Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Some after-thoughts of an accident in the mountain in Japan

Japan is an exciting country, Tokyo a jumping city, thus, I took the chance of catching some more silence in the beauty of Nikko mountain. The weather was kind of bad, rainy and stormy, but we did not really care. Next morning when we departed from the shelter a Japanese joined us on the tour to Mt. Shirane. He was not in as good shape as we were but we could not leave him alone either. The paths had been in really bad conditions, really different from the Alps. Obviously, we were a little bit slower, therefore the Japanese was good help decrypting kanchi from sign posts.

On a very steep descend he suddenly slipped, slided down out of control and only came to stop 80m later.

He was tough guy took out a first scarfe and I helped him to get it over his 1.5cm bleeding wound on his head. I could reveal our position from the built-in GPS of my phone, gave it to my friend who continued hiking down to a spot with cellular coverage to call the rescue service. It took almost 2h until the rescuers came and got our wounded down to the valley.

Finally, we and, especially the Japanese, had been lucky, however, I spent some thoughts what could be improved and how technology help:

  1. My phone has GPS but there is actually *no* pre-installed application to query GPS location. Luckily, I managed to start a map application (Pocketmaps) that gave me the coordinates in some hidden options sub-menu. Still there is no simple way of just "send coordinate to...".
  2. Eventhough we had the coordinates the rescue services couldn't make sense out of latitude/longitude values. I still don't know why, I had the coordinates in the standard format WGS84 and the coordinates where right:
  3. My friend finally found out which number to call, in Japan it is 119. He could get forwarded and called back a few times. They also could give him an email adress where he could send images of the sign post and shrine close (to share kanjis of the sign posts he couldn't read) by his position. Today, there is no standardized emergency interface where you can send data to. We have shown some development for car accidents [1] but this sms/mms/email interface would be really required to make use of state-of-the-art technology in our pockets. Today emergency numbers are voice only.
  4. My friend accidently found cellular coverage. When I crawled up 10m back to the path to have a better space to wait, I also had very weak signal again. Couldn't we just collect locations in a public database of phone-calls being made in mountain and make that available to everybody? (Let's not discuss about full coverage, it's already worth something to have discrete locations were you can make calls - even network operators might like it and send out volunteers to measure signals). At a later stage that could be even marked in maps.
  5. Luckily, our phones had enough power. Years ago mobile phone adoption was driven by the need for safety, today that has shifted towards entertainment. However, in remote areas such as mountain it is still about safety again, eventhough the use pattern is different. Thus, couldn't the phone warn you while doing fun stuff as listening to mp3 "your phone can only guarantee you safety for ten more hours...".
  6. We both had priceplans for our phones. What happens if you run out of prepaid during an emergency call. Is there a simple way for rescue services to convice your operator to waive your limitation, I doubt it.

Our mobile devices today are far more powerful today than the landing gear of Apollo 11. Hence, let's make some effort of exploiting that not only for gaming and entertainment but for more essential applications, such as survival.

Is Japan a high-tech country?

When I arrived in Japan I suddenly remberred Prof. Schildhauer's talk who claimed that "everybody in Japan reads books on his mobile mobile. Well, I've never been there - but I had been told...". Not surprisingly that was not the case. Obviously, internet on mobile phones is common-sense but other than that it's not really all that different. Of course I encountered some interesting innovations, the toilet with integrated tap, the high-tech toilet with hot/cold shower etc.
What's also undisputable is the openness or addiction to games, that's not necessarly shot'em all but also entertaining stuff as virtual music.
I very much enjoyed the internet simulation based on ball paths displayed in Tokyo's innovation museum.

Overall, of course the availability of electronics is much higher than in Europe (see the 'electronics grocery-like booth'). Also the openess to use new devices appears to be there. It is argued that this attitude could be explained by the Shintoism which does not differentiate between lively and not-lively objects.

However, Japan is still not that technical advanced that the initial claim about reading books on mobile phones would hold, Japan is still also very traditional (as you can see on the black-board representing the digital display).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Visiting our Auto-ID Lab in Keio

After the pervasive conference in Nara I headed back to Tokyo again to visit our Keio Auto-ID Lab in Fujisawa. Besides discussing the continuation of the Internet of Things conference we started back in 2008 in Zurich, I got a nice tour and was particularly amazed to see the works on the recorder tag [1] and tag monitor, an active RFID tag mimicing a passive tag but allowing to monitoring the data-traffic between tag and reader.
My schedule was pretty packed and intense. First, I gave short talk (slides) about what we are doing in Zurich, then had the great chance of visiting a lecutre of Jeff Lawrence, global policy officer of Intel (you find a short bio here). Quite interesting, this lecture was broadcasted live to several other universities in Asia. He talked (these slides are mostly it) about policy in digital content policy. He mentioned that protection does not have to be perfect, e.g. DVD is broken but still supports a business model (the same argument also applies to anti-counterfeiting). France has passed a law against content protection - most important argument: access to internet is a human right! Intel wants to press ahead, rather lead than follow, as a tech provider for hollywood when selling technical assets: if people do not like it they do not use it at all. He mentioned the case of betamax: hollywood tried to make the producers liable. Generally, he outlined that policy always comprises different bodies: service providers, content providers, it, ce, government.
Intel's policy perspective is: everything free vs. content is king, respect intellectual proprty for right holders and consumers. Protected content but should be moveable.
Law cannot solve all problems: it's about business and not about good or bad.
Every content scheme is to be broken: only good enough to break business model...does not work against hackers - but that's law enforcement is for. Overal goals: keep honest people honest, perfect systems are not possible, commercial viability is key.
Technology goals: design freedom, low cost (no body pays for protection), world-wide availability. "Apple builds services to sell elegant devices...", Intel want's to acknowledge a diversity of sources, where as Apple is just in verticals. His final thoughts were interesting: DRM-free is the best world - but how to make money out of it?

Finally, I also could arrange a last-minute meeting with Masaki Ito who gave me a nice tour around Prof. Hideyuki Tokoda's Lab. They showed me impressive prototypes of the objsampler [2] - a pipette that records real objects one encounters over time - and the airy nodes [3] that measured the temperature in Tokyo's Shinjuki garden and focussed on simplyfying the set-up of larger sensor networks. In the end I also got to see the smart they are currently setting-up allowing to experiment with smart home environments where various items can be controlled remotely, e.g. mobile phone.
Overall, I very much enjoyed my visit at Keio and I'm looking forward to get back there for a much longer stay some time later...

[1] MITSUGI, JIN; TOKUMASU, OSAMU; HADA, HISAKAZU: RF Tag with RF and Baseband Communication Interfaces for Product Lifecycle Management, Auto-ID Labs Whitepaper, 2009, AUTOIDLABS-WP-HARDWARE-046.pdf
[2] Junichi Yura, Hideaki Ogawa, Taizo Zushi, Jin Nakazawa, Hideyuki Tokuda, "objSampler: A Ubiquitous Logging Tool for Recording Encounters with Real World Objects" rtcsa, pp.36-41, 12th IEEE International Conference on Embedded and Real-Time Computing Systems and Applications (RTCSA'06), 2006
[3] Ito, M.; Katagiri, Y.; Ishikawa, M.; Tokuda, H., "Airy Notes: An Experiment of Microclimate Monitoring in Shinjuku Gyoen Garden" Networked Sensing Systems, 2007. INSS '07. Fourth International Conference on , vol., no., pp.260-266, 6-8 June 2007

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pervasive 2009 in Nara

Toshio Iwai gave a fascinating keynote today at Pervasive 2009.
He speaker startet with a very personal introduction about his childhood and how he got motivated to start his electronic arts work: he was inspired by afterimages, animation flipbooks, punchcard harmoniums.

The speaker startet with a very personal introduction about his childhood and how he got motivated to start his electornic arts work. He spent quite some in showing the underlying concept which gave inspiration to his work: afterimages, old-style animation flipbooks, punchcard harmoniums. This was kind of slow in the beginning but really explained the idea of his Teniro-on pretty well:
The idea is that everybody can be a composer in 5 minutes - I'll have to find out sometime myself. Besides that he showed impressive visualization of music. The sound of a piano professional was captured and depicted as flowing light beams emitted from the piano as fireworks depending on speed and pitch of the sounds. A more detailed report here.
Than an interesting paper followed by John Krumm. It suggested to create random, but realistic, road-trips in order to hide personal routes requested from central routing services such as google maps. The paper spend tremendous efforts into determining realistic starting and end-points (e.g. not starting at a bridge), interpolating between waypoints for realistic accleration patterns and even creationg real GPS noise [1]. Obviously, the prove of the realisticness of the generated routes was hard to prove. There was also some discussion whether this approach really holds, e.g. what if you do an 'unusual' trip starting from a bridge, than you will be detected - couldn't you just mix routes of others?
Stephen Intille presented a solution [2] on how to save heating energy. Since programmable thermostats are rarely used (in the US) it is better to switch of heating once people are way and to heat up when they come up - which can be detected by GPS in their phones. He spend quite sometime on commute time statistics and simulating his results. However, he admitted that programmable thermostats will be still better than his rather dull approach: it does not even distinguish between rooms. He argued about persuasive approaches to convince the users to use their thermostats but that was not really shown. It is really questionable whether this lead into the right direction or just supports lazy behaviour of "don't care" and even discourages the usage of thermostats at all as mentioned in the discussion. Btw, nobody talked about remote-controlled themostats from the phone...
Jeffrey Hightower [3] presented to infer user identity from the way of using handling the remote-control. This, definitely, does not solve the world's most sever problems but can help to personalize TV recorder options and could be used to improve TV analysis, e.g. Nielsen branding today only achieves 80% accuracy. A feasibility study of 5 colleagues watching at least 1h revealed significant enough different behaviours - before/during/after button press were used as input from the accelerometer -video capture was used for ground truth. I really like the one slide summary at the start and end of the talk.
Florian Alt [4] tackled the interesting question of which advertisements people would be willing to display on their cars, see also here.
Stacey Kuznetsov [5] presented an interesting paper that prove a successful candidate of showing an idea that did not work. They tried help people to learn new activities by applying haptic feedback with vibration motors: two medium pulse, strong oscillating, single pulse. The applied blending test, auditory test of learning mandarin and visual recognition. The resuls was that low performers improve a little bit using their system...but free recall is even performed worse. Cues were seen as distracting or pulses were too intense. The lessons to aim at reducing cognitive load, adjusting intensity of pulses to individual perceptions and to add semantic meaning to cues were worthwhile even the initial idea of the authors did not work out.
Jeffrey Hightower [6] presented another paper where they investigated privacy concerns with personal sensing in a 4month study of experience reactions to sensing - people wore sensors and were asked about their reaction towards new sensors. Not surprisingly, there were no effect about barometer or accelerometer, big very against audio, because of the need to explain to others you were recording them now (in social and professional contexts: laywer-client, doctor- patient). The conclusions were to design systems with minimal invasive sensors, not rocket science, but a well written paper. In the conference there was some debate about whether the results had been defined by how the questions where asked: e.g. omitting the fact of explaining the mining opportunities of accelermoter, re-transforming of filtered audio.
Finally a paper really enjoyed [7] was on using battery free tags to measure power transitions from transient signals emitted from the powerline. This was a proof of concept paper documenting a great idea. The discussion was a little bit bizarre as revealed culture and technological differences: "But your systems is limited by range, this means it does not work if lines are build into houses' concrete or stone walls?" - "of course not, but which houses are built of stones and concrete"...
Last but not least, Mikko Lehtonen presented our paper [9] on using synchronized secrets, meaning storing consecutive random numbers on RFID tags and infrastructure to protect state-of-the-art RFID tags from cloning. The discussion was heavily focused on the random number generator which we are free to choose in our approach.
In addition to the papers there was also a demo and poster, where we also could present our car claim report system: the mobile phone as an aid in sending the details of a car accident to the insurance company [8].
Btw, Albrecht Schmidt wrote a nice report on Pervasive 2009, go here to see his paper favourites.

Pervasive 2009 just again showed me the same pattern of successful papers that has emergeed throughout the last years: come up with a new interaction technique (e.g. force sensing), display (e.g. car ads), but that's not enough. Conduct a thorough user study which reveals unexpected results (e.g. bend is more difficult than twist), do extensive testing. Of course, sometimes answering whether the underlying phenomenon is actually worth all the methodology effort of evaluating it fades away...

[1] John Krumm, "Realistic Driving Trips For Location Privacy", Seventh International Conference on Pervasive Computing (Pervasive 2009), May 11-14, 2009, Nara, Japan.
[2] M. Gupta, S. S. Intille, and K. Larson, "Adding GPS-control to traditional thermostats: An exploration of potential energy savings and design challenges" Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Pervasive Computing, May 11-14, 2009, Nara, Japan.
[3] Keng-hao Chang, Jeffrey Hightower, Branislav Kveton: Inferring Identity Using Accelerometers in Television Remote Control, Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Pervasive Computing, May 11-14, 2009, Nara, Japan.
[4] Florian Alt, Christoph Evers, Albrecht Schmidt: Users' View on Context-Sensitive Car Advertisements, Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Pervasive Computing, May 11-14, 2009, Nara, Japan.
[5] Stacey Kuznetsov, Anind K. Dey, Scott E. Hudson: The Effectiveness of Haptic Cues as an Assistive Technology for Human Memory, Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Pervasive Computing, May 11-14, 2009, Nara, Japan.
[6] Predrag V. Klasnja, Sunny Consolvo, Tanzeem Choudhury, Richard Beckwith, Jeffrey Hightower: Exploring Privacy Concerns about Personal Sensing, Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Pervasive Computing, May 11-14, 2009, Nara, Japan.
[7] Shwetak N. Patel, Erich P. Stuntebeck, Thomas Robertson: PL-Tags: Detecting Batteryless Tags through the Power Lines in a Building, Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Pervasive Computing, May 11-14, 2009, Nara, Japan.
[8] Baecker, O., Michahelles, F., Bereuter, A., Mollnau, D., Geller, F., & Fleisch, E. : Mobile First Notice of Loss: Web Service-Based Enterprise Integration of the Android Platform, Demo. In Adjunct Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Pervasive Computing (pp. 257-260). Vienna, Austria: Austrian Computer Society.
[9] M. Lehtonen, D. Ostojic, A. Ilic, F. Michahelles: Securing RFID systems by detecting tag cloning, In proceedings of H. Tokuda et al. (Eds.): 7th International Conference, Pervasive 2009, Nara, Japan, May 11-14, 2009. LNCS 5538, pp. 291–308.

Talk at ENRI

Yesterday I had the chance to give a talk about RFID at ENRI in Tokyo - the electronic navigation research institute. I gave a about RFID. We were discussion applications of RFID in airports such as baggage tracking in Hong Kong. The current base line is barcode which has read-rate of 98.2% and RFID would have to better - that's a tough baseline. However, only than handling costs will be cheaper and hopefully justify the investments. Another discussion was about active RFID tags used for freight containers disturbing the flight instruments of the air craft.

Traced by my credit card

I had a really pleasant arrival in Japan. Indeed looking into all the face-masks of custom official and police (swine disease!) looked scary. I was also a little bit worried when I had to identify myself as a potential threat admitting that I have visited the US less than 10days before. However, the countermeasures were quite funny: I received a white info slip where as the "good" ones received a yellow which, however, in the ende did not make a differences. I was neither temperature scanned nor treated differently, but I eagerly avoided to start any coughing;)

Finally, I just had to withdraw some money. For some reason both my debi-t and credit-card were always rejected - very annoying. I tried it several times at several machines. Suddenly, I received a phone call - what a surprise thanks to 3G I finally have a world-wide working phone. It was my credit card company asking me whether I would be in Japan, whow track & trace works: "Are you currently in Japan? Someone continously tried to withdraw more than 5000 swiss francs from your account...". Hmm, I had to admit that it was myself, stupid.

But the amazing thing was that they really have a real-time alert system revealing my stupid behavior on the spot: I had an order of magnitude wrong exchange rate in my mind...

That was just a big relief: if there is value you don't think about privacy!!!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

From the _Internet_ of Things to the _Web_ of Things?

Today, the term Internet of Things finally is pretty established. There is not really single historical root to be found, but its birthplace can be asumed somewhere in the early days of the Auto-ID Center [1] in the vicinity of smart things [2][3], inspired by ubiquitous computing [4] and alike. An important reference you always stumble upon is [5] from ITU - not it is the best source in the field, at least it's very popular and well cited due its publisher the ITU.
There has never been a clear definition or discussion how the Internet of Things differs from Pervasive Computing, Ubiquitous Computing, Smart Things, Ambient Intelligence etc. - all areas have many, and undefined, communalities and overlaps. Also, in the end it does not really matter, in a few decades historians may look back and come up with clear definitions in retro-spect.

What the internet is really about, as the first conference has set out in 2008 [6], is the "expansion of the internet into the real world". This "new" internet can be build upon the backbone of internet technology as suggested by [3] or [7] using DNS, TCP etc.. Just recently, one can realize another term getting established - Web of Things (good overview here [8]) - which views the very same phenomenon of expansion from a more high-level perspective of applying web technologies to controlling embedded devices and appliances by URI, HTTP, REST, RSS, etc.
Honestly, I haven't quite understood the difference between Internet of Things and Web of Things, perhaps there isn't really one except the ownership of terms;)
Anyway, let's just move on, build stuff, develop meaningful apps and let's not worry to much about how to name them. And yes, gee, I forgot, there is of course also the Web2.0 which emerges in to the real world as well being called Web3.0 then...

[1] Toward a Global "Internet of Things",
[2] Neil Gershenfeld, Raffi Krikorian, Danny Cohen: Internet 0: Interdevice Internetworking, Scientific American, 2004
[3] Neil A. Gershenfeld: When things start to think, Henry Holt, 2000 (reprint)
[4] Marc Weiser: The Computer for the 21st Century" - Scientific American Special Issue on Communications, Computers, and Networks, September, 1991
[5] ITU Internet Reports 2005: The Internet of Things
[6] Internet of Things 2008. International Conference for Industry and Academia March 26-28, 2008 / Zurich
[7] EPCglobal, The EPCglobal Architecture Framework, Version 1.3, Jan 2009
[8] Dave Raggett: Towards the Web of Things, W3C, September 2007