Thursday, December 18, 2008

User study: bar-code vs. epc-rfid vs. nfc

If you are an application designer concerned about which interaction modality (barcode/epc/nfc) consumers could favor most, have a look at this study we've just conducted lately:

Monday, December 15, 2008

From devices to services

It has been propagated for long: smart things, disappearing computers, ubiquitous computing, wearable computing, pervasive computing, ambient intelligence, internet of things - various terms viewing from different the very same phenomenon - things are now longer just thingsm but have virtual counterparts that expand their original capabilities.
It has been a nice vision, which is becoming deployed now: apple has come up with iTunes, originally only selling music, but today also selling software, Google has started something similar with Android, and Nokia has started promoting their Ovi. The economist has come up with two nice articles discussing this phenomenon in greater detail.

Illustration by Claudio Munoz, The Economist

[1] Gadgets, Thinking inside the box - There is more to portable electronic gadgets than just fancy hardware, Dec 4th 2008, From The Economist print edition

[2]Nokia, Ovi go again - The world’s biggest handset-maker makes a new push into mobile services, Dec 4th 2008, From The Economist print edition

Friday, December 12, 2008

Real world meets virtual world

Today when I watching my colleague Thorsten playing with our Wii station I suddenly could observe how real-world experience can interplay with virtual feedback:

So what`s really the difference between doing sports and playing a computer game triggered through the very physical interactio? Besides the fascination about something new, it`s certainly safety, fun, and the possibility of trying something new. Real boxers will laugh about WII, but newbies get motivated to try movements they would have never done otherwise [1]. Assuming that the virtual experience might become better, the virtual characters on WII still look clumsy to me, the difference between boxing and Wii might become obsolete. Does that mean once we can acquire the same amount of information by our senses stemming from feedback systems as in the real-world, real-world activity and simulated activities in virtual worlds become the same? Does the equation total feedback = physical activity hold? What (apart from nutrition and excretion) does still stop us from moving our lives completely to virtual worlds where we can strip off our physical limitations?
At least it looks really funny watching people being engaged in virtual looks like plain activity without context [2] - and we are getting closer to the The Lawnmower Man:

[1] Mhurchu, C.N., et al., Couch potatoes to jumping beans: A pilot study of the effect of active video games on physical activity in children. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 2008.
[2] Mayra F. 2007. The Contextual Game Experience: On the Socio-Cultural Contexts for Meaning in Digital Play. DIGRA 2007 Situated Play Conference Proceedings

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Visiting the Metro Future Store in Tönisvorst

As part of the RFID courses I have been giving together with Matthias Lampe for the European EPC Competence Center (EECC) for some years now I finally had the chance to visit Metro's new Future Store in Tönisvorst.
First of all, it's a brand new hypermarket huge in size with wide alleys which makes the market quite appealing even without the 'future' label.
What attracts media and what probably is most appealing are a couple of gadgets:

  • a digital advertising column
    built of a rotating line of led's

  • a self-checkout for customer's
    reading the barcode with their
    mobile phones (as nowhere
    mentioned: which by the way
    was developed
    by Robert Adelmann of ETH)

  • download of the 'supermarket'
    ringtone via bluetooth (I wonder
    who will ever do that, but
    I might be wrong;)

  • the 'multi-component' menue -
    works without technology, based
    on color codes, one can easily
    'customize' meals based certain
    side-dishes and main courses -
    the color code helps for achieving
    I can imagine that as quite successfull.

  • the 'sound shower' removes the
    need of putting on heads when
    listening to CD's since the sound
    is directed only to the user
    standing under the shower.
    It's a quite fascinating experience.
    Just imagine what you could do
    when covering the entire ceiling
    with tiles of that system and
    combining it with indoor
    whispering anytime anywhere.

  • then there is the wine testing,
    operated through supermarket's
    member card.
    Looks nice and works well.

  • the make-up machine gives
    suggestions on products by
    virtual make-up: user's
    photo get's overlayed
    with the make-up effects.

  • the skin machine evaluates
    the user's fat in the skin
    and recommends products.
    Well...without a guided tour,
    I probably would not have
    spent attention to that machine...

  • then, there is the check-out
    which I have seen in operation
    in the US already years ago.
    It works but at least currently
    there are plenty of human
    'helpers' in place.

  • Finally, I could see the first
    'kill-tag' machine. It works but
    'interestingly, since May 2008
    only five users have ever killed
    tags' mentioned our guide proudly
    and deriving from that that users
    wouldn't care about RFID anymore.
    But why should they if in the
    current store not even a single
    product is tagged with RFID!?

Overall, it was a nice visit - just it had nothing to do with RFID as it was our course visitors' and ourselves' expectation...
Finally, the famous robot did not work either;(

Friday, November 28, 2008

What a great Ambient Intelligence application for Deutsche Bahn (German Railways)

On the way back from AmI I took the train. Since my family with me one could say we quite some significant amount of luggage with us. However, the german railways has the great rule of 'one may take as much luggage on to the train as one can carry' which we could...

However, finally we had to change trains which failed to do since a broken escalator prevented us from catching the train on time. We took the next train just 10minutes but got fined as our ticket was booked for the previous one.

Now the ridiculous explanation of the conductor: 'you should have fetched a certification about the broken escalator!' Who would have ever thought about that!?

Anyway, may be a great ubicomp killer app for the Deutsche Bahn: 'a broken escalator's automatically send's a notification to the railway's public relations office asking for permission to alter the tickets of passengers that missed a trained because of that particular escalator'. I should try to get funding for that - this time I had to undergo the process myself...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Impressions of the Conference of Ambient Intelligence 2008 in Nuremberg

Next day after the workshop the AmI conference started. It was the first time I visited this conference and indeed it was a great experience:
A great portion of the papers (especially from Philips and others from the Netherlands) talked about designing applications for the elderly - interesting, challenging topic and great for funding. In particularly I enjoyed the presentation of [1] testing an navigation aid for the elderly by means of Wizard of Oz. As people with dementia can't remember things for long the standard instructions of navigation system "in 100m turn left" don't work, since these users won't remember. Thus, short-term and rather indirect instructions based on landmarks "after bench at your left turn right" had been tested proven more successful. I guess, learnings from this paper could be valueable for designers of standards navi apps. But, GPS is definitely not accurate enough for that.
Another nice paper [2] was investigating different means of end user programming for designing interactive shop environments. The authors compared 3D simulation vs. PDA mixed reality vs. programming by demonstrations. Apparently designers preferred the 3D environment, whereas the not so technically affine retailers preferred the PDA.

In his keynote, Joe Paradiso was presenting some ongoing projects of his group at MIT media lab dealing with gateways and interfaces between real-world and virtual world (2nd life - I thought it's already dead) [3]: either power plugs, or spinner gateways allow to interact between these two worlds in both ways.

Despite the technical fascination what one can do and build, I really missed the answer to the question my Ph.D. advisor Bernt Schiele was always asking for: "What's the message, what is it good for?" Apparantely, their research methodology looks as follows: build a new sensor device, do a video and let the people think what they would do with it...

Finally, I really enjoyed the work presented by Alireza Sahami Shirazi [4] about using multiple vibration motors for providing more complex haptic feedback to mobile users. Though the work presented was rather rudimentary, the idea of having six motors embedded in a box offers great opportunities for out I imagine, such as circular rotation patterns for navigation apps. Certainly it's about eyes free instead of eye-phone...

[1] F. N. Hagethorn, B. J. A. Kröse, P. de Greef and M. E. Helmer, Creating Design Guidelines for a Navigational Aid for Mild Demented Pedestrians, Ambient Intelligence European Conference, AmI 2008, Nuremberg, Germany, November 19-22, 2008.

[2] Mark van Doorn, Arjen de Vries and Emile Aarts End-User Software Engineering of Smart Retail Environments: The Intelligent Shop WindowAmbient Intelligence European Conference, AmI 2008, Nuremberg, Germany, November 19-22, 2008.

[3] Lifton, J., Feldmeier, M., Ono, Y., Lewis, C., and Paradiso, J. A. 2007. A platform for ubiquitous sensor deployment in occupational and domestic environments. In Proceedings of the 6th international Conference on information Processing in Sensor Networks

[4] Alireza Sahami, Paul Holleis , Albrecht Schmidt and Jonna Häkkilä, Rich Tactile Output on Mobile Devices, Ambient Intelligence European Conference, AmI 2008, Nuremberg, Germany, November 19-22, 2008. Proceedings

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

AMI-Blocks Workshop @ AMI-08

What a great coincidence: after years of travelling to odd and interesting conference venues in different places all around, finally there is a event close to my home town: AMI-08

Today, I was glad to be able to present my view-point on about "Empowering users to shape the Internet of Things" as a position paper at the workshop AmI-Blocks 08 [1] organized by Fernando Lyardet (SAP Research), Erwin Aitenbichler (TU-Darmstadt), Felix Flentge (TU-Darmstadt), Wolfgang Maass (Hochschule Furtwangen) and Max Mühlhäuser (TU-Darmstadt).

My talk was well perceived and we had some really lively discussion about direct interaction with (augmented) real-world items vs. universal device as intermediaries. Whereas certain appliances, such as fridges, toasters, whatever could be powerful enough to embed computing, others are not - mobile phone could provide remote UI as a workaround. Another difference identified was that users might rather trust information from devices they own than strangers they meet.

Obviously, some participants of the workshop closely followed Marc Weiser's vision of the disappearing computer [2] and rather wanted to embed computing everywhere, such they saw mobile phones contradicting with that vision. On the opposite mobile phones are becoming the most social, most personal devices, 'married devices', being carried around everywhere, knowing a lot about users: music, calender, routines....and even Marc Weiser already talked about 'pads' and 'tabs'. It probably will be a mixture of both.

Another discussion focussed on the power of automation: whereas an enhanced coffee machine took longer for the coffee procedure than the original one, users apparently still enjoyed because of the 'experience' (this reminded me about the Roomba paper [3] mentioned a few days ago).

Thirdly, we discussed standards and had a consesus that research should avoid to get too close to standardization but we should rather think about various levels of technology augmentation at which we want to achieve applications/scenarios/inspiring visions.

[1] Fernando Lyardet, Erwin Aitenbichler, Felix Flentge, Wolfgang Maass, Max Mühlhäuser, AMI-Blocks, Workshop Proceedings

[2] Mark Weiser, "The Computer for the Twenty-First Century," Scientific American, pp. 94-10, September 1991

[3] Forlizzi, J. and DiSalvo, C. 2006. Service robots in the domestic environment: a study of the roomba vacuum in the home. In Proceedings of the 1st ACM SIGCHI/SIGART Conference on Human-Robot interaction (Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, March 02 - 03, 2006). HRI '06. ACM, New York, NY, 258-265.

Survey on mobile risk management

I recently discussed with Stephan von Watzdorf (working for our i-lab at ETH Zürich) ideas for a survey and study in the domain of mobile risk management - how people can be warned about risks and hazards in their environment.

He put together a survey – please have a look and take part!

(of course, everybody who contributes will be informed about the results)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The first robot in my home

Many keynotes and talks concerning ubicomp/pervasive computing and 'internet of things' conclude with "Sensors are only the beginning...actuators will be next...".
Indeed, we are getting there. Robots are slowly entering homes mainly lawn mowers and vacuum cleaners [1]. In [2] the developers of Roomba clearly explain why single purpose robots, e.g. vacuum cleaning, convince consumers instead of everything-else-slaves nobody can yet believe in.
Meanwhile, we bough a robot for our lab. I immediately took it home and tried it out:

My experiences completely match with [3]: Roomba does not really clean well, but it does it automatically, so who cares? It works without intervention and it's just fascinating. The device is rather dumb, which is nicely described as 'random walk': it just goes straight, turns around obstacles and wanders criss cross around the room which the instructions call 'robot intelligence to efficiently clean the whole floor'.
Anyway, Roomba is a rather cheap and robust platform. Even if its dumb, attaching a mobile phone will offer new opportunities for developing applications [4]. Stay tuned...

[1] World Robotics 2008
[2] Jones, J.L., "Robots at the tipping point: the road to iRobot Roomba," Robotics & Automation Magazine, IEEE , vol.13, no.1, pp. 76-78, March 2006.
[3] Forlizzi, J. and DiSalvo, C. 2006. Service robots in the domestic environment: a study of the roomba vacuum in the home. In Proceedings of the 1st ACM SIGCHI/SIGART Conference on Human-Robot interaction (Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, March 02 - 03, 2006). HRI '06. ACM, New York, NY, 258-265.
[4] Tribelhorn, B.; Dodds, Z., "Evaluating the Roomba: A low-cost, ubiquitous platform for robotics research and education," Robotics and Automation, 2007 IEEE International Conference on , vol., no., pp.1393-1399, 10-14 April 2007

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

EPC Basic Training at RFID Live in Prague

It was a great pleasure for me to get invited at the RFID Journal 2008 Europe event in Prague for presenting some sessions on the basics of EPC and RFID. Having done these kinds of courses for a couple of years now it's interesting to see how attitudes and interests of the audience have changed over time: whereas in the beginning, about 2005, I still had to justify the existence of RFID, today the technology is a matter of fact and people just want to find out how it works.
These were my slides (mainly based on the training material provided by the Bridge project):

1. What Is the Electronic Product Code—and Why Does It Matter?
2. The RFID Technology
3. The EPCglobal Network and Standards

Livecasting, Mobile Streaming

I just came across a couple of websites, such as,, and others with weired names. Once on the websites I desperately look for the "about" button potentially explaining what all these websites are about? I just haven t got it, but people happen to be fascinated of livecasting for quite a while:

1994 Steve Mann -
First person to transmitted his everyday life 24/7.

1996 Jennifer Ringley
—subtitled "life, online"—was a popular website from April 1996 until the end of 2003.
innovation was simply to allow others to view her daily activities

1999 Lisa Batey
Started on streaming 24/7 in 1999, continuing into 2001.

1999 Josh Harris
"We Live In Public" [10] was a 24/7 Internet conceptual art experiment created in December 1999. With a format similar to TV‘s Big Brother.

2000 DotComGuy
Combined live streaming with social networking to assist the visually challenged.

2002 Joi Ito
First to do web publishing from a mobile device.

2004 Gordon Bell
, an experiment in digital storage of a person's lifetime, including full-text search, text/audio annotations and hyperlinks.

2004 Justin Kahn, a platform for live video streaming online

2007 Justine Ezarik
of, Justine Ezarik took a different approach, often aiming the camera at herself

What do people do with all these wastes of giga-bytes?

I must confess: it's quite fascinating seeing working on my mobile phone streaming live...when...umh...I m doing exciting things... such as reading a newspaper:

But who will ever watch this? Not even myself. But it's fascinating indeed seeing working and perhaps that's already enough. Busines case is old thinking.

Here some publications I found interesting:

1. Privacy-Enhanced Sharing of Personal Content on the Web, Mohammad Mannan

2. User generated content (UGC): trade mark and copyright infringement issues, Dawn Osborne

3. Bubble 2.0: Online Organized Critique of Web 2.0 D, Travers Scott, MIT

4. Zync: the design of synchronized video sharing, Yiming Liu, Yahoo!, Berkeley, CA

5. Social Online Video Experience,JD Weisz

6. Lifesampler: enabling conversational video documentary, Ryan P. Spicer

7. Mainstream Media Meets Citizen Journalism: In Search of a New Model, R. Goh

8. Watch What I Watch,David A. Shamma

9. Streaming live media over a peer-to-peer network, H Deshpande

Monday, October 20, 2008

Wireless Communication and Information 2008, October, Berlin

A few days ago I was invited at the symposium of „Wireless Communication and Information“ which was organized by Prof. Jürgen Sieck of FHTW Berlin and the Alcatel-Lucent Stiftung für Kommunikationsforschung.

I enjoyed the forum and experienced following highlights (you find the program here):

First, when I arrived Prof. Schildhauer was envisioning a number of future mobile phone aplications. He based his visions on a number statistical trends proving the relevance of mobile phone applications. Namely he introduced the idea of last minute insurance to be booked by touching tags before boarding the airplane. For me this was interesting to see since our Ph.D. students Dominique Guinard and Tobias Ippisch have implemented a prototype that allows to extend the house-hold insurance to a new purchased item (joined work with Nokia Research).

Furthermore Prof. Schildhauer showed the power of mashing travel apps by the example of an easyjet journey. Finally he presented the prosumer, an application proactively supporting consumers in buying decisions. This was particularly interesting for me since one of the developers, Stephan Karpischek, has just recently joined our team.
In the end of his tal Schildhauer outlined the following research questions to be kept in mind when designing wireless and mobile applications:
  • Leveraging the infrastructure
  • Interoperability (e.g. comibiniation of traditional print media with digital media)
  • Understanding of users' needs
  • Designing for multiple use
  • Designing for usability
  • Setting appropriate pricing
  • Establishing of trust between service and user

The complete slide-set can be found here.

Second, I really enjoyed the talk of Henning Breuer who shed some light on mobile applications in currently implemented and being used in Japan. The image of mobile phones he pointed out " is rather a snug and technosocial tethering going far beyond the mere functionality of making phone calls". I-mode is state of the art since 1999, 3G since 2001 - which shows the state of mobile internet as a commidity in Japan.

He stated that half of the most read novels are read and also mostly written on mobile phones. 87% of KDDI (largest competitor to NTT Docomo) are equipped with GPS - which would make sense considering the streets in Japan most of the time do not have names. An interesting culture constraint I must say...

A nice idea was as a finger phone which establishes audio transmission through bone conductivity when putting the finger into the ear. Furthermore he reported that NTT Docomo has developed an audio barcode allowing phone microphones to gather geo-content via micropohones.

Then he outlined the development of micro-projectors that allow mobile users to work around with the small screen-sizes of phones.

Driven by the drasting aging of Japanese society domestic and assistive robots have become a hot reseach topic. "Sounds frightning to us but not to Japanese" according to Breuer.

  1. Finally, Breuer outlined charateristics of Japanese society in order to derive cultural differences: There is a strong curiosity for new technological gadget as opposed to European skepticism concerning faulty betas. Techno optimism and feasibility rule.
  2. Furthermore he mentioned a strongly supported politically policy towards IT.
  3. Corporate internet plices postpone private internet to commute time.
  4. Society rules rather propose to do not disturb each other which again is a strong driver for mobile phone applications.
  5. Finally the broad penetration of broad-band connectio in homes has prepared people for internet content already for a long time.
  6. Cultural factors drive adoption.
Nevertheless, despite this technological advances Japanese companies have proven rather unsuccessful in leveraging their experiences outside Japan.

The sub-sequent discussion focussed a little more on the cultural differences:
Privacy converns have a different standing in Japan: individuum is rather unimportant in the society.individualism vs. Collectivism.

Next I gave a talk on new applications for the mobile phone in a internet of things (slides are here). The talk was well perceived and we had a longer discussion how a future world of applications might look like. I replied to Prof. Sieck that I don't believe in the automation of our daily routines, instead, it should be still the human kept in the loop, owning the control and only being supported by pro-active devices and things.