Monday, 30 June 2008

Invited Lecture at CDTM, how fast do you walk?

Today I was at CDTM in Munich ( to give a lecture to introduce Pervasive Computing. It was a great pleasure that I was invited again after last year’s visit. We discussed no less than how new computing technologies are going to change our lives and how we as developers are going to shape parts of the future. As everyone is aware there are significant challenges ahead – one is personal travel and I invited students to join our summer factory (basically setting up a company / team to create a news mobility platform). If you are interested, too drop me a mail.

Over lunch I met with Heiko to discuss the progress of his thesis and fishing for new topics as they often come up when writing ;-) To motivate some parts of his work he looked at behavioral research that describes how people use their eyes in communication. In [1] interesting aspects of human behavior are described and explained. I liked the page (251) with the graphs on walking speed as a function of the size of city (the bigger the city the faster people walk – it includes an interesting discussion what this effect is based on) and the eye contacts made dependent on gender and size of town. This can provide insight for some projects we are working on. Many of the results are not surprising – but it is often difficult to pinpoint the reference (at least for a computer science person), so this book may be helpful.

[1] Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt. Die Biologie des menschlichen Verhaltens: Grundriss der Humanethologie. Blank; Auflage: 5. A. Dezember 2004.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Hans Visited our Group, Issues on sustainable energy / travel

Hans Gellersen, who was my supervisor while I was in Lancaster, visited our lab in Essen. We discussed options for future collaborations, ranging from student exchange to joined proposals. Besides other topics we discussed sustainable energy as this is more and more becoming a theme of great importance and Pervasive Computing offers many building blocks towards potential solutions. Hans pointed me to an interesting project going on at IBM Hursley "The House That Twitters Its Energy Use".

At the Ubicomp PC meeting we recently discussed the value of face-2-face meetings in the context of scientific work and it seems there are two future directions to reduce resource consumption: (1) moving from physical travel to purely virtual meetings or (2) making travel feasible based on renewable energies. Personally I think we will see a mix - but I am sure real physical meetings are essential for certain tasks in medium term. I am convinced that in the future we will still travel and this will become viable as travel based on renewable energies will become feasible. Inspiring example project are SolarImpulse (its goal is to create a solar powered airplane) and Helios (solar-powered atmospheric satellites). There are alternative future scenarios and an interesting discussion by John Urry (e.g. a recent article [1], a book – now on my personal reading list [2]). These analyses (from a sociology perspective) are informative to read and can help to create interesting technology interventions. However I reject the dark scenarios, as I am too much of an optimist trusting in peoples good will, common sense, technology research and engineering – especially if the funding is available ;-).

[1] John Urry. Climate change, travel and complex futures. The British Journal of Sociology, Volume 59, Issue 2, Page 261-279, Jun 2008

[2] John Urry. Mobilities. October 2007.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

New ways for reducing CO2 in Europe? Impact of pedestrian navigation systems

Arriving this morning in Brussels I was surprised by the length of the queue for taxis. Before seeing the number of people I considered taking a taxi to the meeting place as I had some luggage – but doing a quick count on the taxi frequency and the number of people in the line I decided to walk to make it in time. Then I remembered that some months ago I had a similar experience in Florence, when arriving at the airport for CHI. There I calculated the expected waiting time and choose the bus. Reflecting briefly on this it seems that this may be a new scheme to promote eco-friendly travel in cities… or why otherwise would there be not enough taxis in a free market?

Reflecting a little longer I would expect that with upcoming pedestrian navigation systems we may see a switch to more people walking in the city. My hypothesis (based on minimal observation) is that people often take a taxi or public transport as they have no idea where to walk to and how long it would take when walking. If now a pedestrian navigation system can offer reliably a time of arrival estimation (which is probably more precise for walking than for driving as there is less traffic jam) and the direction the motivation to walk may be increased. We should probably put pedestrian navigation systems on our project topic list as there is still open research on this topic…

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Birthday candles going electronic

What is a birthday cake without a candle? Sometimes it is hard to find a candle but having a creative team there is always a solution – less than 3 minutes away ;-) As always with new technologies – after deployments ideas for Version 2 (which will include much more functionality) emerge… An there was another business idea – interactive wedding cakes – perhaps we explore this later this year ;-)

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Teaching in primary school, digital photography, civilization

I had a day off an was as “teaching assistant” on a school trip with the kids my wife is teaching. The trip went to a museum village (Wackershofen), which tries to preserve and communicate how people lived about 100 years ago.

On side observation was that in digital photography the limiting factor is now not anymore the memory space but the batteries in the camera. This has changed over the last 2 years – there children still selected which pictures they have to delete – now that is no issue anymore. This shows that some of the trends in pervasive computing (in this case unlimited memory) is already there…

In a project we converted manually flax into threads and theoretically into linen fabric. Some years ago I was involved in doing a similar project - with a focus on the multimedia docummentation - also with a primary school. We learned that it took a person one winter to make one piece of garment. Putting this into perspective we see an interesting trend of devaluation of physical object (cloth are one example, but applies also to high tech goods such as MP3 players) due to advances in engineering. This devaluation of physical goods led to a higher standard of living and consequently to a higher life expectancy. I wonder how further advances – especially in digital engineering will affect the quality of life…

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Moving again - finally in our new rooms

After several month of building work we could finally move into our new lab space. It is still largely empty but provides great opportunities for the research we have planed.

In order to conserve resources we decided to re-use furniture that was already used by another group within the university (which is not there anymore). This group apparently had a different approach in storing information (physical – real paper) and Florian and Ali had to get rid of several GB before they got their shelves ;-)

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Talk by Florian Michahelles, RFID showcase at Kaufhof Essen

Florian Michahelles, associate director of the AutoID-Labs in Zürich visited our group and gave a presentation in my course on Pervaisve Computing. He introduced the vision of using RFID in businesses, gave a brief technology overview and discussed the potential impact - in a very interactive session.

Florian and I worked together in the Smart-its project and during his PhD studies he and Stavros were well know as the experts on Ikea PAX [1], [2]. In 2006 and 2007 we ran workshops on RFID technologies and published the results and a discussion on emerging trends in RFID together [3], [4].

At Kaufhof in Essen you can see a showcase of using RFID tags in garment retail. The installation includes augmented shelves, an augmented mirror, and contextual information displays in the changing rooms. The showcase is related to the European Bridge project. ...was fun playing with the system - seems to be well engineered for a prototype.

PS: Florian told me that Vlad Coroama finished his PhD. In a different context we talked earlier about his paper discussing the use of sensors to access cost for insurance [5] - he did it with cars but there are other domain where this makes sense, too.

[1] S. Antifakos, F. Michahelles, and B. Schiele. Proactive Instructions for Furniture Assembly. In UbiComp, Gothenburg, Sweden, 2002.

[2] Florian Michahelles, Stavors Antifakos, Jani Boutellier, Albrecht Schmidt, and Bernt Schiele. Instructions immersed into the real world How your Furniture can teach you. Poster at the Fifth International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing, Seattle, USA, October 2003.

[3]Florian Michahelles, Frédéric Thiesse, Albrecht Schmidt, John R. Williams: Pervasive RFID and Near Field Communication Technology. IEEE Pervasive Computing 6(3): 94-96 (2007)

[4] Schmidt, A., Spiekermann, S., Gershman, A., and Michahelles, F. 2006. Real-World Challenges of Pervasive Computing. IEEE Pervasive Computing 5, 3 (Jul. 2006), 91-93

[5] Vlad Coroama: The Smart Tachograph - Individual Accounting of Traffic Costs and Its Implications. Pervasive 2006: 135-152.

Context-Aware adverts, google patent search

This evening I went to Münster to meet with Antonio Krüger and Lucia Terrenghi (who is now with Vodafone), who was visiting there. Advertisement is a hot topic and it was interesting that we shared an interesting observation “If the advert/information is the least boring thing to look at people will read it ;-)”. Each of us having their favorite anecdotal evidence: my favorites are people reading the same map everyday at their U-station and the advertising flyers in the Munich S-Train. For context-aware advertisement this is the major challenge to find the time/location where people are bored and happy to see an advert ;-)

We currently have an ongoing master thesis that looks into this topic – context-aware advertising with cars. There are several interesting examples that this concept could work: e.g. Taxis that show location based ads (you can hire your area where your ad is shown, see [1], [2]). We think it gets really interesting if there are many cars that form a in-town canvas you can paint on. On the way back we checked out the screen adverts (include in the public phones) Jörg Müller works on – even with a navigation feature.

Looking for some more on the topic I realized that Google Patent search works quite well by now:

Visual aid for navigation – using human image processing

While browsing the equator website I came again across an interesting publication – I had seen two years ago at MobileHCI – in the domain of pedestrian navigation [1]. The Basic idea is to use a collection of geo-tagged photos to provide visual cues to people in what direction they should go, e.g. “walk towards this building”. This is an interesting application linking two concepts we discussed in the part on location in my lecture on pervasive computing. It follows the approach of augmenting the user in a way that the user does what he does well (e.g. matching visual images) and the computer what it does well (e.g. acquiring GPS location, finding pictures related to a location in a DB).

[1] Beeharee, A. K. and Steed, A. 2006. A natural wayfinding exploiting photos in pedestrian navigation systems. In Proceedings of the 8th Conference on Human-Computer interaction with Mobile Devices and Services (Helsinki, Finland, September 12 - 15, 2006). MobileHCI '06, vol. 159. ACM, New York, NY, 81-88. DOI=

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Visit at Microsoft in Redmond

AJ Brush and John Krumm organize for the people who are in Redmond for the Ubicomp PC meeting a visit to Microsoft. In the morning we got a tour at the home lab – Microsoft’s vision of future home environments – was quite interesting, but had to sign an NDA.
After lunch we went over to Microsoft Research (which is in a new building). We got to see some cool demos. Andy Wilson showed us some new stuff moving the SURFACE forward (physics rocks!). I learned more about depth sensing cameras and Andy showed a fun application [1] – there is video about it, too. Patrick Baudisch talked us through the ideas of LucidTouch [2] and more general about future interaction with small mobile devices. The idea of using the finger behind the screen and the means to increase the precision has many interesting aspects. I found the set of people that work at MSR as impressive as the demos – it seems to be a really exciting work environment.

The atrium of the new building is amazing for playing Frisbee and shoot rubber band missiles. And waiting for the pizza with those toys around proved yet again that researchers are often like kids ;-)

[1] Wilson, A. Depth-Sensing Video Cameras for 3D Tangible Tabletop Interaction. Tabletop 2007: The 2nd IEEE International Workshop on Horizontal Interactive Human-Computer Systems, 2007.

[2] Wigdor, D., Forlines, C., Baudisch, P., Barnwell, J., Shen, C. LucidTouch: A See-Through Mobile Device. In Proceedings of UIST 2007, Newport, Rhode Island, October 7-10, 2007, pp. 269–278

Friday, 6 June 2008

Is it easier to design for touch screens if you have poor UI designers?

Flying back from Sydney with Qantas and now flying to Seattle with Lufthansa I had to long distance flights in which I had the opportunity to study (n=1, subject=me, plus over-shoulder-observation-while-walking-up-and-down-the-aisle ;-) the user interface for the in-flight entertainment.

The 2 systems have very different hardware and software designs. The Qantas infotainment system is a regular screen and interaction is done via a wired moveable remote control store in the armrest. The Lufthansa system uses a touch screen (It also has some hard buttons for volume in the armrest). Overall the content on the Qantas system comprised of more content (more movies, more TV-shows) including real games.

The Qantas system seemed very well engineered and the remote control UI worked was greatly suited for playing games. Nevertheless the basic operation (selecting movies etc.) seemed more difficult using the remote control compared to the touch screen interface. In contrast the Lufthansa system seems to have much room for improvement (button size, button arrangement, reactions times of the system) but it appeared very easy to use.

So here are my hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: if you design (public) information or edutainment systems (excluding games) using a touch screen is a better choice than using an off-screen input device.

Hypothesis 2: with UI design team of a given ability (even a bad UI design team) you will create a significantly better information and edutainment systems (excluding games) if you use a touch screen than using an off-screen input device.

From the automotive domain we have some indications that good off-screen input device are really hard to design so that they work well (e.g. in-build-car navigation system). Probably I should find a student to proof it (with n much larger than 1 and other subjects than me).

PS: the Lufthansa in-flight entertainment runs on Windows-CE 5.0 (the person in front of me had mainly the empty desktop with the Win CE logo showing) and it boots over network (takes over 6 minutes).

Thursday, 5 June 2008

CfP: Automotive User Interfaces and Interactive Applications – AUIIA 08

After last year’s successful workshop on automotive user interfaces we are planning to run another one this year. We - Susanne Boll (Uni Oldenburg), Wolfgang Spießl (BMW), Matthias Kranz (DLR) and Albrecht Schmidt – are really looking forward to many interesting submissions and a cool workshop program. The theme gains a the moment some momentum, which was very visible at the Special Interest Group meeting at CHI2008.

More information on the workshop and a call for paper is available at:

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Ali joined our group

Last month Aliresa Sahami finished his master thesis on multi-tactile interaction at BIT Bonn and joined our group in Essen. Ali worked for me a student resesearch assistant at Fraunhofer IAIS. During his studies in Bonn we published an interesting workshop paper on mobile health [1] and gave a related demo at Ubicomp [2].

[1] Alt, F., Sahami Shirazi, A., Schmidt, A. Monitoring Heartbeat per Day to Motivate Increasing Physical Activity. Ubiwell workshop at Ubicomp 2007.

[2] Sahami Shirazi, A.; Cheng, D.; Kroell, O.; Kern, D.; Schmidt, A.: CardioViz: Contextual Capture and Visualization for Long-term ECG Data. In: Adjunct Proceedings of Ubicomp 2007.

Tagging Kids, Add-on to make digital cameras wireless

Reading the new products section in the IEEE pervasive computing magazine (Vol.7, No.2, April-June 2008) I came across a child monitoring systems: Kiddo Kidkeeper - In the smart-its project Henrik Jernström developed 2001 a similar system in his master thesis at PLAY which was published as a Demo at Ubicomp [1]. I remember very lively the discussion about the validity of this application (basically people – including me – asking “Who would want such technology?”). However it seems society and values are constantly changing – there is an interesting ongoing discussion related to that: Free Range Kids (this is the pro side ;-) The article in the IEEE Magazin hinted that the fact the you can take of the device is a problem - I see a clear message ahead - implant the device - and this time I am more careful with arguing that we don't need it (even though I am sure we do not need it I expect that in 5 to 10 years we will have it)

There were two further interesting links in the article: an SD-card that includes WIFI and hence enables uploading of photos to the internet from any camera having an SD-slot ( – the idea is really simple but very powerful! And finally the UK has an educational laptop, too ( Seems the hardware is there (if not this year than next) and where is the software? I think we should put some more effort into this domain in Germany…

Not to forget the issue of the magazine contains our TEI conference report [2].

[1] Henrik Jernström. SiSSy Smart-its child Surveillance System. Poster at Ubicomp 2002, Adjunct Proceedings of Ubicomp 2002.


Sunday, 1 June 2008

Fight for attention – changing cover display of a magazine

Attention is precious and there is a clear fight for it. This is very easy to observe on advertising boards and in news shops. Coming back from Berlin I went in Augsburg into the news agent to get a news paper – and not really looking at magazines is still discovered from the corner of my eyes an issue of FHM with a changing cover page. Technically it is very simple: a lenticular lens that presents and image depending on the viewing angle – alternating between 3 pictures – one of which is a full page advert (for details on how it works see lenticular printing in Wikipedia). A similar approach has already been used in various poster advertising campaigns – showing different pictures as people walk by (, One could also create a context-aware advert, showing different images for small and tall people ;-)

In outdoor advertising we see the change to active display happening at the moment. I am really curious when the first really active cover pages on magazines will emerge – thinking of ideas in context-awareness the possibilities seem endless. However it is really a question if electronic paper will be cheap enough before we move to completely electronic reading. Another issue (even with this current version of the magazine) is recycling – which becomes much more difficult when mixing further material with paper.