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Posts in category 'Mechatronics'

1 March 2009

Two upcoming European conferences

IRealize
IRealize
Turin, Italy
9-10 June 2009

It’s still early days for this conference that presents itself as “two days aimed at identifying unsolved problems, suggesting possible (technological?) solutions and stimulating the creation of new disruptive start-ups”. The website needs some TLC and not much is yet announced.

A call for participation is currently open.

LIFT France 09

LIFT France 09
Marseille, France
18-19 June 2009

On June 18 and 19, entrepreneurs, researchers, artists, designers, and activists will be at LIFT France to express their vision of a “hands-on future”, a future of do-it-yourself change:

  • Changing Things: Towards objects that are not just “smart” and connected, but also customizable, hackable, transformable, fully recyclable… Towards decentralized and multipurpose manufacturing, or even home fabrication…
  • Changing Innovation: Towards continuous and networked innovation, emerging from users as well as entrepreneurs, from researchers as well as activists…
  • Changing the Planet: Towards a “green design” that reconnects global environmental challenges with growth, but also with human desire, pleasure, beauty and fun…

Confirmed speakers are (for now) Usman Haque, Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, Philippe Lemoine, Euan Semple, John Thackara, Edith Akerman, Dennis Pamlin, and Jean-Michel Cornu.

22 February 2009

The Internet of Things in 2020

IOT 2020
In February 2008, the European Commission and an European industry working group (EPoSS) held a workshop on the Internet of Things, involving more than 80 experts from universities, research centres and private companies such as France Telecom, Hitachi, Lufthansa, Philips Research, and Telenor.

A report, published in September 2008, draws the conclusions of the workshop and incorporates the views and opinions of many experts who were consulted over the six months that followed the workshop.

I was only made aware of the report last week when one of the editors – Alessandro Bassi of Hitachi Europe – presented its insights during a European Commission Info Day on Internet of Things research that I attended [and that Experientia is keen on participating in]. Now having read it, I can highly recommend this short, well-written document as quite a good introduction to the current state of affairs (even though it is meanwhile five months old).

Starting off with an overview of the technological issues themselves, the report immediately points out the barriers (absence of governance, privacy and security) before even highlighting its possible applications. The final chapters are again devoted to societal issues, with an emphasis on policy, people and environmental aspects.

Executive summary (excerpt)

There will be no limit to the actions and operations these smart “things” will be able to perform: for instance, devices will be able to direct their transport, adapt to their respective environments, self-configure, self-maintain, self-repair, and eventually even play an active role in their own disposal.

To reach such a level of ambient intelligence, however, major technological innovations and developments will need to take place. Governance, standardisation and interoperability are absolute necessities on the path towards the vision of things able to communicate with each other. In this respect, new power efficient, security centred and fully global communication protocols and sustainable standards must be developed, allowing vast amount of information to be shared amongst things and people. The ability of the smart devices to withstand any kind of harsh environment and harvest energy from their surroundings becomes crucial. Furthermore, a major research issue will be to enable device adaptation, autonomous behaviour, intelligence, robustness, and reliability. The general organisational architecture of intelligent “things” will be of fundamental importance: whether it should be centralised or totally distributed.

Another central issue of the Internet of Things will be related to trust, privacy and security, not only for what concerns the technological aspects, but also for the education of the people at large. The growing data demand and higher data transfer rates will require stronger security models employing context related security, which in return will help the citizens to build trust and confidence in these novel technologies rather than increasing fears of total surveillance scenarios. The dissemination of the benefits that these technologies can bring to the general public will also be essential for the success of this technology on the market. The real advantages of the IoT have to be shown convincingly, all citizens’ concerns must be addressed and taken into account when developing innovative solutions and proposals.

Download report

10 November 2008

User experience design for ubiquitous computing

Wine rack
Mike Kuniavsky of ThingM wrote an article on ubiquitous computing user experience design for ACM’s interactions magazine.

The user experience design of most everyday ubiquitous computing devices—things you see in gadget blogs—is typically terrible. That’s because we do not address ubicomp user experience design as a distinct branch of interaction design, much as we did not treat interaction design as separate from visual design in the early days of the Web.

In the last couple of years, I have conducted research for and designed a number of ubicomp user experiences. In the process, I’ve seen some of the seams between industrial design, interaction design, architecture, and ubiquitous computing user experience design. In this article, I have tried to pull together some approaches that seem particularly valuable in the ubiquitous computing user experience world. None is unique to it: They’re all general design guidelines, but they seem to apply particularly well to the particular design challenges of this field.

The final article is only available to subscribers, but he published a preprint version of it on his blog.

30 September 2008

Toward a European Internet-of-Things

Internet of Things
Europe could take the lead in the next generation of the Internet. In a document entitled “EU Communication on Future Networks and the Internet”, the European Commission has outlined the main steps that Europe has to take to respond to the next wave of the Information Revolution that will intensify in the coming years due to trends such as social networking, the decisive shift to on-line business services, nomadic services based on GPS and mobile TV and the growth of smart tags.

They also launched a public consultation on the policy and private sector responses to these opportunities, in order to prepare an upcoming Communication on the Internet of Things. This document will propose a policy approach addressing the whole range of political and technological issues related to the move from RFID and sensing technologies to the Internet of Things. It will focus especially on architectures, control of critical infrastructures, emerging applications, security, privacy and data protection, spectrum management, regulations and standards, broader socio-economic aspects.

A working paper on the Internet of Things accompanies the consultation by outlining the early challenges of this important development.

And to make sure you got the importance of it all: the French have even organised a ministerial conference on it all.

(via Bruce Sterling)

9 July 2008

Polite, pertinent and… pretty

Polite, pertinent and... pretty
Polite, pertinent and… pretty: designing for the new wave of personal informatics” was the title of a talk given by Matt Jones (Dopplr) and Tom Coates (Yahoo! Brickhouse) at the recent Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco.

Summarising their talk is not an easy thing to do, but I will give it a try. In any case the 81 slides with speaker notes are available on SlideShare.

Jones and Coates start from the premise that information is now becoming so pervasive, omni-present, localised and personalised that we can not only increase our awareness but also constantly use it to our advantage. These data come from big databases, but also from our own behaviours. Our own devices sense, record and sample data, and share these with other devices and with us and other people. They call this “personal informatics”. But this poses a huge user experience challenge, which requires a sophisticated design solution:

“The discipline of informatics is based on the recognition that the design of this technology is not solely a technical matter, but must focus on the relationship between the technology and the use in real-world settings.”

“That is, informatics designs solutions in context, and takes into account the social, cultural and organisational settings in which computing and information technology will be used.”

But what does that mean concretely? How should we design? Jones and Coates propose “three pegs to hang some thoughts off” and they all start with a P.

In defining the concept of politeness (to be thought of as the “softer ying to the hard yang of ‘privacy’), they lean on such thinkers as Adam Greenfield (and in particular his recent book “Everyware“), Mimi Ito, Leisa Reichelt, Matthew Chalmers, Anne Galloway and of course their own practice.

Pertinence is about “disclosing information that is timely and as ‘in context’ as possible”. To define this better, they refer to the ‘movement’ metaphor that Matt Webb of Schulze & Webb recently described in a talk. Webb posits that we are moving from a web of ‘places’ to “something more like a web of organisms or engines connecting and fuelling each other”.

So the issue here is to show small pieces of information in the right context at the right time, “delivered in increasingly pertinent ways, depending on our habits and contexts”.

And finally there is prettiness:

“The vast quantities of information that personal informatics generate need not only to be clear and understandable to create legibility and literacy in this new world, but I’d argue in this first wave also seductive, in order to encourage play, trial and adoption”.

So what is the future of personal informatics? Aren’t we creating our own “participatory panopticon” (Jamais Cascio)? Or are we moving to a world filled with “spimes” (Bruce Sterling)? At the moment it’s often artists who are exploring the boundaries of this unknown future.

In a long post, Alex Steffen of Worldchanging presents his own – excellent – summary of the Jones/Coates talk, but takes their analysis a step further by connecting it with sustainability and adding a fourth P (“Protection”):

“Ubiquity and sustainability could turbocharge each other. Ubiquity enables revealed backstories, observed flows and shared services, making it easier to live well at a minimum of expense and ecological impact. Sustainability, particularly in the form of compact urbanism with bright green innovation, concentrates human interactions with each other and networked systems, making it easier to suffuse daily life with the sort of intelligence that allows data to be gathered, shared and connected. The Net and the public square, as Castells wrote, are symbiants.” […]

“PSS [product-service systems] offer enormous potential sustainability benefts. Indeed, I’d argue that it will be impossible to deliver sustainable prosperity without the widespread adoption of shared/sharing systems. But they can also have a real downside, for PSS rely on a more intimate connection with their users, and where that intimacy is not backed by protected relationships, real disaster can result.” […]

“So, I would add a fourth P, “Protection.”

If we are going to interact with companies in intimate ways — in ways that impact our deepest life choices — those interactions ought not only to be held to a higher standard of transparency and public accountability; they ought to be safe-guarded in formal ways as well by having corporate decision-making structures that protect the user rights of the people involved.”

Steffen keeps on surprising me by the depth of his thinking.

27 February 2008

Donald Norman in Torino, Italy on 15 March

Donald Norman
Donald Norman is probably one of the most prominent guests at the upcoming Piemonte Share Festival, curated by Bruce Sterling.

Norman will be part of a panel on Saturday afternoon 15 March entitled “Manufacturing Future Designs”.

The many conferences of the festival are delving into all kinds of variations of the overall “manufacturing” theme: Manufacturing Cultural Projects; Manufacturing the Streets; Dramatic Manufacturing; Manufacturing Intelligence; Manufacturing Robots; A Manifesto for Networked Objects; Manufacturing Digital Art; Manufacturing Future Designs; Manufacturing Consent; and Is Life Manufacturable?

Speakers and guests are many, including Montse Arbelo, Andrea Balzola, Massimo Banzi, Luis Bec, Gino Bistagnino, Julian Bleecker, Chiara Boeri, Stefano Boeri, PierLuigi Capucci, Stefano Carabelli, Antonio Caronia, Paolo Cirio, Gianni Corino, Lutz Dammbeck, Luca De Biase, Kees de Groot, Hugo Derijke, Giovanni Ferrero, Fabio Franchino, Joseba Franco, Piero Gilardi, Owen Holland, Janez Jansa, Nicole C. Karafyllis, Maurizo Lorenzati, Mauro Lupone, Giampiero Masera, Motor, Ivana Mulatero, Daniele Nale, Anne Nigten, Donald Norman, Marcos Novak, Gordana Novakovic, Giorgio Olivero, Claudio Paletto, Luigi Pagliarini, Katina Sostmann, Stelarc, Bruce Sterling, Pietro Terna, Franco Torriani, and Viola van Alphen.

15 February 2008

Human factors in mechanical engineering

Mechanical engineering
February’s issue of Mechanical Engineering is focused on the role of human factors in design.

The lead article, the new point of view, discusses the renewed importance of human factors in product design, with a veritable who’s who of IDSA experts in the subject, including Don Norman, Rob Tannen and Bryce Rutter.

The article is a useful introduction targeted at an engineering audience, and covering the wide range of human factors aspects, from physical fit to creating an emotional connection with the end-user:

“More than ever, successful companies incorporate human factors engineering, psychology, and cognitive theory in designs. Their goal is nothing less than to create a user experience that makes us love the product.”

The issue also contains several other articles, including a focus on use – an article on the importance of collaboration between designers, researchers and engineers in creating usable products; Human Factors: To Compete or Cooperate? – on human factors in the process industry; The Driver’s Only Human … – on traffic safety; and a video of a human factors discussion panel moderated by Don Norman. Accessing the video requires filling out a brief registration form.

(via Designing for Humans)

4 January 2008

Scientist: ‘Hybrid’ computers will meld living brains with technology

Biomorphic
For sure Ray Kurzweil (author of The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology) and Bruce Sterling (who coined the term “Biot” – an entity which is both object and person – in his book Shaping Things) will enjoy this:

A scientist who successfully connected a moth’s brain to a robot predicts that in 10 to 15 years we’ll be using “hybrid” computers running a combination of technology and living organic tissue.

Charles Higgins, an associate professor at the University of Arizona, has built a robot that is guided by the brain and eyes of a moth. Higgins told Computerworld that he basically straps a hawk moth to the robot and then puts electrodes in neurons that deal with sight in the moth’s brain. Then the robot responds to what the moth is seeing — when something approaches the moth, the robot moves out of the way. […]

This organically guided, 12-in.-tall robot on wheels may be pushing the technology envelope right now, but it’s just the seed of what is coming in terms of combining living tissue with computer components, according to Higgins.

“In future decades, this will be not surprising,” he said. “Most computers will have some kind of living component to them. In time, our knowledge of biology will get to a point where if your heart is failing, we won’t wait for a donor. We’ll just grow you one. We’ll be able to do that with brains, too. If I could grow brains, I could really make computing efficient.”

Read full story

(via UsabilityNews)

18 October 2007

Siemens on factories of the future and seamless communication

Siemens magazine
The latest issue of Pictures of the Future, the half-yearly research and innovation magazine of Siemens, the German engineering conglomerate, looks at the future, with Epcot style utopian thinking and illustrations straight from the Jetsons (check page 40).

Two topics stand out: “Factories of the Future” and “Seamless Communication”.

Factories of the Future is about making it possible to design products in the virtual world and to design and test their associated production processes there as well. If you are interested in spimes or the mechatronic challenge, this pretty enthusiastic engineering prose is reading material for you. But don’t expect a critical discourse about how this all matters to people.

What we’re moving toward is a virtual representation of the entire value chain — everything from raw materials to lifetime maintenance, remote service and product and production planning in a holistic, seamless product lifecycle and supply chain management environment,” says Paul Camuti, president of Siemens Corporate Research. “In twenty years the real and virtual worlds will be seamlessly integrated. Our simulations will duplicate reality down to the last detail. The result will be virtually limitless manufacturing flexibility.”

The result could also be a revolution in retailing and consumer purchasing. Already, some clothing stores provide “mass customized” personalized items. But as simulation technology matures, high-tech kiosks and “walk-in Websites” that link us to manufacturers and their suppliers may allow us to profoundly and realistically individualize, test and even experience the appearance and personalities of everything from phones and scooters to clothing and the design and decoration of our homes. We may even venture into virtual worlds ourselves.

Seamless Communication makes much of the Siemens collaboration with Nokia. Jarkko Sairanen, responsible for Nokia’s business strategy and technology planning, talks about the usability challenge (page 82-83). But there is also an article about the smart home which adapts to user profiles (page 86-87); and an insight piece on how to prevent production plants from being hacked (page 94-95) – I am not making this up.

Download report (pdf, 3.7 mb, 55 double pages)

11 August 2007

Rapid manufacturing’s role in the factory of the future

Direct Metal Laser Sintering
Two years ago Bruce Sterling wrote in his book Shaping Things: “We can define ‘fabricators’ as a likely future development of the devices known today as ‘3-D printers’ or ‘rapid prototypers’. The key to understanding the fabricator is that it radically shortens the transition from a 3-D model to a physical actuality. A fabricator in a SPIME world is a SPIME that makes physical things out of virtual plans, in an immediate, one-step process.”

It’s happening already, according to this Design News article:

Greg Morris doesn’t spend much time wondering about the factory of the future. He already runs it.

His company, Morris Technologies, specializes in tough-to-manufacture metal components for aerospace, medical and industrial applications. At first glance, Morris seems to operate a conventional machine shop full of high-end CNC machines. Next to the machine tools, though, Morris quietly runs a bank of EOS direct metal laser-sintering (DMLS) machines, which build up parts from successive layers of fused metal powder.

With six machines, Morris has the world’s highest concentration of DMLS capacity. And he has been using those machines not just to make prototypes but also to turn out production parts. It’s a practice that goes by many names — including rapid manufacturing, direct digital manufacturing, solid freeform fabrication and low-volume-layered manufacturing. All of the names refer to the use of additive fabrication technologies, which were initially intended for prototyping, to make finished goods, instead. Morris believes additive fabrication systems will soon occupy an increasingly prominent space on our shop floors. “We’re on the verge of a revolution in how things are made,” he says.

This is also the right time to add another category to Putting People First: mechatronics (under “Business”). It is a term that was recently re-introduced by Donald Norman, and I add it as a category because I think it is particularly relevant to the city where I live (Turin, Italy) with its great and very high-end mechanical engineering tradition – and therefore also for any other engineering-focused economy.

9 July 2007

Donald Norman on the next UI breakthroughs

Donald Norman
Donald Norman thinks that the next UI breakthroughs are a return to fundamentals (with improvements):

Command line languages
We navigate the Internet by typing phrases into our browsers and invoking our favorite search engine. But more and more, we type in commands, not search items. All the major search engines now allow typed commands, bypassing any intermediate Web pages to directly yield answers. […]
These modern command languages have some major virtues over the ones in the past. They are tolerant of variations, robust, and exhibit slight touches of natural language flexibility.

Perhaps a clue for policy makers in regional areas with lots of mechanical engineering companies: why not position yourself as the leader in the new field of “mechatronics”?

Physicality
The return to physical devices, where we control things by physical movement; turning, moving, and manipulating appropriate mechanical devices.
Physical devices have immediate design virtues, but they require new rules of engagement that differ from what we are used to with the typical mouse movements and clicks of the traditional keyboard and mouse interface. Designers have to learn how to translate the mechanical actions and directness into control of the task.

(via Pasta and Vinegar)

27 September 2006

Fab Labs deliver innovative solutions to local needs [Christian Science Monitor]

Fab Lab
Fab Labs are different than the myriad other nonprofit programs working to introduce technology to disadvantaged communities. The MIT professors who came up with the Fab Lab concept believed that rural villagers in India, sheep herders in Norway, and impoverished teens in the Pretoria township of Shoshanguve – anyone anywhere, really – could learn to create technology, as well as use it.

“The capabilities are there,” says Sherry Lassiter, program manager for MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, which developed the Fab Labs. “What we’re trying to do is to give them access to the knowledge and the tools.”

The labs are part of what the Center for Bits and Atoms believes is a trend toward widespread personal fabrication. This is the idea that, not long from now, individuals will be able to manufacture goods at home in the same way they now use personal computing.

The Fab Labs are filled with modern manufacturing equipment [and] show how personal fabrication can empower communities. Once people learn the basics of the Fab Labs’ computers and manufacturing equipment, they can start developing their own solutions to local problems.

In rural India, for instance, inventors at a Fab Lab are developing a machine to measure the fat content of milk and to sound an alarm when that milk is about to turn sour – important for local dairy farmers. In the mountains of Norway, the local Fab Lab inventors are developing a monitoring device for herders to put on sheep, which would give the animals’ location, body temperature, and other statistics. In Ghana, inventors are working on portable, hand-held solar panels to charge appliances such as televisions and refrigerators.

Read full story

12 November 2005

Neil Gershenfeld interviewed on NPR

Npr_125_1
In a half hour audio interview on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, Neil Gershenfeld of MIT says a revolution is on the horizon for manufacturing — that existing technologies and tools can bring capabilities once only held by huge factories down to the personal level.

Neil Gershenfeld is the author of the book FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop — From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication. He is also the director, Center for Bits and Atoms associate professor, media arts and sciences, MIT, and has been spearheading Fab Labs across the world.

(via WorldChanging)

8 November 2005

MIT’s Fab Labs unlocking imagination around the world [CNN]

Fab_lab
MIT has established seven so-called Fabrication Labs in places as distant as Norway and Ghana. Each lab has tool sets that, costing about $25,000, would be out of the reach of most fledgling inventors.

Advocates of such “Fab Labs” think they have the potential to vastly expand the creative powers of tinkerers and usher in a revolution in do-it-yourself design and manufacturing that can mpower even the smallest of communities.

“If you give people access to means to solve their own problems, it touches something very, very deep,” said Neil Gershenfeld, an MIT physicist and computer scientist whose is among the movement’s chief proponents. “Somehow it goes back to nest-building, or mastering your own environment.

Read full story