Archive for July, 2006

RFID reader and tags received

Today I finally received my CompactFlash RFID reader. As I wrote earlier it’s the Multi ISO CompactFlash reader from ACG, that is supposed to work with the Mobile Bristol Toolkit. It came with 30 small round epoxy RFID sticker tags (I-Code SLI).

ACG CompactFlash RFID Reader with Epoxy I-Code SLI sticker tags

Although I expected a lot of trouble getting the hardware to work it seemed to go pretty easy. Although I did not get a CD, manual, URL or anything with it, setting it all up went quickly. On the ACG id website a Demo Utility can be found which can be used to test the reader. The manual on the utility (found in the ZIP file) is not too detailed about the available features but it does explain the basics. After clicking one of the two ‘connect’ buttons the ‘select’ command enabled me to read out the tags I received, which had unique numbers written to them already.

The Mobile Bristol Editor provides an excellent programming environment to program the client’s behaviour on encountering and losing tags. It’s now time to get the Mobile Bristol client to actually communicate with the reader.

Mobile platform

Earlier I wrote about deciding on a platform for my project. One of the reasons to go mobile was to engage a close relationship with the object. The mobile device would be moving towards the object. This way the interaction is directly the opposite of moving the object to the reader. The user is approaching the object instead of moving the object away from himself.

In the end I decided to go for a PDA with a CompactFlash-based RFID reader. It looked like building a fullscreen Flash application for Windows for Pocket PC was the way to go. With the new Flash Player 7 for Pocket PC .flv video files are also playable. Unfortunately no public standalone Flash Player is released by Macromedia. I could go for the Internet Explorer plugin, but at the top and bottom a lot of screenspace is lost because of the menu bars. Next to that it would be pretty distracting and ugly.

Werner Ruotsalainen wrote a great article describing the possibilities for Flash on Pocket PC. Bryht Flash Player looked like the way to go. It comes with a button bar (play, stop etc.), dissapearing when using the program fullscreen. The trial version was not that smooth, so I could not really test if it was worth the money.

To use the CompactFlash RFID reader in combination with Macromedia Flash a bridge would have to be created. Some readers like the Socket CF RFID Reader Card 6E come with keyboard wedge software faking keyboard presses. This solution would not win the beauty contest but would do the job. The Mobile Bristol Toolkit by HP Labs Bristol however provides a superior interface not just for GPS, but for RFID as well! It’s GPS possibilities were used by the 2005 EMMA group project iPACK. For RFID the toolkit should be working with the ACG CF RFID reader, which I hope to receive soon.

Using the Mobile Bristol Editor the software can be programmed to send commands to Flash upon reading a tag and losing connection with a tag. The client software running on the HP iPAQ is not a standalone Flash Player but is using Internet Explorer functionality. In fact, the client is showing an HTML page where a Flash object can be embedded. It is on the other hand able to display the Flash movie fullscreen!

A little annoyance of Pocket Internet Explorer for Pocket PC 2003 is the popup “Press OK to continue loading the content of this page.”. It was Microsoft’s way to work around a patent, explained here, and pops up every time a Flash movie is played. My project file would only be run once, so for me this is not such a big problem. There is a (commercial) client side solution though, called ‘PressOK‘. It quickly removes the popup but you will still be able to see it for a slight second. The Microsoft Knowledge Base article describes a few Javascript solutions to counter this problem. This is a serverside solution, perfect for my project, and also compatible with the Mobile Bristol toolkit.

Objects and their stories

The emotional value of an object can lie in experiences with that object, or intensive use of it. Perhaps the object was a precious gift or it reminds you of pleasant or unpleasant times. Crafted objects can be selfreflecting, and souvenirs can remind you of a location.

Union Square - San Francisco

In this project the emotional stories are narrowed down to childhood nostalgia. The objects used are a Fisher-Price roller skate, a stuffed animal, a plastic military tank and a handcrafted puppet. Because these items were collected in The Netherlands, they might be emotional to only Dutch.

To test this hypothesis the objects would have to be presented to people from different countries. To find people not in a hurry or not going somewhere a good place to look is a park or a square. People there would be relaxing and not be bothering too much by a few questions. The ideal place to meet people from a lot of different nationalities would be a tourist hot spot. I found a perfect combination of the two in Union Square, San Francisco.

There was a chance that people would not recognise the objects at all. Their emotional stories would be geographically bound. However it was very interesting to see nearly everybody coorporating recognising the objects. Interesting stories were captured. The story-telling people came from Canada, the US, Hong Kong, Ukraine, Spain, Germany, Russia, France, Scotland and England. Together this created an interesting mixture of emotions, with some emotions being country specific, and others being global.

It seemed like the perfect place to interview people, but unfortunately it also had a downside. The sound quality of the recordings is pretty low because of constant traffic and construction background sounds. Nevertheless the great emotional and international stories weigh easily up against this loss of quality.