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Microsoft HoloLens: Was it imagined in the past?

January 27th, 2015, by Prajit Kumar Das, posted in Microsoft, Pervasive Computing, Privacy, Technology, Technology Impact, Wearable Computing

In this post we will talk about certain User Interface (UI) technological advances that we are observing at the moment. One such development was revealed in a recent media event conducted by Microsoft, where they announced the Microsoft HoloLens, a computing platform which achieves seamless connection between the digital and the physical world, quite similar to the experience referred to in certain movies in the past.

It is interesting to note that the design of the HoloLens device looks so similar to something we have seen before.

Even the vision of holographic computing and users interacting with such interfaces isn’t a new one. The 2002 movie “The first $20 million is always the hardest” was possibly the first time we saw how such a futuristic technology might look like.

How did we reach here? A brief discussion on UIs…

User interfaces have always been an important aspect of computers. In its early days computers had a monochromatic screen (or at-most a duo-chromatic screen). A user would type in commands into the screen and computers would execute said commands. Since the commands would be entered in a single or a series of lines, this interface was called the Command-Line Interface (CLI).

Command Line based UI

Such an interface was not particularly intuitive as you had to know the list of commands that would fulfill a certain task. Albeit a certain group of individuals i.e. geeks and some computer programmers, like me, prefer such an interface owing to its clean and distraction free nature. However, owing to the learning curve of CLIs, researchers at Stanford Research Institute and Xerox PARC research center invented a new User interface called the Graphical User Interface (GUI). There were a few variations of the GUIs for example the point and click type also known as WIMP (windows, icons, menus, pointer) UI created at the Xerox PARC research center and made popular by Apple through it’s Macintosh operating systems

Apple’s Macintosh UI

And also adopted by Microsoft in its Windows operating systems

Microsoft’s Windows UI

Some early versions even included a textual user interface with programs which had menus that could be parsed using a keyboard instead of a mouse.

Early textual menu based UI

Eventually new avenues were created for UI research. Continuing onwards from textual interfaces to the WIMP interfaces to the world wide web where objects on the web became entities accessible through a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI). Such an entity could possibly have Semantics associated with them too (as defined by Web 2.0). However, with the advent of mobile smart-phones we saw a completely different class of user interfaces. The touch-based user interfaces and its more evolved cousin the multi-touch systems which allowed gesture based interactions.

Touch and gesture based UI

This was the first time in computing history that humans were able to directly interact with an object on their device with their hands instead of using an input device. The experience was immersive but yet these objects had not entered into the real world. We were on precipice of a revolution in computing.

This revolution was the mainstream launch of Wearable Technology and Virtual/Augmented Reality and Optical Head Mounted Display devices with the creation of devices like the Oculus RiftGoogle Glass and EyeTap among others. These devices allowed voice inputs and created a virtual or an augmented reality world for it’s user. Microsoft too was working on gesture based interactions with the Kinect device and research in the Natural User Interface (NUI) field. Couple of interesting works worthy of taking a look from this revolution are listed below.

This talk by John Underkoffler demos a UI that we saw in the movie Minority Report. He talks about the spatial aspect of how humans interact with their world and how computers might be able to help us better if we could do the same with our computers.

Here Pranav Mistry, currently the Head of the Think Tank Team and Director of Research of Samsung Research America, speaks of SixthSense. A new paradigm in computing that allows interaction between the real world and the digital world. All these works were knocking on the doors of a computer as we saw in the 2002 movie mentioned earlier, a real life holographic computer. Enter Microsoft HoloLens!

What is Microsoft HoloLens?

Microsoft HoloLens

Microsoft HoloLens is an augmented reality computing platform. As per the review from this device has taken a step beyond current work by adding to the world around its user, virtual holograms, rather than putting the user in a completely virtual environment. This device has launched a new platform of software development, i.e. Holographic apps. As well as, the device has created a scope for hardware research and development, as it requires new components like the Holographic Processing Unit or HPU. Visualization and sharing of ideas and interaction with the real world can now be done as envisioned in the TED talk by Pranav Mistry. A more natural way of interacting with digital content as envisioned in the works above are a reality now. The device tracks its user’s movements in an environment. It detects what a person is looking at and transforms the visual field by overlaying 3D objects on top of that. 

What kind of applications can we expect to be developed for HoloLens?

When the touch UI became a reality developers had to change the way they worked on software. Direct object interactions as shown above had to be programmed into their applications. Apps for HoloLens would similarly need to handle use-cases of interactions involving voice commands and gesture recognition. The common ideas and their corresponding research implication that come to mind include:

  • Looking up a grocery list when you enter the grocery store (context aware)

    HoloLens Environment overlaid with lists

  • Recording important events automatically (context aware computing)
  • Recognizing people in a party (social media and privacy)
  • Taking down notes, writing emails using voice commands (natural language understanding)
  • Searching for “stuff” around us (nlp, data analytics, semantic web, context aware computing)
  • Playing 3D games (animation and graphics)

    HoloLens Environment overlaid with 3D Games

  • Making sure your battery doesn’t run out (systems, hardware)
  • Virtual work environments (systems) 

    Virtual Work Environments through HoloLens

  • Teaching virtual classrooms (systems)

Why or how could it fail?

Are there any obvious pitfalls that we are not thinking about? We can be rest assured that researchers are already looking at ways this venture can fail and for Microsoft’s own good we can be certain they have a list of ways they think this might go and if there are any flaws they are surely working on fixing them. However, as a researcher in the mobile field with a bit of experience with the Google Glass, we can try to list some of the possible pitfalls of a AR/VR device. The HoloLens being a tetherless, Augmented Virtual Reality (AVR) device could possibly suffer from some of these pitfalls too. The reader should understand that we are not claiming any of the following to be scientifically provable because these are merely empirical observations.

  • The first thing that worried us while using the Google Glass was that it would sometimes cause us headaches after using it for couple of hours. We have not researched the implications of using the device by any other person so this is and observation from experience. Therefore one concern could be regarding the health impact on a human being with prolonged usage of an AVR device.
  • The second thing that was noticed with the Google Glass was how that the device heated up fast. We know from experience that computers do get hot. For example when we play a game they get hot or we do a lot of complex computations they get hot. An AVR device which is being used for playing games will most probably get hot too. At least the Google Glass did after recording a video. Here we are concerned about the heat dissipation and its health impact on the user.
  • The third observation that we made was that the Google Glass, showed significant sluggishness when it tried to accomplish computation heavy tasks. Will the HoloLens device be able to keep up with all the computations needed for, say, playing a 3D game?
  • The fourth concern is regarding battery capacity. The HoloLens is advertised as a device with no wires, cords or tethers. Anyone who has used a smartphone ever knows the issues of the battery on the devices running out within a day or even half a day. Will the HoloLens be able to carry a charge for long or will it require constant charging?
  • The fifth concern that we had was regarding privacy. The Google Glass has faced quite a few privacy concerns because it can readily take pictures using a simple voice command or even a non-verbal command like a ‘wink’. We have worked on this issue as part of our research product FaceBlock. Will the HoloLens create such concerns as this device too has front facing cameras that are capturing a user’s environment and projecting an augmented virtual world to the user.

The above lists of possible issues and probable application areas are not exhaustive in anyway. There will be numerous other scenarios and ways we can work on this new computing platform. There will probably be a multitude of issues with such a new and revolutionary platform. However, the hybrid of augmented and virtual reality has just started taking small steps now. With invention of devices like the Microsoft HoloLens, Google Glass, Oculus Rift, EyeTap etc. we can look forward to an exciting period in the future of Computing for Augmented Virtual Reality.

How many #ifihadglass posts were there?

February 28th, 2013, by Tim Finin, posted in Gadgets, Mobile Computing, Wearable Computing

UMBC CSEE department members submitted a number of #ifihadglass posts hoping to get an invitation to pre-order a Google Glass device. Several came from the UMBC Ebiquity Lab including this one that builds on our work with context-aware mobile phones.

Reports are that as many as 8,000 of the submitted ideas will be invited to the first round of pre-orders. To get a rough idea of our odds, I tried using Google and Bing searches to estimate the number of submissions. A general search for pages with the #ifihadglass tag returned 249K hits on Google. Of these 21K were from twitter and less than 4K from Google+. I’m not sure which of the twitter and Google+ posts get indexed and how long it takes, but I do know that our entry above did not show up in the results. Bing reported 171K results for a search on the hash tag, but our post was not among them. I tried the native search services on both Twitter and Google+, but these are oriented toward delivering a stream of new results and neither gives an estimate of the total number of results. I suppose one could do this for Twitter using their custom search API, but even then I am not sure how accurately one could estimate the total number of matching tweets.

Can anyone suggest how to easily estimate the number of #ifihadglass posts on twitter and Google+?

NFC and Google’s mobile wallet

October 7th, 2011, by Tim Finin, posted in Gadgets, Mobile Computing

Yesterday I made a purchase at the CVS store on Edmondson Avenue in Catonsville using Google Wallet on a Nexus S 4G phone with NFC.

NFC is near field communication, an RFID technology that allows communication and data exchange between two devices in close proximity, e.g., within a few inches.

Several current smartphones have NFC chips including the Samsung's Google-branded Nexus S 4G and more are expected to include it in the coming months and years.

The first, and perhaps most significant, use of NFC will be enabling mobile phones to serve as "virtual credit cards", especially for small amounts that don't require a signature. The range of potential applications is much greater and will no doubt evolve as mobile NFC-enabled devices become ubiquitous.

Buying something at the CVS (OK, … it was candy) this way was fun. My phone made satisfying noises as it talked to CVS's payment station and the clerk, who had not had anyone use a NFC device, was properly mystified. Using it was marginally easier than swiping a credit card, but maybe even a small amount of increased convenience is worth it for such an everyday transaction.

One limitation of Google Wallet is that it currently only works with Sprint on a Nexus S 4G and with either a Citi® MasterCard® card or a Google Prepaid Card. You can load money into the latter with most any credit card and Google will get you started by adding $10 to it as an incentive.

By the way, for what it’s worth, I only recently realized that the robots in Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” were called androids and the dangerously independent new model was the Nexus-6, developed by designed by the Tyrell Corporation.

First Baltimore Hackathon, 19-21 Nov 2010

November 3rd, 2010, by Tim Finin, posted in Conferences, GENERAL, Technology

The First Baltimore Hackathon will take place on Friday and Saturday, November 19-20, 2010 at Beehive Baltimore, 2400 Boston St, on the 3rd floor of the Emerging Technology Center.

Come to build a hardware or software project — from idea to prototype — in a weekend either individually or as part of a team! While you are hacking, you’ll enjoy free food and coffee and be eligible to win prizes and awards! If you are interested, sign up and use the Baltimore Hackathon wiki to share ideas and build a team or to list yourself as available to join an existing team.

Check out the TechinBaltimore Google group for more information and discussion about the hackathon and related technology events in and around Baltimore.

Researchers install PAC-MAN on Sequoia voting machine w/o breaking seals

August 23rd, 2010, by Tim Finin, posted in Games, Security, Social media, Technology Impact

Here’s a new one for the DIY movement.

Security researchers J. Alex Haldeman and Ariel Feldman demonstrated PAC-MAC running on a Sequoia voting machine last week at the EVT/WOTE Workshop held at the USENIX Security conference in DC.

Amazingly, they were able to install the game on a Sequoia AVC Edge touch-screen DRE (direct-recording electronic) voting machine without breaking the original tamper-evident seals.

Here’s how they describe what they did on Haldeman’s web site:

What is the Sequoia AVC Edge?

It’s a touch-screen DRE (direct-recording electronic) voting machine. Like all DREs, it stores votes in a computer memory. In 2008, the AVC Edge was used in 161 jurisdictions with almost 9 million registered voters, including large parts of Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, and Virginia, according to Verified Voting.

What’s inside the AVC Edge?

It has a 486 SLE processor and 32 MB of RAM—similar specs to a 20-year-old PC. The election software is stored on an internal CompactFlash memory card. Modifying it is as simple as removing the card and inserting it into a PC.

Wouldn’t seals expose any tampering?

We received the machine with the original tamper-evident seals intact. The software can be replaced without breaking any of these seals, simply by removing screws and opening the case.

How did you reprogram the machine?

The original election software used the psOS+ embedded operating system. We reformatted the memory card to boot DOS instead. (Update: Yes, it can also run Linux.) Challenges included remembering how to write a config.sys file and getting software to run without logical block addressing or a math coprocessor. The entire process took three afternoons.”

You can find out more from the presentation slides from the EVT workshop, Practical AVC-Edge CompactFlash Modifications can Amuse Nerds. They sum up their study with the following conclusion.

“In conclusion, we feel our work represents the future of DREs. Now that we know how bad their security is, thousands of DREs will be decommissioned and sold by states over the next several years. Filling our landfills with these machines would be a terrible waste. Fortunately, they can be recycled as arcade machines, providing countless hours of amusement in the basements of the nations’ nerds.”

Baltimore + HTC EVO + Android + 4G = 3+ Mbps

May 28th, 2010, by Tim Finin, posted in Gadgets, Mobile Computing, Social media

Baltimoreans are lucky to have access to the new droid-based HTC EVO and Sprint’s 4G service. 3-6 Mbps to your phone! Hiawatha Bray writes avout it in a story in yesterday’s Boston Globe, 4G phone will quickly change things:

“It’s called the EVO 4G, and it’s our first glimpse at the next big thing in smartphones. When cellular carrier Sprint Nextel Corp. begins selling the EVO on June 4, it will be America’s first 4G cellphone, capable of far greater speed than the 3G iPhones and BlackBerries we have come to love.

But why fly 360 miles to check it out? Because Boston doesn’t have a working 4G network yet. Baltimore is one of about two dozen US cities where you can find one. Sprint says it’s building more 4G coverage as fast as it can; Boston is on the list for sometime this year.”

RAEng report on Social, legal and ethical issues of autonomous systems

August 21st, 2009, by Tim Finin, posted in Agents, AI, Semantic Web, Social media, Technology Impact

RAEng report on Social, legal and ethical issues of autonomous systems

The Royal Academy of Engineering has released a report on the social, legal and ethical issues involving autonomous systems — systems that are adaptive, learn and can make decisions without the intervention or supervision of a human.

The report, Autonomous Systems: Social, Legal and Ethical Issues (pdf), was based on a roundtable discussion “from a wide range of experts, looking at the areas where autonomous systems are most likely to emerge first, and discussing the broad ethical issues surrounding their uptake.”

While autonomous systems have broad applicability, the report focuses on two areas: transportation (e.g. autonomous road vehicles) and personal care (e.g., smart homes).

“Autonomous systems, such as fully robotic vehicles that are “driverless” or artificial companions that can provide practical and emotional support to isolated people, have a level of self-determination and decision making ability with the capacity to learn from past performance. Autonomous systems do not experience emotional reactions and can therefore perform better than humans in tasks that are dull, risky or stressful. However they bring with them a new set of ethical problems. What if unpredicted behaviour causes harm? If an unmanned vehicle is involved in an accident, who is responsible – the driver or the systems engineer? Autonomous vehicles could provide benefits for road transport with reduced congestion and safety improvements but there is a lack of a suitable legal framework to address issues such as insurance and driver responsibility.

The technologies for smart homes and patient monitoring are already in existence and provide many benefits to older people, such as allowing them to remain in their own home when recovering from an illness, but they could also lead to isolation from family and friends. Some users may be unfamiliar with the technologies and be unable to give consent to their use.”

The RAEng report recommends “engaging early in public consultation” and working to establish “appropriate regulation and governance so that controls are put in place to guide the development of these systems”.

rdf:SeeAlso Autonomous tech ‘requires debate’; Scientists ponder rules and ethics of robo helpers; Robot cats could care for older Britons.

(via Mike Wooldridge)

Top technology brands

August 6th, 2009, by Tim Finin, posted in Social media, Technology

What’s in a brand? That which we call an iphone by any other name would be as cool, right?

That was then, this is now. Even Wikipedia with it’s NPOV seems to agree: “Brands have become increasingly important components of culture and the economy, now being described as ‘cultural accessories and personal philosophies’.”

Techcrunch posts about an annual ranking of brands.

“WPP subsidiary Millward Brown Optimor has released its highly regarded annual brand ranking BrandZ Top 100 (PDF), which identifies the world’s most valuable global brands as measured by their dollar value.”

As you might expect, the list includes a large number of technology companies.

“Topping the list are Internet giant Google, whose brand was valued at a whopping $100 billion, and rival Microsoft which comes in second with a $76.2 billion valuation. The report shows Google’s brand value is up from $86 billion last year (an increase of 16% in value), while Microsoft’s rose only 8% in value over the past year.

Other valuable top brands in technology, according to Millward Brown’s fresh ranking, include IBM ($66.6 B), Apple ($66.1 B), Vodafone ($53.7 B), Nokia ($35.1 B), Blackberry ($27.4 B), HP ($26.7 B), SAP ($23.6 B), Intel ($22.8 B) and Oracle ($21.4 B). Just outside the top 25, we find Amazon at the number 26 spot, but the company can pride itself in having the most ‘brand momentum’ – a measurement predicting short-term growth prospects – this year.

You can also download an BrandZ Top 100 iPhone App. Since I seem to have an off-brand smartphone, I can’t report on what it does. 🙁

The full 72 page BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands report has lots of interesting analysis and background information. Here’s a table of the top 20 technology companies from the report.

Top Technology Brands

I want the iPhone NG, but …

June 12th, 2008, by Anupam Joshi, posted in Apple, Gadgets, Mobile Computing, Technology Impact

I admit — I was following along on engadget’s liveblog of Jobs’ WWDC keynote, looking for iPhone news. Most of what he said, though, was fairly old news to those who had been reading the tech blogs for the last month or so — 3G and aGPS, besides of course the already announced software upgrades. The big thing was the $199 price, which was out of the blue it seemed. I figured I would go out and get one pretty much as soon as they were available without having to stand in a line. The teeny voice in my head however was expressing skepticism, which eventually was proven correct. The $199 cost factors in a subsidy from AT&T, and the phone now apparently needs to be activated when bought.  No more buying it without AT&T service and then getting it unlocked.

I wonder why that is, though. The big claim is that the revenue model has changed, and so Apple no longer gets an ongoing cut of the revenue from AT&T. If so, why not also sell unlocked versions of the phone sans subsidy, like every other manufacturer ? How will this work in other countries where handset subsidies are not common ? Apparently AirTel in India is the preferred partner and will launch this phone “soon”.  So will AirTel sell it for more than $199, but unlocked ?  Maybe I can get one from them ? Or wait for Xperia X1 ? Or for TouchPro ?

Our MURI grant gets some press

June 12th, 2008, by Anupam Joshi, posted in Datamining, Mobile Computing, Policy, Privacy, Security, Social media, Technology Policy, UMBC

A UMBC led team recently won a MURI award from DoD to work on “Assured Information Sharing Lifecycle”. It is an interesting mix of work on  new security models, policy driven security systems, context awareness, privacy preserving data mining, and social networking. The award really brings together many different strains of research in eBiquity, as well as some related reserach in our department. We’re just starting off, and excited about it. UMBC’s web page had a story about this, and more recently, GCN covered it.

The UMBC team is lead by Tim Finin, and includes several of us. The other participants are UIUC (led by Jiawei Han), Purdue (led by Elisa Bertino),  UTSA (led by Ravi Sandhu), UTDallas (led by Bhavani Thurasingham), Michigan (Lada Adamic).

BusinessWeek ranks 50 most innovative companies

April 19th, 2008, by Tim Finin, posted in Computing Research, Technology Impact

Businessweek Magazine has a special set of articles on innovation in business in its April 28 issue. As in the past, they identified and tanked the 50 most innovative companies worldwide. The list of companies ranked in order are as follows

01. Apple
02. Google
03. Toyota Motor
04. General Electric
05. Microsoft
06.Tata Group
07. Nintendo
08. Procter & Gamble
09. Sony
10. Nokia
11. Amazon.Com
12. IBM
13. Research In Motion
14. BMW
15. Hewlett-Packard
16. Honda Motor
17. Walt Disney
18. General Motors
19. Reliance Industries
20. Boeing
21. Goldman Sachs Group
22. 3M
23. Wal-Mart Stores
24. Target
25. Facebook
26. Samsung Electronics
27. AT&T
28. Virgin Group
29. Audi
30. Mcdonald’S
31. Daimler
32. Starbucks
33. Ebay
34. Verizon Communications
35. Cisco Systems
36. ING Groep
37. Singapore Airlines
38. Siemens
39. Costco Wholesale
40. HSBC
41. Bank Of America
42. Exxon Mobil
43. News Corp.
44. BP
45. Nike
46. Dell
47. Vodafone Group
48. Intel
49. Southwest Airlines
50. American Express

It’s gratifying to see how many of these are companies based on computing and/or communications or have a business that is largely based on exploiting the latest computing and communications technologies. I think that it is appropriate to look at IT and communications as a group, even though they are traditionally viewed as different business sectors, because the innovations in each tends to be in areas where they overlap.

The distribution of the country in which these 50 companies are based is interesting. Of course, many of these are truly multi-national corporations .

COuntires where the 50 innovative companies are based

Synthetic biology at SciBarCamp

March 17th, 2008, by joel, posted in GENERAL, Technology

Tim’s away.
The blog is ours!
Now I can finally post about SciBarCamp, held last weekend in Toronto, and the most interesting meeting I’ve attended this millenium. Amongst its many highlights were two talks by Andrew Hessel. The first was about synthetic biology. Andrew helps run iGEM, which every year hands out “BioBricks” to high school and undergrad students around the world, and sees who can build the best genetic machines. Stunning successes have included a group of kids from Edinburgh who created a bacterium that changes the acidity of water, but only if there’s arsenic present. This enables individual wells to be tested at a cost of dimes instead of tens of dollars. (For a sickening account of why this is significant, click here, or here.) Another group invented a glowing bacterium which, I think, has a variety of computational and artistic applications.

The synthetic biology talk was part of a debate with Jim Thomas from etc, a group that monitors technology from a social justice perspective. Jim began by engendering sympathy for the Luddites, reminding us that in 1812, 14 Luddites were hanged near his alma mater in York, England. Before smashing things, Luddites would sometimes ask the people “is this harmful for the common good?”, and that’s the question Jim asked of synthetic biology. He didn’t exactly say yes, but he raised a number of concerns – security, safety, economic disruption, and concentration of corporate power. The only one which I really bought into was security; kids, as we know, do not use their creativity and hacking skills exclusively for good, and neither do adults. Part of Jim’s evidence was the case of Eckard Wimmer from Stony Brook, who built the polio virus from mail-order parts, just to show it could be done. The session ended before Andrew could respond.

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