Bill Schilit - Projects

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These are the major projects I have worked on or initiated.

User-Contributed Simplicity, Intel Digital Home Group, 2005-

As part of an ongoing effort to understand ease of use of digital home technologies, we undertook an
exploratory study of people who use their home networks for more than just broadband Internet access.
In particular, we wanted to understand the overhead, or problem-time, people spent with their home network devices. As expected, we saw issues of broken hardware and broken software. We also found that
problems are often caused by broken expectations, a mismatch between what a person expects to be able to do and specific device capabilities. In this paper we explore broken expectations in the digital home with examples from our study. These observations suggest further research into the ways user expectations and activities shape the digital home experience.

The team spans user-centered design, networking, collaboration, machine learning and computational linguistics: David McDonald, Barbara Rosario, Ylian Saint-Hillaire and Sara Bly.

PlaceLab, Intel Research Seattle, 2003-2005

Location awareness is an important capability for mobile computing. Yet inexpensive, pervasive positioning—a requirement for wide-scale adoption of location-aware computing—has been elusive. We demonstrate a radio beacon-based approach to location, called Place Lab, that can overcome the
lack of ubiquity and high-cost found in existing location sensing approaches. Using Place Lab, commodity laptops, PDAs and cell phones estimate their position by listening for the cell IDs of fixed radio beacons, such as wireless access points, and referencing the beacons’ positions in a cached database. We
present experimental results showing that 802.11 and GSM beacons are sufficiently pervasive in the greater Seattle area to achieve 20-30 meter median accuracy with nearly 100% coverage measured by availability in people’s daily lives.

Microsoft credits Place Lab for their "locate me" feature in Live.

Computer Supported Cooperative Care, Intel Research Seattle, 2004-2005

Computer-supported coordinated care uses technology to aid the network of people who support an elder living at home. CSCC supports improved communication among individuals and a balanced distribution of responsibilities to allow the elder to live at home despite increasing care needs.

Sunny Consolvo led this project and worked with Sara Bly and myself to develop the thesis that one value for elder technology is CSCW tools for children and others in the support network.

Personal Information Points, FX Palo Alto Laboratory, 2002

As ubiquitous computing becomes widespread, we are increasingly coming into contact with “shared” computer-enhanced devices, such as cars, televisions, and photocopiers. Our interest is in identifying general issues in personalizing such shared everyday devices. Our approach is to compare
alternative personalization methods by deploying and using alternative personalization interfaces (portable and embedded) for three shared devices in our workplace (a presentation PC, a plasma display for brainstorming, and a multi-function copier). This paper presents the comparative prototyping methodology we employed, the experimental system we deployed, observations and feedback from use, and resulting issues in designing personalized shared ubiquitous devices.

This project was headed up by Jonathan Trevor and David Hilbert who were in my group at FX Palo Alto Laboratory. The comparative prototype evaluation methodology was a particularly impressive accomplishment given the Ubicomp community's difficulty with evaluation.

M-Links, FX Palo Alto Laboratory, 2000-2003

Squeezing desktop Web content into smart phones and text pagers is more practical with separate interfaces for navigation and content manipulation. m-Links, a middleware proxy system, supports this
dual-mode browsing, offering mobile users a range of actions on any Web link. The system extracted and gave mobile users easy access to a web site's phone numbers, street addresses and other canonical data.

This project started as a business activity with Xerox, and got some traction with Idea Lab and Yahoo just before the bubble burst. Early on we used a jazzier and sillier "bop-links" name.

XLibris Reading Applicance, FX Palo Alto Laboratory, 1997-2001

Active reading [Adler] is the combination of reading with critical thinking and learning, and involves not just reading per se, but also underlining, highlighting and commenting. We have built the XLibris “Active Reading Machine” to explore the premise that computation can enhance the active reading process. XLibris uses a high-resolution pen tablet display along with a paper-like user interface to emulate the physical experience of reading a document on paper: the reader can hold a scanned image of a page in his lap and mark on it with digital ink. XLibris monitors freeform ink annotations made while reading, and uses these to organize and to search for information. Readers can review, sort and filter clippings of their annotated text in a “Reader's Notebook.” Finally, XLibris searches for material related to the annotated text, and displays links unobtrusively in the margin. XLibris demonstrates that computers can help active readers organize and find information while retaining many of the advantages of reading on paper.

I traveled to Xerox HQ with Mark Weiser to demo this system to the CEO as part of an e-book business proposal. We carefully set up everything the night before in the board room, and in the morning found our two active pens had been "borrowed." With the help of FEDEX we pulled off the demo the next day and got funding to start a new Xerox business.

Patents from this project were acquired by Microsoft.

Web Reader's Digestor, FX Palo Alto Laboratory, 1996-1999

Digestor is a software system which automatically re-authors arbitrary documents from the World-Wide Web to display appropriately on small screen devices such as PDAs and cellular phones, providing
device-independent access to the Web. Digestor is implemented as an HTTP proxy which dynamically re-authors requested Web pages using a heuristic planning algorithm and a set of structural page
transformations to achieve the best looking document for a given display size.

One of the areas that we mapped out for TeleWeb was that of transducing, or rewriting, content for various devices. With Tim Bickmore and Joe Sullivan we built this early web transducing systems for universal access.

Dynomite, FX Palo Alto Laboratory, 1996-1997

Dynomite is a portable electronic notebook for the capture and retrieval of handwritten and audio notes. The goal of Dynomite is to merge the organization, search, and data acquisition capabilities of a computer with the benefits of a paper-based notebook. Dynomite provides novel solutions in four key problem areas. First, Dynomite uses a casual, low cognitive overhead interface. Second, for content indexing
of notes, Dynomite uses ink properties and keywords. Third, to assist organization, Dynomite’s properties
and keywords define views, presenting a subset of the notebook content that dynamically changes as users add new information. Finally, to augment handwritten notes with audio on devices with limited storage, Dynomite continuously records audio, but only permanently stores those parts highlighted by the user.

In the Dynomite project we took a user-centered approach, interviewing people about their note-taking practices to give us insight into system features. Our team consisted of Nitin Sawney (Media Lab Intern), Lynn Wilcox, and Sara Bly. Sara was tremendously helpful in teaching us user-centered techniques.

Patents from this project were acquired by Microsoft.

TeleWeb, AT&T Bell Labs, 1995-1996

The development of the World Wide Web (WWW) has made people reliant on continuous, high-speed, low-cost networks in order to get work done. Ideally, one should be able to browse the Web anytime, anywhere, whether connected to such a network or not. This project developed TeleWeb, a system built to support this goal. We believe that fine-grained cost control is crucial and have developed a "reactive architecture" that supports user-specified adaptation under various operating conditions. There are four key features to TeleWeb's architecture: costs are made visible to the user through annotated HTML; budget monitoring warns the user when operations exceed pre-specified limits; actions may be postponed and later triggered when conditions are met; and finally, user customization and system configuration values may automatically adapt according to the changing conditions of use. These mechanisms work together to provide an asynchronous, email-style of browsing in which users can work disconnected from a cache of documents, or trade off communication cost against information needs.

In one of our last PARCTAB meetings John Ellis, in a De Niro sort of way, said: "You wanna know what the killer app is? You really wanna know? It's information access." With this advice in hand I joined Prathima Agrawal's Networked Computing Group at Bell Labs and formed a project focused on ubiquitous information access. The team included Fred Douglis, David Kristol, Paul Krzyzanowski, James Sienicki, and John Trotter.

PARCTAB, Xerox PARC 1992-1995

The PARCTAB system integrates a palm-sized mobile computer into an office network. The PARCTAB project serves as the first testbed for Ubiquitous Computing, a philosophy originating at Xerox PARC that aims to enrich our computing environment by emphasizing context sensitivity, casual interaction and the spatial arrangement of computers.

When I arrived at PARC for a summer internship I met Roy Want, Mark Weiser and Rich Gold who were building a very cool little computer they called the PARCTAB. I spent the next three years working closely with Roy and a great team (Norman Adams, Rich Gold, Karin Petersen, David Goldberg, John Ellis and Mark Weiser) building much of the software for what became the first context-aware computer.

One afternoon Roy (who also created the Active Badge System) and I put a "Mr. Coffee" Badge on the CSL coffeepot. Mark wrote: "Whenever anyone made a new pot of coffee we pushed the reset button on the ParcTab [sic], which sent an infrared signal to the computer network. A message popped up on our computer screens letting everyone know that there was a fresh brew. This caused an instantaneous gathering around the coffeepot, and as a result generated lots of fresh hallway discussion--which is one of the best ways to create new research ideas."

Context-Aware Computing Architecture, Xerox PARC 1992-1995

The contribution of this thesis is an architecture to support context-aware applications; that is, application adaptation triggered by such things as the location of use, the collection of nearby people, the presence of accessible devices and other kinds of objects, as well as changes to all these things over time. Three key issues are addressed: (1) the information needs of applications, (2) where applications get various pieces of information and (3) how information can be efficiently distributed. A dynamic environment communication model is introduced as a general mechanism for quickly and efficiently learning about changes occuring in the environment in a fault tolerant manner. For purposes of scalability, multiple dynamic environment servers store user, device, and context information for each geographic region. In order to efficiently disseminate information from these components to applications, a dynamic collection of multicast groups is employed. The thesis also describes a demonstration system based on the Xerox PARCTAB, a wireless palmtop computer.

My thesis presented a system architecture for context-aware computing. I was lucky (!?) enough to have two advisors: Dan Duchamp at Columbia and Marvin Theimer at PARC. This work connected to and supported the PARC Tab.

Roy and I argued whether to call it "context-aware" or "context-sensitive" computing. In the end Marvin and I coined the term "context-aware" in the "Disseminating Active Map Information to Mobile Hosts" paper. By the way, the figure on the right is the infamous "nearest printer" application.

CAP/AUFS, Columbia University, 1986-1990

The Columbia AppleTalk Package (CAP) implements the AppleTalk protocol stack on a variety of UNIX machines. The main applications provide an AppleShare 2.1 compatible server (aufs), a LaserWriter Spooler (lwsrv) and a program to print to LaserWriters (papif).

Charlie Kim and I reverse engineered the Appletalk protocol stack without benefit of Sidhu's Inside Appletalk (published 1989) and instead had to rely on an endless supply of packet traces and Takome coffee. Apple's commercial license of the code in 1990 helped get me through school... both graduate and ski.