Friday, 30 May 2008

Ageing, Technology, Products, Services

Today and yesterday I am visiting a conference that is concerned with ageing – looking at the topic from different perspective (computer science, psychology, medicine, economics) run at the MPI in Berlin. The working group is associate with the the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and I was invited by Prof. Ulman Lindenberger who is director at the Max Planck Insititut and works in Lifespan Psychology. The working group is called ageing in Germany (in German).

Antonio Krüger and I represented the technology perspective with example from the domain of ubiquitous computing. My talk "ubiquitous computing in adulthood and old age" is a literature review in pictures of selected ubicomp systems targeted as an introduction to non-CS people to the domain. The discussions were really inspiring. In one talk Prof. Jim-Chern Chiou from National Chiao Tung Univeristy in Taiwan (the brain research lab) presented interesting dry electrodes that can be used for EEG – but also for other applications where one need electrodes.

Antonio reported an interesting experiment on the navigation/walking performance of people. The basic message is: if you are old and you can hold on to something while walking you gain cognitive resource – if you are young this effect is not given – has quite interesting impliciations [1]. Antonio worked on more in this domain, see [2].

Over lunch we discussed some ideas related to persuasive technologies and Ulman Lindenberg hinted me some relevant authors (Bargh, Gollwitzer) and I found an interesting manual on subliminal prime on the web.
[1] Martin Lövdén, Michael Schellenbach, Barabra Grossmann-Hutter, Antonio Krüger, Ulman Lindenberger: Environmental topography and postural control demands shape aging-associated decrements in spatial navigation performance. Psychology and Aging, 20, 683-694, 2005
[2] Aslan, I., Schwalm, M., Baus, J., Krüger, A., and Schwartz, T. 2006. Acquisition of spatial knowledge in location aware mobile pedestrian navigation systems. In Proceedings of the 8th Conference on Human-Computer interaction with Mobile Devices and Services (Helsinki, Finland, September 12 - 15, 2006). MobileHCI '06, vol. 159. ACM, New York, NY, 105-108. DOI=

Friday, 23 May 2008

Impressions from Pervasive 2008

Using electrodes to detect eye movement and to detect reading [1] – relates to Heiko’s work but uses different sensing techniques. If the system can really be implemented in goggles this would be a great technologies for eye gestures as suggested in [2].

Utilizing infrastructures that are in place for activity sensing – the example is a heating/air condition/ventilation system [3]. I wondered and put forward the question how well this would work in active mode – where you actively create an airflow (using the already installed system) to detect the state of an environment.

Further interesting ideas:

  • Communicate while you sleep? Air pillow communication… Vivien loves the idea [4].

  • A camera with additional sensors [5] – really interesting! We had in Munich a student project that looked at something similar [6]

  • A cool vision video of the future is SROOM – everything becomes a digital counterpart. Communicates the idea of ubicomp in a great and fun way [7] – not sure if the video is online – it is on the conference DVD.

[1] Robust Recognition of Reading Activity in Transit Using Wearable Electrooculography. Andreas Bulling, Jamie A. Ward, Hans-W. Gellersen and Gerhard Tröster. Proc. of the 6th International Conference on Pervasive Computing (Pervasive 2008), pp. 19-37, Sydney, Australia, May 2008.

[2] Heiko Drewes, Albrecht Schmidt. Interacting with the Computer using Gaze Gestures. Proceedings of INTERACT 2007.

[3] Shwetak N. Patel, Matthew S. Reynolds, Gregory D. Abowd: Detecting Human Movement by Differential Air Pressure Sensing in HVAC System Ductwork: An Exploration in Infrastructure Mediated Sensing. Proc. of the 6th International Conference on Pervasive Computing (Pervasive 2008), pp. 1-18, Sydney, Australia, May 2008.

[4] Satoshi Iwaki et al. Air-pillow telephone: A pillow-shaped haptic device using a pneumatic actuator (Poster). Advances in Pervasive Computing. Adjunct proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Pervasive Computing (Pervasive 2008).

[5] Katsuya Hashizume, Kazunori Takashio, Hideyuki Tokuda. exPhoto: a Novel Digital Photo Media for Conveying Experiences and Emotions. Advances in Pervasive Computing. Adjunct proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Pervasive Computing (Pervasive 2008).

[6] P. Holleis, M. Kranz, M. Gall, A. Schmidt. Adding Context Information to Digital Photos. IWSAWC 2005.

[7] S-ROOM: Real-time content creation about the physical world using sensor network. Takeshi Okadome, Yasue Kishino, Takuya Maekawa, Kouji Kamei, Yutaka Yanagisawa, and Yasushi Sakurai. Advances in Pervasive Computing. Adjunct proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Pervasive Computing (Pervasive 2008).

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Tutorial von Sensor to Context und Activity at Pervasive 2008

Pervasive 2007 introduced a new form of tutorials – having a number of experts talking one hour about their special topic – I was last year as participant and liked it a lot. This year Pervasive 2008 repeated this approach and I contributed a tutorial on how to get context and activity from sensors (tutorial slides in PDF).

Abstract. Intelligent environments, sensor network and smart objects are inherently connected to building systems that sense phenomena in the real world and make the perceived information available to applications. In the first part of the tutorial an overview of sensors and sensor systems commonly used in pervasive computing application is given. Additionally to the sensor properties means for connecting sensors to systems (e.g. ADC, PWM, I2C, serial line) are explained. In the second part it is discussed how to create meaningful information in the application domain. Some basic features, calculated in the time and frequency domain, are introduced to provide basic means for processing and abstraction of raw sensor data. This part is complemented by a brief overview of mechanisms and methods for relating (abstracted) sensor information to context, activity and situations. Additionally general problems that are associated with sensing context and activity will be addressed in this tutorial.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Gregor showed the potential of multi-tag interaction in a Demo

Gregor, a colleague from LMU Munich, presented work that was done in the context of the PERCI project, which started while I was in Munich. The demo showed several applications (e.g. buying tickets) that exploit the potential of interaction with multiple NFC-Tags. The basic idea is to have several NFC-Tags included in a printed poster with which the user can interact using a phone. By touching the tags in a certain order the selection can be made. For more details see the paper accompanying the demo [1].

[1] Gregor Broll, Markus Haarländer, Massimo Paolucci, Matthias Wagner, Enrico Rukzio, Albrecht Schmidt. Collect & Drop: A Technique for Physical Mobile Interaction. Demo at Pervasive 2008. Sydney.

Paul presented our paper at Pervasive 2008

Paul presented after lunch our full paper on a development approach and environment for mobile applications that supports underlying user models [1]. In the paper he shows how you can create applications while programming by example where the development environment automatically adds a KLM model. In this way the developer becomes automatically aware of estimated usage times for the application. The paper is work that builds on our paper on KLM for physical mobile interaction which was presented last year at CHI [2]. The underlying technology is the embedded interaction toolkit [3] – have a look – perhaps it makes you applications easier, too.

[1] Paul Holleis, Albrecht Schmidt: MAKEIT: Integrate User Interaction Times in the Design Process of Mobile Applications. In: Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Pervasive Computing, Pervasive'08. Sydney, Australia 2008, S. 56-74.

[2] Holleis, P.; Otto, F.; Hußmann, H.; Schmidt, A.: Keystroke-Level Model for Advanced Mobile Phone Interaction. In: Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (San Jose, California, USA, April 28 - May 03, 2007). CHI '07. ACM Press, New York, NY, 1505-1514.. 2007.

Keynote at Pervasive 2008: Mark Billinghurst

Mark Billinghurst presented an interesting history of augmented reality and he showed clearly that camera phones are the platform to look out for. He reminded us that currently the 3D performance of mobile phones is similar to the most powerful 3D graphics cards show 15 years ago at SIGGRAPH. Looking back at Steven Feiner’s backpack [1] – the first augmented reality system I saw - can tell us that we should not be afraid to create prototypes that may be a bit clumsy if they allow us to create a certain user experience and for exploring technology challenges.

In an example video Mark showed how they have integrated sensor information (using particle computers) into an augmented reality application. Especially for sensor-network applications this seems to create interesting user interface options.

One reference on to robust outdoor tracking done at Cambridge University [2] outlines interestingly how combining different methods (in this case GPS, inertial, computer vision and models) can move location techniques forward. This example shows that high precision tracking on mobile devices may not be far in the future. For our application led research this is motivating and should push us to be more daring with what we assume from future location systems.

Mark argue to look more for the value of experience – the idea is basically that selling a user experience is of higher value than selling a service or a technology. This view is at the moment quite common – we have seen this argument a lot at CHI2008, too. What I liked with Mark’s argument very much is that he sees it in a layered approach! Experience is at the top of a set of layers – but you cannot sell experience without having technology or services and it seems a lot of people forget this. In short – no experience design if you do not have a technology working. This is important to understand. He included an example of interactive advertisement ( which is interesting as it relates to some of the work we do on interactive advertisement (there will more as soon as we have published our Mensch und Computer 2008 paper).

His further example on experience was why you value a coffee at Starbucks at 3€ (because of the overall experience) reminded me of a book I recently read – quite a good airline/park read (probably only if you are not an economist) – makes the world a bit understandable [3].
Build enabling technologies and toolkits as means to improve one’s citation count was one of Mark’s recommendations. Looking back at our own work as well as the work of the Pervasive/Ubicomp community there is a lot of room for improvement – but it is really hard to do it …

[1] S. Feiner, B. MacIntyre, T. Höllerer, and T. Webster, A touring machine: Prototyping 3D mobile augmented reality systems for exploring the urban environment. Proc. ISWC '97 (First IEEE Int. Symp. on Wearable Computers), October 13-14, 1997, Cambridge, MA. Also in Personal Technologies, 1(4), 1997, pp. 208-217,,

[2] Reitmayr, G., and Drummond, T. 2006. Going out: Robust model-based tracking for outdoor augmented reality. In Proceedings of IEEE ISMAR'06, 109--118.,

[3] Book: Tim Harford. The Undercover Economist. 2007. (German Version: Ökonomics: Warum die Reichen reich sind und die Armen arm und Sie nie einen günstigen Gebrauchtwagen bekommen. 2006.)

Opening of Pervasive 2008

This morning the pervasive 2008 conference started in Sydney. The conference hotel is in the heart of the city at Darling Habour. As in recent years the conference is very competitive (acceptance rate of about 16%) and features interesting technologies and high quality research.

The program with links to Springer-Link is available at
One presentation included a slide with a quote about the technology he created in the project – will not tell which paper/author it is. Look in the proceedings and pick your favorite. This quote seems questionable at first – but it describes the essence in the difficulty of creating new technologies ;-)

Monday, 19 May 2008

Workshop on Smart Homes at Pervasive 2008

Today we had our Pervasive at home workshop – as part of Pervasive 2008 in Sydney. We had 7 talks and a number of discussions on various topics related to smart homes. Issues ranged from long term experience with smart home deployments (Lasse Kaila et al.), development cycle (Aaron Quigley et al.), to end-user development (Joëlle Coutaz). For the full workshop proceedings see [1].

One trend that can be observed is that researchers move beyond the living lab. In the discussion it became apparent that living labs can start research efforts in this area and function as focus point for researchers with different interests (e.g. technology and user-centred). However it was largely agreed that this can only be a first step and that deployments in actual home settings are becoming more essential to make an impact.

On central problem in smart home research is to develop future devices and services – where prototyping is based on current technologies and where we extrapolate from currently observed user behavior. We had some discussion how this can be done most effectively and what value observational techniques add to technology research and vice versa.

We discussed potential options for future smart home deployments and I suggested creating a hotel where people can experience future living and agree at the same time to give away their data for research purpose. Knowing what theme-hotels are around this idea is not as strange as it sounds ;-) perhaps we have to talk to some companies and propose this idea…

More of the workshop discussion is captured at:

There are two interesting references that came up in discussions that I like to share. First the smart home at Duke University (, which is dorm that is a live-in laboratory at Duke University – and it seems it is more expensive that the regular dorm. The second is an ambient interactive device, Joelle Coutaz discussed in the context of her presentation on a new approach to end-user programming and end-user development. The Nabaztag ( is a networked user interface that includes input and output (e.g. text2speech, moveable ears and LEDs) which can be programmed. I would be curious how well it really works to get people more connected – which relates to some ideas of us on having an easy communication channels.

[1] A.J. Brush, Shwetak Patel, Brian Meyers, Albrecht Schmidt (editors). Proceedings of the 1st Workshop on “Pervasive Computing at Home” held at the 6th international Conference on Pervasive Computing, Sydney, May 19 2008.

What can we learn from legacy-free washbasins?

In Sydney I saw a legacy-free setup for washing hands in a public bathroom. I was surprised at the simple and solution with high utility! It is only a board mounted in an angle with water taps above. For typical use (washing hands under a flow of water) this is as good as a traditional setup. From looking at it, the legacy-free setup seems much easier to clean. I have never used a washbasin in a public bathroom by filling it – and I have never seen this functionality used (typically you can not use it in the lagacy way as there is not plug)… nevertheless most setups have washbasin.

Back to computing – what does it tell us? Looking at the operating systems I use, the applications and devices I see a lot of washbasin! Functionality that is never used but makes maintenance pretty expensive is a part of most of them. Looking at architecture as well as user interfaces the above example can motive to look at non-standard solutions…

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Poor man’s location awareness

Over the last day I have experienced that very basic location information in the display can already provide a benefit to the user. Being the first time in Sydney I realized that network information of my GSM-phone is very reliable to tell me when to get off the bus – obviously it is not fine grain location information but so far always walking distance. At some locations (such as Bondi beach) visual pattern matching works very well, too ;-) And when to get off the bus seems a concern to many people (just extrapolating from the small sample I had over the last days…).

In my pervasive computing class, which I currently teach, we covered recently different aspects of location based systems – by the way a good starting point on the topic is [1] and [2]. At We discussed issues related to visual pattern matching – and when looking at the skyline of Sydney one becomes very quickly aware of the potential of this approach (especially with all the tagged pictures on flickr) but at the same time the complexity of matching from arbitrary locations becomes apparent.

Location awareness offers many interesting questions and challenging problems – looks like there are ideas for project and thesis topics, e.g. how semantic location information (even of lower quality) can be beneficial to users or finger printing based on radio/TV broadcast information.

[1] J. Hightower and G. Borriello. Location systems for ubiquitous computing. IEEE Computer, 34(8):57–66, Aug. 2001.

[2] Jeffrey Hightower and Gaetano Borriello. Location Sensing Techniques. UW-CSE-01-07-01.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

A service for true random numbers

After the exam board meeting at Trinity College in Dublin (I am external examiner for the Ubicomp program) I went back with Mads Haahr (the course director) to his office. Besides the screen on which he works he has one extra where constantly the log entries of his web server is displayed. It is an interesting awareness devices ;-) some years ago we did a project where we used the IP-address of incoming HTTP-requests to guess who the visitors are and to show their web pages on an awareness display [1], [2]. Looking back at web visitors works very well in an academic context and with request out of larger companies where one can expect that information is available on the web. Perhaps we should revisit the work and look how we can push this further given the new possibilities in the web.

The web-server Mads has in his office is pretty cool – it provides true random numbers – based on atmospheric noise picked up with 3 real radios (I saw them)! Have a look at the service for yourself: It provides an HTTP interface to use those numbers in your own applications. I would not have though of a web service to provide random numbers – but thinking a little more it makes a lot of sense…

[1] Schmidt, A. and Gellersen, H. 2001. Visitor awareness in the web. In Proceedings of the 10th international Conference on World Wide Web (Hong Kong, Hong Kong, May 01 - 05, 2001). WWW '01. ACM, New York, NY, 745-753. DOI=

[2] Gellersen, H. and Schmidt, A. 2002. Look who's visiting: supporting visitor awareness in the web. Int. J. Hum.-Comput. Stud. 56, 1 (Jan. 2002), 25-46. DOI=

Mobile Physical Interaction in the Wild

The parking meter is some streets of Dublin are an interesting example of an interface following the basic idea of physical mobile interaction. As you see from the manual sticker – the first part is on the mobile phone: you call a number and then provide the place in which you are (by typing in a number). The second part is then on the ticket machine – till you get the print out. The amazing thing was I really saw people using it!

The user interface design is interesting as they use on the phone typical phone interaction (basically dialing an number) and keep the interaction with the ticket machine the same (except there is no need to insert coins) as it was before. But looking at some work we did in the PERCI project with DoCoMo in Munich we can tell that this is just the initial state of physical mobile interaction [1] – it can be expected that this will become more common!

[1] Broll, G., Siorpaes, S., Rukzio, E., Paolucci, M., Hamard, J., Wagner, M., and Schmidt, A. 2007. Supporting Mobile Service Usage through Physical Mobile Interaction. In Proceedings of the Fifth IEEE international Conference on Pervasive Computing and Communications (March 19 - 23, 2007). PERCOM. IEEE Computer Society, Washington, DC, 262-271. DOI=

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Why are not more people studying computer science?

Wherever I meet with companies at the moment one of the first questions is “do you have good students – we need people…”. It seems good computer science skills are useful ;-) However to me it is not clear why so few people go into this field. Here is my favorite short list what you should have to study CS: (1) you are creative; (2) you are communicative; (3) you solve problems systematically; (4) you have an ability to generalize.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Accessibility Workshop - Implication of ubiquitous computers

In Gelsenkirchen (just 15 minutes on the train) was today a conference on accessibility “Einfach für Alle” (easy for all).

I was invited as an expert in the workshop on business opportunities for the internet of the future and of assistive technologies. The workshop was moderated by Thomas Hänsgen and the other experts were Arthur Ortega (Yahoo!) and Günther Weber (Vodafone). The discussion was very lively and I learned a lot! Some results of the discussion are online at the workshop website.

To start with everyone had the opportunity to give some statements – I had the following: (1) digital assistance will enhance the capabilities for everyone; (2) contextualizing services will increase locale interaction; (3) user generated content will help us to make the real world more accessible. See the slides with topics and examples (in German).

Monday, 5 May 2008

Booting a start-up to teach?

We made our plans for setting up a company for creating a unique learning experience more specific. Uwe Bayer from Fraunhofer IAIS used in our discussion the phrase “don’t play to run company – really run a company” - which I think describes the essences of we would like to achieve. We plan to have some detailed information (and the recruitment process) out by the end of the month. If you are a student close to finishing your studies AND you have academic skills in your subject AND you have the drive to create a start-up THEN you should contact me in the beginning of June – we look for about 20 people with IT and business background that like to take a risk!