Book launch: Grounded Innovation by Lars Eric Holmquist

At the Museum of the Weird in Austin Lars Erik Holmquist hosted a book launch party for his book: Grounded Innovation: Strategies for Creating Digital Products. The book uses a good number of research examples to highlight the challenges and approaches for digital products. The book has to parts: Methods and Materials and shows how both play together in the design of digital products. There is a preview for the book at Amazon.

Over 10 years back I worked together with Lars Erik on the European Project Smart-Its (, where we created sensor augmented artifacts. The book features also some of this work. To get an overview of the project have a look at [1] and [2]. The concept of Smart-Its Friends is presented in [3]. Smart-Its friends proposed the idea, that products can be linked by sharing the same context (e.g. connecting a phones and a wallet by shaking them together).

[1] Lars Erik Holmquist, Hans-Werner Gellersen, Gerd Kortuem, Albrecht Schmidt, Martin Strohbach, Stavros Antifakos, Florian Michahelles, Bernt Schiele, Michael Beigl, and Ramia Maze;. 2004. Building Intelligent Environments with Smart-Its. IEEE Comput. Graph. Appl. 24, 1 (January 2004), 56-64. (PDF) DOI=10.1109/MCG.2004.1255810

[2] Hans Gellersen, Gerd Kortuem, Albrecht Schmidt, and Michael Beigl. 2004. Physical Prototyping with Smart-Its. IEEE Pervasive Computing 3, 3 (July 2004), 74-82. (PDF) DOI=10.1109/MPRV.2004.1321032

[3] Lars Erik Holmquist, Friedemann Mattern, Bernt Schiele, Petteri Alahuhta, Michael Beigl, and Hans-Werner Gellersen. 2001. Smart-Its Friends: A Technique for Users to Easily Establish Connections between Smart Artefacts. In Proceedings of the 3rd international conference on Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp ’01), Gregory D. Abowd, Barry Brumitt, and Steven A. Shafer (Eds.). Springer-Verlag, London, UK, UK, 116-122. (PDF)

Book chapter on Teaching Beyond the Classroom

Kati Mäkitalo-Siegl, Jan Zottmann, Frederic Kaplan and Frank Fischer organized a workshop that resulted in the book: Classroom of the Future. The book gives a very good overview and is in my view very well suited to run a seminar

We have one chapter in the book that talks about teaching beyond the classroom and outside a typical classroom using pervasive computing technologies [1]. Our chapter includes some of the work on tangible interaction we did in Munich, e.g. [2] and earlier experience where we did a school garden blog (in German only

Details about the book and a free preview are available at the publisher’s side. The free preview includes an article on the classroom of the past – which I found quite interesting. If you are interested in our article, drop me a mail and I may find the draft.

[1] Paul Holleis, Albrecht Schmidt, Heiko Drewes, Richard Atterer, Petra Dollinger. Teaching Beyond the Classroom: Pervasive Computing Technologies for the Classroom of the Future. Classroom of the future. SensePublisher 2010, pp 63-85. ISBN:978-9460911026 (book at amazon)

[2] Terrenghi, L., Kranz, M., Holleis, P., and Schmidt, A. 2006. A cube to learn: a tangible user interface for the design of a learning appliance. Personal Ubiquitous Comput. 10, 2-3 (Jan. 2006), 153-158. DOI=

From the Internet of Things to the Web of Things

The central role of ICT becomes very visible when it does not work. Sometimes for the good as I was late arriving at Düsseldorf airport but the Airberlin check-in system was down for a few minutes – just enough that I was still in time 🙂

In the evening I met Prof. Lorenz Hilty, who gave a talk in the afternoon at ETH Zurich. I missed the talk but after the interesting and though provoking dinner conversation I decided I should finally really read his book [1] – perhaps over Christmas. Meeting with Friedemann Mattern and Hans Gellersen was very inspiring and I hope we get a change to have future joint projects.

Looking out over Zürich we talked about the transformation from the internet of things to the world wide web of things. The use of prototcol seems a little technical detail, but in my eye it may have a major impact. The WWW of things is creating a world of networked artefacts (much like the internet of things) but is completely based on Web protocols (e.g. http, RESTful web services). By working with web protocols the objects can easily become part of the web and interact with web-platforms and applications on the www (e.g. facebook, twitter, etc.). I expect by having a WWW of things we enable many more developers to create new and exciting applications on top of the internet of things. There are many challenging research questions. I am particularly interested in how will a good platform look like that empowers web programmers to create and distribute applications on the Web of things. I think we should run a workshop on this in the near future!

[1] Information Technology and Sustainability: Essays on the Relationship between Information Technology and Sustainable Development. Lorenz M. Hilty. 2008.

Keynote at Automotive UI 2009: Gert Hildebrand, MINI/BMW

Tom Seder and I openend the conference and welcomed our keynote speaker.

I was very excited that Gert Volker Hildebrand accepted to be the keynote speaker for the 1st International Conference on Automotive User Interfaces and Interactive Vehicular Applications (AutomotiveUI 2009). He is with BMW Group in Munich and is the director of design for MINI. The topic of his talks was: “MINI Design: From the Original to the Original. The path from Center Speedo to Center Globe”. When I first came across the UI concept I wanted to meet the person – and a keynote is always one way 😉

I introduced the keynote with pictures from the Italian Job Movies (the first from 1969 and the second from 2003) and I find it impressive that the re-design inspired people to redo the movie.
In his talk he explained the design language used in the MINI- in short everything is a circles or a derivatives of circles. The concept of the center globe is a central sphere display that uses layers to include information. It has a horizontal surface (like a stage) and a background as well as a foreground.

The concept separates the UI for the driver (e.g. she gets navigation) and the passenger (she gets a access to the Internet). Search on Google or Bing for Mini Center-Globe and you get the idea. The concept uses a physical object (a sphere again) to transport content and to grand access – this reminded me of Durrell Bishop’s marble answering machine… Tangible UIs again 🙂

Gert Hildebrand also recommended his book “Mini Design” by Othmar Wickenheiser and Gert Hildebrand. The books contains many design sketches and is partly English and partly German (only available at Amazon in Germany).

Overall the presentation showed again that likeability and aesthetics play an essential role in creating an attractive product – and especially an interactive product. Opening Automotive UI 2009 I made an analogy to mobile phones in 1998. Phones were then closed systems, UIs were very basic and it was very hard for 3rd parties to create applications. And now – 10 years later – UI and applications seem to play a more important role than the core technologies (or why would in 2007 people think a phone with a 2 Megapixel and without video recording and no UMTS is great).

Recommended Reading – why would I read about math during my holidays?

If you study computer science in Germany you get a fair bit of math to do – especially in the first year. It is not liked by all students… Nevertheless I have a reading recommendation that has to do with mathematics. I came across the book some month ago in a railway station bookshop – and I immediately liked it 😉

Der Mathematikverführer by Christoph Drösser. Sample Chapter (in German). Solutions to the stories in the book. Link to the page at Amazon.

The concept of the book is funny (at least I think so) as it put math together with real world questions. And these questions (that are defiantly not really relevant for the survival of mankind) make the book appealing. E.g. how many molecules of Goethe’s last breath are you breathing in? Or how far should you empty a bier can before you put it in the sand to minimize the risk of the can tipping over? Or what is the optimal distance to walk behind another person to optimize for visibility of leg length (this may be regarded sexist in the US, it’s OK in most parts of Europe)? The travelling sales man problem is also included in the book, wrapped as travelling politician.

The math does not really go beyond high school level but I have learned and revised some math while reading. I learned some interesting facts about the distribution of numbers (Benford’s law) – so do not cheat when you do studies or surveys – I will figure it out…

The book is in German – I have not seen an English version of the book…

Visit to NEC labs in Heidelberg

In the afternoon I gave a talk at NEC labs in Heidelberg on ubiquitous display networks. Over the last year we developed and number of ideas and prototypes of interactive public display systems. We run a lab class (Fallstudien) on pervasive computing technologies and advertising together with colleagues from marketing. In another class (Projektseminar) we investigated how to facilitate interaction between interactive surfaces (e.g. multi touch table) and mobile devices. One of the prototypes will be shown as poster at mobile HCI 2009 in Bonn. In some thesis projects we introduced the notion of mobile contextual displays and their potential applications in advertising, see [1] and [2].

Seeing the work at NEC and based on the discussion I really think there is a great of potential for ubiquitous display networks – at the same time there are many challenges – including privacy that allways ensures discussion 😉 It would be great to have another bachelor or master thesis to address some of them – perhaps jointly with people from NEC. To understand the information needs in a particular display environment (at the University of Duisburg-Essen) we currently run a survey to better understand requirements. If you read German you are welcome to participate in the survey.

Predicting the future usually features in my talks – and interestingly I go a recommendation from Miquel Martin for a book that takes its own angle on that: Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely (the stack of book gets slowly to large – time for holidays).

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

[2] Florian Alt, Christoph Evers, Albrecht Schmidt: Users’ View on Car Advertisements. In: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Pervasive Computing, Pervasive’09. Springer Berlin / Heidelberg Nara, Japan 2009.

Enrico Rukzio visits our Lab

Enrico Rukzio (my first PhD from Munich, now lecturer in Lancaster) visited our Lab. He was make a small tour of Germany (Münster, Essen, Oldenburg). In the user interface engineering class Enrico showed some on his current work on mobile interaction, in particular mobile projectors and NFC tags. After the presentation we wondered how long it will take till kids on the train will play with mobile projections 😉

We showed Enrico a demo of eye-tracking for active customization of browser adverts. In our setup we use the Tobii X120. For tracking of people in the room we still have not decided on a system – and Enrico told me about the Optitrack system they have. That looked quite interesting… 
As we all do studies in our work – the design of studies is critical and there is an interesting book to help with this: How to Design and Report Experiments by Andy Field  and Graham J. Hole.

Privacy – will our understanding change radically?

As one issue this morning we came across issues related to privacy. In particular it seems that social network analysis based on behavior in the real world (e.g. the reality mining project [1]) is creating serious interest beyond the technology people. Beyond measuring the frequency of encounters qualifying the way people interact (dominance, emotion, …) will reveal even more about social networks… 

In our discussion I made a reference to a book: “The Transparent Society” by David Brin. Even Though it is now nearly 10 years since it was first published I still think it is an interesting starting point for a privacy discussion.

[1] Eagle, N. and (Sandy) Pentland, A. 2006. Reality mining: sensing complex social systems. Personal Ubiquitous Comput. 10, 4 (Mar. 2006), 255-268. DOI= 

[2] The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? David Brin, Basic Books (June 1, 1999). At Amazon

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.

GIBU meeting in Dagstuhl

The week before Easter is the traditional time for the meeting of the GI group university professors (GIBU). GI (Gesellschaft für Informatik) is similar to the ACM, but on a national level. Due to other time constrains I was only able to be there for two days. We see that political aspects play more and more a role in our daily work life – if we like it or not it becomes essential to express our views with regard to computer science in Germany from a university perspective.

Besides this Dagstuhl (and in particular the wine cellar) is a good place to meet and to network. We discussed the option of doing a GI-Dagstuhl Seminar on novel user interface – let’s see if we find the time. To my surprise I met one of my professors during my undergaded studies from the University of Ulm – Prof. Uwe Schöning. His book on theoretical computer science (Theoretische Informatik – kurz gefasst, in German) got me really excite for the subject. It is really a great book to read – even if you don’t do theory.