Filtering by Category: Tech

The Economist on why you don't have a supa interconnected ubiquitous pervasive world right now

Some quotes from this week issue of The Economist, on ubiquitous computing (which I started bloggin here), I took them from various articles in the special issue. I find that they nicely exemplify common problems with ubiquitous computing and its slow user-adoption:

"Connecting machines requires giving up control to users, observes Tim Whittaker of Cambridge Consultants, which designs wireless systems. In fact, Orange M2M is criticised for trying to prevent customers from working with other operators. Thus even when mobile firms fall in love with M2M, the technology is suffocated by their embrace. Wireless innovation is more likely to come from smaller companies with a computing background. They are beginning to give machines eyes, ears and a voice. (...) Expectations were so high because much of the technology exists already. Yet it is being held back by non-technical factors: the lack of integration among different parts of the industry and the need for companies to change the way they operate. (...) Components from different firms may not work together (...) Mobile network coverage is inconsistent, so relying on just one operator is risky, and for movable things such as vending machines and cars, which may cross national borders, it is unthinkable. (...) The list goes on. Back-office software to manage the system has to work with existing corporate software. Someone has to take care of billing and managing the devices. And as everyone takes their cut, the expense grows. "It is a very long value-chain for people to bring this together," (...) But things have not gone as planned. In Japan, where much has been made of vending machines that accept payment via mobile phones, the vast majority are in fact unconnected. (...) Part of the reason is the sheer difficulty of getting all the relevant businesses together (...) Another question that inhibits take-up, even among those who are interested, is who should pay for the installation"

Why do I blog this? because it's the first time I read in a broader-audience journal (as opposed to tech journal or scientific publications) a so comprehensive and clear overview of the ubiquitous computing problems. The analyses in this special issue are spot-on the main shortcomings: technological messiness, different business models, different regulations, complex situations, etc.

The Economist on ubicomp

"When everything connects" is the latest special edition of The Economist... a survey of the telecom industry that deals with ubiquitous computing and the so-called "wireless revolution". There is a ten or so articles on that topic, which are good read if you're interested in this area. When everything connects is a good overview of the current situation and what can be expected in terms of domains (motoring), problems (standards!), regulation (government?), privacy concerns. The author concludes with the following statement:

"Wireless technology will become a part of objects in the next 50 years rather as electric motors appeared in everything from eggbeaters to elevators in the first half of the 20th century and computers colonised all kinds of machinery from cars to coffee machines in the second half. Occasionally, the results will be frightening; more often, they will be amazingly useful."

What is interesting in the survey introduction is the warning "Still, the general direction is clear (...) This survey will explain how this will come about, and why it will not be easy."

Handheld printer

Via Mr. Watson, this very curious Handheld printers:

The printer has the length of a normal ball-point pen while its width and height are more or less equivalent to the width of a modern mobile phone. The total volume is less than 300 c.c. and weights around 350 grams. This first version of PrintBrush was designed to fit into a shirt pocket.

Internet content, SMS, pictures and other information is downloaded to the PrintBrush from PDAs, mobile phones and laptop computers via a Bluetooth wireless link. Then, by following the RMPT principle the device is hand operated by sweeping it across any type of print media, no matter what its shape, size or thickness. The printout will then start to appear right behind the sweeps. The device takes into account all the parameters of the hand movement, including rotation and sudden changes of speed and acceleration. The resulting image on the printed media is very much like its digital counterpart.

Why do I blog this? making printing portable is an interesting step towars the mixture of virtual/real world.

Risk evaluation of pervasive computing

A quote from Jürgen Bohn, Vlad Coroama, Marc Langheinrich, Friedemann Mattern, Michael RohsLiving in a World of Smart Everyday Objects – Social, Economic, and Ethical Implications. Journal of Human and Ecological Risk Assessment, Vol. 10, No. 5, pp. 763-786, October 2004

Today’s technical infrastructures, such as the phone system, television, and electricity, are relatively easy to use, even for people with no special qualifications. This also entails the ability to detect malfunctions: for example, if you lift a telephone receiver and do not hear a dial tone, it is immediately evident that the phone (either the handset or the landline) is not working properly. However, this type of predictability of system behavior can no longer be taken for granted in an ambient-intelligence landscape, as systems are expected to function without users noticing their presence. This will make fault detection and diagnosis fundamentally difficult, especially for the layman (Estrin et al. 2002). Additionally, users might continue to rely on a failed service (e.g., an automated backup service or the self-diagnostics of a smart product) without noticing, thus increasing the damage done until the problem is finally discovered.

Why do I blog this? the articles describes a pertinent risk evaluation of pervasive computing. I was hooked on that one (originally I was looking for references about predictability of applications), other risks are important too.

Using origami to augment displays

Some design studio are envisionning the use of origami displays: as attested by this Origami Cell Phone and this Origami DVD player

This is a future cell phone concept developed at Inventables. The concept was inspired by the e-paper developed by Mag-Ink and the Popout Map. The map uses origami paper folding technique to expand and collapse automatically as it is opened and closed. This concept addresses the need for larger displays on cell phones without sacrificing a small form factor.

The Origami DVD Player is a portable DVD player concept that could be manufactured with a new e-paper (a full-color flexible display technology) being developed by Mag-Ink in Israel. As a product, it would target the business traveler who wants a convenient way to watch DVD movies. For this user, portability is a key requirement, but they are not interested in sacrificing their viewing experience and are willing to invest extra money for a higher quality product.

Why do I blog this? this is an intriguing way of taking advantage of a small device to expand the display through e-paper...

Another origami-related tech: it may help cellphone cameras to focus. (via emily)

Sensecam, Collaborative Reflection and Passive Image Capture

This afternoon at COOP2006, I enjoyed a short paper by "Supporting Collaborative Reflection with Passive Image Capture" by Rowanne Flec and Geraldine Fitzpatrick. Her PhD research is about how the a technology such as Microsoft's Sensecam can support reflective thoughts in different situations (teacher's practices, everyday reflections... learning from experience).

The SenseCam is a digital camera that has a light sensor and a temperature sensor (allows to trigger images to be taken)... a passive images capture tool. Then you can get a storyboard of the pictures taken.

She ran an expriment in which students when to an arcade to play games with the SenseCam. They played the game and then went back to their HCI class in which they had to discuss some HCI questions. Some groups had the images, some others not (two experimental conditions). She looked at the "goodness" of answers and the number of issues raised in discussion.

Results: - discussion-led use of images: to ground the conversation (referential communication), as an objective record, to talk about something missed by partner or "just in case" - image-led discussion: trigger memory, confirm/disconfirm memory, reveal something missed at time ("it's quite useful for getting a look at what you're actually because we did not use those buttons in the game".

Why do I blog this? I am actually interested both by the study and the tool. I would be super happy to have this sort of tool for my research project about location-based applications and about video games. It would be a nice way to get some traces of the activity that I'd be able to use to get back to the users and discuss them. Here is how it's described by MS:

SenseCam is a badge-sized wearable camera that captures up to 2000 VGA images per day into 128Mbyte FLASH memory. In addition, sensor data such as movement, light level and temperature is recorded every second.

Sensors trigger a new recording. For example, each time the person walks into a new room, this light change transition is detected and the room image is captured with an ultra wide angle or fish-eye lens. (...) The sensor data (motion, light, temperature, and near infrared images) is recorded for later correlation with other user data, for example in the MyLifeBits system. (...)MyLifeBits will allow the large number of images generated daily to be easily searched and accessed. Future SenseCams will also capture audio and possibly heart rate or other physiological data.

Paper presentation

Today at COOP2006, I presented a paper that concerns a project we did at the lab in partnership with NOKIA. The paper's called "The RoadForum: Sharing informal knowledge in a distributed team through a mobile audio environment" (Pierre Dillenbourg and Nicolas Nova). The goal of the study was to develop and evaluate a new approach to the use of mobile technology in training, focusing on sharing informal knowledge among colleagues. The project included the development of an application referred to as the RoadForum, a server-side software accessible to phone users through normal audio communication. The paper provides an informal evaluation of this system.

About interference devices

I recently saw this intriguing news: a man who said he bought a device that allowed him to change stop lights from red to green received a $50 ticket for suspicion of interfering with a traffic signal.:

Niccum was issued a citation March 29 after police said they found him using a strobe-like device to change traffic signals. Police confiscated the device.

"I'm always running late," police quoted Niccum as saying in an incident report.

The device, called an Opticon, is similar to what firefighters use to change lights when they respond to emergencies. It emits an infrared pulse that receivers on the traffic lights pick up. Niccum was cited after city traffic engineers who noticed repeated traffic light disruptions at certain intersections spotted a white Ford pickup passing by whenever the patterns were disrupted.

Why do I blog this? I find this interfering devices curious. Of course, it reminds me the tv b gone that I bought and that I don't really use. What is funny is how it's marketed:

Your TV-B-Gone® universal remote control resembles other TV remote controls, but is different in two important ways. First, it only has a power button that allows you to switch a TV on or off.

You control when you see, rather than what you see. Second, the device is so small that it easily fits in your pocket, so that you have it handy whenever you need it wherever you go: airports, bars, restaurants, laundromats, etc.

It's just for television but it's already something because you can control PUBLIC tv's our tv's in public places. Things go event further with the device that change traffic lights because it clearly disrupts the public life (or at least the conventions the public life is set). Is this a new trend? Having private devices to modify event for private interests.

This also reminds me the RFID washer:

it finds RFID tags and “electronically washes” it, thus protecting your privacy. (…) It disables the tag using patented prioprietary technology (…) it is designed to destroy all tags that you will find on everyday objects – these are known as passive tags. It is not designed to destroy active tags which are used in industrial applicatio“

In this case, there is another "value" assigned to the device: protecting one's privacy.

A server on a mobile phone

After the server on a USB key, there is this project at Nokia of having a server running on a mobile phone (via). The motivation here is quite technology-driven:

For quite some time it has been possible to access the Internet using mobile phones, although the role of the phone has strictly been that of a client. Considering that the modern phones have processing power and memory on par with and even exceeding that of webservers when the web was young, there really is no reason anymore why webservers could not reside on mobile phones and why people could not create and maintain their own personal mobile websites.

But things gets more interesting when they talk about the implications:

As a mobile phone contains quite a lot of personal data it is straightforward to semi-automatically generate a personal home page. And contrary to websites in general, a website on a mobile phone always has its "administrator" nearby and he or she can even participate in the content generation. For instance, we have created a web-application that prompts the phone owner to take a picture, which subsequently is returned as a JPG. That is, on a personal device the website can be interactive.

Further, that a website becomes mobile implies that certain properties of websites that hitherto have been mostly meaningless now need to be taken into account. As long as a website resides on a stationary server the physical location of that server lacks meaning, because it will never change. With a mobile website it does change and it is meaningful as the content that is shared may depend upon the current location and context. For instance, if you browse to a mobile website and ask the "administrator" to take a picture, the image you get depends upon the location of the website. Current search engines that update their indexes rather rarely may need modifications to be able to cope with the dynamism introduced by mobile websites.


We believe that being able to run a globally accessible personal website on your mobile phone has the potential of changing the Internet landscape. If every mobile phone or even every smartphone initially, is equipped with a webserver then very quickly most websites will reside on mobile phones. That is bound to have some impact not only on how mobile phones are perceived but also on how the web evolves.

Why do I blog this? even though the motivation at first glance was very engineer-centric, there are some curious implications, especially when thinking of the internet of things/blogject mumbling.

RFID overview: report by the ITU

UBIQUITOUS NETWORK SOCIETIES: THE CASE OF RADIO FREQUENCY IDENTIFICATION is a "background papers" by by Lara Srivastava, Telecom Policy Analyst, International Telecommunication Union (ITU). It's actually a very accurate and comprehensive overview of the RFID R&D. The part about existing usage is of particular interest, few examples:

  • RFID to combat counterfeit drugs
  • Using RFID to manufacture dental prosthetics: The French company Dentalax has launched an RFID-based system for the manufacturing of crowns and bridges for the dental industry.
  • Vatican Library deploys RFID: About 30’000 books were tagged as of October 2004. It is likely that an additional two million pieces will be tagged.
  • RFID helps parents keep a tab on their kids: Parents can choose to rent RFID-enabled wristbands from the LEGO park administration for the purpose of keeping a check on their children’s whereabouts.
  • RFID tracks runners in marathons
  • Radio frequency tags in smart watches remind people that they may have forgotten something
  • ...

A good complement of the other report about the "Internet of Things".

IM evolution

TR has a good piece on how IM is evolving, especially through open-source processes (article by Kate Greene), quoting the interoperability of Jabber (which I use everyday as a gateway for AIM/MSN contacts) or the like of Meebo and Trillian (that "seemingly combine the major IM networks (...) they merely supply a unified user interface; there's no true inter-operability"). Some snippets:

Beyond voice and text communication over the Internet, other applications have emerged that are a far cry from the traditional image of IM as a computer-to-computer chatting tool. A U.K. company called Trakm8, for example, uses the Jabber protocol and Global Positioning System to send text messages to mobile phones about the location of a car. The system also offers a feature alertings drivers via text messages if their car exceeds the speed limit.

Some investment banks have also adopted Jabber IM, building applications to fit their specific needs. Workers have multiple chat windows open at once, and when certain financial information pops up in one window, it can be routed immediately into spreadsheets containing financial models that, in turn, trigger buying decisions, Saint-Andre says.

Why do I blog this? I have already discussed here that I like IM interface and that it might be a good starting point for interacting with webservices like asking weather forecast/movie (it's possible today) and why not for RSS feeds sorting/trimming, ideas/memes exchange, delicious tagging/queries...

Besides, the Trakm8 application seems interesting too: an expansion of IM to do other things than just "chatting".

Life on cell phone?

(Via emily) The Korea Times has a good piece about researchers at Samsung electronics who want to bring cell phones to life through the use of avatars that will have the ability to think, feel, evolve, and interact with users.

The team, led by Prof. Kim Jong-hwan at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, is hooking up with Samsung to create the attention-grabbing software outfitted with ``artificial chromosomes.''

``This software can feel, think and interact with phone owners. It will breathe power into cell phones, bringing the gadgets to life,'' Kim said. (...) h's former top lieutenant Lee Kang-hee said a three-dimensional avatar will lurk inside the cell phone and adjust itself to characteristics of the cell phone carriers.

``It's just like a sophisticated creature living inside a cell phone. An owner will be allowed to set its first personality by defining the underlying DNA,'' said Lee, who will join Samsung Electronics tomorrow.

``However, it is up to the avatar how its personality develops with the owner. Its personality can get better or worse depending on how people treat it,'' he said.

Lee added folks will be able to deal with loneliness felt by the avatar, which will pop up on the phone when they feel alone, by touching a button.

Should the owner refuse to respond to the signal, the avatars will change their personalities either to express such feelings more often or just to become depressed, according to Lee.

Why do I blog this? this is very close to one of blogject scenario we thought at the workshop.

Wireless Mobile Booths

At 3GSM, with Fabien and Kosmar we had this discussion about mobile hotspots like taxis wandering around in cities offering a free wifi access. Fabien already found this interesting example: FirstMile Solution which tries to bring WiFi in developing nations with adequate technology. This is used in a project I like a lot: the Internet Motoman in Cambodia. Because the roads are so bad during rainy periods, MAP-enabled Honda motorcycles are used to connect schools to the wireless:

In Africa, there also projects about village mobile phones (but I did not find that much about it, still have to dig).

And of course, some artists took the idea to the letter with the Mobile Phone Booth.

But the idea of a mobile wireless hotspot is not meant to look like a phone booth as attested by this magic bike project: "I am like the ice cream man, but with no music and I deliver free wireless access and not ice cream." says Yury Gitman.

magicbike is a mobile WiFi (wireless Internet) hotspot that gives free Internet connectivity wherever its ridden or parked. By turning a common bicycle into a wireless hotspot, Magicbike explores new delivery and use strategies for wireless networks and modern-day urbanites. Wireless bicycles disappear into the urban fabric and bring Internet to yet unserved spaces and communities. Mixing public art with techno-activism, Magicbikes are perfect for setting up adhoc Internet connectivity for art and culture events, emergency access, public demonstrations, and communities on the struggling end of the digital-divide.

What is still unlikely (socially speaking?) is to have taxis that can provides wireless connections (well in NYC it's already the case) but those WON'T TAKE ANY TRAVELLERS, they'll just provide Wifi access...

Why do I blog this? I am just elaborating on this concept we discussed with fab and kosmar... which I find funny.

Query species on the web

It's funny that I found two links to this iSpecies in the last fives minutes (one on and the other on a google watchlist). It is a species search engine led by Roderic Page. You can query species and the data displayed are generated "on the fly" by querying other data sources:

iSpecies uses web services to talk to source databases, extract data, and assemble a page for each species. The code makes extensive use of XML. Essentially, each web service returns XML in one form or another, and I use and XSL style sheets to transform the result into HTML. (...) iSpecies queries NCBI using the Entrez Programming Utilities. It uses ESearch to look up a taxon name then, if the name is found, uses ESummary to get basic statistics on what NCBI holds for that taxon. (...) iSpecies uses Yahoo's Image Search web service to find up to five images for the query term. (...) This uses a Perl script I created to search Google Scholar. The script screen scrapes Google Scholar, extracts references and identifiers (such as DOIs and PubMed identifiers), then returns the results in RDF.

They have a blog about it.

Why do I blog this? this is somehow a search engine for blogjects, or they should add a new feature: connecting this to a near real-time animal track...

Self-reproduction of a physical, three-dimensional 4-module robot

(via) this is amazing Self replication project carried out at Cornell University by Viktor Zykov, Efstathios Mytilinaios, Bryant Adams, Hod Lipson.

Self-replication is a fundamental property of many interesting physical, formal and biological systems, such as crystals, waves, automata, and especially forms of natural and artificial life. Despite its importance to many phenomena, self-replication has not been consistently defined or quantified in a rigorous, universal way, nor has it been demonstrated systematically in physical artificial systems. Our research focuses both on a new information-theoretic understanding of self-replication phenomena, and the design and implementation of scalable physical robotic systems where various forms of artificial self replication can occur. Our goal is twofold: To understand principles of self-replication in nature, and to explore the use of these principles to design more robust, self-sustaining and adaptive machines.

The website provides an example:

Self-reproduction of a physical, three-dimensional 4-module robot: (a) A basic module and an illustration of its internal actuation mechanism; (b) Three snapshots from the first 10 seconds showing how a 4-module robot transforms as its modules swivel simultaneously. (c) A sequence of frames showing the self reproduction process that spans about 2.5 minutes. The entire reproduction process runs continuously without human intervention, except for replenishing building blocks at the two 'feeding' locations circled in red.

The video is stunning. Lots of precisions can be found in the faq.

A good read about this: Zykov V., Mytilinaios E., Adams B., Lipson H. (2005) "Self-reproducing machines", Nature Vol. 435 No. 7038, pp. 163-164

Why do I blog this? during my undergraduate studies I often encountered the very idea of self-replication, this is a very concrete example of how it can be embedded into real artifacts.