National Science Foundation, Grant No. 1142510, IIS, Human Centered Computing.
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Maribeth Back


Maribeth Back


Senior Research Scientist; Project leader, Mixed and Immersive Realities Group;
Project leader, Industrial Collaborative Environments (ICE) Team; FX Palo Alto


Maribeth Back's current research focuses on the intersection of virtual environments and real-world collaboration, with a bit of ubiquitous computing mixed in. She is currently the project leader for Mixed and Immersive Realities group in addition to the Industrial Collaborative Environments (ICE) team at FXPAL looking at how the interplay of virtual environments with mobile systems and sensor-fusion networks can be useful in enterprise settings. Previously, Maribeth's research focus has included smart environments (real and virtual), multi-modal interface design, ubiquitous computing, new forms of reading and writing, and interactive audio systems design and engineering. Maribeth holds a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in Computational Design.


Highlighted project
The Virtual Factory project investigates virtual and mixed reality systems for collaboration, particularly in industrial settings. In collaboration with TCHO, a chocolate maker start-up in San Francisco, we are building virtual mirror world representations of a real-world chocolate factory and its processes. The Virtual Factory's 3D environment is designed for simulation, visualization, and collaboration, using a set of interlinked, real-time 3D and 2D layers of information about the TCHO chocolate factory and its processes. In the Virtual Factory environment, users can view real-time high-definition video streaming from a number of camera viewpoints in the factory, click on a machine's "DataTab" to read its sensor status, or follow a virtual guide through a factory tour. The virtual environment imports real-time data from the sensors and controllers on the factory floor. The Virtual Factory is also multi-user, allowing remote collaboration and communication for collaborative tasks such as factory observation, virtual inspections, customer visits, employee education and training, process monitoring, and inventory tracking. The Virtual Factory is now deployed on a large display at the real-world TCHO factory, where it is in daily use. FXPAL sees this mashup of real and virtual factories as a way to enhance collaboration and communication between physical-plant operators and engineers and remote managers; for example, factories in China with managers in Japan.


Work environment and institutional setting
FXPAL (FX Palo Alto Laboratory) is an industrial multimedia research lab in Silicon Valley, with about 50 researchers and engineers. Fuji Xerox wholly owns the lab.  The lab has just moved into a new building (as of September 19th) at 3174 Porter Ave. in Palo Alto; this has given us all more space, in offices as well as group labs or shared areas.