Friday, 31 July 2009

Summer party at the chair of ergonomics in Munich

On Friday afternoon I was at the summer party of the chair of ergonomics at the Technical University of Munich. Klaus Bengler, who took over the chair earlier this year and became professor, had in his talk 3 interesting points to take away:
  1. to assess more how much does bad ergonomics costs us (from health to missed sales)
  2. to quantify the value of ergonomics in real money in order to make it comparable with other factors in product design
  3. to include ergonomics as an integral part of the development process
From my Computer Science/HCI perspective I think (2) would be top of the list - as we have good approaches to (3) but need (2) to push it and as (1) is part of (2)… It would be great to have an argument based on economics. E.g. adding tactile feedback will costs x € and it will increase the value of the product by y € - if x>y do it - else don't … still no idea how one would do this - but would be great if possible!

The researchers and students had prepared a large number of demos - mainly centered on ergonomics in the car, sports ergonomics, and mobile eye-tracking. Hard to pick a favorite but I liked the joystick control for steering a car a lot (there will be a paper on this at the automotive UI conference).

Print on demand for newspapers available at Munich central station.

It is about 15 years that I came across the idea of newspapers - printed in the shop where you buy them (sometime when I studied in Ulm). Today I have seen an advert for print on demand newspapers in the international newspapers kiosk in the central station in Munich. They have 850 titles from 70 countries available - as print on demand. The display copies had a decent quality - looked like A3 size color laser printouts - perhaps I can fetch a copy tomorrow.

I wonder how long it will take to move more (low volume papers, local supplements, etc.) to print on demand and how in the short term the split between e-ink and print on demand will be.

It was great to see in Munich so many people I previouly worked with!

Auto-UI 2009 and TEI2010 - deadlines not to miss -

Next week is the early registration deadline for the 1st International Conference on Automotive User Interfaces and Interactive Vehicular Applications (AutomotiveUI 2009) and the poster call is still open.

This year the deadline for submitting papers to TEI 2010 is much earlier than in previous years! It is the 10th of August (and was already extended)…

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Reto Wetach visits our lab... and looking for someone with expertise in pain

Reto Wettach was in Essen so we took the opportunity to get together to flash out some ideas for a proposal - it is related to pain - in a positive sense. There is interesting and scary previous work, see [1] & [2]. For the proposal we still look for someone not from the UK and not from Germany - who has an expertise and interest in medical devices (sensors and actuators) and someone who has experience in pain and perception of pain (e.g. from the medical domain). Please let me know if you know someone who may fit the profile …

Before really getting to this we had a good discussion on the usefulness of the concept of tangible interaction - obviously we see the advantages clearly - but nevertheless it seem in many ways hard to proof. The argument for tangible UIs as manipulators and controls is very clear and can be shown but looking at tangible objects as carriers for data it becomes more difficult. Looking a physical money the tangible features are clear and one can argue for the benefit of tangible qualities (e.g. I like Reto's statement "the current crisis would not have happened if people would have had to move money physically") - but also the limitations are there and modern world with only tangible money would be unimaginable.

Taking the example of money (coins and bills) two requirements for tangible objects that embody information become clear:
  • The semantic of the information carried by the object has to be universally accepted
  • Means for processing (e.g. reading) the tangible objects have to be ubiquitously available
There is an interesting and early paper that looks into transporting information in physical form [3]. The idea is simple: data can be assigned to/associated with any object and can be retrieved from this object. The implementation is interesting, too - the passage mechanism uses the weight of an object as ID.

[2] Dermot McGrath. No Pain, No Game. Wired Magazin 07/2002.
[3] Shin'ichi Konomi, Christian Müller-Tomfelde, Norbert A. Streitz: Passage: Physical Transportation of Digital Information in Cooperative Buildings. Cooperative Buildings. Integrating Information, Organizations and Architecture. CoBuild 1999. Springer LNCS 1670. pp. 45-54.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

New Power Plug in the Street - charging your e-car

Why would I write a post about a power plug? Perhaps in some years this may be so common that we do not know when the first appeared ;-) And here is my reference point for Essen, Germany.
There is a German news article about these chargeing points - there are 22 in Essen and they started sometime back in Berlin (where they plan to have 500 by the end of the year).

It looks very much like an ordinary power plug and I have not figured out how it really works - e.g. How to pay? How to reserve that parking in front of it? How to make sure that nobody unplugs may car and used my energy to drive a huge stereo? We will probably see how it works over the next months. I will add a new post when I actually see a car recharging there.

new post on the topic:

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

What do people like about navigation system?

I came across this study in computer bild - you should not cite it as it in a scientific paper as "computer bild" - is consumer paper telling people mainly which computers to buy and how to use obvious features in software ;-)

Nevertheless it is interesting and gave me some ideas what navigations systems are good for and it is another example that user needs on an abstract level (e.g. as in Maslows hierarchy of needs) could be interesting to inform designs.

If you do not read German here are the results in short:
  • 91% faster to their destination
  • 88% less often being lost
  • 88% feel saver when driving with a SatNav
  • 67% less often in traffic jams
  • 57% driving is more fun
  • 54% argue less in the car because of SatNav
If you want to cite it there is the original german press relese from BITKOM. It states that the study was based on about 500 people who drove themselfs with a navigation system sometime in the last to years. Probably there is a scientific paper with similar results...

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Visit to NEC labs in Heidelberg

In the afternoon I gave a talk at NEC labs in Heidelberg on ubiquitous display networks. Over the last year we developed and number of ideas and prototypes of interactive public display systems. We run a lab class (Fallstudien) on pervasive computing technologies and advertising together with colleagues from marketing. In another class (Projektseminar) we investigated how to facilitate interaction between interactive surfaces (e.g. multi touch table) and mobile devices. One of the prototypes will be shown as poster at mobile HCI 2009 in Bonn. In some thesis projects we introduced the notion of mobile contextual displays and their potential applications in advertising, see [1] and [2].

Seeing the work at NEC and based on the discussion I really think there is a great of potential for ubiquitous display networks - at the same time there are many challenges - including privacy that allways ensures discussion ;-) It would be great to have another bachelor or master thesis to address some of them - perhaps jointly with people from NEC. To understand the information needs in a particular display environment (at the University of Duisburg-Essen) we currently run a survey to better understand requirements. If you read German you are welcome to participate in the survey.

Predicting the future usually features in my talks - and interestingly I go a recommendation from Miquel Martin for a book that takes its own angle on that: Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely (the stack of book gets slowly to large - time for holidays).

[1] Florian Alt, Albrecht Schmidt, Christoph Evers: Mobile Contextual Displays. Pervasive Advertising Workshop @ Pervasive 2009. Nara, Japan 2009.

[2] Florian Alt, Christoph Evers, Albrecht Schmidt: Users' View on Car Advertisements. In: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Pervasive Computing, Pervasive'09. Springer Berlin / Heidelberg Nara, Japan 2009.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Visitor from Munich: Gilbert Beyer

Gilbert Beyer from Munich came to visit our lab. In Munich he is working on interesting projects that combine aspects of software engineering and human computer interaction in the group of Prof. Martin Wirsing. Gilbert participated in the pervasive computing in advertising workshop in Nara and we met there.

We discussed aspects of how to study and empirically evaluate larger and off-desktop interactive systems. Even though those systems differ significantly from desktop systems the book How to Design and Report Experiments by Andy Field and Graham J. Hole is still a good starting point.

Carting new territories is exciting and it seems that this happens currently in various areas. Historicaly it is interesting to look at Card's paper [1] for a useful design space for input devices - must read ;-). Tico Ballagas looked into a design space for mobile interaction in his PhD - also very interesting - if you do not have the time to read the thesis, have a look the book chapter [2]. Over the last year Dagmar worked on a design space for the automotive domain, which is accepted at Automotive User Interfaces conference ( and which will be published in September.

[1] Card, S. K., Mackinlay, J. D., and Robertson, G. G. 1991. A morphological analysis of the design space of input devices. ACM Trans. Inf. Syst. 9, 2 (Apr. 1991), 99-122. DOI=

[2] Rafael Ballagas, Michael Rohs, Jennifer Sheridan, and Jan Borchers. The Design Space of Ubiquitous Mobile Input. In Joanna Lumsden, editor, Handbook of Research on User Interface Design and Evaluation for Mobile Technologies. IGI Global, Hershey, PA, USA, 2008.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

DFG Emmy Noether Meeting in Potsdam, Art, Ceilings

Meeting with other researchers that run or have run Emmy Noether research groups is very different from normal conferences and meetings. The participants are across all disciplines - from art history to zoology ;-) The meeting focuses mainly on strategic, political, personal, administrative and organizational issues when starting a research career. This year we had child care organized during the meeting and Vivien came with me to Potsdam.

On Saturday night I learned that we (our galaxy) will eventually collide with the Andromeda Galaxy (but after our sun is out fuel - so I do not worry too much). Vivien found this fascinating, too. Learning more about astrophysics (looks defiantly more complicated than the things I usually do) teaches me to worry less about the immediate usefulness and direct utility of research results - also in our domain.

I am fascinated how different research can be and at the same time how similar the enthusiasm is people have for their research. By now - being one of the old guys - I co-organized two workshops. One together with Dr. Hellfeier from DHV on how to negotiate for a professorship and one with Stefanie Scheu and Rainer Hirsch-Luipold on teaching and PhD-supervision.

I talked to Riko Jacob (CS at TU Munich) about teaching computer science in school and he showed me a picture of a tangible shortest path calculator (I took a photo of the photo ;-). Perhaps I have at some point time to play with the installation in Munich.

On Sunday morning we took the water taxi - direct from the hotel peer - to the central train station in Potsdam. Christian Scholl from Göttingen (he does Art History) took some time to show us around the castle Sans Souci. After our discussion I wondered if we should consider a joint seminar from computer science/media informatics and art history - in particular ideas related to ambient media, interactive facades, and robotic buildings would benefit from a more historic awareness. There is an interesting PhD thesis on ceiling displays [1] - for a shorter version see [2]. I met Martin Tomitsch at a Ubicomp DC and I was impressed with the idea and its grounding in history.

[1] Tomitsch M. (2008). Interactive Ceiling - Ambient Information Display for Architectural Environments. PhD Thesis, Vienna University of Technology, Austria.

[2] Tomitsch, M., Grechenig, T., Vande Moere, A. & Sheldon, R. (2008). Information Sky: Exploring Ceiling-based Data Representations. International Conference on Information Visualisation (IV08), London, UK, 100-105.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Printed Yearbook - will they be replaced? Facebook with time-machine?

On the trip to Potsdam two young women sat opposite us - discussion one-by-one the pages in the yearbook of their school. The yearbook was from a school in Berlin was from 2009 and printed in highest quality - quite professional. Their discussion had a lot of forward references (what will become of people - and how they see and present themselves now). Looking back 10, 20 or 30 years after leaving school these images and texts are very interesting… There is a real value in paper that cannot be altered - here new technologies (facebook and alike) that evolve with the people are less entertaining.

Is there already a website like for social networks? An interesting feature in such sites could be a time machine. E.g. you can put in the date and you get the page as it was on that date (e.g. what friends did she have then, what music did she like, etc.) - would guess this is to come - I can hear the privacy worries already…

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Which one do you like best?

We got samples for USB sticks for the proceedings of the automotive conference - which one do you like best?

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Auto-UI Conference accepts 12 full papers and 10 notes

For the 1st International Conference on Automotive User Interfaces and Interactive Vehicular Applications (AutomotiveUI 2009) we got many quality submissions. The review process is now complete and we accepted 12 full papers and 10 notes for oral presentation at the conference. The list of accepted contributions is online at

As a number of people have asked if the still can submit to the program and as many of the rejected papers raise interesting aspects we decided to have Posters as a further submission category. We have a continuous submission process for poster abstracts till Sept 1st 2009. Earlier submissions receive feedback within 2 weeks. For details see the poster call for AutomotiveUI 2009.

If you submit somit your poster abstract during the next week, you will get the notification before the early registration deadline, which is August 6, 2009.

The registration is open and the conference is held in Essen, Mon/Tue 21 - 22 September 2009 - right after mobile HCI 2009 (which is in Bonn, just 100km away).

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Faculty meeting in Velen

Friday and Saturday we came to Velen (Hotel SportSchloss Velen) to discuss mainly administrative and strategic issues - and there are plenty. The place is amazing and I was annoyed with myself for not bring my SLR… Nevertheless I took some photos with my N95.

Such meetings highlight for me that the German scientific system is undergoing a major change - with many opportunities and risks. A lot of political constraints are pushed onto the university - many seem to be just copies of other systems that are working less than perfect (e.g. bachelor/master, research evaluation, etc.). Being optimistic and seeing the creativity of my colleagues I think we will find interesting and successful solutions.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

DIY Segway - to motivate embedded programming?

Elektor magazine features in the current issue a DIY Segway called Elektor Wheelie. The system is build around a ATMEGA32 and has obviously a lot of mechanics. For sensing an ADXL320 (acceleration sensor) and an IDG-300 (gyro) are used. Looks like a fun project - and you have full access to the software (not sure what you really would program differently, perhaps one can tune it to get faster ;-)

Perhaps it could be a platform to motive embedded programming - with clear real-time constraints, as it hurts if you fall off… Next term we are teaching digital system design and programming of microcontroller systems - should we get one for the lab? Someone willing to built it?