Raimund Dachselt presented FaceZoom, a widget for quick navigation, e.g. for a tree structure [1]. I liked his characterizing “a stacked treemap” – which explains nicely what the widget does and where the efficency can be found. At TEI’08 he gave already a nice private demo on how this can be linked to mobile devices and how to use a off-the-shelf phone with an accelerometer as controller.

[1] Dachselt, R., Frisch, M., and Weiland, M. 2008. FacetZoom: a continuous multi-scale widget for navigating hierarchical metadata. In Proceeding of the Twenty-Sixth Annual SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Florence, Italy, April 05 – 10, 2008). CHI ’08. ACM, New York, NY, 1353-1356. DOI= http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1357054.1357265

Automotive SIG meeting at CHI

This morning was a meeting of people interested in automotive user interfaces. It was an informal session where everyone could contribute. We had an interesting discussion anchored in the 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study. My main arguments in the discussion were (1) that we have to take more care of context (awareness and prediction) to make smart controls and (2) that multimodality is a key concept to improve UIs.

We continued the meeting over lunch with people from BMW, Bosch and General Motors. I think everyone agrees that interactive in-car applications and hence user interfaces are a central topic that gains momentum at the moment. We discussed the option for doing a symposium next year on the topic.

How to Convince Girls that Computer Science is Cool?

The number of woman starting a computer science degree in German is very low and this has been recognized on many levels as we (as an economy) loose at lot of potential. This problem can be found in many other countries. Leah Buechley suggested in her paper the LilyPad Ardunio [1] this issues by getting girls in building interactive electronics – as part of self-created fashion items. The idea of targeting technologies, so that they become attractive to girls – especially already in school – seems a promising approach to change the perception of what computer science means.

They use a microcontroller that can be sewn onto fabric and which can be connected to sensors, controls and actuators. The girls used them in a creative way to make interactive fashion, which they considered cool. Her course offered to young people aged 10-15 attracted about 90% girls (as far as I remember) – which is really impressive. I would be interested if a similar approach would work in Germany as well. Perhaps this could be an interesting project?

[1] Buechley, L., Eisenberg, M., Catchen, J., and Crockett, A. 2008. The LilyPad Arduino: using computational textiles to investigate engagement, aesthetics, and diversity in computer science education. In Proceeding of the Twenty-Sixth Annual SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Florence, Italy, April 05 – 10, 2008). CHI ’08. ACM, New York, NY, 423-432. DOI= http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1357054.1357123

Talking about Pervasive Marketing

Advertisement and markings using pervasive computing technologies is a topic a lot of people are talking about. Little publications are out currently but it seems everybody has something in the lab. I have talked to Bo Begole from PARC and we think of looking more into the topic bringing people (from research and industry) together to push this topic forward.

CHI Conference in Florence

On Sunday afternoon I flew to Florence and we met up in the evening with former colleagues – CHI always feels like a school reunion 😉 and it is great to get first hand reports on what everyone is working currently. On the plane I met Peter Thomas (editor of Ubquitous Computing Journal) and we talked about the option of a special issue on automotive…

We have rented a house in the Tuscany Mountains together with Antonio’s group and collaborators from BMW research and T-Labs. Even though we have to commute into Florence everyday it is just great that we have our “own” house – and it is much cheaper (but we have to do our dishes).

The conference is massive – 2300 people. There is a lot of interesting work and hence it is not feasible to cover it in a few sentences. Nevertheless there are some random pointers:

In the keynote a reference to an old reading machine by Athanasius Kircher was mentioned.

Mouse Mischief – educational software – 30 mice connected to 1 PC – cool!

Reality based interaction – conceptual paper – arguing that things should behaves as in the real world – interesting concept bringing together many new UI ideas

Inflatable mouse – cool technology from Korea– interesting use cases – we could integrate this in some of our projects (not inflating the mouse but inflating other things)

Multiple Maps – Synthesizing many maps – could be interesting for new navigation functions

Rub the Stane – interactive surfaces – detection of scratching noises only using a microphone

Usability evaluation considered harmful – the every-year discussion on how to make CHI more interesting continues

It seems there is currently some work going on looking at technologies in religious practice. Over lunch we had developed interesting ideas towards remote access to multimedia information (e.g. services of ‘once’ local church) and sharing awareness. This domain is intriguing because churches often form tight communities and content is regularly produced and available. Perhaps we should follow up on this with a project…

Dairy study on mobile information needs – good base literature of what information people need/use when they are mobile

K-Sketch – cool sketching technique.

Crowdsourcing user studies – reminded me of my visit at http://humangrid.eu

Lean and Zoom – simple idea – you come close it gets bigger – nicely done

Work on our new lab space started – ideas for intelligent building material

This week work on our new lab space started 🙂 With all the drilling and hammering leaving for CHI in Florence seemed like perfect timing. Our rooms are located in a listed historical building and hence planning is always a little bit more complicated but we are compensated by working in a really nice building.

As I was involved in the planning space for the lab we had the opportunity to integrate a space dedicated to large interactive surfaces where we can explore different options for interaction.

Seeing the process of planning and carrying out indoor building work ideas related to smart building materials inevitably spring to mind. Much work goes into communication between different people involved in the process and into establishing and communicating the current status (structure, power routing, ventilation shafts, insulation, etc.) of the building. When imagine that brick, fixture, panel, screw and cable used could provide information about its position and status we could create valuable applications. Obviously always based on the assumption that computing and communication gets cheaper… I think it could be an interesting student project to systematically assess what building material would most benefit from sensing (or self-awareness) and processing and what applications this would enable; and in a second step create and validate a prototype.

Humangrid – are humans easier to program than systems?

In the afternoon I visited humangrid, a startup company in Dortmund. Their basic idea is to create a platform that offers opportunities for crowdsourcing – basically outsourcing small tasks that are easy to perform by humans to a large number of clickworkers. One example for such a scenario is tagging and classification of media. It is interesting that they aim to create a platform that offers real contracts and provides guaranties – which makes it in my eyes more ambitious than Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

One interesting argument is that programming humans (as intelligent processors) to do a certain task that involves intelligence is easier and cheaper than creating software that does this completely automated. Obviously with software there is nearly zero-cost for performing the tasks – after the software is completed, however if the development costs are extremely high paying a small amount to the human processor for each task may still be cheaper. The idea is a bit like creating a prototype using wizard of oz – and not replacing the wizard in the final version.

In our discussion we developed some idea where pervasive computing and mobile technologies can link to the overall concept of the human grid and crowdsourcing creating opportunities for new services that are currently not possible. One of our students will start next month a master thesis on this idea – I am already curious if we get the idea working.

Tanja Döring joined our group

Today Tanja Döring started with our group in Essen. She did her MSc at the University of Hamburg with Steffi Beckhaus and Horst Oberquelle. I met her first last year at TEI’07 in Baton Rouge, where she presented work on a table for art historians [1]. This year Tanja was a student volunteer at TEI’08 in Bonn.

[1] Döring, T. and Beckhaus, S. 2007. The card box at hand: exploring the potentials of a paper-based tangible interface for education and research in art history. In Proceedings of the 1st international Conference on Tangible and Embedded interaction (Baton Rouge, Louisiana, February 15 – 17, 2007). TEI ’07. ACM, New York, NY, 87-90. DOI= http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1226969.1226986

Project management, Visit to sd&m

Running successful (large scale) projects in computer science is a great challenge – very often projects are delayed and run over budget. As we aim to provide our students with all it takes to be successful in the job we have a mandatory course on project management for IT project in the BSc Systems Engineering curriculum.

This afternoon we visited sd&m (part of Capgemini) in Düsseldorf to talk about the course structure and content. We are delighted that Gebhard Ritter and Oliver Stoll, both having long term experience in managing large projects, teach the course this term again. Having been myself in some of the lectures last term I became again aware how much our students can benefit from such cooperation between university and industry.

Have Not Changed Profession – Hospitals are complex

This morning we had the great opportunity to observe and discuss workflows and work practice in the operating area in the Elisabeth hospital in Essen. It was amazing how much time from (really busy) personnel we got and this provided us with many new insights.

The complexity of scheduling patients, operations, equipment and consumables in a very dynamic environment poses a great challenges and it was interesting to see how well it works with current technologies. However looking at the systems used and considering upcoming pervasive computing technologies a great potential for easing tasks and processes is apparent. Keeping tracking of things and people as well as well as documentation of actions are central areas that could benefit.

From a user interface perspective it is very clear that paper and phone communication play an important role, even in such high-tech environment. We should look a bit more into the Anoto Pen technology – perhaps this could be an enabler for some ideas we discussed. Several ideas that relate to implicit interaction and context awareness (already partly discussed in the context of a project in Munich [1]) re-surfaced. Similarly questions related to data access and search tools seem to play an interesting role. With all the need for documentation it is relevant to re-thing in what ways data is stored and when to analyses data (at storage time or at retrieval time).

One general message from such a visit is to appreciate people’s insight in these processes which clearly indicates that a user centered design process is the only suitable way to move innovation in such environments forward and create by this ownership and acceptance.

[1] A. Schmidt, F. Alt, D. Wilhelm, J. Niggemann, H. Feussner. Experimenting with ubiquitous computing technologies in productive environments. e & i Elektrotechnik und Informationstechnik, Springer Verlag. Volume 123, Number 4 / April, 2006. pages 135-139