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MWC 2012 – Hardware March 12, 2012

Posted by reto wettach in gadgets, light, mobile, physical interaction design.
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Here my personal report on the Mobile World Congress this year in Barcelona:

1. Even though by the end of 2012, the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the number of people on earth (according to Cisco), M2M is still just for the industry: None of the exhibitors understood that M2M (Machine-to-Machine or ‘Internet of Things’) could be an interesting field for inventors, startups and  small or medium sized companies. All the ready-to-use-technologies that I saw were pretty heavily directed towards engineers – at not (as with Arduino or Fritzing) towards the community of creatives.

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Of course one can find the good old use-cases as home-network, health and car, and very little applied and innovative M2M-products. So, you can imagine how happy I was when I saw Glowcab by my friend David Rose. Next to his product, At&T showed Garmin GTU, a pet GPS–tracker, and Amber Alert GPS, the same for kids:

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2. Mobile phones are getting boring – just more of this and more of that:

– More Pixels

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Even though the 41-Megapixels offered by Nokia 808 PureView are not meant to be stored directly, but to improve the quality of the images, I just want to show that it is all the same, but more in the details.

– More Computing Power

It has been long time that I got excited about the performance of computers – but at MWC this topic was – as expected – huge. Wow, a quad core 1,5GHz mobile phone – please show me, for what we can use all this speed!!!

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– More Design

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The mobile phone industry decided to go down the lane of the wonderful black monolith (known form the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”) – and now some of the major players are trying to add some design to this object:

Nokia is very proud of the “one-piece polycarbonate body”, which comes in various colors. For me it rather looks like an unnecessary add-on:

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Sony shows with its Xperia U another mobile phone with an interesting feature, similar to Philips AmbiLight from 2002: the transparent bar is illuminated and “echoes” the major color currently on the screen. I couldn’t find out, why – besided on looking different…:

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Medias, the mobile phone brand of NEC, is showing a double-screen-smartphone “Medias W”. Well, “pixel everywhere” – who knows, maybe we will be seeing it one day in real live!

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– Finally: Mobile with Projector

IxDS, the company where I work with, did already in 2008 a project on exploring the potential of pico-projectors in mobile context. We came up with a couple of ideas and concept, none strong enough to make our client launch such a product right away. But now, Samsung came up with Galaxy Beam. A long line of visitors had to wait to experience this device in the dark-room. I was rather disappointed as the use-cases were nothing special: projecting slides from a presentation, home made videos or downloaded stuff…

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3. Mobile Sensing – still exciting!

Just one example – to not turn too nerdy here: ST Microelectronics presented a 10-axis-accelerometer-board. I first was not sure for what this should be good (another tilting-based game) until they explained to me that with this technology, they can “determine location reliably to within a few metres even in the absence of GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Systems) satellite signals.” (source) – which is good for indoor location tracking. Wow!

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4. Mobile Actuation – there’s hope…

I finally had the chance to meet some guys from Immersion: they were displaying their “HD Haptics“, which was pretty impressive: Their demo was a selection of musical instruments on a touch screen, you choose one and then shake the mobile and can really feel the instrument. It is hard to describe, but it really gives me hope for richer tactile interaction. Technologywise, the system is based on piezo – I guess similar to my friend Ivan Poupyrev’s touch engine from 2002.

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Well, another interesting approach to mobile actuation was presented by the Japanese company ChatPerf. They propose an mobile actuator, which sprays perfume:

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Currently they only have a prototype:

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5. Body!

Well, there was very little real “Physical Interaction” at the MWC – more or less as expected. So it was nice to meet the friends from Oblong Industries: they presented their new intuite interaction tool called Mezzanine:


M2M for very beginners February 17, 2012

Posted by reto wettach in gadgets, new technologies, physical interaction design, prototyping tools.

As I wrote a couple of months ago, I am currently preparing a new research project which focusses on the easy access for non-engineers to the so called “Internet of Things”-technology.

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The other day I stumbled over a wonderful project called “Ninja Blocks“. This is basically a piece of open source hardware, which can easily be connected to the internet and allows basically anybody to set up simple rules based on “triggers” and “actions”:

Example Triggers:
“Movement has been detected”
“The temperature has risen above”
“You’ve been tagged in a photo on Facebook”
“You’ve sent a new tweet”
“A button has been pushed”
“Sound is detected”
“Your friend has checked in”

Example Actions:
“Display text on an LCD display”
“Play a sound”
“Send a tweet”
“Open a relay”
“Turn on a light”
“Send an SMS to my phone”
“Post a message on Facebook”

What a great idea!

The block itself contains an RGB LED, a built-in temperature sensor and an accelerometer, four expansion ports and a regular USB port allow you to add further inputs and outputs.

The basic design philosophy follows quite a high-level approach, not comparable to Arduino. I guess that is the way to go: though this kind of plug&play approach even more people will be attracted to work creativily with hardware.

All the best for your kick-starter initiative, Ninja Blocks!


Kate Hartman on Bodies, Plants and Glaciers December 18, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in gadgets, physical interaction design, poetic, theory.
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(Botanicall is a device, which allows plants to twitter or to make phone calls) (image source)

Kate Hartman, one of the inventors of the Botanicalls, gave a very entertaining TED-talk on her work:

At 1:03 she makes a wonderful statement on “Why bodies matter”:

Everybody got one. All of you […] have bodies! Don’t be ashamed! And this is something that we have in common. And they act as our primary interfaces for the world. 


IAA: Smart Phones and Cars September 22, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in gadgets, innovative interfaces, mobile, physical interaction design.
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A big topic for interaction designers at this year’s IAA was the marriage of smart phones and cars. I found the following scenarios:

1. SmartPhone –> Key –> Car

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Delphi is proposing their “Key Fob Technology“: in the scenario presented at the IAA the user looks up a route on his smartphone. In the next step, he holds his car key to the smart phone, which transfers the data to the car key (via NFC). And then, when staring his car with this key, the information lands in the car and the in-car-navigation system.

Well, I am not sure why the car key acts as data tranferer. I liked the blinking at the slot for the car key. And I like the observation that there are two situations – the planning of a journey and the journey itself.

Talking to the people from Delphi I also discussed the following scenario, which they completely refused as they don’t see the necessary security standards being implemented in normal smart phones.

2. Smart Phone <–> Car

Continental is suggesting in their solution called AutoLinq to use the smart phone not only to open your car (!), but also to control vital functions of your car. One scenario they are suggesting is to personalize your dash board with you phone by dragging icons of features in the direction of the dashboard:

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Reminds me of the work by my old colleague Jun Rekimoto, who suggested already in 1998 the so called “Pick and Drop“-system, which allows to drag digital items within a multi-computer environment.

Another scenario with AutoLinq was the idea to check the pressure in the tires through your mobie phone:

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Other companies are suggesting to control the seat through mobile phones…

I guess this is the right way to go, but I also think that there are security and privacy aspects which needs to be resolved. I am not talking about encryption and other technical security issues (I take those for granted), but through the interface: who is allowed to do what? how does the owner knows what is happening? etc. Interesting challenges!

IFA: Mixed Impressions September 14, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in exhibitions, gadgets, innovative interfaces, media art, poetic.
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This is my friend Julia Leihener, who is proudly presenting here work “E-Etiquette” at IFA 2011.

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IFA: Impressions E-Mobility September 13, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in ecoviz, gadgets.
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IFA: Impressions 3D September 13, 2011

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IFA: Impressions TV September 13, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in gadgets.
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(TV in all shapes…)

(and the old question about resolution…)

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Fashion Design discovers 3D-Glasses September 13, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in gadgets.
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At this years IFA, I also visited the booth of Marchon, “one of the world’s largest manufacturers and distributors of eyewear and sunwear”, with brands as Calvin Klein, Nike or Jil Sander. At the IFA, however, they presented their fashionable 3d-glasses (3d was the big topic this year):

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So, finally we can look cool while watching 3d!!!

IFA: Ladybug robot kit by JS-ROBOTICS September 12, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in gadgets, learning, physical interaction design.
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At the IFA I had a wonderful encounter with Jin Sato from JS ROBOTICS, the inventor of the Ladybug robot kit. Sato-san was so excited to meet someone from the Fritzing-team that he needed to take a picture immediately:

(image: Jin Sato)

I really like the concept behind Sato-san’s educational robot: one can program this robot without typing, “without PC” as Sato brings it to the point. The robot is very simple – movement is for example done through 2 vibrating motors and placing the robot on two tooth brushes (without the handle!):

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The next bigger version has wheels…

The programming works through a 6-bit command encryption which is called M-code: the user just draws the 6-bit-version of a command on a special grid and the robot learns the software by being moved over this grid. The four light-sensors are reading the “software”. Here the list of possible commands:

(images source: JS ROBOTICS hand-out during IFA 2011)

Here you can find an nice instructional video (in Japanese) for this robot:

I hope I will soon be able to try out this robot with my children or with my students!