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Posts in category 'Ubiquitous computing'

5 December 2012

No one likes a city that’s too smart

Songdo smart city

This week London hosts a jamboree of computer geeks, politicians, and urban planners from around the world. At the Urban Age conference, they will discuss the latest whizz idea in high tech, the “smart city”.

“But,” writes Richard Sennett in The Guardian, “the danger now is that this information-rich city may do nothing to help people think for themselves or communicate well with one another.”

“A great deal of research during the last decade, in cities as different as Mumbai and Chicago, suggests that once basic services are in place people don’t value efficiency above all; they want quality of life. A hand-held GPS device won’t, for instance, provide a sense of community. More, the prospect of an orderly city has not been a lure for voluntary migration, neither to European cities in the past nor today to the sprawling cities of South America and Asia. If they have a choice, people want a more open, indeterminate city in which to make their way; this is how they can come to take ownership over their lives.”

3 December 2012

How Ford makes its cars smarter

mascarenas

In the fast-evolving world of connected cars, CTO Paul Mascarenas is bringing Detroit and Silicon Valley together to chart Ford’s path into the future.

Brian Cooley of CNet interviews him during a walk through Ford’s advanced research facilities.

26 November 2012

Book: The Human Face of Big Data

humanface

Big Data is the subject of a forthcoming glossy photo book, a smartphone application for personal data analysis and comparison, and an interactive version of the book for the iPad, reports Steve Lohr on the New York Times Bits blog. The Human Face of Big Data project is the brainchild of Rick Smolan, creator of the “Day in the Life” series of books.

Book
“The Human Face of Big Data” focuses on how data, smart software, sensors and computing are opening the door to all sorts of new uses in science, business, health, energy and water conservation. And the pictures are mostly of the people doing that work or those being affected.

App
The idea is to get as many people from around the world as possible to use the application. The program will be able to collect data on travel and movement (through the smartphone’s GPS and accelerometer), food (take a picture and shortly after the program identifies the food, including estimates of calories and fat content) and attitudes (the user answers questions posed by the app). The data will be fed into a “Measure Our World” database, and people can see how their habits and attitudes compare with others by, say, where a person lives, gender and age.

Interactive iPad book
An innovative app with enhanced stories brings The Human Face of Big Data to life.

26 November 2012

Unpacking cars: doing anthropology at Intel (paper by Genevieve Bell)

unpackingcars

The fall 2011 issue of AnthroNotes (pdf) starts off with an article by Genevieve Bell, senior cultural anthropologist at Intel.

She describes her latest research project, designed to understand how cars around the world can serve as windows into the future of mobile technology and computers. The article also contains an ample but simply worded expose on why Intel has anthropologist and what they do.

“We wanted to see what people carried with them [in cars] and to understand how cars functioned as sites of technology consumption and human activity, and how they became imbued with meaning.” [...]

“Cars are a contested space when it comes to new technology. What makes sense to bring into a car, to leave in a car, or to install in a car – all are still being negotiated. This negotiation is being impacted by many factors – legislation, social regulation, guilt, perceptions of safety and crime, urban density, parking structures, commute time, just to name a few. As such, imagining and designing technologies for cars, for technologies to be used in cars, and for the worlds that cars will inhabit is a more nuanced undertaking than many imagine.” [...]

“Cars are so much more than forms of transportation. They are, in point of fact, highly charged objects. They say something about who we are and who we want to be. They are also part of much more complex systems, ecosystems, environments, and imaginations. In this way, cars resemble many other contemporary technologies: our smart phones, tablets, even tablets and e-readers.”

UPDATE: Video version is here.

4 November 2012

Human face of big data

humanfacebigdata1

This past week featured a worldwide experiment conducted via a mobile app: The Human Face of Big Data. On September 26, 2012, Against All Odds Productions launched a smartphone and tablet app. With it, users could map their daily footprint through GPS, share a picture of what brings them luck, and get a glimpse into the one thing people want to experience during their lifetime. Why was this done?

Rick Smolan believes in the concept of “big data”, the idea that it is possible to analytically process massive amounts of data in order to derive insights into problems facing the world. Without most people even realizing it, your smartphone is collecting a lot of data on a daily basis. Where you have been. Who you have been calling. What businesses do you like. Most of this data is used for marketing or discarded after temporary usage by your apps. But what if this data could be harnessed?

The Human Face of Big Data app allows volunteers to provide demographic information through a series of questions. Then, through the rest of the week, the smartphone’s sensors were keeping a log of how far people traveled, how fast, and where they were going. While this may mostly be interesting to social scientists, Smolan is doing this to show just how much information people are already sharing passively. He believes that big data will have a more transforming effect than the internet itself.

4 November 2012

Bridging the gap between humans and computers

driverlesscar

Heather Kelly reports on the CNN website on The Atlantic’s recent Big Science Summit in San Jose, California:

We have voice-controlled assistants on our phones, telepresence robots for when we can’t make it to a meeting in person, and self-driving cars that are headed to a road near you.

These machines aren’t just taking over human tasks. Computerized systems are also taking on more human characteristics. As technology gets more advanced, how will our relationships with it change?

She explains – through some surprising examples – how to make better computers and robots in the future, that people will embrace using, by better understanding our “little human quirks” (as she calls it).

30 October 2012

Book: Meta Products – Building the Internet of Things

metaproducts

Meta Products
Meaningful Design For Our Connected World
by Wimer Hazenberg and Menno Huisman
BIS Publishers, 160 pages
2012

Meta Products discusses the rise of the Internet of Things, a twenty-first century phenomenon in which physical consumer products (meta products) connect to the web and start communicating with each other by means of sensors and actuators.

The book is written and designed by Dutch design agency Booreiland. The book is a result from their own design practice but it is written with an academic mind. What would be a good way for creative professionals to deal with the emerging demands of our connected world? How can designers and organizations gear up to face the challenges and take advantage of the possibilities the so called ubiquitous technologies?

These questions are addressed in the book to begin a dialogue, to take a step back, and to deeply reflect on our society’s history, our accomplishments, our aspirations, the way we build knowledge and learn individually and collectively. The book offers not only reflective insights but recommendations on design and development of new interactions.

Mike Kuniavsky (author of ‘Smart Things – Ubiquitous Computing User Experience Design’) wrote the foreword, and many other experts from both commercial and academic worlds contributed to the book by means of interviews (TNO, Philips Research, Umeå University, MIT, University of Oxford, Delft University of Technology etc). Next to that, many cases are provided along the way to support the theory.

30 October 2012

Google and the UX challenge of augmented reality

fieldtrip

The new Google FieldTrip app probes the question: What digital information do you want to see overlaid on the physical world? A challenge that Bruce Sterling describes as “‘experience design’ problems”. Alexis G. Madrigal explores it in The Atlantic:

“If you pick up a book, do you see a biography of its author, an analysis of the chemical composition of its paper, or the share price for its publisher? Do you see a list of your friends who’ve read it or a selection of its best passages or a map of its locations or its resale price or nothing? The problem for Google’s brains, as it is for all brains, is choosing where to focus attention and computational power. As a Google-structured augmented reality comes closer to becoming a product-service combination you can buy, the particulars of how it will actually merge the offline and online are starting to matter.

To me, the hardware (transparent screens, cameras, batteries, etc) and software (machine vision, language recognition) are starting to look like the difficult but predictable parts. The wildcard is going to be the content. No one publishes a city, they publish a magazine or a book or a news site. If we’ve thought about our readers reading, we’ve imagined them at the breakfast table or curled up on the couch (always curled up! always on the couch!) or in office cubicles running out the clock. No one knows how to create words and pictures that are meant to be consumed out there in the world.”

22 October 2012

How Xerox uses analytics, big data and ethnography to help government solve “big problems”

XEROX-Logo-copy-300x81

Through the application of analytics to Big Data, as well as ethnography — the design and implementation of qualitative field studies to observe cultural patterns — Xerox is answering important questions about traffic congestion, our reaction to it, and how city governments most effectively can provide services to address this and related needs.

To explore these issues, Ben Kerschberg of Forbes interviewed together Ken Mihalyov, Xerox Chief Innovation Officer for Transportation Central and Local Government; and David Cummins, SVP, Parking and Justice Solutions.

Here are the ethnography questions:

Q: At what point do you think technology reaches its limits and thus requires ethnography to make the program as efficient as possible?

Ken Mihalyov: I think we’ve found that we like to get ethnography involved as early in the process as possible. There are things that we can certainly accomplish with our algorithms and Big Data alone. We can look at the data and see trends that we would not otherwise see. Ethnography is a strong counterpart to looking at the data a certain way and drawing conclusions from it. We can confirm that we’re working on the right problem, that we haven’t missed something and that our interpretations are correct. Ethnography helps us confirm those factors and that we’re seeing the bigger picture that includes human interaction.

Q: I can imagine that ethnography could be as important to observing a manufacturing line as it is to dynamic parking. Do you think there is an over-reliance on Big Data without looking at important human elements such as expertise gained by years on the line or on the streets?

David Cummins: I’m not sure that it’s Big Data versus ethnography, but rather we’ve found that they complement one another in indispensable ways.

Ken Mihalyov: Data can take you a long way, but when people are involved it’s not always the whole story. You need to understand and document the way things really work, especially the interactions between different processes. There’s very often a difference between what you expect to have happen and what’s actually happening when people are involved, and that’s very enlightening.

18 October 2012

Spacebrew, an open source toolkit for creating interactive spaces

spacebrew

Spacebrew is a new software – currently in beta release – for prototyping and producing interactive spaces.

It was developed by the Interaction Lab at the Rockwell Group, led by the (very bearded) Co-Chiefs James Tichenor (who studied at Interaction Design Institute Ivrea) and Joshua Walton.

When looking at the various options that can enable Internet of Things environments, the team realized that they were mostly closed solutions that didn’t play well with others. In response, Spacebrew is an MIT licensed open software toolkit free for use in commercial and non-commercial projects. Their hope is that it becomes something that can bridge groups together to allow them to focus on creating new and meaningful experiences.

The downloads page contains examples for Processing, Javascript, and connecting Arduino as well as links to github and social media. Mre examples with Openframeworks, Python, Electric Imp, and Cosm will be published soon.

Although not yet publicly launched, the team is now sharing it early in order get feedback and involvement from the larger community of people interested in interactive spaces.

This video gives a sense of the kinds of projects people are able to connect together with Spacebrew.

6 October 2012

Understanding the sensing city

Roger_Dennis

Consultant Roger Dennis, who identifies himself as “serendipity architect”, has been writing a series of posts on meetings he had related to the sensing city. Together they give a good overview of some of the most recent initiatives and thinking on smart cities.

Singapore meetings
Meetings with the MIT Sensable Cities Lab and the ETH Zurich Future Cities Lab – both part of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology

Intel meeting in London
Meeting with Duncan Wilson at Intel, who heads up the newly created Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities – a partnership with two universities. The aim of the initiative is to understand how technology can be used as a tool to create better cities.

Cosm meeting in London
Meeting with Usman Haque, who founded the company Pachube, which has since been bought and its name changed to Cosm. He also now has an Urban Projects Division that works on special projects with cities around the world.

Siemens meeting in London
Meeting with Elaine Trimble of Siemens, who works with the (relatively new) global cities team based at The Crystal. It opened a couple of weeks ago and is “the world’s first center dedicated to improving our knowledge of urban sustainability.

Arup meeting in London
Meeting with Volker Buscher, one of Arup’s smart city people. He has a massive range of experience with cities around the world.

University College London (UCL)
Meeting with Dr Andy Hudson Smith who is the director of the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), a UCL research lab. Among other things the group is responsible for the fascinating London Dashboard.

Cisco meeting in London
Meeting with John Baekelmans, the CTO for the Smart Connected Communities initiative and JP Vasseur, who is a Cisco Fellow.

> See also this frog design interview with Cisco CGO Wim Elfrink on the same topic

New York meetings
Meetings with Ashok Raiji of Arup; Bjarke Ingels, founder, and Iben Falconer, Business Development Manager of the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG); Naureen Kabir of New Cities Foundation; and David van der Leer, the Curator of the BMW Guggenheim Lab.

1 October 2012

‘Smart City’ planning needs the right balance (WSJ)

 

In the pantheon of Next Big Thing trends, the concept of “smart cities” is one of the trendiest, writes Ben Rooney in the Wall Street Journal.

The idea is that by harvesting the incredible amount of data “exhaust” that every one of us generates as we traverse a city, planners can optimize services in the city to make them more efficient, cleaner and cheaper. But there is a fear that such top-down programs may threaten the very vitality that attracts people to cities in the first place.

A very different kind of smart-city initiative has had success in cities as diverse culturally and geographically as San Francisco and Singapore, and is coming to Europe. Called Urban Prototyping, the movement approaches cities from a bottom-up—not top-down—viewpoint.

Read article

6 September 2012

Ubicomp’s colonial impulse

header-logo

Paul Dourish and Scott Mainwaring, the founders of the Intel funded Social Computing Research Center at UC Irvine, presented yesterday a paper at Ubicomp 2012 with the short but bombshell title “Ubicomp’s Colonial Impulse” (pdf).

The abstract remains quite vague, and doesn’t much insight on what this colonial impulse is all about:

Ubiquitous computing has a grand vision. Even the name of the area identifies its universalizing scope. In this, it follows in a long tradition of projects that attempt to create new models and paradigms that unite disparate, distributed elements into a large conceptual whole. We link concerns in ubiquitous computing into a colonial intellectual tradition and identify the problems that arise in consequence, explore the locatedness of innovation, and discuss strategies for decolonizing ubicomp’s research methodology.

In essence the argument in the paper is centred around the idea of colonialism as a knowledge enterprise, or as I would word it, a global knowledge empire (Dourish is Scottish and has some affinity with one particularly powerful colonial empire).

Then they point out – and here we get to the more explosive subject matter that the title hints at – a series of considerations that undergird both systems of thought [i.e. colonialism and ubiquitous computing):

  • They share the notion that knowledge and the bases of innovation are unevenly distributed in the world, and that their goal is to assist the migration of knowledge from centers of power (be they colonial hubs or research laboratories) to places where it is lacking.
  • They share the related notion that progress in places where information, knowledge, or technology is lacking is something that should be undertaken by the knowledgeable or powerful on behalf of those others who are to be affected or changed by it.
  • They share a belief in universality: that knowledge and representations applied to any particular place or situation can just as easily apply to any other, and that knowledge schemes developed anywhere will work just as well anywhere else. So, for instance, the universal taxonomy of botanical life created at Kew, or the universal accounts of human needs and human activities common to modeling exercises in technology design, are both thought and intended to have power to speak to the details of settings anywhere.
  • They share a commitment to reductive representation and hence to quantification and statistical accounts of the world as a tool for comparison, evaluation, understanding, and prediction.
  • They share the idea that the present in centers of power models in embryo the future of other regions, such that the “developed” world is understood as the destiny of and model for the “developing”, or that the world at large is destined to become “like” the

In what follows, the authors examine these ideas in more depth. They "want to show how ubicomp’s research program, envisioned and portrayed since its founding as a program "for the twenty-first century" [i.e. "future-making"], nonetheless draws on a considerably older legacy. [They] then draw out some consequences of this approach, suggest some strategies for escaping it, and sketch the contours of an alternative approach to ubiquitous computing.”

The article is well argued, a delight to read, and was rightfully selected as one of Ubicomp 2012′s “Best Paper Nominees”. Most interestingly, the criticism is not limited to Ubicomp, but can be – as the authors point out – applied to all knowledge institutions and all tech companies active in Silicon Valley – and they point to Google as a good case in point (even adding also the IMF and the World Bank in their critical drag net).

Therefore their “contours of an alternative approach to ubiquitous computing” provide the outset of an alternative approach to the “Silicon Valley Empire”.

7 August 2012

How to reimagine wearable technology

Oyster-Ring-HandOriginal-525x351

PSFK spoke to Dhani Sutanto, a Digital Art Director who became fed up with swiping his Oyster card through the reader like millions of other Londoners each day.

He decided to tinker around with the card and create a more fashionable way to get in and out of the sensor-driven turnstyles.

They spoke to him about his first creation, a ring that contains an Oyster Card chip and how reimagining form factors can not only result in more pleasureable transporation solutions, but also everyday transactions.

16 July 2012

How Google is becoming an extension of your mind

plus-badge

Stephen Shankland thinks that Google is becoming an extension of your mind, an omnipresent digital assistant that figures out what you need and supplies it before you even realize you need it. He also thinks that should both excite and spook you.

“Think of Google diagnosing your daughter’s illness early based on where she’s been, how alert she is, and her skin’s temperature, then driving your car to school to bring her home while you’re at work. Or Google translating an incomprehensible emergency announcement while you’re riding a train in foreign country. Or Google steering your investment portfolio away from a Ponzi scheme.

Google, in essence, becomes a part of you. Imagine Google playing a customized audio commentary based on what you look at while on a tourist trip and then sharing photo highlights with your friends as you go. Or Google taking over your car when it concludes based on your steering response time and blink rate that you’re no longer fit to drive. Or your Google glasses automatically beaming audio and video to the police when you say a phrase that indicates you’re being mugged.

Exciting? I think so. But it’s also, potentially, a profoundly creepy change. For a Google-augmented life, you must grant the Googlebot unprecedented privileges to monitor your personal information and behavior. What medicine do you take? What ads did you just glance at while walking by the bus stop? What’s your credit card number? And as Google works to integrate social data into its services, you’ll have to decide how much you’ll share with your contacts’ Google accounts — and the best way to ask them to share their data with your Google account.”

Shankland worries that “handy new features will arrive in a steady stream of minor changes that are all but imperceptible until one day I wake up and realize that Google has access to everything that makes me who I am.” His solution? “Shifting toward paid services could ensure Google is better motivated to please users rather than exploit their most personal information for the benefits of advertisers.”

Read article

12 June 2012

Augmented sensing through smartphones

wahoo_heart_rate_sensor

So how are we doing to augment our senses through digital technologies?

Here are some of the products currently on the market that allow people to augment their sensing (and sense-making) through external sensors, with result summaries visualised on smartphones and the web:

- Health and healthy living: AsthmaSense, DigiFit, FitBit, Up
- Sleep: Lark Sensor (WSJ article), WakeMate, Zeo
- Sports: Nike+ (running), Strava (cycling), Wahoo
- Home energy: Nest Learning Thermostat
- Plants (!): Koubachi

It feels like a lot more is to come.

19 May 2012

After ethnography, and other papers by Iota Partners

iota

Iota Partners is a new Chicago-based venture of Rick Robinson and John Cain (with whom Experientia partner Jan-Christoph Zoels once worked at Sapient) that deals with user experience research, sensor-based data, and smart modelling.

The papers section on their website is worth exploring in some depth. Here are some of them:

After ethnography
This paper is based on the transcript of Rick E. Robinson’s talk “After Ethnography,” which he presented at a Telefonica-sponsored conference on user-centered design in Madrid, in December 2010. Bringing together a series of points Rick calls his “tiny arguments” it forms a larger assessment of the state and future of user research.

Nice work
This sample chapter comes from a book in progress by Rick E. Robinson that will bring together many of Rick’s talks and writings on the theory and practice of user research. Based on a talk Rick gave at an internal research colloquium for senior staff members at a major technology company—an audience already familiar with Rick’s previous work at E-Lab—the talk focused on creating an effective research practice and on working with the idea of models.

Valuable to Values: How “User Research” Ought to Change
“Valuable to Values: How ‘User Research’ Ought to Change,” written by Maria Bezaitis and Iota Partner Rick E. Robinson, originally appeared in Design Anthropology: Object Culture in the 21st Century (Springer Vienna Architecture, 2010) edited by Alison J. Clarke, a professor at University of Applied Arts Vienna, and a student of anthropologist Daniel Miller when she did her graduate work at University College, London. It covers a lot of ground. Some history. Some reflection. A healthy dose of unsolicited advice to several different fields of research. Enjoy.

18 April 2012

The Smart City starts with you

Smart_City

Wired UK has published a guest post by Usman Haque, founder of Pachube.com and director at Haque Design + Research and CEO of Connected Environments, where he argues that current Smart Cities initiatives are looking for a one-size fits all, top-down strategic approach to sustainability, citizen well-being and economic development, and that their strategies focus on the city as a single entity, rather than the people — citizens — that bring it to life.

“Any adequate model for the smart city must focus on the smartness of its citizens and encourage the processes that make cities important: those that sustain very different — sometimes conflicting — activities. Cities are, by definition, engines of diversity so focusing solely on streamlining utilities, transport, construction and unseen government processes can be massively counter-productive, in much the same way that the 1960s idealistic fondness for social-housing tower block economic efficiency was found, ultimately, to be socially and culturally unsustainable.

We, citizens, create and recreate our cities with every step we take, every conversation we have, every nod to a neighbour, every space we inhabit, every structure we erect, every transaction we make. A smart city should help us increase these serendipitous connections. It should actively and consciously enable us to contribute to data-making (rather than being mere consumers of it), and encourage us to make far better use of data that’s already around us.”

Read article

13 April 2012

European Commission consults on rules for “Internet Of Things”

 

The “Internet of Things” (IoT) is a future in which everyday objects such as phones, cars, household appliances, clothes and even food are wirelessly connected to the Internet through smart chips, and can collect and share data.

The European Commission wants to know what framework is needed to unleash the potential economic and societal benefits of the IoT, whilst ensuring an adequate level of control of the devices gathering, processing and storing information. The information concerned includes users’ behavioural patterns, location and preferences.

The Commission wants to ensure that the rights of individuals are respected and is launching a public consultation inviting comments by 12th July 2012.

Read press release

6 April 2012

Ambient Devices CEO Pritesh Gandhi on ‘glanceable’ data

ambient-interview-60-300

Chris Ziegler of The Verge had a chance recently to chat with Ambient co-founder and CEO Pritesh Gandhi to hear about the company’s past, present, and future.

“We’re perpetually bombarded with information, 24 hours a day. That’s just our connected reality now, and there’s very little hope of escaping it. On Valentine’s Day, I penned an editorial on how I believe that the secret to distilling this information — the key to preventing humans from collapsing under the ever-growing weight of this data — has been right under our noses for years.

They’re called “glanceable” devices, and Massachusetts-based Ambient Devices has been developing them for over a decade. The company spun out of a project at MIT’s famed Media Lab with the goal of integrating data points into our lives in a natural, organic way. Ambient’s path to building a real business has been an unusual one, producing oddities likes the Orb — a glass sphere capable of glowing different colors to indicate a temperature, stock price, or anything else the user can dream up — and the Umbrella, whose handle would glow when rain was in the forecast.

These days, Ambient has largely turned its attention to bigger customers, focusing on power companies who can deliver glanceable products to end users that help them trim their energy costs. But will we ever see something like the Umbrella again?”

Read interview