Thursday, 27 November 2008

Known route - driving your car in mental auto-pilot?

Mandy Marder, a doctoral student at university hospital in Essen has done an interesting study, looking at the activity of the brain at different driving situations. It seems that if you are driving a well know route you are less alert than when you drive an unknown route (see press release, we have yet to find the appropriate reference). This is an interesting finding that may help to inform some of our work on automotive user interfaces. Together with trends that move more responsibility from the driver to assitive functions this nay be an indication that driving could be a valid domain for serious games.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Exporting your cars information to the mobile phone

In our user interface engineering class one of the tasks in the exercise is to create a concept design for providing information from the car on the mobile phone (e.g. millage, amount a fuel in the car, next service date, alram status, etc). The first part is to assess what information could be made accessible and what value it would create for the user. 

Today I came across a device (Tyredog TD-1000A) that is concerned with a one sub-part of this scenario: checking your pressure in the tires of the car. It is a simple sensor system, screwed on to each of the tires, connected to a wireless receiver. There is also a version that includes features for the car alarm (Tyredog TD-3000A).

Another group is looking yet again into the domain of  restaurant finders or more general night life. Apropos restaurant finders, Saturday night we got out of the subway onto union square and discussed where to go for dinner (an we probably looked disoriented). A local lady stoped and recommended the Union Square Café - and it was just great… sometimes just talking to someone in the street may provide you with an excellent alternative to technologies ;-) Perhaps the students find a solution that can reflect personal recommendations well...

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Information vs. Mobility, Percom PC meeting in New York

The PC meeting for Percom 2009 took place at IBM in Hawthorne, NY. Percom had about 200 submissions and many good ones - so we could compile an exciting program across the whole field of pervasive computing and communication. As one of three program vice chairs I have looked in detail in about 1/3 of the submissions that were application related. It is interesting to observe that research as a whole in the field becomes more major and at the same time more incremental. 

To me this puts up the big question in which domains will the new big innovations happen, what is the next trend after we have pervasive computing? There are luckily plenty of options, but at the moment it seems that there develops an interesting relationship between information, communication, mobility and energy. It seems that we can compensate mobility by information and communication and similarly we can reduce energy required by information available. One example is: if I know where things are (=information) I can reduce the effort required to find them (=mobility). Is there more to it?

Each time in the US - even in New York were public transport works quite well - one is surprise how alien it appears to many that it could be an option to take public transport on a business trip (e.g. there are no first class coaches on regional trains). Flying from Düsseldorf into Newark it was convenient to take the train to Penn Station in NY City and then an express train to White Plaines. If we would not have gone for a walk in the city we probably would have been equally fast as by car. With the again low gas prices in the US (less than 2U$ per gallon, down from 4 just a few month ago) I would expect public transport and small cars will not gain too much popularity - before the next rise in gas prices.

PS: it is amazing how many possiblities there are to serve coffee (and this is probably not one of the most environment friendly)

Monday, 10 November 2008

Male (88%), writing like Oscar Wilde (35%)

Looking into Paul Rayson's blog and discovered an interesting link: It is a web form where you can put in an URL and you get an estimate whether the author of this text is male or female. For me it worked great ;-) It says that the text I wrote in my blog is with 88% written by a male. I tried it with a few more of my pages and it worked. Then I looked at some pages of some of my female colleagues and to my surprise it seems they do not write their web pages by themselves (as the program indicated 95% male writer) - they probably all have a hidden male assistant ;-)

While I was in Lancaster I shared for most of the time an office with Paul. During this time I learned a lot of interesting things about corpus linguistics and phenomena in language in general - just by sharing the office. One fact at that at the time was surprising to me is that if you take 6 words from an arbitrary text in the exact order as they appear in the text and you search on the web for the exact phrase it is likely that you will only find this text. How many hits do you get for phrase "I was at Trinity College reading" in google? Try it out ;-) [to students: that is why not getting caught when you plagiarize is really hard]

From I came to and to my great surprise I write like Oscar Wilde (35%) and Friedrich Nietzsche (30%). Thinking of social networks (and in particular the use of languages within closed groups) such technologies could become an interesting enabling technology for novel applications. Perhaps I should visit Paul again in Lancaster…

PS: and I nearly forgot I am a thinker / INTJ - The Scientists (according to

PPS (2008-11-17): a further URL contrinuted from my collegues on the gender topic:

Exoskeletons soon in the real world

Exoskeletons have received some attention over the last years (some with a clear application area in the army), e.g. Robot suit HAL and the BLEEX Project.  

Honda showed now an interesting exoskeletons as walking aid. It is called  "computerized leg device" or "walking assist device" and there is an short movie on youtube and it is designed to help people walk. The application areas are probably broad - I expected mainly in care and rehabilitation, but looking around there seem to be more application domains…

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Illusions 2.0, Talk at the Museum Ludwig in Köln

In Cologne in the Museum Ludwig I gave in the afternoon a talk on "Illusions 2.0 - embedded interactive media" at the Forum Mediendesign. The talk focused on the new qualities of magical experiences we will be able to create with pervasive computing technologies in the future and linked this to Alan Kay's notion of user illusion and metaphors. I looked at trends that are ingredience for creating Illusions 2.0 - in particular ubiquitous communication and display, constant tracking and logging, and the decrease of value of traditional content (text, audio, video, software, tv, statistical data). I highlighted one development that have already happened and has impacted our lives with the following statement. The question "If I only would know when the others come and where they are now…" was common to people born before 1970 but is completely alien to people born after 2000. Mobile communication has changed this and tracking will add more change over the next years.

Based on some examples from recent popular fiction (Harry Potter) I showed that things that we have considered magical are becoming rapidly community products (e.g. marauders map). Spinning this idea forward I asked how far are we with regard to other human dreams such as looking into the future or never forgetting anything we have seen or heard. And the answer in short is: we are close ;-) for more see the slides of my talk on Illusion 2.0. There is an upcoming paper we wrote for IEEE Multimedia Magazine on this topic - will tell as soon as it is published ;-)

In the morning I had some time for sightseeing and Vivien and I went to the chocolate museum. The museum is brilliant and I learned how the hollow chocolate santas are made :-) In the top floor they have a table top projection for a quiz - it is very well done (as the whole museum) but the technology did not work on the table close to the window. As we know from our experience if you have sun light your camera-projector systems may have trouble ;-)

PS: it was interesting that the whole organization was done by students as a course in project management - and they did it really well.

My first hotel fire alarm, debugging smart environments

We arrived in the evening in Köln and went to our hotel and around 10:30 pm the fire alarm sounded (really loud - you want to leave) and a voice over the speaker system asked us to leave the hotel immediately. When we checked in an hour earlier we overheard that they called for the elevator repair man…

Better safe than sorry I packed up my laptop and rucksack and we went downstairs. At the reception they were pretty busy - but it seemed everyone clear that this a false alarm but it seemed they had no way of really understanding why the system behaved in this way [gap of evaluation ;-) teaching user interface engineering this term]. The error search reminded me on one error search strategy in C (if you do not have a debugger). Comment out part of the code (here: disable fire sensing for certain areas in the hotel) till you can tell which parts cases the error. If you have found this part and it is not essential just leave it as a comment (you can do the same with fire sensor - hope they did not…)

A fire alarm system has compared to smart environments we envision a very low complexity. I think providing appropriate means for debugging smart environments by end-users could be a topic worthwhile to look at.

PS: the elivator had the best display for showing the level you are in I have seen so far. From a UI perspective it is really a boring recreation of the non-digital version... 

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

USA votes, election party in our lab

There many good reason to have an international team - especilly when doing research in pervasive computing and user interface engineering. This morning I learned another one: you can have election parties (=drinks and food in the lab ;-). 

Predicting elections results goes new ways and it is interesting that the Xbox Live Polls ( were quite close to the result - already quite some time ago. Perhaps this large poll produced just by accident good results - but it may be a first step towards internet elections. Having internet voting on a game console brings new models for voting to one's mind (e.g. only if you have reached a certain level in the game you can vote ;-)

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Geocaching, Travel bug

On Saturday we went for a walk and to make it more exciting we decided to look for a geocache (GCXP87, N 49° 08.775 E 010° 06.672). To our surprise it took us quite some time (10 minutes) to find it as the GPS reception was not perfect. Vivien, my daughter was excited by the idea of geo caching (I think I can anticipate some of our activities on the next weekends ;-), especially as we even found a travel bug. The travel bug is alreay on its second continent and we still discuss where we place it ;-)