Friday, 21 December 2007

UI matters - usability as the selling point

When driving back from a Workshop with the ART group of Fraunhofer IAIS at Naafs Häuschen I saw some interesting posters. A new car-related portal for selling and buying cars ( has an interesting advertising campaign out. The only argument is on an easy to use and quick user interface – nothing else. So far many of them have tried to argue with the largest set of offers, but recently many of the major players ( and have improved their user interfaces.

It seems that a broader awareness for the user interface – basically that you sell based on your user interface – has finally arrived in Germany, too.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Implicit Personalization – Online Questionnaire

We currently run a survey on “Implicit Personalization of Public Environments” as part of a master thesis. The thesis looks at the technical realization of this approach based on Bluetooth and mobile devices with a focus on creating an acceptable solution with regard to users’ privacy. If you are interested in the topic and can spare 5 minutes have a look at our questionnaire on implicit personalization, there is a German version of the survey, too.

The questionnaire is set up on a server ( that offers free hosting for scientific/non-profit surveys.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Lucia Terrenghi defended her Dissertation

Today Lucia Terrenghi completed her PhD at the University of Munich. The topic of her dissertation is “Designing Hybrid Interactions through an Understanding of the Affordances of Physical and Digital Technologies”. She presented interesting insights from prototyping new interaction tools the combine the digital and the physical.

One finding in a case study was that it seems really hard to get people into using both hands for interaction (bi-manual interaction) when digital objects are involved, even though there are physical/tangible artefacts to manipulate. I made a similar observation when recently working with small children who were writing the first time a short text on a computer keyboard. For most of them it was difficult at first to write capital letters – basically using bi-manual interaction with the shift-key and a letter. However in this case they typically learned this extremely quickly and after the first session it was internalized how to do it. I wonder if we should with tangible and bi-manual interaction more look into learning effects and efficiency gain after some time of use, rather than just focus on the instant ability of people to use it.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Video conferences – easier but not better?

The Pervasive 2008 TPC meeting on Saturday was held distributed over 3 continents and linked via video conference. In Germany we had a really good time slot (12:00 to 20:00) – Australia and California had a really late/early day.

The meeting worked well over video and considering the saved travel time it seems this is a acceptable alternative to a full physical meeting. It was interesting to see that the video conferencing quality did not really improve much over the last years. We ran the TPC meeting for Ubicomp 2003 between the UK and the USA also with a video conference system. And my first projects (in 1996) I worked on as a student researcher at the University of Ulm were on video conferencing, too.

It seems that over the last 10 years it has gotten much easier to set a conference up and interoperability seems less of issue, but the quality is still poor (even with the professional systems). I wonder if we should look with a master thesis into the topic again – all the topics like high quality AV, context-awareness, sharing, informal exchange, side channels, etc. appear still not to be there yet… or is the setting we used (google docs for sharing, edas as document repository, skype for side channel communication, and a professional video conference system) the natural way this develops?

Friday, 14 December 2007

TEI’08 online registration is open now!

The online registration for the 2nd international conference tangible and embedded interaction is now open. The early registration deadline is January 8th 2008. There is also the list of accepted papers and travel page online.

We have a really cool cover – it is not final, but I could not resist to give a preview (see above). Bart Hengeveld did a really good job! I am looking forward to holding the proceedings in my hand.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Personal mobile health - Nintendo GlucoBoy

Recently an interesting mobile health product was launched: the glucoboy - . It is designed as an add-on to the Nintendo Gameboy. The basic idea is to combine blood glucose measuring for children and video gaming.

This product shows that an in-depth understanding of the problem domain can create novel interactive products (in this case the idea was conceived by a parent with a direct insight into the problem). For user interface engineering we see again a clear value of contextual enquiry (or at least contextual understanding) combined with a clever utilization of technology.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Prototypes of unconventional user interfaces

In Linz the students of the course unconventional user interfaces showed their first set of functional prototypes. The topics are related to interactive mirrors, context-aware advertisement posters, healthy rear-seat entertainment, and text input while driving. The assignment was to create a system that allows creating an authentic user experience for the concept. The technical solutions were very different and ranged from a dismantled keyboard to a system using a micro-controller, from a two-way mirror with display behind to direction detection in front of an advert. Even though the prototypes were fairly simple most of them showed impressively how much of an idea a functional prototype can transport.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Just in time train schedule?

Thought experiment: if we have the same number of trains we have at the moment and we let them travel as we do at the moment – but without time tables (basically a train is always on time – it is there when it arrives – similar to today). Customers would have real time access to all trains and the system could provide estimates when a certain train is where – perhaps with a confidence interval and probabilities of connections and travel times (obviously with an understandable user interface).

Would this be a better or worse model of public transport?

… and by the way the coach I was in has the IP address and runs DOS ;-)

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Talk at the expert meeting on RFID and ubicomp

In Frankfurt there was today an expert meeting on RFID and ubicomp organized by the Fraunhofer ISI. The purpose was a discussion about the impact of RFID technologies. The organizers will use our input to inform the creation of a document of technology assessment for the German parliament. The majority of the participants came from companies developing RFID technology or system.
In the first part of my talk “RFID and Beyond” I highlighted results from two workshops where I was a co-organizer: PTA2006 and Pertec2007 held at the Pervasive and Percom conferences. The results were also published in 2 papers in the IEEE Pervasive Computing magazine, see [1] and [2]. After this I showed some future visions and scenarios, namely the Smart-Its & MediaCup (foto from Birgit at Teco) [3], the SensorKnife [4], and the aware goods project [5]. Michael Müller extended the idea of the first aware goods project with a mobile phone based prototype - which we still have not written up for publication.

For me the technology assessment in Germany seems still often very much centred on threats and looks much less at opportunities. Looking at developments in Asia and in particular in Korea (e.g. U-City) I hope politics in Germany will in the future more often see the positive sides, too. Technology assessment can become a means to find opportunities and ideas to support innovation. For me it seems that a lot of the risks people attribute to RFID are not based on scientific results – is appears rather media induced… Positive cases such as wireless key systems and transport tickets (basically RFID technology) are in widespread use without much problems and great value for users - but not present in the public discussion.

One interesting estimated was that about 200 parts of the several thousands (e.g. safety related parts, large parts, parts that are often stolen, expensive parts) per car will tagged with RFID in the next 10 years to ease logistics, production and maintenance.

[1] Schmidt, A.; Spiekermann, S.; Gershman, A.; Michahelles, F., "Real-World Challenges of Pervasive Computing", Pervasive Computing, IEEE , vol.5, no.3pp. 91- 93, c3, July-Sept. 2006.

[2] Michahelles, F.; Thiesse, F.; Schmidt, A.; Williams, J. R.: Pervasive RFID and Near Field Communication Technology. In: IEEE Pervasive Computing, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 94-96, c3, Jul., 2007.

[3] Hans-Werner Gellersen, Albrecht Schmidt, Michael Beigl: Multi-Sensor Context-Awareness in Mobile Devices and Smart Artifacts. MONET 7(5): 341-351 (2002)

[4] Matthias Kranz, Albrecht Schmidt, Alexis Maldonado, Radu Bogdan Rusu, Michael Beetz, Benedikt Hörnler, Gerhard Rigoll: Context-aware kitchen utilities. Tangible and Embedded Interaction 2007: 213-214

[5] Anke Thede, Albrecht Schmidt, Christian Merz: Integration of Goods Delivery Supervision into E-commerce Supply Chain. WELCOM 2001: 206-218

Multi-touch displays seen as great opportunity

In our course “case studies in pervasive computing” we re-build systems that are described in the research literature and try to improve them or to apply them to new domains. This term the topic is on multi-touch displays. Starting out with Jeff Han’s paper “Low-cost multi-touch sensing through frustrated total internal reflection” we think about novel interaction methods for large screens. And after some initial problems (filter in the web cam we used) we have a first hardware prototype that shows the FTIR effect. The page of Thomas M. Brand is a good starting point if you too think of a DIY-project.

On Monday Giulio Jacucci from the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology told me that they set up a start-up that has an new interesting and different way of doing multi-touch displays – and they look into enormous sizes of displays, up to 16 meters long. Their web page is Perhaps we should try to get some of there technology for next term – would save us some serious drilling, soldering and polishing…

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Interactive Mirrors – an upcoming topic beyond the idea?

At the CHI PC-meeting in Amsterdam I talked to a number of people – and it seems we are not the only one’s who are interested in interactive mirrors. It seems that breaking the physical limitations in time and space, a convention mirror imposes, creates some interest within the research community.

I talked to Boris de Ruyter about the Philips mirror project in the homelab and learned from Bo Begole about their work on interactive mirrors at PARC. It may be interesting to propose a workshop on interactive mirrors at one of the upcoming conference to get the people together looking into this topic.
In the hotel in Schiphol there was a mirror display for adverts. It did not really link any functionality of the mirror with the display, but nevertheless it was a aesthetically pleasing installation

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Reset/reboot is ubiquitous – or my worst train ride so far

What have learned to do when our computer or phone does not work anymore? Easy just reboot it. A colleague recently told me his rental car broke down (basically did not work anymore) but after resetting it, it worked fine again. When he told me I found this pretty strange – ok the radio or opening the car boot – but essential functions related to driving?

Today I was travelling on an ICE high-speed train to Amsterdam for the CHI-Notes committee meeting and shortly after we left Germany the train lost speed and became slower and just rolled out. Then can an interesting announcement: “Sorry it seems we do not get power anymore – but we think it is not a big problem. We reset the train and then we are on our way again”. The reboot did not work :-( so they told us we needed to another engine. Perhaps there was more to reboot (e.g. the train power grid nation wide?)…

Extrapolating in the future I can imagine a lot of things we will need to reboot, e.g. your shoes, your furniture, your house, your augmented sense, and your implants – or should we take more care in developing things?

At some point they decided we can not wait on the train and we had to get off the train outside the station (using small ladder) while it was pouring with rain. The left us than waiting for 2 hours (in the rain) – basically till we found ourselves another means of transport (overall delay about 5 hours). This made me realize that a Nokia N95 with GPS is probably really good while travelling – if I would have had it with me I could have called a taxi to where I was ;-)

More about train rides… Some more traditional technologies however work very well – this week I was already once stuck on a train were a passenger pulled the emergency train and went of the train – somewhere in the middle of nowhere…

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Keynote speaker at TEI’08: Prof. Hiroshi Ishii

Prof. Hiroshi Ishii from the MIT Media Laboratory, kindly accepted our invitation to be the keynote speaker of TEI’08 in Bonn. We are absolutely delighted that he will come to the conference. Looking back at last year's proceedings of TEI, and seeing the references in the papers, it is obvious how much he has inspired and shaped this research field.

I recently learned that Prof. Ishii has lived and worked in Bonn in 1987-1988 at GMD (which became later Fraunhofer. He was then a Post-Doc and worked topics related to CSCW.

There are so many paper of tangibles media group one really has to read. If you have today little time watch this one: topodo.

Talk at the opening of the Fraunhofer IAO interaction lab

The Fraunhofer institute IAO opened today a new interaction lab in Stuttgart under the topic interaction with all senses. Prof. Spath, director of the Fraunhofer IAO, made a strong argument for new user interfaces. In his talk he discussed adaptive cruse control in cars as an example for user interface challenges.

My talk on “implicit interaction – smart living in smart environments” argues for a sensible mix of user centred design and technology driven innovation. As one example I used the Sensor-Knife which Matthias Kranz implemented.

Prof. Jürgen Ziegler, a colleague at the University of Duisburg-Essen who was previously at IAO, showed in his talk a short video of a “galvanic vestibular stimulation” GVS explored by NTT (SIGGRAPH 2005 Demo) to highlight trends and indicate at the same time ethical problems that can arise when we interfere with human senses.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

TEI’08 – in cooperation with ACM, inclusion in the digital library

TEI’08 will be held in cooperation with ACM and the proceedings will, as last year, included in the ACM digital library.
After finalizing the review and discussion process we have a really amazing program, which will be soon online at

Visit at the University of Hamburg

Yesterday we visited the computer science department at the University of Hamburg. Prof. Oberquelle und Beckhaus had invited me at the Mensch & Computer conference to visit them and give a talk about our work.

Before the seminar we had a chance to see the lab of Steffi Beckhaus. I have tried the ChairIO – and it was fun. They sound floor creates a really interesting experience (similar to the butt-kicker just more intense). We could also play with GranulatSynthese and try the smell user interface (apple smell is absolutely convincing, not sure about some of the others).

We had some discussion on emotions and capturing physiological parameters. Thinking about emotions and senses with regard to a community sharing them opens up a lot of potential for new experiences and potentially applications. We discussed this topic to some extent some weeks ago at the Human Computer Confluence Workshop in Brussels. I really thing a small scale experience in share emotions could move us forward and provide some more insight. In Hamburg they have the NeXus-system (perhaps we should get this too and create a networked application).

In my talk (creating novel user interfaces) I focused on the PhD work of Paul Holleis (KLM for mobile phones, his CHI Paper from last year) and of Heiko Drewes (Eye-Gestures, his Interact’07 paper). The discussion was quite interesting.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Interesting MSc Dissertations at Trinity in Dublin

I have been at Trinity College in Dublin today as external member of the MSc exam board. While reading MSc dissertations I learned at lot of interesting things. Here are two pointers to technologies which I like to share (they may be useful in further projects):

SUMO - Simulation of Urban Mobility: An open source traffic simulation package

Small computing platform:

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Slowly settling in

Time is flying. We are nearly one month in Essen. Teaching started well and quite a number of students came to our course (see We have a reliable Internet connection and more furniture than we need ;-) Starting from scratch is a great experience – especially as everybody was very helpful.
Nevertheless it takes a lot of time and effort. I am extremly happy that I was able to start with a real team (Dagmar and Paul)!

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

In Search of Excellence

At the Fraunhofer retreat in Westerburg we had very interesting discussions on research and research strategies in computer science. The span of excellent research in computer science is enormous ranging from theoretical work (e.g. math style proofs), to engineering type work (e.g. systems), to experimental and empirical work (e.g. studies). This makes it really challenging to find a common notion of “excellent research”. This reminds me of an interesting book which I started to read (recommended to me at the retreat): In Search of Excellence: Lessons from Americas Best Run Companies by Robert H Waterman et al. – so far it is really interesting to read. However everything in management seems really straightforward on paper – but in my experience in the real world it always comes down to people.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Guest course at the University of Linz, MSc Pervasive Computing

I am teaching a guest course at the University of Linz in the Pervasive Computing master program. The topic is Unconventional User Interaction – User Interfaces in a Pervasive Computing World ( Today we started with an introduction to motivate how pervasive computing changes human computer interaction. I am already looking forward to the projects!

At dinner I learned why you can never have enough forks in a good restaurant. In case you loose your pen for the mobile phone a fork will do… The topic of the lecture is everywhere!

Information inside the cap

Travelling on the train from Crailsheim to Nürnberg I saw several police officers on their travels back from an assignment at Stuttgarter Volksfest. When we got off the train the collected their caps from the luggage rack and observed an interesting (traditional) information display.

Inside the cap they carried a schedule and a description of the location they had to go. The size of the paper-display was about 15 x 15 cm. It seems an interesting place to display and access information – perhaps we will do a digital version of the cap as an assignment in our courses.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Starting from scratch – or how to bootstrap

We arrived in Essen and slowly are booting up the new group. It is exciting to have the change to start from scratch! Chairs and internet connectivity are highest priorities ;-)

At the moment our virtual presence ( is much further than our physical – one has to have priorities.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Moving to the University of Duisburg-Essen

From Monday on I will be at the University of Duisburg-Essen. After a little less than a year in Bonn a new challenge is ahead: setting up a new group on Pervasive Computing and User Interface Engineering.

The lab will be situated at the campus in Essen (Schützenbahn 70) in the heart of the city. Our group will be in the Institute for Computer Science and Business Information Systems in the faculty of Economics. Teaching starts in the winter term with a lecture on User Interface Engineering and several project oriented courses.

The focus will be on systems, user interfaces and novel applications in the domain of pervasive and ubiquitous computing.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

UbiLog Workshop in Bremen

This afternoon our UbiLog workshop was held in Bremen as part of the Informatik 2007 conference. We selected 4 papers for presentation and had a lively and interesting discussion.

Following the talk of Nikolai Krambrock we discussed the use context, and in particular location, to restrict or allow access to information. My favourite example is an online-banking appliance that only works in predefined areas (e.g. at home and in my car). Using context appears one option in creating human understandable solutions for secure systems. People have developed means to protect physical objects and valuable, perhaps we should draw more on this experience in the design of secure systems.

Prof. Gerhard Krüger made honorary member of GI

At the dinner of this yeas GI conference Professor Gerhard Krüger became the 6th honorary member of the German Computer Science Society (GI, Gesellschaft für Informatik). He was one of the people who understood very early that computer science is a central topic and pushed in the 1980ies form higher capacities in computer science at German Universities.

When I was at Karlsruhe (1998-2001) he was my supervisor and taught me a lot! In short: invest in the development of people.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Ubicomp 2007

Over the last few days at Ubicomp 2007 in Innsbruck it was great to catch up with many people from the community. The discussions in the evenings are very inspiring and so were some of the talks.

We tried to explain the idea of ubiquitous computing to journalist and it seems they got the idea. And hence Ubicomp 2007 was featured in the Austrian Press:

Ubicomp 2008 will be in Korea.

Monday, 17 September 2007

CardioViz Demo at Ubicomp 2007

Alireza Sahami presented our CardiViz project at the demo session at Ubicomp. We were very happy that the project that was the result of our IPEC course on developing mobile applications was accepted as a demo.

For more details see:
Alireza Sahami Shirazi, Diana Cheng, Oliver Kroell, Dagmar Kern, Albrecht Schmidt. CardioViz: Contextual Capture and Visualization for Long-term ECG Data. Adjunct Proceedings of Ubicomp 2007 (Demo).

Jonna Häkkilä, Anind Dey, Kari Hjelt, and I organized organized the Ubiwell workshop (Interaction with Ubiquitous Wellness and Healthcare Applications) at this years pervasive. Alireza presented another paper on heartbeat monitoring there:
Florian Alt, Alireza Sahami Shirazi, Albrecht Schmidt. Monitoring Heartbeat per Day to Motivate Increasing Physical Activity. UbiWell workshop@Ubicomp 2007.

Car UIs transport Emotion

It is often discussed whether or not the user interface in the car matters or not. The basic argument is that cars are emotional and hence the driving experience matters and everything else is secondary.

However it seems the user interface becomes more and more part of the experience. On Saturday night I travelled via Munich to Innsbruck – and had again some time on in the lounge at the railway station. In a article on the new VW concept car UP it was interesting to see that about 15% of the text (about 20 lines text of the whole article of 130 lines, see red box) were about the new user touch screen – the section about the motor was similar in length.

The opening keynote at Ubicomp was given by Antonio Calvosa from Ferrari. Here two a very experienced and user interface focus could be seen. The talk touched issues of emotion and affective issues. Overall he argues that Ubicomp technologies should amplify what humans like to perceive.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Our Papers at Interact 2007

Heiko Drewes and Richard Atterer, collegues from university of Munich, have travelled to Interact 2007. Their emails indicate that the conference is this year at a most interesting place. The conference is in Rio de Janeiro, directly at the Copacabana. The conference was highly competitive and we are happy to have two papers we can present there.

Heiko presents a paper that shows that eye gestures can be used to interact with a computer. In his experiments he shows that users can learn gesture with eyes (basically moving the eyes in a certain pattern, e.g. following the outline of a dialog box). The paper is part of his PhD research on eye-tracking for interaction. More details are in:

Heiko Drewes, Albrecht Schmidt. Interacting with the Computer using Gaze Gestures. Proceedings of INTERACT 2007.

Richard’s paper is on collaboration support with a proxy based approach. Using our previous work on the UsaProxy we extended the functionality to supported synchronous communication while using the Web:

Richard Atterer, Albrecht Schmidt, and Monika Wnuk. A Proxy-Based Infrastructure for Web Application Sharing and Remote Collaboration on Web Pages. Proceedings of INTERACT 2007.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Article in the Economist

Some weeks ago Ben Sutherland from The Economist called. He was researching for an article discussing the computing revolution over the last 25 years. In his research he to talked to many different people (from different countries, different fields, different views) and was particularly interested in applications that will come in the future and with me in particular on the concept of context-awareness.

The article "The trouble with computers" appeared 6th of September and discusses a mix of ideas and viewpoints. We talked about 30 minutes on the phone and I am quite surprised what statement he picked from me (I said many things that were more interesting ;-). However I think it is great that people start trying to understanding the radical changes computers introduce - everywhere.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Mechanicals aids for addition and subtraction

In the school museum I came across two very simple pen-based computing aids. The devices are very simple mechanical tools that help to do addition and subtraction. It was called ADDIATOR.

The utility is limited to addition and subtraction and it provides a very simple mechanism to deal with carry-over. If the number which is to be moved is white the calculation is without carry-over and one pulls it down. If the number is red then there will be a carry over one has to pull up and around the semi-circle (this is the mechanism for carry over). A carry over beyond the next position is displayed with a special sign and has to be resolved by moving the next position. The curator told me that he remembers people in shops used them and that people where very quick with them. It seems they have been popular till I was born.

Schools history, tangibles again

After my daughter started school on Saturday we visited a historic school on Sunday. Comparing teaching materials is interesting. Especially providing up to date information in geography must haven quite a costly task. Many expensive charts and maps that were printed on canvas are now freely available in digital form. It seems that instead of having a film project, a slight projector, an overhead projector and canvas displays a computer and projector with internet access will do. Similarly having stamps to reproduce maps seems like ancient history, even though it has been still in use 20 years ago.

However I wonder what we loose by make things digital and whether or not this matters. Having a database (a box with cardboard dividers and a lot of paper slips) or a typewriter (with types that are moved by pressing buttons) on your desktop gives you a very immediate impression how things work. It is remarkable to see that historically tangibility of teaching materials was very common.

I think in the digital we should make more effort to provide means that people can understand the mechanism behind the technology (basics of HCI – conceptual models :-). This is however extremely difficult for purely digital products. My generation seems very lucky to have been witnesses of this transformation for many products from the physical to the digital – providing a lot of insight to us.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Our Papers at Mensch and Computer

The last 3 days we were at the German HCI conference (Mensch und Computer) in Weimar. Overall the conference had a really interesting program (21 papers with an acceptance rate of 30%), presentations from usability professionals and a number of workshops.

Dagmar Kern presented our research on improving in-car telecommunication that was carried out together with people from BMW group in Munich. For details see:
Dagmar Kern, Albrecht Schmidt, Michael Pitz, Klaus Bengler. Status- und Kontextinformationen für die Telekommunikation im Auto. Mensch & Computer 2007. Weimar, September 2007.

Heiko Drewes showed the initial results of the studies on eye-gestures for interaction. In this paper we proof that it is possible and sensible to use gesture with the eyes to interact with a computer. For more see the picture:
Heiko Drewes, Heinrich Hußmann, Albrecht Schmidt. Blickgesten als Fernbedienung. Mensch & Computer 2007. Weimar, September 2007.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Automotive User Interface Workshop

At the German HCI conference (Mensch und Computer) I organized together with Paul Holleis and Klaus Bengler (BMW Group) a workshop on automotive user interfaces. We were surprised how many people work and research in this area in Germany and Austria.

The 9 talks showed a wide range of research results and questions ranging from activity recognition, search interfaces, cultural issues to research methods. Dagmar Kern presented our work on a new method for interviewing drivers at the gas station. Stefan Graf from BMW groups had an interesting demo on object oriented interaction and in-car text input.

In the final session we discussed on future challenges of automotive user interfaces and it seems that it is a great challenge as cars are very emotional products. One interesting point was that user interfaces may not be central for the decisions which car to buy - but if not satisfied it will influence the decisions not to buy such a car again.

Context and context-awareness (e.g. based on user activity, driving parameters and location) seems to provide a great opportunity for future interfaces and in-car applications. One nice example was presented by Susanne Boll from a joint project with VW (C3World, connected cars in a connected world).

Monday, 3 September 2007

Watching movies on the train

At the moment I am travelling a lot on the train and it seems that there is an increase in people using their mobile devices (e.g. Sony PSP, mobile phones) to watch cinema movies and episodes of TV-shows. Some individually and others even share the experience. Over the last years it become popular that people watched DVDs on their notebook computer on the train – but it seems the real mobile age is moving on.

Even though the screen is very small it shows again that one needs little to create the illusion of a movie. In the end it comes always back to the story…

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Cologne – New Pixel Window

On Saturday on our way back home we made a stop in Cologne. After mounting the tower (509 steps) we had a look at the new window which lead to some discussion over the recent weeks.

It looks like pixels and is abstract in comparison to the other windows (which have traditional picture motives). To me it seems a neat idea that somehow reflects our time.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

What do you decide in the car?

While waiting in Stuttgart in the lounge of the railway station I picked up a paper called “Auto-Bild” (the selection of magazines is really poor ;-) and I found an interesting news item in it.

KIA has done a survey (with over 2000 people) in the UK on decision making in the car. It appears that people use the time in the car to discuss major issues in their lives and that they make significant decisions during long journeys. I have not found the original survey from KIA but there are several pages that discuss the results, e.g. gizmag.

Some findings in short, people talked about/made descions: going on holiday (63%), buying a car (50%), moving (40%), getting a pet (26%), getting married (23%). The main reason for the car on a long journey being an effective environment for communication seems the fact the people are close together for a long time and no-one can walk away (41%). Also the fact that you have reason not to look the other person into the eyes, as you have to watch the street, was valued.

Thinking about it there it may also have to do with the function of space. A car puts people close together – in some case to intimate distances (up to 50cm) but defiantly to personal distances (50cm-125cm). There is a comprehensive overview by Nicolas Nova, Socio-cognitive functions of space in collaborative settings: a literature review about Space, Cognition and Collaboration (original reference to my knowledge is Hall, E.T. (1966). The Hidden Dimension: Man’s Use of Space in Public and Private. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.).

This survey made me think more about the design space "car". Recently two of my students - Anneke Winter and Wolfgang Spießl - finished there master projects at BMW looking into search technologies and user interfaces in the car. It seems there are a lot of ideas that can be pushed forward realizing Ubicomp in the car.

Basics of Law - Talk by Herbert Burkert

Herbert Burkert gave a presentation at IAIS on the very basics of public law. He is professor of public law, information and communication law at the research center for information law at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. He is currently on leave from Fraunhofer IAIS.

For developers and researchers in computer science that build real systems which can be deployed it is a great challenge to ensure compatibility with the law. In particular systems that are accessible over the world wide web in almost any country it appears really difficult to conform to all laws in the countries where potential users are.

With our current summer project where we built a search engine for people the legal conditions are besides the technological challenges a main concern.

It is clear that there is a distinction between morally right (or common sense right) and legally right - that is why many TV-pseudo-quiz programs are on and legal even though it is clear that common sense would see them as fraud. With new technologies there appears to be often a gap between on one side what is illegal and on the other side what is wrong but legal. The second one seems to be a domain where people make money...

Friday, 24 August 2007

Great tutorial on eXtreme Programming/Agile Methods

Today Karl-Heinz Sylla and Reinhard Budde (both senior researcher at Fraunhofer IAIS) gave for the summer research project a tutorial on agile methods for software engineering. The experience they have from large scale real world projects is impressive! We looked at different approaches to software construction and discussed the pros and cons. Short iterations, user stories, pair programming and test driven development seem to fit very well to our work approach and project goals. A good starting point for more on the topic in particular with a teaching perspective are the following 2 papers: LeJeune, N. F. 2006. Teaching software engineering practices with Extreme Programming. J. Comput. Small Coll. 21, 3 (Feb. 2006), 107-117 and Schneider, J. and Johnston, L. 2003. eXtreme Programming at universities: an educational perspective. In Proceedings of the 25th international Conference on Software Engineering (Portland, Oregon, May 03 - 10, 2003). International Conference on Software Engineering. IEEE Computer Society, Washington, DC, 594-599.

From a user interface engineering perspective is very positive that agile methods are good to integrate with user centred design – in my experience much better than traditional software construction processes. Especially the fact that XP (eXtreme Programming) is open to change in functionally throughout the process is a key.

In this summer research project one great challenge is that the students have to build up knowledge in various areas (e.g. search technologies, web technology, user interfaces) while creating high quality code. There is a very interesting paper that discusses software engineering issues in the context of web applications: Jazayeri, M. 2007. Some Trends in Web Application Development. In 2007 Future of Software Engineering (May 23 - 25, 2007). International Conference on Software Engineering. IEEE Computer Society, Washington, DC, 199-213.

Always when the discussion comes to programming languages a debate on strong typing starts. Especially in the web context this seems come up again and again…

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Tico Ballagas defended his PhD in Aachen, New insight on Fitts' law.

Today I finally got around visiting Jan Borchers (media computing group at RWTH Aachen). Tico Ballagas hat as part of his PhD defence a public talk and took the chance to go there.

There where new parts in the talk on the impact of the selection space resolution on Fitts’s law that I had not seen in his work before. It is published in 2006 as a technical report (Rafael Ballagas and Jan Borchers. Selexels: a Conceptual Framework for Pointing Devices with Low Expressiveness. Technical Report AIB-2006-16, RWTH Aachen, Dec 2006) which is worthwhile to have a look at. This could be very interesting and relevant for the work Heiko Drewes does on eye-gaze interaction. Discriminating between input and output space for the index of difficulty could be helpful to understand better the impact of the errors that we see in eye gaze interaction.

One part of Tico’s research was concerned with a definition of a design space for input devices. This is partly described in a paper in IEEE Pervasive magazine, see: Ballagas, R., Borchers, J., Rohs, M., Sheridan, J.G., The Smart Phone: A Ubiquitous Input Device. IEEE Pervasive Computing 5(1). 70-77. 2006.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Navigation by calories - New insights useful for next generation navigation systems?

In a German science news ticker I saw an article a inspiring post reporting an experiment on orientation in relation to food. It describes an experiment where men and women were asked to visit a set of market stalls to taste food and afterwards they are asked where the stall was.

The to me surprising result was that women performed better than men (which is to my knowledge not often the case in typical orientation experiments) and that independent of gender the amount of calories that are contained in the tasted food influenced the performance. Basically if there are more calories in the tasted food people could remember better where it was. I have had no change yet to read the original paper (Joshua New, Max M. Krasnow, Danielle Truxaw und Steven J.C. Gaulin. Spatial adaptations for plant foraging: women excel and calories count, August 2007, Royal society publishing, and my assessment is only based on the post in the newsticker.

This makes me think about future navigation systems and in particular landmark based navigation. What landmarks are appropriate to use (e.g. places where you get rich food) and how much this is gender dependent (e.g. the route for men is explained by car-dealers and computer shops whereas for women by references to shoe shops – is this political correct?).

Apropos: landmark based navigation. There is an interesting short paper that was at last years UIST conference that looks into this issue in the context of personalized routes:
Patel, K., Chen, M. Y., Smith,
I., and Landay, J. A. 2006. Personalizing routes. In Proceedings of the 19th Annual ACM Symposium on User interface Software and Technology (Montreux, Switzerland, October 15 - 18, 2006). UIST '06. ACM Press, New York, NY, 187-190. DOI=

Perhaps this ideas could be useful for a future navigation system…

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Meeting the inventor of the Petri-Net

In the castle Birlinghoven on the Fraunhofer campus I had the privilege to meet Prof. Carl Adam Petri. He is a great mathematician and computer scientist who invented the Petri-Net. Today was a reception to celebrate that he received the “2007 Academic Gold Medal of Honor” from “the Academy of Transdisciplinary Learning and Advanced Studies”.

Prof. Petri was from 1963 to 1968 head of the computing centre at the University of Bonn and after this head of a GMD institute in Birlinghoven. (The GMD was merged with Fraunhofer in 2000/2001 and became part of Fraunhofer). To my knowledge he is probably one of the most prominent researchers of the GMD.

When I studied computer science I got introduced to the concept of Petri-nets but I never really thought about the person who invented it. It was only when I got the invitation to the reception that I really started thinking about the person and inventor and I was really impressed by the person. He got quite a few other awards before: Werner-von-Siemens-Ring, member of the Academia Europaea, Konrad-Zuse-Medaille etc..

I have recorded part of the speech by Prof. Petri where he reflects on his dissertation (be aware of poor audio quality as it is recorded with my phone and I was sitting in a back row)

the count down started - about 5 weeks to the prototype

Yesterday our summer project started at IAIS. The students are highly motivated and the combined skill set of the participants is impressive. We discussed a lot what we want to achieve over the next weeks.

Creating a new special purpose search service – basically from the rough idea to a working prototype – in 5 weeks seems a bit crazy but I am confident that we get there ;-) In certain areas we already have an idea how much pages we have to crawl and how much content we have to analyze.

It is interesting that it already now becomes apparent that user interface issues and system architecture decisions are closely linked. E.g. doing a meta search while the user is waiting requires some other content that we can present while the user is expecting the results.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Mirror with memory and a different perspective

This morning I corrected the proofs for the Pervasive and Mobile Compting journal for the paper I had together with Lucia Terrenghi at Percom (Methods and Guidelines for the Design and Development of Domestic Ubiquitous Computing Applications, Proceedings of the Fifth Annual IEEE Conference on Pervasive Computing and Communications (PerCom), New York, NY, USA, Mar. 2007).

This brought again a topic to my attention that we have focused on for some time in Munich but never really completed. Mirrors with enhanced functionality, that can display information, capture what you were wearing at a certain date, or give you a new perspective (e.g. back, top) – such new perspectives can be really revealing, see the top of my head in the picture.

More details on the design concept can be found in the paper in section 5.2.2. I think it is worthwhile to look again more into it in a bachelor or master project. Even though Philips Home Lab has done some work there in there Intelligent Personal Care Environment project, I think there is much potential left.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Will caching and Redundancy be key?

Skype is down for a few hours and is has an impact on users. It is interesting that for some people I do not have regular phone numbers anymore. This minor (at least to me) inconvenience and the massive reaction in the news shows however how much we start to rely on network centred infrastructure tools.

Thinking about myself: xing and linked have largly replaced my local contacts database and my calendar is online, too; the acm-digital library, springer link, and google-scholar make me through away papers after I have read them (at the beginning of my PhD-studies I still sorted them in folders); gmail and gmx hold my private mail in the network; I have not bought paper maps for quite some time, and as recently posted access to knowledge is nowadays often via google. The current move of putting applications online – which I really like greatly – speeds up these trends.

With current sizes of hard drive and future network connectivity I think caching and recording becomes key. For many domains this is easy. Everything you have ever seen on the screen will be forever on the computer (easy for static content such as web pages, even for videos this is not far in the future; assuming 365 days x 8 hours x 1Gbyte/hour is about 3TByte/year). In many domains Pre-fetching seems useful. In some areas this seems straightforward. When you view a paper all papers that are cited and papers that cite this paper will be cached locally (and not just short term, but forever ;-), too.

I wonder when we can by the entire index of the web (e.g. google cache) for offline use. Will this every be possible or is content growing faster than storage?

At least I will start caching important information (e.g. mail & contacts) in the future locally.

From a business perspective this is interesting, too. Even if there is a major provider (e.g. Skype) people will create their own redundancies with a further provider (e.g. messenger) - so there will be always room for several players.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Ubiquitous, Pervasive and Ambient Computing – Clarification of Terms

In the resent month the question about ubiquitous, pervasive, ambient computing came up several times. An email by Jos Van Esbroeck motivated me to write my view on it…

Clarifying the terms seems an ongoing process as various communities and individuals use each of those terms for new things they are doing.

For me the best way to discriminate the terms ubiquitous computing, pervasive computing, and ambient intelligence is by their origin, history and research communities.

The first term (ubiquitous computing, ubicomp) is linked to Mark Weiser and his vision of computing in the 21st century [1]. In the research community its is very much connected to ubiquitous and pervasive systems that have the user somewhere in the loop. The ubicomp conference [2] seems more focused on user experience than on pure technology.

Pervasive Computing was pushed in the mid 1990s, more by industry and in particular by IBM. Pervasive computing seems from its origin more focused on technologies and solutions than on a particular vision. The two major conferences related to this topic: pervasive [3] and percom [4] are more systems and network focused, however always keeping some attention to the user experience perspective. Here, in particular with percom, many in the research community have their origin in the networking and distributed systems world. To me pervasive computing seems more technical than ubiquitous computing and includes systems that do no have direct human users involved.

The term ambient intelligence was introduced by the European funding agencies in the Framework 5 vision. Around the same time as the Philips Home-lab that drives the term, too. Here, similar to ubicomp, the vision of a new quality of user experience is a driving factor. The research that falls under this label by now is broad and I think it is very similar to the research in ubiquious computing. There is also a European conference on ambient intelligence [5].

Many people that are involved in ubicomp/pervasive/percom are also active in one more traditional research community. In particular many people are additionally involved in user interface research (e.g. CHI-Community), mobile computing and mobile systems, networking and distributed systems.

A very early topic related to the whole field is context-awareness as introduced by Schilit [6] who was working with Weiser. In my PhD dissertation I have looked more into the relationship between ubicomp and context-awareness - it has the title Ubiquitous Computing - Computing in Context [7]

In parallel subtopic in the above field have emerged that look at specific aspects, e.g. internet of things [8] (not necessarily a human in the loop), wearable computing (computing in cloth), smart environments (computing in buildings and furniture), tangible and embedded interaction [9] (looking at the interaction side), smart objects, ... and probably many more.

There is also an interesting trend that many of the topics, if they are a bit matured, move back into the traditional communities.

[1] Mark Weiser. The Computer for the Twenty-First Century. Scientific American 265, 3 (September 1991), 94-104
[6] B. Schilit, N. Adams, and R. Want. (1994). "Context-aware computing applications". IEEE Workshop on Mobile Computing Systems and Applications (WMCSA'94), Santa Cruz, CA, US: 89-101 .
[7] Albrecht Schmidt(2003). "Ubiquitous Computing - Computing in Context". PhD dissertation, Lancaster Univeristy.
[8] http://

Monday, 13 August 2007

World Champion visiting IAIS

Sven Behnke, who won with his humanoid robots the RoboCup, visited us today at Fraunhofer IAIS. In his talk he presented the RoboCup vision – wining in 2050 with humanoid robots against the human world champions and his work towards this goal. There are interesting videos of the robots at

When I saw Sven presenting the first time (in 2003 at the DFG final round for the “Aktionsplan Informatik”) I was convinced that humanoid robots are far in the future and that the robocup vision is more wishful thinking than vision. Seeing how much it advanced over the last 4 years I am really curious if it will take till 2050.

In his group there is also some interesting work on human-robot interaction. For more see:

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Bluetooth marketing in the wild

Arriving in Zurich I was quite surprised by the masses of people in the train station. We picked the weekend of the Street Parade for our visit ;-) makes you really think about your own age…

In the railway station they had digital giveaways – you just had to switch your Bluetooth on.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Zeppelin – air travel of the future?

Visiting the Zeppelin Museum I was impressed by the simplicity of the underlining principle and the great engineering that went into those air ships.

Thinking of fuel prices one could imagine that this type of transportation may come again. It only requires energy for propulsion – lift is provided by the weight.

School of the past – School of the future

We visited the school museum at Friedrichshafen. Looking around the exhibition it became very obvious that teaching material used to be much more tangible and physical as they are nowadays.

I think it is worthwhile investigating where the value of tangibility is!

Object with included sensing

I often wonder why one would like to include sensing into other objects. It seems however that there is a tradition and has its roots before the digital :-)

The pencil case has a thermometer included. The function is that the pupil can figure out when they get the rest of the day off due to high temperature (Hitzefrei). Not convinced that is was a great seller…

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Museum Audio Guides – is there a way to make this a good experience?

We visited the archeology and Stone Age museum in Bad Buchenau For our visit we rented their audio guide system – they had one version for kids and one for adults. The audio guides were done very well and the information was well presented.

Nevertheless such devices break the joint experience of visiting a museum! We had three devices – and we stood next to each other listening but not talking to each other. Even though it may transport more information than the written signs it makes a poorer experience than reading and discussing. I wonder how one would design a good museum guide… There are plenty of projects but so far I have not seen the great solution.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Satellite Television –Challenges

My first day of the holidays I got myself into an interesting project – setting up a satellite dish that receives Astra 19.2 (German TV) and Astra 28.2 (major UK TV stations). Going back between my roof and living room I finally got it to work – thanks to many posts on the Internet. That brings me back to a question I ask myself more and more (not just for setting up TVs): how did people share technical and practical information before the Internet? It seems that the Internet really is a catalyst for implementation.

After having the hardware in place (which is more difficult than the theory of pointing it at a certain angle – especially without the right tools) I was surprised by the number of channels and the user interfaces of the digital sat receivers. It seems that much of the usage and interaction concept is still from a time where there were 3 channels – youtube is much easier to use… Perhaps satellite television could provide a much more exciting experience with new means for interaction (perhaps those devices are out there an I just got the poor ones).

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Report published in the IEEE Pervasive Computing Magazine

After the Pertec07 workshop at Percom earlier this year we summarised the workshop results and the ongoing discussion in an article. This is published in the current issue of the IEEE Pervasive Computing Magazine.

F. Michahelles, F. Thiesse, A. Schmidt, J. R. Williams
Pervasive RFID and Near Field Communication Technology
IEEE Pervasive Computing, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 94-96, c3, Jul., 2007

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Wall-Sized Printed Adverts with Integrated Screen

At Zurich Airport Orange and Nokia are running a large printed advert. At a first glance it looks just as a printed large scale poster. The TV screen in one poster and the projected writing on top of another poster are seamlessly integrated. The media design of the overall installation is appealing.

The active screen (could be a 50 inch plasma TV) is the screen of the mobile phone and shows the navigation application. In contrast to most other installations, where screens and printed posters are used, this appears right and it catches people’s attention.

There is work from Scott Klemmer's group at Stanford that looks the relationship between the printed displays and projection/displays for various applications. The Gigaprints project was shown as a video at Ubicomp 2006.