precise, 3D models of the physical scene in real-time.

Best Paper Awards & Honorable Mentions

The most notable research highlights of the UIST 2021 are as follows.

In total, there were 3 Best Papers and 3 Honorable Mentions. The Best Paper Awards were given to Altering Perceived Softness of Real Rigid Objects by Restricting Fingerpad Deformation by Yujie Tao et al. for introducing a haptic device that can change the perceived softness of objects and still let directly touch it and feel. Next up, the paper SoundsRide: Affordance-Synchronized Music Mixing for In-Car Audio Augmented Reality Mohamed Kari et al. was awarded for its real-time music mixer for in-car audio that is synchronized to what is happening along the road. Lastly, Philip Guo’s Ten Million Users and Ten Years Later: Python Tutor’s Design Guidelines for Building Scalable and Sustainable Research Software in Academia received the award by presenting ten guidelines for maintenance and further development of Research Software that were obtained from popular code visualization tool PythonTutor.

Demo & Poster Highlights

Demos and Poster sessions were held in the first two days of the conference throughout three different time zones and the winners were announced in the Closing Ceremony. The paper entitled “Altering Perceived Softness of Real Rigid Objects by Restricting Fingerpad Deformation” by Yujie Tao et al was awarded the Best Demo Award. The honorable mentions were given to Demonstrating Trusscillator: a System for Fabricating Human-Scale Human-Powered Oscillating Devices and OpenNFCSense: Open-Source Library for NFCSense. The People’s choice award was given to Demonstrating DextrEMS: Achieving Dexterity in Electrical Muscle Stimulation by Combining it with Brakes.

Student Innovation Contest (SIC)

The Student Innovation Contest was held in the first two days of the conference and the winners were announced in the Closing Ceremony. Swarm Fabrication: Reconfigurable 3D Printers and Drawing Plotters Made of Swarm Robots by Hiroki Kaimoto et al was awarded the Best SIC Award. The honorable mention was given to BirdsEye: Breaking Out of the Twitter Echo Chamber With a Multi-Robot Interface. In the Peoples’ Choice award section, the best award was given to LineUp: Projection-based AR Language Learning System, and the honorable mention was given to Inter-Reality Robot Interactions.

Social Highlights

There were multiple social events introduced in UIST 2021 that fostered communication between all levels of UIST attendees. There were dedicated Social Hours events hosted on who2chat, ohyay, and zoom. There were some social events of specific subtopics as well. Such as XR Social Meetup, UIST Haptics, and Fabrication Research Lunch, Ask me anything. Attendees also interacted over zoom by sharing their UIST stories and photographs. There was also a scavenger hunt program and seven attendees won the badge of awesome attendees after finishing these tasks.

On to 2022!

Now, we are officially done with UIST 2021. Please stay tuned as more details of the 2022 conference will come. Thank you again to all participants for the wonderful conference experience. We look forward to seeing you all in 2022!