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