Friday, 30 March 2007

User tests and final presentations of the lab course

This week the final presentations of the lab course were due. It was really interesting to see what motivated students can achieve in just 4 weeks! The projects explored the idea of contextual ECG and students implemented the data acquisition, transmission over the network, and visualisation. The user studies showed that there is quite some potential in the idea (even though there is also still some way to go before the system is perfect ;-) We plan to publish a paper on the results of the course.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Having a digital presence after life?

An event this week reminded me that life has an end. Getting a link to a Google Map page (satellite image) where someone found his last resting place shows how far reaching new technologies have penetrated our life. This made me think about a demo I saw at Ubicomp last year ( The digital family shrine did not really relate to my cultural experience and felt somehow strange, but still very interesting and intriguing. I wonder in what form of digital presence after life will become common in Germany

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Panel on Sensor Networks – Applications are the Key

Debora Estrin made an interesting statement. The “early challenges” (the thousands or millions of randomly scattered sensor notes) do not have much applicability outside the battlefield. The new challenges are heterogeneity (specific sensors with specific capabilities) and interactivity (basically sense-making is a process where humans are involved). She made the point that the logical consequence is that dealing with data is the essential issue and statistics have an increasing role. Furthermore these new research directions make a stromg call for application driven research. With these very insightful comments she criticised a lot of the current work in sensor networks. Especially the observation that there is no such thing as a "general sensor" - it points out that concrete applications are required to make meaningful contributions, even to basic research in sensor networks research.

Best Demo Award at Percom 2007

Gregor got for our Perci prototype (Supporting Mobile Service Usage through Physical Mobile Interaction) the best demo award. So it paid off that he spend a night configuring the data services on the phones for the US networks ;-) It is amazing that it is still quite an effort to configure data services for a new provider.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Talks and Demos at PerCom 2007 in White Plains, NY

This year we (my previous group from LMU Munich) have a significant presence at PerCom. Form the 20 full papers the Embedded Interaction Research Group ( has 3, and additionally 1 of the 7 concise papers is from us. With a total of 207 submissions and an acceptance rate of around 10% this is quite an achievement for the team – and a good high point for the project before moving it to University of Bonn.

Gregor(y) Broll had the demo developed in the Perci-Project yesterday. Lucia Terrenghi and I had our talks today. And Gregor Broll, Sebastian Boring, and Raphael Wimmer have their talks tomorrow. Overall the conference has quite a diverse and interesting program, which seem to be more technical and network oriented than Ubicomp or Pervasive. The publications will be online available at the IEEE digital library or on our new publication webpage.

What can you do with a Wii controller? Use tape and connect a toothbrush and program a nice UI (fish tank) in Flash. Quite an interesting demo from Waseda University in Japan - at least the person who did the demo had really clean teeth in the evening.

Monday, 19 March 2007

PerTec Workshop in NY, Ripping off the Antenna

At PerCom 2007 ( Florian Michahelles (Auto-ID labs, ETH Zurich), Frédéric Thiesse (University of St. Gallen), John R. Williams (MIT Cambridge) and I are running the the PerTec workshop ( There is quite some interest in the topic and the range of topics is from technical to user interface and security.

In contrast to the workshop 1 year ago at Pervasive 2006 it seems that item level RFID-tagging is undisputed and that the only discussion point is when it is coming - in 6 month or 10 years. There is also still some discussion about what types of products are the first ones that are tagged – is it pharmaceuticals or cloth?

There was an interesting contribution by Paul Moskowitz from IBM, the clipped tag. It is a tag where you can physically rip off some part the antenna to reduce the read range from several meters to centimetres (see the pictures). It is really interesting that people can do a very clear and visible action to change the characteristics of a tag. The only questions that remains for me – will people trust that this really rips of the antenna? Probably yes…

The topics we discussed included security, privacy, location and RFID, end user issues, and connection of sensors to RFID, we hope to write it up in an overview article.

In the break out groups one discussion centered on the question what would we need to enable end-users to create novel applications using RFID? Further results of the discussion will be available on the workshop webpage soon.

The overall theme that emerged again and again is impact of real world constraints in RFID systems. Questions like: Can you achieve anonymity with a certain protocol? Can not be answered without knowing how it is used in the real world. Especially having recently learned a lot about data-mining (being at Fraunhofer IAIS) for me the questions of exploiting data collected in RFID systems looks really challenging.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Wearable Computing – Is it here?

10 years after I have got seen first see the crazy idea of wearable computing it appears that the technology is now really pushing into the marked. Even though one could argue whether or not this is really wearable computing (but this argument is as old as the idea of wearable computing). The last thing I would have expected 10 years ago was Bavarian Lederhosen with a built in user interface for an mp3-player. But nevertheless many challenges are still the same (integration with the aesthetics and fashion statement, durability and wash-ability, connectivity between computer and garment, integrated user interfaces) and some are nicely solved (

After Falke presented some years ago a sensor/ECG-t-shirt there was another one at CeBIT this year. It is not on the marked yet and it did not yet look fully convincing (you need to button in the electrodes). In our lab class on programming mobile systems we could use such a t-shirt. Currently we use stick on electrodes from which work really good but for the scenarios in mind having a t-shirt would be nicer.

In my recent entry on St. Petersburg I wondered about a communication glove. There was one on display – it includes only the essential (basically a speaker and a microphone) – but it enforced my opinion that creating a communication glove would be an interesting project. There were also hats with included speaker and microphones.

I was told that garments that keep warm – with active heating – are a hot topic ;-) Not fully convinced, but if projected consequently into the future it could change the way we dress completely. Want to show off you body at -20°C? Just power up the heating in your underwear a bit more and walk outdoors in your favourite summer dress without a coat. Not sure if this is the way we should push, I rather take my warm coat and save some energy. Apropos saving energy – there were interesting laptop bags with solar panels on the outside for harvesting energy.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Fraunhofer at CeBIT

“Deutschland – Land der Ideeen” – Germany land of ideas was really visible at the Fraunhofer exhibitions at CeBIT. For me having just recently joined Fraunhofer Gesellschaft I was amazed on the many research areas covered and the quality of the exhibits. Next generation MP3, interaction in public spaced, smart transport solutions, robots, micro-electronics, sensors – it is not really feasible to make a list… Our institute (IAIS) showed several exiting exhibits (see for details).

Friday, 16 March 2007

CeBIT: Context-Awareness for Novel Transport and Logistics Services

At the Fraunhofer Forum at CeBIT I had the chance to talk about future transport solutions. One of my students in Munich (Michael Müller) is working on a pro-active transport container. In the project aware-goods ( we looked into this domain already in 2000 at TecO together with SAP Research. Reiterating over the idea is really interesting as now the technology is really here – sensor network nodes are available, mobile phones offer massive processing power, there is ubiquitous data connectivity, and web service interfaces are available for many applications.

The big question is now on algorithms and software for context recognition and data mining in the collected sensor data, the integration with processes and company software systems, and the exploitation for optimising transport and logistics processes.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Business in a Nutshell, Thoughts on Patents

Thomas Doppelberger and Andreas Aepfelbacher from Fraunhofer Venture Group ( came to our lab course to teach us how to get from a technical idea to a successful business. They talked us through the essentials of a business plan, discussed common mistakes and gave us an insight how companies are evaluated and furthermore encouraged our “entrepreneurial thinking”.

After such a day and the interesting discussions with them and the students one wonders why we are not trying more often to look into the option of starting a company. Obviously not every start-up is the next youtube or second life – but without trying ideas out, there is not way in telling if the work or not.

Over lunch we talked very briefly about issues on patents and licensing. Even though the value of patents for companies is fairly comprehensible many questions remain open in publicly funded research institutions, – especially with regard to computer science. Thinking a little more about the figures they presented in the morning I wonder how the balance (over all publicly funded research in universities and non-profit institutions) between investments in securing rights (basically making patents and holding them) and income (e.g. licensing) is. Are there any figures available? Within the whole Fraunhofer Gesellschaft it is impressive to see the contribution of one development such as MP3 to such an equation.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Visitor from Finland

Jonna Häkkilä, a principle scientist from Nokia Research Center in Helsinki/Oulu, is visiting us for two days. As you can see on the pictures she enjoyed arguing with our students. She also gave a talk on her recent work. We talked a lot about the format of the course and the results are really interesting. I think getting 10 students for 4 weeks into one room (every day from 9-5) makes a lot of sense - it is amazing how quick students learn is such a setting.

Jonna was a co-author of a paper on tactile output at TEI'07 ("Tap Input as an Embedded Interaction Method for Mobile Devices"). We discussed some opportunities for a follow-up project here in Bonn. Perhaps we co-supervise a master student on the topic.

Paul Holleis from my group (he is still in Munich) is visiting, too. While walking along river Rhine we got into an interesting discussion on wearable computing. Cloth cover often the whole body - would they not be great for input?

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Broadcasting your Heart Beat

This morning the first 3 students completed the exercise part of our lab class. For the first team the basics are done and we start with the exciting part ;-)

We have different sensors that can be connected via Bluetooth to the phone (e.g. heart rate, pulse oximeter, GPS) and the task for the project is to invent a new application that makes use of sensors and creates a new user experience.

In the brainstorming session some were tearing out their hair - but it was rewarding. Some of the ideas that came out are really novel - and perhaps a bit to crazy to implement them. One example of such an idea is to create a web radio station that broadcasts the live heart beat of celebrities as an audio stream (not sure if this is the right way to fame). Other ideas centered on support for sport, exercise and mobile health.

Alexander De Luca (a former colleague from LMU Munich) was spending the last few days with us here. He helped greatly to write some code to get the Alivetec-ECG data parsed.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Zweitgeist - Meeting People While Browsing

By accident I have seen that Heiner Wolf (he was a researcher at the University of Ulm when I was a student there) has a new company - Back then in 1996 he worked on a European funded project called CoBrow - Cooperative Browsing - looking how to create a system that allows you to meet other people who are on the same web page as you are.

Since then I think that is a really exiting idea. But looking at his current work it is easy to imagine that this could really take of. It is extremely easy and looks like fun. You have your avatar (which you can customize) that can meet and interact with other avatars that are at the same web page as you are. It is not a lot what you can do - but that is the beauty!