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Annika Waern has left DSV.

It was somewhat by chance that Annika Waern got into computer science. She began to study physics, but dropped out. After helping her mother with Basic programming, she got a job at LM Ericsson working with high-level programming. She realized that she probably would need an education to get a better job. So she took leave to enter the completely new programme in computer science at Uppsala University in the early 80's.

“I stumbled into the area by chance, and it was great,” Annika Waern stresses. “I was early in, and I have been able to follow the entire developments within computers. The rest is history. But I never expected to become a scholar. When I started I was going to study for two years, and then go back to Ericsson!

From the analytical models to computer games
Annika Waern has been a researcher at SICS during the bulk of her career. It started with a PhD position in 1986 and research in analytical models. But that was too much theory and in the end she felt that the subject was almost one of "intellectual masturbation". She wanted something more connected to reality, and her focus was more on human-machine interaction and artificial intelligence.

“I worked with intelligent interfaces and agents throughout the 90's. But in the end I felt the topic to be a bit exhausted, and I wanted to change direction,” she says.

It was now that her interest in gaming was awakened. She saw how quickly her three kids took to computer games. They had some kind of innate drive - something that adults do not really understand she explains. So Annika started to be interested in games. In the early 2000s, she worked at startup company Gamefederation.

“During this time I met all the game companies - especially on the mobile side. It was great, and it was a good way to get started,” she explains.

Pervasive games
After a few years at Gamefederation the basic development work was done. Annika knew she probably was a bit "too academic" and longed to get back to research. In 2003 she came back to SICS, and eventually she became coordinator of a major EU project on pervasive gaming, IperG. Pervasive gaming is a form of mobile games that interact with the environment.

“It was a huge project with ten partners and 10 million Euros for three and a half years. We developed a method both for technology and for design solutions,” Annika Waern explains.

The visible result of the project was a book that was published 2009: Pervasive Games: Theory and Design. The book presents a method on how to work with technology and design in an integrated cycle. Annika is satisfied with the project itself, but notes that very little of the results was commercialised. Today she is a little skeptical of the existing model of EU projects.

EU requires that so-called demonstrators are created - often impressive system which is then doesn’t hold together after the evaluation. Give the money to small businesses instead and bring entrepreneurs into the projects, she urges.

Commercialisation
Annika Waern work with research that is close to applications, but she is not quite convinced that research is the best way to commercialise technology solutions. As a researcher, you sometimes create overly complex solutions she says.

The platform she developed for pervasive games has been used commercially by a startup company, Company P, a kind of spin-off from research. Her research has also helped other small businesses - like Movinto Fun - to develop their products with game ideas and design solutions.

“I will finish the pervasive games project in March. Today there are so many commercial games, so it is more important to do sociological studies than design research in this field. And design research is the strength of my research group,” she stresses.

Sweden can take the lead again
Annika Waern worries that Sweden has lost the leading position in the IT field that it had during the 80 - and 90's. But she sees opportunities to regain the lead in the rapidly emerging field of Internet of Things - IoT. It's about the increasing number of connected things around us.

“The technical platform for apps comes from the West Coast, USA. But now we have a chance to catch up, if we invest in the new field of Internet of Things. But we need both research and commercialisation - simultaneously! Companies must also take a commercial lead now, and develop technical solutions for the future, she says.

Annika points out that 3G will not handle the large volume of data the Internet of Things will bring. She argues that politicians must invest so that we can take the technological leap. The companies lie ahead - they are already thinking on the next move.

“Right now everyone assumes that the operators will build 4G so that everything works. But no one really knows how to make money from it, Annika underlines.

Computer games education
DSV is a pioneer in computer games and was among the first to offer an academic education in game development. Annika Waern is of course one of the lecturers, and she keeps a course on game analysis. It is a rather theoretical course on how to look at games with a critical eye and analyse the game from different angles. It's hard to get all students in the course to keep up, according to Annika Waern. They are good at playing and having opinions. But they are not so good at understanding why.

“This can be a good tool for students. I think it's good that game developers are taught this analytical perspective,” says Annika Waern.

 
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And what's next?
Annika Waern will leave the area of pervasive games for research on "playfulness". What she envisions is a small lab with researchers with a background in games where the emphasis will be on play and playfulness.

 

“What if all people could be street performers for a little while? Can technology encourage people to be playful and spontaneous?” she wonders.

She envisions a kind of open and interactive installations where the entire emotional spectrum can be expressed in different ways - including with the body.

Annika looks back on a long research career where she has been able to follow the development in the IT field. She recognises that she probably has worked a little bit too much the last ten years - at times she has been working “infinitely much”. Now she starts to think about the balance in life.

“I am 51 years old and think it's a wonderful age. I think better when I’m not working quite so hard. I think you can get a bit stupid if you work too much! I usually take a long summer vacation, and then I read a lot and write a little. When I come back from that, I always have new ideas, Annika Waern concludes.
 

This interview in Swedish