Prof. Dr. h.c. mult. Hasso Plattner

ME310 Projects of the Year 2011-2012

There has been half a decade of ME310 in Potsdam already. In 2011, two teams of four students each started their work. The team working on creating the next generation television for Panasonic partnered with École des Ponts ParisTech. The second team, working in the Construction Industry, joined Stanford students. They were keen to find out how they can help professionals with robos technology to enhance orientation and efficiency on site.

Next Generation TVs - Panasonic

The TV market today is stable and 97% of all households possess at least one television set. Manufacturers today compete on three main points: dimensions (thinner & bigger), price, and image quality (resolution and colors). Laptops and tablets with their ever increasing image quality and ease of access to content through the Internet are also becoming competitors, as consumers take a habit of downloading much of their content.
Therefore, a team of six students from HPI and École des Ponts ParisTech have investigated today’s TV experience. Manufacturers advertise an idealized picture of happy viewers sitting on a couch being totally absorbed looking at the screen. During our need-finding, research and observation, we found that 65% of viewers were doing something else while watching and that over complex remotes, interfaces and content selection processes were degrading the quality of the users’ experience. Yet despite all this and the increasing use of other devices to access content, TV consumption time in households has not dropped and has even slightly gone up. They observed people still meet in front of the TV at home and therefore realized that there is a need for a collective entertainment experience. Despite all of its problems, today’s TV is still the most natural device to fulfill this need as it is intrinsically a shared device, as opposed to tablets, laptops or smart phones which belong to a single individual.

However, one of the great issues impeding TV sets’ expected “socialness” was the fact that in the current living room setups in Europe, TV sets were placed against a wall, with the viewers all lined up side by side facing it. Aiming for natural integration into users’ living rooms, they looked at households where there was no TV. There was always a central gathering place, usually seats and couches surrounding a coffee table. This is where we decided to place the TV. Indeed, this will be technologically possible because of the increasing use of wireless data exchange between devices. By putting two 23-inch screens, displaying the same content, back to back on the table, all viewers could at the same time see and interact with each other over the top of the frame and still not miss the action. Additionally, this provided a much more natural living room furniture set up. User testing showed that our viewers, while disconcerted at first, quickly appreciated this setup, feeling a stronger human connection with each other and living a much higher quality entertainment experience. We called this system AGORA.

It allows Panasonic to challenge the way the TV industry has been competing during the last decades, notably by withdrawing from the “bigger is better” philosophy and also by reducing the relative importance of the content displayed on the overall viewer experience, by giving the device a value in and of itself compared to other TV sets. It also opens a door towards new content possibilities as, while still showing the same content on each screen, it also enables to have 2 different points of view, with, for example two different viewing angles of a concert or a sport’s match. All this combines to giving Panasonic the opportunity to define a new direction in the TV market, becoming the leader towards a more social living room experience.

Augmented Reality on Site - Construction Industry

Construction is one of the most basic industries that has driven the development of society for centuries. However, as technology has progressed and become more diverse, many of the techniques used by construction workers have remained relatively static. Among the new and powerful tools available to the construction industry is Building Information Modeling (BIM). However, while BIM has revolutionized architectural design and construction planning, it has not had a profound impact on operations on the construction site. The Lynx team, consisting of three mechanical engineering students from Stanford University, and four computer science students from the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI) at the University of Potsdam was originally charged with investigating how virtual reality might help to bring BIM to the construction site. However, after talking with people in the construction industry, conducting research and visiting construction sites , the team determined that the real problem on the construction site is not a lack of data, but rather a lack of communication.
Currently, the daily operations on construction sites do not function at an efficient level. When questions arise on a site, it requires the field workers to ask the superin- tendents in the trailer for additional information. These inquiries are usually solved by having the higher level management go out into the field with drawings and physically explaining what needs to be done. On large sites, this becomes a tremendous burden, as the superintendent needs to travel a lot. Ultimately, work is halted as a backlog of questions starts to pile up. Management in the trailer not only has to address questions from the field, but also has to monitor exactly what work is being performed in the field and who is performing the work. These problems beckon for a method to allow management in the planning trailer to answer the questions of those in the field and observe the work being done as needed. The Lynx system is a solution to these problems, which facilitates management and communication by allowing the superintendent to have multiple virtual presences in the field while also having immediate access to all project information at his computer, improving efficiency and accountability.

Through further interviews, site observations and benchmarking, the Lynx team has determined the following requirements for information sharing and interaction. At a basic level, the system should support audio/visual interaction between supervisors and workers, allowing the worker on site and the superintendent in the trailer to converse and point to areas in question. In addition, the system should provide the supervisor with a controllable remote presence, allowing him or her to see what work is been done and by whom. Finally, it should allow the supervisor to gesture, circle or highlight items on a shared BIM model and point to features on the job site to call attention to them. Through experimentation with initial prototypes, the team determined that workers resist carrying extra devices around. Therefore, the system should take advantage of the worker’s cell phone cameras and the supervisor’s own laptop. The laptop communicates via wireless internet to the cell phones on the site. A custom application on the cell phones supports two-way video chat and adds the capability to transmit gestures and annotations to highlight items of interest on shared images from the site or the BIM model. To give the supervisor a remote presence, a remote station called the Lynx rmtly, uses another camera cell phone to create a controllable pan/tilt camera with a built-in laser pointer so that the supervisor can designate items of interest at the remote site. A matching program on the supervisor’s laptop supports camera control and keeps track of the sequence of messages, questions and consultations with various workers. The program on the supervisor’s laptop also enables him or her to take screenshots from Autodesk Revit and share this relevant information with the worker’s phone.
In addition to the immediate communication benefits of this system, a record of the pictures taken and discussed is kept which allows the superintendent to save and share these pictures as necessary to get answers to more involved problems that cannot be solved in one phone call. Initial tests with the Lynx system have met with very positive reactions from workers and supervisors on construction sites, particularly for modern construction firms that already use BIM modeling. The Lynx system allows them to put the BIM models to work, with better communication, fewer errors and delays, and less unproductive travel time to answer questions.