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=

My Random Papers Selection from Ubicomp 2008

Over the last days there were a number of interesting papers presented and so it is not easy to pick a selection… Here is my random paper selection from Ubicomp 2008 that link to our work (the conference papers link into the ubicomp 2008 proceedings in the ACM DL, our references are below):

Don Patterson presented a survey on using IM. One of the finding surprised me: people seem to ignore “busy” settings. In some work we did in 2000 on mobile availability and sharing context users indicated that they would respect this or at least explain when interrupt someone who is busy [1,2] – perhaps it is a cultural difference or people have changed. It may be interesting to run a similar study in Germany.

Woodman and Harle from Cambridge presented a pedestrian localization system for large indoor environments. Using a XSens device they combine dead reckoning with knowledge gained from a 2.5D map. In the experiment they seem to get similar results as with a active bat system – by only putting the device on the user (which is for large buildings much cheaper than putting up infrastructure).
Andreas Bulling presented work where he explored the use EOG goggles for context awareness and interaction. The EOG approach is complementary to video based systems. The use of gesturest for context-awarenes follows a similar idea as our work on eye gestures [3]. We had an interesting discussion about further ideas and perhaps there is chance in the future to directly compare the approaches and work together.
In one paper “on using existing time-use study data for ubiquitous computing applications” links to interesting public data sets were given (e.g the US time-use survey). The time-use surevey data covers the US and gives detailed data on how people use their data.
University of Salzburg presented initial work on an augmented shopping system that builds on the idea of implicit interaction [4]. In the note they report a study where they used 2 cameras to observe a shopping area and they calculated the “busy spots” in the area. Additional they used sales data to get best selling products. Everything was displayed on a public screen; and an interesting result was that it seems people where not really interesting in other shoppers behavior… (in contrast to what we observe in e-commerce systems).
Researchers from Hitachi presented a new idea for browsing and navigating content based on the metaphor of using a book. In is based on the concept to have a bendable surface. In complements interestingly previous work in this domain called Gummi presented in CHI 2004 by Schwesig et al.
[1] Schmidt, A., Takaluoma, A., and Mäntyjärvi, J. 2000. Context-Aware Telephony Over WAP. Personal Ubiquitous Comput. 4, 4 (Jan. 2000), 225-229. DOI=
[2] Albrecht Schmidt, Tanjev Stuhr, Hans Gellersen. Context-Phonebook – Extending Mobile Phone Applications with Context. Proceedings of Third Mobile HCI Workshop, September 2001, Lille, France.
[3] Heiko Drewes, Albrecht Schmidt. Interacting with the Computer using Gaze Gestures. Proceedings of INTERACT 2007.
[4] Albrecht Schmidt. Implicit Human Computer Interaction Through Context. Personal Technologies, Vol 4(2), June 2000

Our Posters at Ubicomp 2008

In the poster session we showed 3 ideas of ongoing work from our lab and got some interesting comments and had good discussions. 
Ali presented initial findings from our experiments with multi-tactile output on a mobile phone [1]. He created a prototype with 6 vibration motors that can be individually controlled. In the studies we looked at what locations of the vibration elements and what patters can be spotted by the user. In short it seems that putting the vibration motors in the corners works best.

Florian showed ideas on counting page impressions on public advertising screens we sketched out with Antonio’s Group in Münster [2]. The basic idea is to use sensors to get an idea of the number of people passing by. To calibrate such a system (as the sensor observations are only incomplete) we propose to use existing ways of counting people (e.g. access gates to public transport) and extrapolate based on this information.

I presented Dagmar’s poster on initial work on providing information on the fuel economy in an engaging way to the user [3]. In a focus group study we observed that people are more aware of the price of a journey when using public transport than when using a car. For the car they know well the price per liter but have to calculate the price for a typical trip (e.g. to work). We suggest ideas where one can compete with others (e.g. from the social network) in saving energy on a specific route.

[1] Alireza Sahami Shirazi, Paul Holleis, Albrecht Schmidt. Rich Tactile Output for Notification on Mobile Phones (2-page paper, poster). Adjunct proceedings of Ubicomp 2008, Seoul, Korea, p26-27
[2] Albrecht Schmidt, Florian Alt, Paul Holleis, Jörg Müller, Antonio Krüger. Creating Log Files and Click Streams for Advertisements in Physical Space (2-page paper, poster). Adjunct proceedings of Ubicomp 2008, Seoul, Korea, p28-29
[3] Dagmar Kern, Paul Holleis, Albrecht Schmidt. Reducing Fuel Consumption by Providing In-situ Feedback on the Impact of Current Driving Actions (2-page paper, poster), Adjunct proceedings of Ubicomp 2008, Seoul, Korea, p18-19

Keynote at Ubicomp 2008, Dr. Shim Yoon

The opening keynote at Ubicomp 2008 was presented by Dr. Shim Yoon (Vice President Samsung SDS) on Realizing Ubiquitous Cities. She stated out with a few  scenarios of life in the future. Information is embedded into the environment – just in place and just in time – just what you need. Environments become pleasant and technologies look nice, so you can mistake a power distribution box for a sculpture. Cities will be really save as monitoring will be ubiquitous and continuous. Much of the vision is convincing and convenient (given that you have given up on privacy, too). 
There has been an interesting slide in the scenarios that  made me smile (in short “22:47, pick up the book reserved in advance for lending after taking a walk”). It basically says we will still have pretty long days and books will be around, too. 

I think in the age of ebooks I will not pick up books late in the evening. Looking at the analogies of previous technical revolutions one can argue that these reduced the number of hours people had to work to have a good life – it seems this technical revolution creates the opposite (u-work everywhere and anytime 😉 – is fine with me because I like my work :-)She described how technologies changes the urban culture, e.g. provision of water, later roads and harbors, and very recent fiber optics and mobile communications. In her view ubiquitous technologies will add a further paradigm shift. 

The overall concept of u-city can be condensed to her statement:  “u-city can solve complicated urban problems” and this is attempted by combining political, physical and techno solutions. It is envisioned having IT included in all city elements. The approach follows a layered design with a base layer of the communication infrastructure (e.g. fixed and wireless infrastructure). In the middle there are the u-facility arrangements (e.g. sensor network, CCTV, power distribution), and on top u-services (u-home, u-office, u-traffic, …) are provided. 

It is envisioned that u-services are partly free (provided by the government) and partly
 commercial. Some of the examples for services see straight forward and very close (e.g. u-urban facility management that allows to monitor, check, maintain the infrastructure) and some are somehow scary (e.g. u-safety and security allows complete monitoring over the while city, ranging from fire recognition to behavioral analysis of its inhabitants). She pointed out that u-service modeling needs to include technical aspects as well as a business analysis.
The importance Korea sees in this topic is amazing and is summarized by the following quote “U-city is a key aspect in the next generation industry and economy in Korea”. The Korean government is behind the developments and urban planning embraces the concept and puts it at the center of the planning. Looking at the u-urban information concept it becomes apparent that this concept is valuable along the entire lifecycle, including planning, simulation, management and operation. One catch is that it has to be integrated while building, otherwise it will be expensive and it is not possible to gain the full potential. This is the bad message for most developed countries as we usually change our cities and do not build them from scratch…

Explaining more on the realization of u-city she argued that a new process is required and that construction and IT processes have  to go together. During city planning a u-city consulting process is performed (creating an IT master plan for the new city including the envisioning of the services). In the building process the IT-infrastructure is included (when it is easiest to realize). Running and managing the city includes operating U-city (basically running the IT services by a specific UbiCenter – a control center for the city).

In the final part of her keynote she talked a little about the Samsung U-City strategy. Here she saw a necessity to merge the city construction with the provision of IT capabilities. This ranges from  developing convergence Services (e.g. ubiquitous communication service, city control an & security services) to the creation of comprehensive services for complex housing environments. An example of a infrastructure device she mentioned is a complex lighting pole (which could include information display, LED lighting, CCTV camera, wireless access points, etc.). In summary the strategy is the development (and potentially the export) of world class u-city technologies. 
In the question session I raised the issue if this may lead to even more people moving from the rural areas to cities because of the new qualities such u-cities will provide. And it seems there will be even a greater difference between rural areas and cities in the future and this may strengthen the trend towards mega-cities. Perhaps we should think a bit more about u-rural…

Doctoral colloquium at Ubicomp 2008

In the doctoral colloquium at Ubicomp 2008 we saw an interesting mix of topics including work on context-awareness, interaction in smart space, home infrastructures and urban environments. Overall there is again the observation that in ubicomp topics are very broad (at least in the beginning) and that it is not easy to narrow it down.

As Ali works on tactile feedback it was very interesting to see the presentation of Kevin Li on eyes-free interaction. He has an upcoming paper at UIST 2008 which is worthwhile to check out [1]. It was interesting some of the questions that relate to “easily learnable” or “intuitive” related to the discussion we had 2 weeks ago at the automotive UI workshop – what are tactile stimuli that are natural and we associate meaning with them without explanations or learning?
There are many more papers to read if you are interested in tactile communication and output, here are two suggestions [2] and [3].
[1]. Li, K. A., Baudisch, P., Griswold, W.G., Hollan, J.D. Tapping and rubbing: exploring new dimensions of tactile feedback with voice coil motors. To appear in Proc. UIST’08.

[2] Chang, A. and O’Modhrain, S., Jacob, R., Gunther, E., and Ishii, H. ComTouch: design of a vibrotactile communication device. Proc. Of DIS’02, pp. 312-320.

[3] Malcolm Hall, Eve Hoggan, Stephen A. Brewster: T-Bars: towards tactile user interfaces for mobile touchscreens. Mobile HCI 2008: 411-414

PS: Just one remark on the term “framework” (a favorite word to use in dissertation and paper titles) – it is not a clear term and expectations are very different, hence it make sense to think twice before using it 😉