Active walls, intelligent buildings...

Jim Whitehead (
Wed, 22 Sep 1999 11:05:32 -0700

I recently had the chance to hear Norbert Streitz from GMD IPSI give a
presentation on the Ambiente project, which is somewhat aligned with the
ubiquitous computing movement in that it aims to make buildings more
intelligent by enhancing their capabilities with embedded computational

Some examples of the work taking place in this project are:

Dynawall <>
(there's a picture there that definitely is worth 1,000 words...)

This is a wall-sized intelligent whiteboard. Essentially three project
displays hooked together with a custom-developed user interface suited to
such a large surface. For example, on a wall-sized display, many of the
screen-sized UI idioms don't work -- you almost never want to expand to full
screen, and having to walk 6 feet to click on the "Start" button doesn't
work either. Similarly, walking 6 feet to move a window isn't a good idea
either -- instead, just toss it to where you'd like it to go.

CommChair <>

What would it be like to have a computer embedded in an armchair? This
project is exploring this idea. It's intergrated into an environment where
it's easy to take information from the Dynawall and view it on the
CommChair, and vice-versa.


Here the idea is to have a table with a screen on top (remember the Pac Man
games built into a tabletop?) which can be used in an informal collaborative
meeting. Again, new user interface elements needed to be developed. Unlike
upright screens, a flat, table-top screen needs the ability to rotate a
window around so you can show it to someone across the table in the correct
orientation for them.

Papers presenting more details on these systems, and their user interface
aspects are available at the bottom of each linked page.

Other work along this line will be presented at CoBuild99
<>, the 2nd Int'l Workshop on Cooperative
Buildings, to be held October 1-2, 1999, in Pittsburgh, PA.

- Jim