Monday, March 30, 2009

Auto-ID Labs Meeting @ GSMP & JAG in LA

I'm just caming back from our half-yearly Auto-ID Labs meeting. It's always great meeting the colleagues from the other labs, exchanging ideas, getting new insights into on-going work, and to consolidate the overall labs' strategy as such.
Then it was also fun presenting research results not only among us but also to key staff from EPCglobal, GS1 and end-user companies. It seems that we have inspired our audience, as I found this piece of "user-generated content" (to the right) on one of the tables after the meeting - maybe we should investigate how these art could be used as an implicit ratings of meetings...

You find an overview of on-going research and presentations here.

Another political discussion about RFID

Finally RFID is in the news again. A referendum [1] is currently being put together on the issue of RFID in the upcoming Swiss Passport. The arguments are the common ones, citation of known internet stories where different passports have been hacked, RFID wouldn't be secure and people could be traced everywhere. Let me just briefly mention that in these contexts hacking a passport mainly means to read an ID - you know I can read the entire passport by just looking at the pages, does that mean paper printing is insecure;)? Not to mention the ubiquitous tracking device in our pockets, the mobile phone, where nobody complains about.
What, however, is striking, and is independent of RFID as such, is the plan of the swiss government to store all personal data including bio-metric data in a central database. That definitely sounds threatning, however, has nothing to do with RFID! Rather the opposite: RFID allows for de-centralized data-storage and leaves much more control to the owner than reference numbers with central storages...
Why is the campaign actually using a barcode print [2] when accusing RFID!? Btw, the barcode identifies blank video-tapes, just try it out and read it with your phone using Barcoo[3].
Maybe also the approach is wrong: How would people react on the chip in the passport if they would get some discount or rebate when travelling to different countries? Privacy is sacred but easily sold for a 1% discount in the nearby supermarket. Albrecht Schmidt envisions in his recent blog [4] people selling information about their daily life, e.g. their sleeping pattern - perhaps that's not so far-fetched if the discount on the matress is alright...


Friday, March 27, 2009

Reading recommendation: The mobile connection

Recently I just read the book "The Mobile Connection" from Rich Ling [1]. It covers the usage of mobile phones from a sociologist's perspectives and underlines its findings by excerpts of interview transcripts. In particular, the book focuses on adoption of mobile phones, the usage of phones concerning safety and security, coordination, texting and teens, and the intrusive character of phones.

In the following I provide a short summary of the book:

Mobile phones provide the notion of never-alone-in-an-emergency as it significantly reduces the time needed to notify emergency services. It is an insurance against potential dangers. It also can be used as a prop - showing others that you are not alone, but connected to friends and part of a social system. Whereas the phone itself can also induce new risks, e.g. if used during driving, even hands-free does not help, people mostly focus on the positive dimensions.

The most important property of the mobile phone probably is to allow new ways of coordination, to move away from synchronization via time to direct coordination by communicating with involved parties. In the beginning of modern times clocks have been developed to coordinate religious services, later mobile clocks could be used for marine navigation and coordination of meetings. Mobile phones finally cut out the middle-man clock needed as a parallel reference system. Instead, mobile phones allow for direct communication to adjust and re-work personal schedules. The consequence is that original schedules get softened since a a call ahead a meeting allows for re-negotation, e.g. "I'll be five minutes late" or "Let's meet at corner X insteand". A clear limitation is scalability. A rule of thumb says that within parties greater eight time-based coordinated will be still more efficient due to reduced overhead of communication and finding an agreement among all participants. Thus mobile phones do not completely replace time-based coordination but make it more flexible and organic.

Mobile phones among teens - apart from serving the needs of safety and micro-coordination - are definitely used for showing off, marking group boundaries, participating in youth culture, and in marking identities. The number of phone book entries is often seen as a quantification of one's popularity.

When we talk into phones our voice becomes different from face to face communications. Our louder voice and the emission of only half of the communication into the environment is breaking into the social norms of the environment, it intrudes and simultaneously excludes the surrounding from interacting with oneself. This is often expressed by postures such as ducking and an expressive face which are used to defend the quiet space where the call is being made. This behaviour can be quiet intrusive for the environment, social codes and patterns are yet evolving.

Texting is another important communication channel allowing to keep in touch in others when voice communication might not be appropriate. In contrast to email, texting can be used immediately, does not require any log-in and can be done rather unobtrusively. The constraints, instead, are limited battery life-time, awkward keyboards, small screens sizes and the limitation to 160 characters. Texting is quick and unit-priced, one does not have to worry about the complex voice price-plans. Instead of readings books with a flashlight in bed under the blanket teens write some last messages to their friends. Furthermore, the asynchronous nature of SMS allows editing before sending, manipulation of delays, and can be even a collective activity of friend co-present in a one location. Findings from research suggest that women write longer and flourish SMS and rather plan for immediate future, whereas men use SMS to rather plan further ahead. 10% of men leave out an opening/closing phrase. Generally, SMS appears to be very suited for our nomaidc modern lifes.

Overall the books suggests that mobile phone complete the automobile revolution: as automobile allowed for flexible and independent transportation, now mobile phones as mobile communication. This allows for real-time (re-)scheduling and reliefs from stricly sticking to ahead planned/agreed appointements coordinated by time. Mobile phones turn coordination into social interaction.

The mobile connection: the cell phone's impact on society
By Richard Seyler Ling
Edition: 3, illustrated
Published by Morgan Kaufmann, 2004
ISBN 1558609369, 9781558609365

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Don't destroy the internet!

Walking through Houston I saw this remarkable sign:

Cyber Physical System is the US version of the 'internet of things'

At percom I had the chance to listen to an interesting talk from Ty Znati. It took a while I understood what he was talking about: 'cyber physical systems' [1] is in NSF-language what the EU calls 'internet of things'!

[1] NSF Workshop on Cyber-Physical Systems,

[2] From Internet of Data to Internet of Things. 28 January 2009. Gérald Santucci.

Monday, March 16, 2009

My impressions of Percom 2009

It was an interesting experience for me to finally visit the PerCom conference itself for a first time, after having organized a workshop there quite some time ago [1]. It's hard to distinguish between ubicomp, pervasive, percom and many other second tier venues - but definitely the visitors at percom seem to be much more from an networking and sensor networks background.

The conference was opened with a fabulous keynote from Gregory Abowd. He was stating the fact that more and more scientific meetings center around ubicomp which inherently bears the danger of fracturization of our community. So the difference for papers at the major venues (ubicomp/pervasive/percom) really should be focus on a variety of perspectives instead narrow focus only. I also enjoyed his statement about stopping the quest for the killer-app and yet coming up with new scenarios but rather to listen to the users and domain experts in order to recognize needs and to try to tackle those. He reminded that also Marc Weiser focuses on human activities instead of machines. Gregory predicted that we would made three thirds of the way for making ubicomp as a reality. The interesting time of today is that dreams of 15 years ago can be realized now. Finally, he came up with following guidelines for successful ubicomp research:
  • Include various disciplines - you can't do all yourself.
  • Seek out critique: who are your friends motivating you, who are your enemies evaluating you and guiding you?
  • Solving a real-world problem has the danger of NOT doing research - but it may rewarding anyway.
  • Remember ubiquity: What can you assume in your home? Start from detectable events, e.g. power noise of switches.
  • Make it matter, think about meaningful applications.
  • Passion is not sufficient (but necessary): go one step beyond honorable causes

The second day was opened by another remarkable keynote given by Andrew Campbell. He set out quite provocatively, especially for the percom audience: “Motes are dead: they not ubiquitous, suffer of power, people are out of the loop, they don't scale!”. Instead, he praised the emergence of mobile phones equipped with sensors that allow to study social relationships at a much bigger scale.
Andrew campbell
Motes are dead: not ubiquitous, power problem, people out of the loop, does not scale. He presented some examples from his own research, MetroSense [2], Bikenet [3], and Cenceme [4] - showing the capabilities of phones to detect context and to share on at larger scale. I found it striking that recognition of sitting, standing, walking - which has been shown years before [5] - now has a new quality and actually might become useful in the context of facebook. However, Andrew also had to admit that despite its ubiquity the mobile phone has not been quite build for sensing tasks, since after two hours of sensing the battery might be dead - so people could start de-installing such apps…
My question about his experience concerning adoption of his Cenceme was interesting: his students actually did not care about privacy, the off-button was an important design feature, control mechanisms of facebook allowing to grant access to friends he saw as the important features for getting it adopted. Most interestingly, Andrew himself said, he never would share sensor data about himself with others…

On the third day I was very glad of having been invited to the panel discussion about “Ubicomp is still not there, does nobody want it?” moderated by Christian Baecker. In my initial statement I said first of all we should be aware of the limitations of our research, it's not us driving adoption. If we want to do so we have to start listening more to users and stakeholders. Furthermore, it's not that bad, first devices such as Nabaztag, Tikitag, Choudy, picture frames with embedded WLAN actually show first instances of disappearing computing embedded in our homes. Cao build upon that and fostered the need for contuining research in systems that scale. Ty Zanati highlighted the need of understanding the nature of applications, focus on interoperability, privacy, and the seek for standards. Finally, Andrew Campbell was provoking again with questioning a common identity of the community: What defines us? Technology is still visible, what is our achievement, we need an identity. Then the discussion focused much about the prominent role of mobile phones: great platform and large scale adopted ubicomp device on the one hand but bearing the danger of occluding non-human related ubicomp apps on the other hand. After having a really appreciated discussion about that topic, Stephe Ward finally made a nice closing remark, taking out the almost religious belief in Mark Weiser: “The profound visions are those that disappear.”

Finally, I enjoyed two demos, one about robots controlled by RFID for providing a mobile simulation environment for testing WLAN protocols [6], the other one about a mobile shopping assistant placing avatars on mobile phones giving product recommendations [7] which was close to what Felix von Reischach has presented at the conference [8]

[1] Pervasive RFID/NFC Technology and Applications Workshop (PerTec 2007),
[2] MetroSense,
[3] Bikenet,
[4] CenceMe,
[5] Junker, Holger and Ward, Jamie A and Lukowicz, Paul and Tröster, Gerhard: User Activity Related Data Sets for Context Recognition, Proceedings of the Workshop on Benchmarks and a Database for Context Recognition, in conjunction with Pervasive Conference 2004.
[6] RFID Based Localization for a Miniaturized Robotic Platform for Wireless Protocols Evaluation", Vikram P. Munishwar, Shailendra Singh, Christopher Mitchell, Xiaoshuang Wang, Kartik Gopalan, Nael B. Abu-Ghazaleh, Computer Science, Binghamton University (State University of New York) and S*ProCom2, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art (USA)
[7] Social Mobile Augmented Reality for Retail, Sinem Güven, Ohan Oda, Mark Podlaseck, Harry Stavropoulos, Sai Kolluri, Gopal Pingali, IBM T. J. Watson Research Center (USA)
[8] A Mobile Product Recommendation System Interacting with Tagged Products, F. von Reischach, D. Guinard, F. Michahelles, E. Fleisch, Concise Contribution at the Seventh Annual IEEE International Conference on Pervasive Computing and Communications (PerCom 2009), United States, March 2009.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Talk "Mobile telephones as a consumer interface to services and applications" @ SEREC, ETH

I was invited at the symposium RFID visions and reality.
The session started with a policy overview from Florent Frederix of the European commision. Then I had the opportunity to talk about the specific features, building blocks, and challenges for developing successful applications for the mobile phone (slides here).

We had a quite extensive discussion about how to develop innovative applications (market pull vs. technology push), effect of free wireless access everywhere, and about the date when finally NFC will become available in Europe. I learned that the reason for adoption in Japan is that NTT Docomo just had the power to force device manufacturers to build it into the phone.
Another talk I enjoyed was about GPS and indoor positioning system, an interesting one was an inertial sensor system - not for planes - but for people in buildings. You find the program of the event here.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Mobile phone and OSes

Today, we had the first talks in my seminar Business Aspects of the Internet of Things. We had quite inspiring discussion about the differences between PC and mobile phones. Whereas the PC receives full attention of the user, mobile apps have to deal with divided attention and have to be more to the point - which spans a nice play ground also for our own research on mobile apps [1][2][3]. Whereas the OSes have consolidated in the PC area, the mobile phone domain is still experience quite a variety, a nice - subjective - overview can be found here [4]. We had a wild discussion and showed that as, whether to choose iphone/symbian/android/windows mobile at some point becomes a religious discussion. Interestingly, one student mentioned that she only uses her phone to conduct - an important application we all must not forgot despite the excitement about all these great smart phone applications today.
Why I am thinking all about that now...I have to give a talk about that tomorrow...

[1] Supporting a Mobile Lost and Found Community, Dominique Guinard, Oliver Baecker and Florian Michahelles, in Procedings of ACM MobileHCI, September 2008, [PDF].
[2] A Mobile Product Recommendation System Interacting with Tagged Products, F. von Reischach, D. Guinard, F. Michahelles, E. Fleisch, PerCom 2009, Galveston, March 2009, [PDF].
[3] Oliver Baecker, Florian Michahelles: Claim Reporting, Demo @ Pervasive 2009, Nara/Japan, (forthcoming)
[4]Giz Explains: Illustrated Guide to Smartphone OSes