Beyond the iPhone: Orlando conference to offer peek at computing future

Published: September 23 2009

Category:Business, Engineering, Research, Technology

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — We can find cheap gas or seek out friends. We can track flights or rate restaurants.

But those and other multiplying “apps” for smart phones are only the crest of a wave of smart clothing, toys and tools that will reshape everyday life, just as portable wireless technology has reshaped human interactions and business through social networking, Twitter and online shopping.

A preview of upcoming new devices, applications and their impact is set for next week in Orlando, when nearly 300 scientists, thinkers and computer engineers from around the world will present and discuss their work and ideas in the 11th International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing. The University of Florida and the University of Central Florida join Microsoft Research, Nokia and Intel among the sponsors for the conference, set for Sept. 30 through Oct. 3 at Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resort Conference Center.

“Computing was about information in the past, but we’re moving beyond that,” said Sumi Helal, a UF professor of computer science and engineering and the general chair of the conference. “The next wave will be computers tied to sensors that are a constant, often invisible part of our daily lives.”

Members of the news media are invited to attend the conference, which will include presentations and demonstrations. Reporters and camera crews are asked to pick up press passes and materials at the conference registration desk. (For location, schedule and speaker information visit:

Scientists and engineers from UF, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, the Georgia Institute of Technology and more than 130 other institutions from 26 countries are expected to attend. Speakers include Henry Tirri, senior vice president of Nokia and head of the Nokia Research Center and MIT Media Lab Professor Alex “Sandy” Pentland.

Thirty-six planned full-conference presentations include:
• A device that turns the iTouch into an air quality monitor.
• Clothes that coach children on correct posture.
• A swimsuit that informs swimmers of their speed, strokes and time per lane.
• A system that encourages water conservation by tracking how much water is being consumed by each tap, toilet or shower in a home.

At least 20 demonstrations include:
• A way to use hardware in existing computers to “sense” the presence of people.
• A “dining presenter” that adds appeal to dinner table food
• A toy that monitors and encourages daily exercise.

At least 65 workshop presentations include:
• An iPhone app that estimates how users’ activities impact the environment.
• A system that transforms toys into monitors of a childhood development.
• A system that tailors amusement park rides to riders’ experiences in real time.

Helal said computers have moved from mainframe to PC to smart phone and are now at a new phase — where computers act in concert with sensors in many different devices.

Current sensors — GPS, cameras and RFID tags — are already changing traditional practices. GPS-enhanced smart phones, for example, are making paper maps obsolete.

Many more changes are just around the corner. Eric Paulos, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Human Computer Interaction Institute, designed the iTouch air quality monitor with student Sunyoung Kim. He says the monitor is just one of many applications that could expand smart phones from communication devices into measurement devices able to collect data on everything from jet airplane noise to pollen counts to drinking water quality.

This could prompt personal changes in behavior — one of the participants in a study of the iTouch air quality monitor quit smoking because he could see how much the smoke lowered air quality, Paulos said. But smart phone environmental monitors could also empower “citizen scientists” to gather and share data about the world around them, noting changes to air quality, for example, as traffic or growth patterns changed.

Yelp and other sites now help people find night spots. “In the same way you could influence someone to go to a hit bar,” Paulos said, “you could help influence people to become more aware of environmental issues.”

As next week’s conference will make clear, these applications are bound to have a sweeping impact on society, challenging traditional notions about everything from exercising to healing, raising children to aging, eating to worshipping.


Aaron Hoover,, 352-392-0186
Sumi Helal,, 352-214-0736

Category:Business, Engineering, Research, Technology