Friday, 29 June 2007

New German book “on everyday computing” available

In 2005 Friedeman Mattern organized a symposium at ETH Zurich on how computing impacts everyday life ( He edited a book (Die Informatisierung des Alltags. Leben in smarten Umgebungen, @Amazon) which includes versions of most of the talks. The book is in German.

I contributed a chapter to the book (draft version) on the symbioses between humans and computers. In the paper the idea of novel user interfaces that augment human capabilities and improve our ability in what we can do with technology is assessed. It is mainly based on the work done in the DFG funded project Embedded Interaction.

If you can read German I highly recommend the book. It is an interesting collections on viewpoints of pervasive computing. There is also a great chapter (the last in the book) by Friedeman Mattern himself discussing old a new visions of technologies.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

acatech workshop: object in context

It was interesting to see that smart objects / smart object services, context, NFC, and RFID become very mainstream. It seems that nearly everyone buys into these ideas now.

Dr. Mohsen Darianian (from Nokia Research, same building as Paul Holleis is at the moment) showed an NFC-advert video which reminded me on the results of an exercise we did on concept videos within an HCI-class at the University of Munich :-)

Overall it seems that acceptance and business models are of great interest and that to create them a lot of technical insight is required. The issues related to user interfaces, interaction, experience become central factors for the success of products and services.

One discussion was on the motivation for people to contribute (e.g. user generated content, write open source code, answer questions in forums, blogs). Understanding this seem crucial to the prediction whether or not a application is going to fly or not.

Besides contributing for a certain currency (e.g. fame, status, money, access to information) it seems that altruism may be an interesting factor for motivating potential users. Even if it is a low percentage within our species the absolute number on a world wide scale could be still enough to drive a certain application/service. There is interesting research on altruism in the animal world (or at the researchers page ) maybe we should look more into this and re-think some basic assumptions on business models?

Our break out group was in the rooms of the Institute of Electronic Business e.V ( It is a very pleasant environment and their link to the art school reflects very positive on the atmosphere and projects. The hand drawn semacodes were really impressive.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Workshop dinner, illuminated faucet, smart sink

I first saw a paper about a context-aware sink at CHI 2005 (Bonanni, L., Lee, C.H., and Selker, T. "Smart Sinks: Real World Opportunities for Context-Aware Interaction." Short paper in proceedings of Computer Human Interfaction (CHI) 2005, Portland OR).

Yesterday I saw a illuminated faucet in the wild - one which looked in terms of design really great (in the restaurant they even had flyers advertising the product). But after using it I was really disappointed
. It uses the concept of color-illumination of the water based on temperature (red hot, blue cold).

The main issue I see with the user experience is that the visualization is not based on the real temperature using sensor but on the setting of the tap. Hence at the beginning when you switch on hot the visualization is immediately red – even though it is initially cold :-

Conclusion: nice research idea some time ago, a business person saved a few cents for the senor and wiring, created a product with great aesthetics and a poor user experience; hence I left the leaflet with the ordering address there, don’t want to have it.

Large scale sensor network connected to public displays

The airport Köln-Bonn (CGN) has all the parking spaces monitored with a simple sensor (detects if there is a car or not) and provides displays at the entrance showing the number of open spaces and has active signage in the parking garage leading to the free spaces - additionally it is visualized above each space – probably more a maintenance functions to see if the sensor works.

(looking at the pictures I have probably parked on women-only parking spots...)

Monday, 25 June 2007

3 months have passed very quickly

Nigel, Oliver, Mike, and Andre from Lancaster University have been our colleagues at B-IT for the last 3 months. The time has passed very quickly but it was very inspiring to work together.

We worked together on a project using Bluetooth to enable implicit interaction in public spaces. We have created together an interesting demonstrator in the domain of advertising and in particular exploring the implications for targeting public adverts to customers.

Today was the last day for Mike and Andre in Bonn (so far) and we went for dinner together. Nigel will move on for the second half of his sabbatical to ETH Zurich.

To keep us challenged and busy Nigel’s son asked some of us to convert his transformer from robot to car, and as one can see on the picture this is even for Dagmar not a trivial task ;-)

Friday, 22 June 2007

Ubisense system at IAIS used in the lab

During our lab on context- and location-aware systems we have currently one task to create a novel application using the Ubisense indoor location system. We have set up a little server in C# that reads out the tag-ids and the current x,y,z coordinates and multi-casts it via UDP to several clients.

The students have to create an application that reads the tags and their locations from UDP and make use of it. One first interesting result was a heat-map, that would allow to map out the usage of the room. By the end of term we hope to have a nice set of applications.

For many students it was the first time at the Fraunhofer lab and hence they found interesting things to play with. E.g. Diana explored the PointScreen , a system developed in the division Virtual Environments at Fraunhofer IAIS. Further reading on the point screen:
Li et al. Gesture Frame – a Screen Navigation System for Interactive Multimedia and Strauss et al. : Information Jukebox – A semi-public device for presenting multimedia
information content

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Off-Topic: How defend against Cyberwar

During the last weeks there has been a lot of discussion about the vulnerability of infrastructures after the experience in Estonia. One interesting question to me is if a country will need in the future the power for cyber deterrence.

(Given the current discussions on computer security in Germany I have one option: a bot network that includes all computers in a country that are connected in the internet - could be added as an additional function in the planed German Bundestroianer ;-)

How will wasting energy be judged in the future?

Back in Bonn after my holidays I had to catch up on a few things. When I left the B-IT after midnight I was stunned by the sight of the post tower ( - as it is all lit up. Another example of a interesting and large scale public display.

However I wonder if behavior where energy is used to quite some extend (or wasted) will be judged in 20 years similar to the way we see nowadays the pollution of rivers and air that was common in the first half of the last century.