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…