Conference report – Roshan Lalintha Peiris

Ubicomp2011 in Beijing China

Venue : Main building, Tsing Hua University, Beijing, China

Dates : 17-21 September 2011

Ubicomp is one of the highly recognized tier one conferences in the field of Ubiquitous Computing. This year marks a special anniversary to commomerate 20 years since the dawn of Ubiquitous Computing. Mark Weiser, the father of Ubiquitous Computing, published a paper titled “Computing in the 21st Century” in the Scientific American in 1991 which is highly regarded the core birth paper of this innovative field. This year, I as the part of the ‘CoDine’ team was fortunate enough to participate in this conference due to the acceptance of our CoDine paper as a full paper, a demonstration, a poster and a video showcase.

The conference featured researchers from many different fields ranging from engineering to design to even medical backgrounds. This year there was a participation of approximately 400 attendees ranging from all over the world including one participant from Nigeria. The acceptance rate of this year was 16.1% for papers and notes. This is an indication of the high impact of this conference.

Workshop 11 : Role of Design in Ubiquitous Computing

My attendance to the conference was instantiated with the attendance to a workshop which was titled “Role of Design in Ubiquitous Computing”. The workshop was conducted by Zhiyong Fu, John Zimmerman,Jiayu Wu, Chen Zhao, and Christopher Mustafa Kirwan. It was held on the 18th of September 2011 throughout the day. The abstract of the workshop is as follows.

The workshop aims to provide a disciplinary forum for researchers and experts from design, computer science, psychology, and anthropology to exchange ideas on the issue of collaboration. It will build the understanding across disciplines and explore the potential opportunity for design in UbiComp research and practice. Industry has shown the power of collaboration among design, technology, and sociology. Looking at the successful examples in UbiComp products and services such as smart phones and tablet computers, design is always a critical discipline. It brings new insights by integrating many disciplines, and it has being a mediator to speak to every actors. Therefore, rethinking the construction of the current system and hearing the voice of design will determine the future of UbiComp. Especially in China, it is a challenge as well as an opportunity to balance the western and eastern and the disciplinary differences in the stage of manufacturing boom.

This workshop featured many different presenters from arts, design, engineering backgrounds presenting their works which focused on the multidisciplinary aspects of their works. This I felt was quite relevant to us coming from a multidisciplinary working environment. There were discussions which focused on the interdisciplinary works between engineers and designers, and their conflicts, compromising, complementary aspects of each other. Some interesting topics discussed are as follows

  • Exploring Interdisciplinary methods and theories in UbiComp research and practice
  • Designer’s prospect in UbiComp industry and the responsibility of design researcher
  • The role of design to balance cultural difference and disciplinary gap
  • The exploration of design-driven strategy on social innovation in combining social media and environmental sustainability
  • Exploring the use of Smart phone in social networking services
  • The state of chinese design in UbiComp products and services
  • Co-experience through manipulating Ubicomp products and services in daily life

At the end of the workshop, all the participants were divided into three main groups which discussed various aspects of this workshop. I was assigned to the Interdisciplinary Collaboration and Cultural Integration where we discussed various challenges when researchers from various different backgrounds and cultures collaborate together. We identified that it is important to identify the boundaries of each culture/discipline, identify the values and goals for each researcher and work on compromising levels on the paradigm, workethics, etc in order for collaboration. These aspects were discussed and presented at the end of the activity to the workshop participants.

CoDine presentations

The CoDine presentation was held in the first session of the first day at the conference. This session was titled “Being Human”. It was presented by Wei Jun, our main author, and presented various aspects such as the motivation, and description of each of the parts of the system. The presentation was well received where some attendees raised questions about multiple user capabilities, elderly friendliness and usability in different time zone situations. There were many follow up discussions too which focused on some aspects of these work.

Next we presented our poster during the poster session at lunch time. This poster again was well received. There were many interested parties specially raising questions about the motivation behind the project. Some were interested in the food printer specially as its context of a ‘food- teleporter’. Many found it interesting as to how the food and dining was used in the equation of remote dining.

In addition, we also presented the Electronic Taste Simulation poster on behalf of Nimesha Ranasinghe. This work too was well received and many raised the questions of accuracy, how to sense the tasting levels, safety etc. However one of the most interesting facts about this poster was how the attendees themselves saw the potential of its use in the CoDine system. In addition, there were many talking about the potential applications in terms of remote taste communications and even as a tasty but controlled dietary solution!

Unfortunately due to some custom delays we had a difficult time to set up our demo. The items we shipped from Singapore were stuck at the customs in Beijing for over a week delaying us in receiving our goods. However, we were still able to explain our situation to the attendees and discuss the work through videos and our poster.

Other works

As a researcher in the field of ubiquitous computing there were many works that was interesting. Here I shall summarize the two most interesting projects which I found to be technical rich and applies the concepts of ubiquitous computing well.


Near Ultrasonic Directional Data Transfer for Modern Smartphones by Will Archer Arentz, Udana Bandara

This was presented as a video and demo. The basic work they presented here is to write an iPhone app which used the mic and speaker at ultrasonic frequencies to transfer data. Here they embedded information at on a 23kHz auditory signal to be output by the speaker of the iPhone. Using the mic of a second iPhone, this was sensed and demodulated to read the data. This I found to be a simple but yet an innovative way for communication. The novelty of this idea is that it can simply be used with almost any mic and speaker pair.

Panel Discussion

To mark the 20th Anniversary of Ubiquitous Computing, there was a panel discussion held which was attended by Paul Dourish, John Seely Brown, Jun Rekimoto, and Gregory Abbot. The interesting fact about some of these panelists was that they actually worked or interacted with Mark Weiser and they presented some of their interpretations of the concept of ubiquitous computing and Mark Weiser. There were many interesting points discussed interms of ubiquity of information, how conferences are helping/limiting these idea sharings etc.