designing smart artifacts for smart environments

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  • 0018-9162/05/$20.00 2005 IEEE March 2005 41

    C O V E R F E A T U R E

    P u b l i s h e d b y t h e I E E E C o m p u t e r S o c i e t y

    Designing SmartArtifacts for SmartEnvironments

    A n integral part of our environment, com-puters contribute to the social contextthat determines our day-to-day activitieswhile at the office, on the road, at home,or on vacation. The widespread avail-ability of devices such as desktop and laptop com-puters has fueled our increasing dependency on awide range of computing services. The technolog-ical advances that underlie the laptop, PDA, or cellphone also provide the foundation for nontradi-tional computer-based devices such as interactivewalls, tables, and chairsexamples of roomwarecomponents that provide new functionality whencombined with innovative software.1

    Two complementary trends have resulted in thecreation of smart environments that integrate infor-mation, communication, and sensing technologiesinto everyday objects.2 First, continual miniatur-ization has resulted in computers and related tech-nological devices that are small enough to be nearlyinvisible. Although they are not visible, these devicesstill permeate many artifacts in our environment.Second, researchers have augmented the standardfunctionality of everyday objects to create smartartifacts constituting an environment that supportsa new quality of interaction and behavior.

    In our work, we distinguish between two types ofsmart artifacts: system-oriented, importunate smart-ness and people-oriented, empowering smartness.

    System-oriented, importunate smartness createsan environment in which individual smart artifacts

    or the environment as a whole can take certain self-directed actions based on previously collected infor-mation. For example, a space can be smart byhaving and exploiting knowledge about the personsand artifacts currently situated within its borders,for example, how long they have occupied the spaceand what actions they have performed while in it.

    In this version of smartness, the space would beactive, in many cases even proactive. It would makedecisions about what to do next and actually exe-cute those actions without a human in the loop. Ina smart home, for example, the control system auto-matically performs functions such as adjusting theheating system and opening or closing the windowsand blinds.

    In some cases, however, these actions could beunwelcome or ill-timed. Consider a smart refriger-ator that analyzes the occupants consumption pat-terns and autonomously orders replacements fordepleted menu items. Although we might appreci-ate suggestions for recipes we can make with thefood that is currently available, we would proba-bly resent a smart refrigerator that ordered foodautomatically that we could not consume becauseof circumstances beyond the refrigerators knowl-edge such as an unanticipated absence or illness.

    In contrast, people-oriented, empowering smart-ness places the empowering function in the fore-ground so that smart spaces make people smarter.This approach empowers users to make decisionsand take mature and responsible actions.

    Smart artifacts promise to enhance the relationships among participants indistributed working groups, maintaining personal mobility while offeringopportunities for the collaboration, informal communication, and socialawareness that contribute to the synergy and cohesiveness inherent in collocated teams.

    Norbert A.StreitzCarstenRckerThorstenPranteDaniel van AlphenRichard StenzelCarstenMagerkurthFraunhofer IPSI

    Darmstadt, Germany

  • 42 Computer

    In this case, the system also collects andaggregates data about what goes on in thespace, but it provides and communicates thisinformation intuitively so that ordinary peo-ple can comprehend and determine the sys-tems subsequent actions. This type of smartspace might make suggestions based on the information collected, but users remain in the loop and can always decide what to do next.

    This type of system supports its occupantssmart, intelligent behavior. In an office sce-nario, for example, the smart space couldrecommend that current occupants consultwith others who worked on the same con-tent while occupying the same space earlier

    or it could direct them to look at related documentscreated earlier in the same space.

    The system-oriented and people-orientedapproaches represent the end points of a line alongwhich we can position weighted combinations ofboth types of smartness depending on the applica-tion domain. Although in some cases it might bemore efficient if the system does not ask for a usersfeedback and confirmation at every step in anaction chain, the overall design rationale shouldaim to keep the user in the loop and in controlwhenever possible.

    FROM INFORMATION TO EXPERIENCEMuch work on smart things and environments

    focuses on intelligently processing the data andinformation that supports factory and home con-trol and maintenance tasks or productivity-orientedoffice tasks. We considered another promisingdimension, however: designing experiences viasmart spaces.

    We sought to design smart artifacts that users caninteract with simply and intuitively in the overallenvironment. This includes extending awarenessabout the physical and social environment by pro-viding observation data and parameters thatinmany casesare invisible to unaugmented humansenses. Revealing this information thus enables newexperiences.

    This process of capturing and communicatinginvisible parameters is applicable to both knownexisting action contexts and to newly created situ-ations and settings. Known examples include pol-lution or computer network traffic data that usuallyescapes detection by the human senses.3 Presentingthis data can provide a new experience that givespeople a deeper sense of what occurs around them.Depending on the particular application, this capa-

    bility could raise public awareness and potentiallytrigger changes in peoples behavior.

    Our work in creating augmented social archi-tectural spaces in office settings culminated in theAmbient Agoras environment ( We are now applying this knowledgeto other domains, including interactive hybridgames, home entertainment, and extended homeenvironments.

    We focus here on computer-based support foractivities beyond direct productivity, in particularinformal communication and social interactionbetween local and remote teams in an organizationthat are working at different but connected sites.5,6

    Because these activities are important to an orga-nizations overall progress and success, they meritmore technology-based support.

    Ambient AgorasWithin this overall context, we used the Ambient

    Agoras environment as a test bed for developingfuture applications of ubiquitous and ambient com-puting in smart workspaces. This required a widerange of expertise and a highly interdisciplinaryapproach involving not only computer scientistsand electrical engineers but also psychologists,architects, and designers.

    Fraunhofer IPSI in Darmstadt, Germany, pro-vided the scientific, technical, and administrativeproject coordination. Fraunhofers AmbienteResearch Division also employed product design-ers and architects to develop some of the artifacts.

    Electricit de France, the French electrical powerutility, served as the consortiums user organiza-tion. As part of its R&D division, the Laboratoryof Design for Cognition in Paris provided the testbed for the evaluation studies and contributed tothe observation and participatory design methods.

    Wilkhahn, a German office furniture manufac-turer, contributed to the design and developmentof some artifacts, leveraging its experience indesigning the second generation of Roomwarecomponents developed in cooperation withFraunhofer IPSI in the Future Office Dynamicsconsortium.7

    Social marketplace of ideas and informationWe chose as the guiding metaphor for our work

    the Greek agora, a marketplace. In line with this,we investigated how to turn everyday places intosocial marketplaces of ideas and information wherepeople could meet and interact.

    In our particular context, we addressed the officeenvironment as an integrated organization located

    Developing futureapplications of ubiquitous and

    ambient computingin smart workspaces

    required a widerange of expertise

    and a highlyinterdisciplinary


  • in a physical environment and having particularinformation needs, both at the organizations col-lective level and at the workers personal level.

    Overall, we sought to augment the architecturalenvelope to create a social architectural space thatsupports collaboration, informal communication,and social awareness. We achieved this by provid-ing situated services and place-relevant informa-tion that communicate the feeling of a place tousers. Further, augmented physical artifacts helppromote individual and team interactions in thephysical environment.

    Specifically, we used a scenario-based approach,starting with a large number of so called bits oflifeshort descriptions of functionalities, situa-tions, events, and so onthat we aggregated intoscenarios and presented to focus groups usingvisual aids such as video mock-ups. This, in com-bination with extensive conceptual work based ondifferent architectural theories,8 served as the basisfor developing a wide range of smart artifacts andtheir corresponding software that, together, pro-vided users with smart services.

    Design, development, and evaluation followed aniterative and rapid-prototyping approach. For theAmbient Agoras environment, we coupled severalinteraction design objectives, including the disap-pearance and ubiquity of computing devices; sens-ing technologies such as active and passive RFID;smart ar


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