Visiting TU-Berlin and T-Labs

We have a number of student projects that look at novel applications and novel application platforms on mobile phones. As Michael Rohs from T-Labs is also teaching a course on mobile HCI we thought it would be a good opportunity to meet and discuss some application ideas.

I gave a talk in Michael’s lecture discussing the concept of user interfaces beyond the desktop, context as enabling technology, and future applications in mobile, wearable and ubiquitous computing. We had an interesting discussion – and in the end it always comes down to privacy and impact on society. I see this as a very positive development as it shows that the students are not just techies but that they see the bigger picture – and the impact (be it good or bad) they may have with their developments. I mentioned to books that are interesting to read: the transparent society [1] and total recall [2].

In the afternoon we discussed two specific projects. One was an application for informal social while watching TV (based on a set iconic communication elements) that can be used to generate meta data on the program shown. The other is a platform that allows web developers to create distributed mobile applications making use of all the sensors on mobile phones. It is essential a platform an API that provides access to all functions on the phones available in S60 phones over a RESTful API, e.g. you can use a HTTP call to make a photo on someone’s phone. We hope to release some of the software soon.

In the coffee area at T-labs was a printout with the 10+1 innovation principles – could not resist to take a photo 😉 Seems innovation is really trival – just follow the 11 rules and you are there 😉

[1] David Brin. The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom. Basic Books. 1999. ISBN-13: 978-0738201443. Amazon-link. Webpage:

[2] Gordon Bell, Jim Gemmell. Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything. Dutton Adult. 2009. ISBN-13: 978-0525951346. Amazon-link. Webpage:

Students generate interesting ideas, links to photos

In the final part of the summer school the students worked in groups to create new ideas for displays and their use. We had 5 groups working hard – all creating amazing results for such a short time. Sometimes I wonder how we could better utilize this design exercise as the results were really exciting.

On group looked into the concept of mobile and contextual displays on garments – the idea T-SHARE assesses potential applications, when having networked displays included in T-Shirts (see the group presentation for details). This moves an idea with have investigated over the last year to a new level. I am really thrilled and I think we should really look how to setup a larger project on this topic.

We worked hard 🙂 but in the time between we enjoyed our trip – here are the photos I took (Bahai Garden, climbing with Keith and Antonio, the trip to Jerusalem, School and Beach in Haifa).

[1] Florian Alt, Albrecht Schmidt, Christoph Evers: Mobile Contextual Displays. In: Pervasive Advertising Workshop @ Pervasive 2009. Nara, Japan 2009.

Doctoral Seminar in Bommerholz, CS Career and new Ideas

Monday and Tuesday I organized together with Gernot A. Fink a PhD awayday for students in computer science of the Universities Bochum, Dortmund and Duisburg-Essen. With about 30 PhD students and some professors we went to Bommerholz, where the University of Dortmund has a small retreat.

The program included talks about career possibilities after the PhD including talks by:
  • Dr. Heiner Stüttgen, Vice President, NEC Laboratories Europe: “Industrial research – what is a PhD good for?”
  • Dr. Olaf Zwintzscher, CEO, W3L GmbH: “Adventure Spin-off – starting a company after garduation”
  • Dr. Wiltrud Christine Radau, Deutscher Hochschulverband: “career opportunities in universities”
Overall it became very clear that computer science is still the subject to study! The career opportunities are interesting, exciting and very good. Nevertheless there is always a downside to things – whatever way you choose you have to work hard 🙂
We had a further talk “Gutenberg over? The metamorphose scientific publishing” by Herrmann Engesser from Springer-Verlag. He showed in an interesting way how much change has happened in the last 40 years to publishing. The example of the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Brockhaus Encyclopedia demonstrates impressively that it is impossible to ignore changes in technology and stay successful in business. Looking at many newspapers one can only wonder when the will realize it.

Over coffee we discussed the added value that is provided by a publisher and by digital libraries like Springer Link, ACM DL or the IEEE Library. And here too there are many more open questions than answers. One clear direction is to look more into scientific communities. One idea that I find quite interesting is to search for publications that are from my scientific community, e.g. “give me all paper that have haptic in the title and that are published by people I am linked to in facebook, xing, and linkedin or by their contacts”. Sounds like an interesting project 🙂

Besides the invited talks we had three poster sessions. In each session 9 students presented their work. We started with 90 seconds presentations and then had discussions over the posters. As we had topics from all areas in Computer science I first expected that this may be pretty boring – but it was surprisingly interesting. I learned a lot about bio-informatics, learning algorithms, data mining, robotics and security over the last two days. Things I would never have read – but getting it explained in the context of a concrete PhD project was fun.
Our evening program was centered on movies. We first showed a number of snippets from movies (including James Bond, Harry Potter, Star Trek, and Minority Report) where cool technology feature. Then the students had 45 minutes to create new ideas of believable technology gadgets for two films, one to plays in 2011 and the other in 2060. The ideas were fun reaching form manipulated insects, to smart dust, to the exploitation of social networks. If you are Steven Spielberg or someone else who plans a movie feel free to call me – we have a lot of ideas 😉

Rating your professor, teacher, doctor, or fellow students?

This morning I was coming back from Munich* on the train I got a phone call from a journalist from Radio Essen ( As their studio is very close to the railways station in Essen I went there spontaneously before going back to University. 

We talked a little about web services for students to rate their profs (e.g. The numbers of ratings most professors have received so far is extremely small (in comparison to the number of students we teach) and hence you get interesting effects that are far from representative or in many cases even meaningful. Last term I registered my course and we sent proactively a mail to all students who complete the course with the request to rate the lectures. This seems to be a good way to generate a positive selection 🙂
There are many of these services out – rating teachers, doctors, shops, etc. Thinking a little more about the whole concept of rating others one could image many interesting services – all of them creating a clear benefit (for someone) and a massive reduced privacy for others. 
To make it more specific I offer you one idea: Rate your fellow students’ professonal capabilities and academic performance. Students have typically a very good insight into the real qualities of their peers (e.g. technical skills, social compatibility, creativity, mental resilience, ability to cope with workload, diligence, honesty etc.). Having this information combined with the official degree (and the transcript the university offers) a potential employer would get a really interesting picture… We discussed this with students last term an the reactions were quite diverse – as one can image.>
Obviously such a service would create a lot of criticism (which lowers the cost of marketing) and one would have to carefully think in which countries it would be legal to run it. An interesting question would also be what verification one would employ to ensure that the ratings are real – or perhaps we would not need to care? Interested in the topic – perhaps we should get 5 people together implemented in a week and get rich 😉 
The direction of such rating systems are taking is very clear – and it seems that they will come in many areas of our life. Perhaps there is some real research in it… how will these technology change the way we live together?

* travelling from Munich (leaving at 22:30) and arriving in Essen in the morning (or Darmstadt) works fairly well and if you stay in a hotel in Stuttgart 😉 – it is surprisingly a real alternative to a night train or an early morning flight…

Mobile images / video as proof

While waiting for my conneting flight a saw a women posting a letter and filming this as she did it. She created some sort of proof. Thinking a little more and having further information in the background (e.g. a clock, the schedule display, people waiting) this this has some potential to replace registered mail for certain domains? This gives me an idea for a small weekend project…

Closing Panel at Ubicomp 2008

The closing panel at Ubicomp dicussed the last 10 years of ubicomp and potential future direction (with regard to community and technology). On the panel were Gregory Abowd, Hide Tokuda, Lars Eric Holmquist, Eric Paulos, and Albrecht Schmidt. In the following I will just describe some of the points I raised in my short statement. 
For me the first observation is that many ideas that were discussed at the first HUC99 (the first ubicomp conference started by Hans Gellsersen) – and were considered very speculative ideas have become common products and services by now (e.g. pocket bargain finder, predictive text input, mobile collaboration tool, mobile photo-sharing, location aware technologies). Here it is apparent that with regard to envisioning applications the conference has made impact. But there is a curious phenomenon: at the moment a device or service is available in the shop we do not recognize it as ubicomp anymore.
In some areas the complexity of the problems (when moving from the lab to the real world) has been underestimated – here context and context-awareness is a good example. If you realize the full vision it is basically solving AI. But nevertheless we progressed – there are applications for commercial mobile devices that do context and activity recognition – and it is just 10 years that we discussed this in a HUC99 in our paper on advanced interaction in context [1] – which was at that time really innovative! Context-awareness will happen – be patient 🙂 but its has to take into account: humans are adaptive, too. 
The papers which had a large impact (based on citations e.g. check [1] on google scholar) seem more the papers that score high on novelty, even if the may lack scientific rigor.
For future directions I hinted some general directions (not necessarily my research directions): 
  • Implanted activity recognition and interaction (put the sensing and actuation into the body solves a lot of the problems … obviously it creates many new ones, too) 
  • Implantable persuasion and amplifying bodily experiences. Here I gave the example that we would be able to create a device to motivate you do sports by making your back hurt. I used this to emphasise that ethics will play a large role in the future…
  • Prediction technologies (e.g. the weather forecast as an inspiration, forecasting traffic conditions, parking situation, restaurant business, costs, …) we will create systems that allo us to look up predictions (cost, quality of the experience, stress, time needed, etc.) for future activities (e.g. when choosing a restaurants, booking a travel, deciding on dating a person, making a business deal, accepting a position, …)
  • And finally I suggested that we will have fun with papers on privacy published now when reading them in 20 years 🙂 because our perception of this topic will change massively.
With regard to the community I made the statement that Ubicomp became the Starbucks of ubiquitous computing research – premium but based on the US idea of quality. Have you ever been in a Vienna coffee house, in an Italian espresso bar, or had tea in the middle east – it is very different. We lost some of the international spirit and we stopped arguing what good research in ubicomp is – this discurse should be started again!. Looking at the countries where ubicomp technologies come from (e.g. a lot from Aisia and Europe) we should again make a effort to more value the international diversity and the different styles and approaches in ubicomp research – scientific rigor is not the only axis to consider. 
[1] Schmidt, A., Aidoo, K. A., Takaluoma, A., Tuomela, U., Laerhoven, K. V., and Velde, W. V. 1999. Advanced Interaction in Context. In Proceedings of the 1st international Symposium on Handheld and Ubiquitous Computing (Karlsruhe, Germany, September 27 – 29, 1999). H. Gellersen, Ed. Lecture Notes In Computer Science, vol. 1707. Springer-Verlag, London, 89-101. DOI=

Implanted Persuasion Technologies

While listening to BJ Fogg, and especially on the motivation pairs (in particular instant pleasure and gratification vs. instant pain) I was wondering how long it will take till we talk about and see implantable persuasion technologies. Take the example of obesity – here one could really image ways of creating an implant that provides motivation for a certain eating behavior… would this be ethical?