Saturday 28 August 2010

Lab visit in Chengdu, University of Electronic and Science Technology of China

On the final day of the Sino-German Symposium on Wearable Computing in Chengdu Prof. Dongyi Chen invited us to see his lab. We drove to the new campus of the University of Electronic and Science Technology of China. Already the drive was impressive seeing the amount of building work happening in Chengdu, especially in the high tech area.

In the School of Computer Science and Engineering we visited a computer lab and got to see very interesting student projects in Prof. Dongyi Chen labs. The demos included a wireless controlled vehicle were the control is implemented on a mobile phone, industrial settings control applications using sensor nets, table top user interfaces and augmented reality applications on the table, different applications for wearable displays, and a wrist worn computer (developed from scratch).

The quality of the work by the students is impressive and so is the university campus (building and facilities). It shows a very clear determination to push science and education. We should probably talk to our government to consider investing more in research and higher education…
I hope this symposium will help us to start some more collaboration. As a next step we plan a summer school on Human Computer Interaction next year in Germany.

Friday 27 August 2010

Public Displays in Chengdu

This is a post to document the transition of public display systems around the work (hopefully there are more to follow). In the European pdnet project we investigate and develop a new communication medium based on public displays. The transformation that takes place in this domain is extremely quick, and hence I think it is interesting to keep some record on specific displays.I found it very interesting to see that there are many simple animations used in simple displays when they become digital. One example is the use of animation in traffic lights. There are two types of dynamic information: informative (e.g. showing the count-down to the next green light) and decorative (e.g. moving bicycle wheels as shown in the video).Currently there is a mix of traditional painted/printed displays, illuminated static displays, illuminated displays that change between discreet presentations and fully digital high resolution displays. The digital advertising displays in the inner city center of Chengdu are impressive. Looking at the photos it could be anywhere in world. It seems that public displays lose more and more their local character - very different from 20 years ago when they were still painted/printed in most places around the world.

Live experience - media consumption is social

Before the dinner I decided to try a Chinese massage and it was astonishingly relaxing. It is one of those reminders that there are many things we need to experience and there is just no other way (at least so far) to gain a similar understanding…

The show after dinner showed to me how much a live presentation of artistic and musical performance transmits - it is so much richer than conserved/recorded media. Take as an example the shadow play - I really enjoyed it as live performance. In comparison to 3D animation movies it has little fidelity but it still works extremely well to engage people in the live presentation. But I could not imagine that I would watch it on TV - hence we probably miss something in creating the experience when playing/presenting conserved media. I would expect there is a lot potential in creating a social situation for digital media consumption that could improve the experience.

Chinese German Symposium on Wearable Computing in Chengdu

The Sino-German Symposium on Wearable Computing in Chengdu provided an interesting opportunity to get together with colleagues in China that work on similar topics.
My talk was entitled "Interaction on the Move - Wearable User Interfaces" and look at a very high level perspective at mobile and wearable interaction. As the main objective of the symposium is to initiate collaboration I also included some slides on the other work we are doing.

Bernt Schiele looked back on his early work in 1998 at MIT with Sandy Pentland and reflected on how wearable computing has evolved. It seems than many of the scenarios that were originally envisioned are now realized on smart phones and it seems that an active usage model - people taking the device explicitly instead of having something that is always on and in their face. However looking back on some of the early visions (continuous capture, contextual support) they are still attractive and the technology may be there to realize them for real. One example of a system that could now be easily realized and may have a growing market could be a device similar to the StartleCam [1], providing personal safety services.

Feng Tian, one of the top HCI researchers in China gave an overview of their current work which I found very exciting (especially the projects related to sports and education). Hopefully there is a chance for future collaboration.

There is more information on the symposium and on the Sino-German collaboration at

[1] Healey, J. and Picard, R. W. 1998. StartleCam: A Cybernetic Wearable Camera. In Proceedings of the 2nd IEEE international Symposium on Wearable Computers (October 19 - 20, 1998). ISWC. IEEE Computer Society, Washington, DC, 42.

In the talks and conversation I saw a set of technologies I like to remember (and share) some of them:

Monday 23 August 2010

Decorative Displays in Zürich Railway Station

In the railway station in Zürich is a display that consists of 25.000 light units (=10x50x50 - by my counting). It seems that for each unit the color can be set. As there is some space between the lights one can see the "hidden" layers which makes it a sort of 3D image. So far it seems to be used only as an artistic/decorative display - or I did not get the meaning. There is also still "conventional" art in the railway station…

I recognized an interesting effect of human behavior. I looked at the electronic display for about 2 minutes and nobody took a photo of it. When I started taking the photos there were within 30 seconds 10 other people starting to take photos ;-) Perhaps we should create an application that makes this easier - consiting of three parts: (1) if someone takes a photo the photo application broadcasts this event, (2) an application running in the back ground monitoring when others take photos and records the location and (3) a page, folder or dynamic query that shows fotos for this location (and perhaps sorted by time difference to the recording of the event).

PhD defense of Michael Kuhn at ETH Zurich

Michael Kuhn defended his PhD thesis on "Understanding and Organizing User Generated Data: Methods and Applications" at ETH Zurich and I had the honor to be one of the examiners. His thesis is a prime example how solid theoretical concepts and practical applications go well together. He investigated the similarities in different domains, including people, conferences, and music. I came first across his work at Mobile HCI [1]. He has published an interesting set of papers on his work, see his page at ETH.

As one of the datasets he used which is can be freely crawled. This is an interesting resource for doing research on social networks.

As part of his dissertation project he implemented several applications. I found the following two remarkable and very useful:
  • Looking for conference based on keywords? Searching for a conference in a field? Which conferences are related? Have a look and you will find some answers.
  • a comprehensive mobile music application for Android.
PS: is another conference/publication search site - not sure how much I believe in automating the rankings of scientists - as the sites lists me with Aalborg University - and even a change request did not help to put my affiliation right ;-)

[1] Goussevskaia, O., Kuhn, M., and Wattenhofer, R. 2008. Exploring music collections on mobile devices. In Proceedings of the 10th international Conference on Human Computer interaction with Mobile Devices and Services (Amsterdam, The Netherlands, September 02 - 05, 2008). MobileHCI '08. ACM, New York, NY, 359-362. DOI=