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¶ talking to walls
pervasive computing researchers love scenarios. I guess it's cause they can't really come up with a new theory to prove or provide evidence to support a claim, that they feel the need to paint a picture to justify their work. Anyway, seeing as that's sorta what I'm doing now, here's a scenario.

scenario: You are visiting a large complex for the first time, and are unfamiliar with the surroundings. You've been walking around for a bit and aren't really sure where you are. You have a meeting that you're supposed to go to, in room 32-G838, but don't know where that is. So you pull out your cell phone and use it to make a quick scan and fortunately, there's an Intelligent Wall nearby. You call the wall and a conversation ensues
wall: yes?
you: I'm lost.
wall: What are you looking for?
you: Room 32-G838
wall: You're in the wrong building. gives directions... Do you want a map?
you: Why yes, that would be wonderful!
wall sends a map to your cellphone
you: thanks. bye.
wall: goodbye.
you get to your meeting, and live happily ever after
Here's how I would do it today:

Design: There are several main parts to this system.
  • Short range wireless communication
  • Speech understanding, generation interface
  • computational devices embedded in the walls
The "intelligent wall" is nothing more than a consumer-grade personal computer hidden behind the wall, ceiling, or floor. It uses a bluetooth wireless interface to advertise its availability. Recent cell phones have bluetooth units already built in, allowing you to do exactly the scanning process described above. The folks in Spoken Language Systems on the 3rd and 4th floors of our building have some speech software that's already quite robust and configurable, and can be used in conjunction with a map-generating backend The bluetooth specification already defines audio transport protocols, so a "phone call" to the pc can be passed through the SLS system for a real time conversation with an intelligent wall. Maps can be sent as compressed images also using Bluetooth via the standard OBEX protocol.

Remarks: Okay, some of that might have been a little technical, but the point is to explain exactly how such a system could be implemented today. We're implementing a similar system (without the speech integration) for this Tuesday, when our new building officially opens... so I started thinking about ways we could augment it, and this is what I came up with. To be perfectly honest, it is a little contrived (why not just knock on someone's door and ask for directions, right?) but maybe better ideas will come later...

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