Wednesday, August 19, 2009

At the right time at the right place: two of our Ph.D. students on google streetview

Today, there was suddenly a big hurray in our office: Stephan and Mikko were very happy that the car with the strange cameras on top they've seen in winter this year actually captured them on their way back from the cafeteria:

If you know them you can easily recognize them...

The street of our office further up, Google forgot to hide a number plate:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Visiting the Smart Factory in Kaiserslautern

I had the chance to visit the SmartFactoryKL in Kaiserslautern. It was nice to see some ideas how the smart technology from the consumers' sector slowly finds its way into production scenarios: a chemical machinery allows to autonomously fabricate soap, based on SAP orders defining colors and numbers of soap units to be produced. Various parts can be remotely monitored, or configured, e.g. via bluetooth and mobile phone. Prof. Z├╝hlke illustrated the various steps being taken from simplifying the control of machines by the control room through mobile communication in order to remove the strong coupling between worker and machine. However, the challenge in the production scenarios clearly is the lifetime of machines spanning up to thirty years - compared to the 2 year life-time of a mobile phone.
The driving vision here is the digital fab where all units can be controlled via web-servers (SEMPROM). The journey towards that vision goes via remote control (factory of bits), remote programming (factory of functions) and the real/virtual integration (factory of things - where parts of the factory could be simulated in 3D).
Afterwards we had some discussion on how these developments would effect the job market and, thus, also cause changes im training and education. There is a German project elaborating this topic.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Lost & Found - a case for the internet of things for the consumers

I just received a call from my wife when she left a suitcase in the tramway. She was busy with our two kids and only remembered the suitcase when the doors had been closed and the tram departed. Since I have the schedule of all public transport on my mobile, it was no problem for me to hunt for the tram taking some short-cuts with my bicycle. However, since I was too late to catch it I just decided to wait a few stations further down until the tram would turn and come back - that I could reason precisely from the schedule. What I did was a 'virtual track&trace' which works excellent in Switzerland since the planned schedules really match the as-is-situation most of the time.
However, the uncertainty we still had was what would happen, if the driver would detect the unattended luggage, take it out and send it to the lost&found office - we would loose a day in retrieval, as it would go there into storage room according to a defined process as my wife found out when asking at that office. Also they do not allow to communicate with the driver as this would disturb his process of driving (just imagine the communication load for all items being lost in Zurich everyday!).
Thus, wouldn't it be great, if you could initiate an ad-hoc real-time track and trace yourself of your belongings [1]? Or, if you could have a better way of communicating with other people that find your lost items and have the good mind of helping you [2]?
I'm convinced that this could be really a valuable case for the internet of things for consumers (and all that desperate people would be also happy to pay a reasonable fee for that service, e.g. keymail).
In our case: we had been lucky, the suitcase just came back with tram I reasoned from the schedule and everything was fine.

[1] C. Frank, P. Bollinger, C. Roduner, and W. Kellerer: “Objects Calling Home: Locating Objects Using Mobile Phones”, in: Proceedings of Pervasive ’07, Toronto, Canada, 2007.
[2] Guinard, D., Baecker, O., & Michahelles, F. (2008). Supporting a Mobile Lost and Found Community. In Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services (pp. 407-410). New York.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Visit from Aaron Beach

Just last week we had been lucky to listen to a talk given by Aaron Beach from Boulder university. He got in touch with me since we discussed one of his papers [1] in my seminar this spring term. In his talk he discussed the potential of mobile social networks. In particular I enjoyed his touch-me-shirt, which allows to establish facebook links once hugging a real person in real life. This is a nice example of how to bridge this two worlds. However, the problem he reported on is, that the current facebook API does not allow anymore to establish friendship links through events happening outside facebook. So the power of facebook can be sometimes frightning and can even hinder new developments.
In the interesting discussion he mentioned a nice observation: pupils in school in Boulder set their ring tones to higher frequencies (>17.000Hz) most grown-up adults, teachers, cannot hear anymore in order to continue the use of mobiles in class even if it is prohibited...

[1] Beach, A.; Gartrell, M.; Akkala, S.; Elston, J.; Kelley, J.; Nishimoto, K.; Ray, B.; Razgulin, S.; Sundaresan, K.; Surendar, B.; Terada, M.; Han, R., "WhozThat? evolving an ecosystem for context-aware mobile social networks" Network, IEEE , vol.22, no.4, pp.50-55, July-Aug.