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Sentient Computing Lab

Hemos posted more than 13 years ago | from the cool-idea dept.

News 116

dedair writes "From the people who brought you VNC, AT&T labs has been working on an ultrasonic location system that they use in their labs in Cambridge, Engalnd. It turns a whole building into a virtual computing center. No matter where you are in the building, your phone calls can be forwarded to you and with the use of VNC, your desktop is always in front of you. Pretty cool stuff with more details at their website."

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Re:Olivetti on Discovery years ago (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#373980)

The badges may have been different - before the active bat ORL did active badge research (that said the active bat is hardly new news - I went to a lecture as part of my Cambridge CS course about the bats in 1999, and the wern't new then!) Ther big brother issue is a non-starter - people can take badges off if they don't want to be found, and every room has to be fitted with loads of receivers for getting the triagulation correct What amuses me is that Quentin Stafford-Fraser of VNC fame is also the Quentin Stafford-Fraser of Trojan Coffee Pot fame. The world (or Cambridge at least) is a very small place

I can get my e-mail in the bathroom now.. (1)

_14k4 (5085) | more than 13 years ago | (#373981)

I wonder if I can get flush insurance on my cell, in case I drop it in the urinal while in the bathroom, and conferenced with the vp. Hrm, what a thought.

Re:Cool, so can I? (1)

_14k4 (5085) | more than 13 years ago | (#373982)

Maybe the term... "I wouldnt wipe my ass with that webpage" can have some truth and meaning now?

Ok, so I just made it up. Shoot me.

I don't like it (1)

Ravenscall (12240) | more than 13 years ago | (#373983)

It smacks of Big Brother. Personally I do not tend to be (overly) paranoid, but If this can be adapted on a lrger basis, I can see different Government authorities just itching to abuse it. It is good for the Corporate level (until they own us all) for now, but I do not like the implications of it.

It even knows what shirt color you're wearing!! (1)

kevlar (13509) | more than 13 years ago | (#373984)

Check it out!! ti ng-vis-large.jpg

Re:Uhmm... sentient? (1)

mopsuestia (14023) | more than 13 years ago | (#373985)

Well, that is one definition (actually more of a connotation), but it more generally means "capable of sensory perception." It is derivative of the word "sense," after all. So technically any computer with sensors is "sentient," but what is cool about this is the completixy of the sensory information it recieves and how it uses it to reconstruct the outside world.

Slashdot Spellchecker To Coming Online....? (1)

Quarters (18322) | more than 13 years ago | (#373986)

We can only hope.

C'mon, Hemos. If you had read your post even once before you submitted it you would've caught, "Engalnd".

the future is here (1)

the_tsi (19767) | more than 13 years ago | (#373987)

AT&T, meet George Jetson.

Of course, now my computer will start talking like Rudy and I'll never get any work done at all.

...More Powerful than Otto Preminger...

Re:AT&T Didn't give us VNC (1)

Pat__ (26992) | more than 13 years ago | (#373989)

From the VNC Faq
Q I thought this was something to do with ORL? What's the Olivetti/Oracle link here?

A In January 1999, AT&T acquired ORL, the Olivetti Research Laboratory founded 12 years earlier, and recently jointly funded by Oracle, to create AT&T Laboratories Cambridge.

Here is the link for VNC
And the faq

KH-ing ?

Re:Typical, England brought you 1984, (1)

Tyriphobe (28459) | more than 13 years ago | (#373990)

Do you mean "Brave New World", the dystopic novel of a totally planned society written by Aldous Huxely, or "1984", the dytopic novel of surveillance and doublespeak written by George Orwell?

Re:General pager/cell-phone rant response (1)

JJ (29711) | more than 13 years ago | (#373991)

I agree with you that it does get said too often. My opinion is that a) a lot of work can get done by people not at the acme of electronic interconnectivity and b) while these have their usefulness and some jobs (now) virtually require them (sales and troubleshooting folks come to mind) generalizing this ability to everyone in the company just isn't appropriate. There was an old fortune in the UNIX fortune file, "One reason computers can get more work done than humans is that computers don't have to stop and answer the phone."

Re:AT&T Didn't give us VNC (1)

anonymous moderator (30165) | more than 13 years ago | (#373992)

Another advantage is that (if you set up the server for http) you can walk into any internet cafe in the world, type in a url, and read your email in your favorite email reader. You can happily ignore this "you can only read email if you use hotmail or something similar" junk you see at many internet cafes/access points. I don't htink most internet cafe operators woudl know what X is, let alone have an X server running! They probably only have windows telnet as well!

Bit more detail (1)

blacksmith (42129) | more than 13 years ago | (#373995)

I'm currently taking a lecture course given by Prof. Andy Hopper (director of AT&T Cambridge Labs). The Active Badge was the original system, based on infrared. That just localised to a single room or area. The Active Bat is the ultrasound version, and if you put three on a single object you can tell its position and orientation to a pretty fine resolution. It's not just for people though - they've got them on computers, chairs, and pretty much everything in the office.

Don't know why this has suddenly appeared on /. though - it's been around quite a few years already.

Re:Can you turn it off? (1)

blacksmith (42129) | more than 13 years ago | (#373996)

Sounds like you're confusing the active badge with the active bat. The active badge is entirely IR, but the active bat (which the article is mostly about) uses radio to the device and ultrasound back. It uses ultrasound because it's slow enough to get an accurate path difference from the time delay.

Re:Ensure Technologies (1)

funcan (42420) | more than 13 years ago | (#373997)

I looked at a prototype of this style security system, but it took maybe 3 minutes to break it... namely pick up the pc, move it to the other side of a partition where someone is sitting, and hey presto! I'm logged in as them.

How do you solve that one? One idea was to have the ID in a ring so that it only picks you up when your hands go within ~20cm of the keyboard... with a suitable hystresis and a fast enough log in, this could work...

AT&T Didn't give us VNC (1)

puppetluva (46903) | more than 13 years ago | (#373998)

VNC (If you are talking about VNC Viewer) came from Oracle/Olivetti labs. (who also gave us databases and the typewriters to perch on top of them).

Just want to give credit where credit is due.


Privacy vs. Utility (1)

Rupert Curwen (56821) | more than 13 years ago | (#373999)

We don't force people to wear bats around our lab, but they do. The reason is that they give useful services which people want. Think of your machine's IP address - it can be used to find you, but provides some benefits. We also have "quiet zones" which are places you can put your bat if you don't want to be seen. Or just take your bat off and drop it on the desk.

The bat opens doors so you don't have to take your keys out; notifies you of email and phone calls, which you can then access at the nearest computer or phone; allows you to drop any of your VNC desktops onto the nearest workstation; allows you to determine when someone is in a meeting or on the phone and therefore saving you a fruitless walk over to their office; and so on.

And yes, it is fantastic watching everyone moving around on the magic map.


sounds nice but... (1)

Trailer Trash (60756) | more than 13 years ago | (#374000)

It may well spell the end of having a quickie in the janitorial closet.

All I need now (1)

stefanlasiewski (63134) | more than 13 years ago | (#374001)

Great, all I need now is Sentient Computing Lab Mates!

Technology for people who don't want to do anythin (1)

Rares Marian (83629) | more than 13 years ago | (#374004)

Great so it knows where I am. So I can use VNC. I've found those things pretty useful in certain situations.

The problem is you have to exit the entire building to leave "The System". Sorry, this virtual womb thing sounds fascinating and all, but like sometimes one needs to um exit, leave, depart, you know... breathe.

Course, we know why this is going to become more common. Consumers don't really want to go anywhere today. They just want less intrusion into their lives, least of all the sort of intrusion that requires them to put in some effort, which means more modern inconveniences will intrude. Imagine the shock of realizing they have no life once these inconveniences stop distracting them from the life they don't actually have.

As I always say, Big Brother is just a shadow cast by millions of little brethren.

Re:Typical, England brought you 1984, (1)

Rares Marian (83629) | more than 13 years ago | (#374005)

Typical troll brought you troll a troll about mixing up names like any old huckster troll.

Aldous Huxley wrote um Brave New World.

1984 is the work of Eric Blair aka George Orwell.

Re:Cool, so can I? (1)

Cyberdyne (104305) | more than 13 years ago | (#374007)

1) Start napster at my current desk 2) walk into a bathroom stall 3) use the terminal on the back of the door to start playing my newly downloaded song(s) 4) answer the phone there when the RIAA calls?

Nah. They don't have sensors in the bathrooms. Or PCs, for that matter.

Some of the guys in this lab supervise students here; a friend of mine turned up to a supervision and met his supervisor at the door - the supervisor had opened up a security camera display on his desktop and kept an eye out for him.

Another cool toy they've got is remote dial-in access to the security cameras from their cellphones: being geeks, they use it to check for parking spaces in the company car park before coming in :-)

Sounds like a serious geek paradise, this place!

Re:Hemos sniffed Three Lines from the mirror (1)

Richy_T (111409) | more than 13 years ago | (#374008)

That would explain the spelling at least.


Why? (1)

WMNelis (112548) | more than 13 years ago | (#374009)

This all seems fine and good, but why does the "system" need to know where you are? VNC can be run from any machine with a web browser (not too many that don't nowadays), and if you don't answer your desk phone, can't the call just be forwarded to your cell? What does the "system's" actually knowing where you are gain?

Re:Can you turn it off? (1)

Mr_Icon (124425) | more than 13 years ago | (#374010)

It does kind of look like someone was watching STNG for a little too long, which bugs me because on the USS 1701D You can just say "computer, locate my slacker employee" and it tells you what they're up to.

Yeah, but they fixed it in DS9 and VOY. ;) Now all you have to do is take off your com-badge and leave it in the restroom.

"Computer, locate ensign Kim."
"Ensign Kim is taking a dump and cannot be disturbed at this time."

Re:Can you turn it off? (1)

pallex (126468) | more than 13 years ago | (#374011)

>"Yeah, Boss, Jim's been in the toilet for three hours..."

and i`m getting subtle movements...its like hes moving, yet his location isnt changing...

funny (1)

Mr.Phil (128836) | more than 13 years ago | (#374012)

everyone thinks this is really cool, until government thinks about it, or business use it to track workers time and actions.

As a proof of concept, it's great. But personal freedom is a slippery slope. Once we start down the path, it's too easy to keep adding more monitoring.

On the other hand, NSA is just loving the possiblities with this!

How does everyone else view VNC (1)

smilbandit (132099) | more than 13 years ago | (#374013)

I use VNC on the machines that I maintain, it's so much easier since I can access my machine or a server from a java capable browser. The rest of the company uses pcanywhere, i've tried to get them to start using VNC but they basically say they don't truct it. When one of the guys in my group left for another company, he wanted to use it on some servers, but the admin said that it was unsecure and had a memory leak. SO anybody else use VNC and have these problems or not?

Re:Typical, England brought you 1984, (1)

jedwards (135260) | more than 13 years ago | (#374014)

George Orwell will be upset to hear that.

Huxley wrote 'Brave New World'

Re:Can you turn it off? (1)

nick255 (139962) | more than 13 years ago | (#374015)

I think the badges use IR for the room to transmit stuff to the badges (like if you have e-mail waiting), but ultrasound for the badges to transmit to the room as you can't get a good enough fix from IR 'cause it disperses too much.

Re:Can you turn it off? (1)

nick255 (139962) | more than 13 years ago | (#374016)

Their current location sensors you can just not wear if you don't want to be tracked though. (Just like in Star Trek when people remove their Comm badges when they do things they shouldn't!). Makes life abit difficult though as most of the doors you need to be wearing your transmitter to walk through, as if uses it to identify you for security purposes.

Re:AT&T Didn't give us VNC (1)

CiaranMc (149798) | more than 13 years ago | (#374018)

Olivetti got taken over by AT&T about 2-3 years ago, and the Cambridge lab that developed VNC are all still working in what is now the AT&T lab, Cambridge. Most of the research groups remained untouched by the change in name.


Re:Can you turn it off? (1)

CiaranMc (149798) | more than 13 years ago | (#374019)

When I was at Uni in Cambridge, we were given a talkj about a prototype of this from someone from AT&T Labs (then still ORL).

IIRC, there was some sort of light sensor on the badges that ensured they weren't active when, eg. in a desk drawer. It was possible to turn off the device simply by placing it in the dark.


This is ANTI-Big brother.... (1)

MrChris2 (151271) | more than 13 years ago | (#374020)

Think about it for a second, there is nothing here that says you must carry your 'BAT' with you at all times, it's not grafted to your body or anything (yet!). Simply come in at 8:30 leave the BAT on your desk and go home for the rest of the day, then come in at 9:00 that evening and pick it up again and hey presto the fully automated time-expense server gives you 3 hours of overtime... Come on people, think outside the box for a change - or at least realise that you have a choice in how you use technology.

Re:Of course the real question here is... (1)

seanmeister (156224) | more than 13 years ago | (#374021)

Ok, so I wasn't thinking..

Y'know what would be totally awesome? (1)

ishpeck (160581) | more than 13 years ago | (#374022)

To combine the little ultrasonic locator and the Paper Phone [] into one device and shape 'em like Star Trek combadges!

"Ishpeck to bridge, we've got a subspace quazi-spectral anomoly here---I'd like to run a level one diagnostic on the ship's sensor array."

Re:Can you turn it off? (1)

chowpalace (166596) | more than 13 years ago | (#374023)

Somehow, in a nebulous sort of manner, it really comes off as leading to a 'Matrix' type environment.... Can being a battery for the machine be a contractor-typoe position?

Bluetooth (1)

PatJensen (170806) | more than 13 years ago | (#374024)

This is some pretty neat research being done with proximity-based computing with radios. There is a wireless standard currently in place today that allows for some of the same functionality, it's called Bluetooth. You can find out more looking at [] .

Bluetooth will let PCs, PDAs, phones, printers, headsets, sensors all interact with each other in a PicoNet, which is a small personal area network. There are currently two cards available which support the Bluetooth 1.0/1.1 stack on Windows and Linux. They are made by Motorola and IBM.

Here [] is a manual for IBM's bluetooth card if you want to take a look at the software and what Bluetooth is capable of.

Ericsson also makes a wireless Bluetooth headset that will attach itself as an audio device to your PC, cordless phone or mobile phone. You can leave your phone in your briefcase or in your living room and take a call in your office over your Piconet.

Pretty cool stuff, hopefully we'll see more in the way of innovation of Bluetooth in the next year.


Ensure Technologies (1)

PatJensen (170806) | more than 13 years ago | (#374025)

Ensure Technologies makes a proximity based security and authentication system (similar to what Lucent was researching). It is also based on the Bluetooth technologies as well. It is available at [] .

It supports computer access control and tracking. XyLoc's full-time access control technology addresses the major vulnerability inherent in all existing security methods - they are gatekeepers that protect the information only at the point of entry: the initial logon process. Other security solutions are not "smart" enough to recognize that users are not in control of their computers at all times after logon After users have entered their password, inserted their token or placed their finger on the reader and they have been identified and authenticated, the gate is wide open and information assets are up for grabs the minute the user walks away from the PC.

XyLoc's operation is easy, transparent and automatic. XyLoc consists of a lock that is an ultra low-power wireless transceiver that attaches to the PC's serial, keyboard or USB (Universal Serial Bus) port. The XyLoc key is a battery-operated ultra low-power transceiver with a unique, encrypted user identification code that is worn or carried by an authorized user. The XyLoc lock and key are in constant, encrypted two-way wireless communication with each other, with the lock scanning for the presence or absence of authorized users. As the user approaches the PC, XyLoc identifies and authenticates the user, and unlocks the PC as appropriate. Then, if the user moves out of the active zone, XyLoc will automatically blank the screen, lock the keyboard and disable the mouse. The PC is instantly secured and remains so until an authorized user moves back inside the active zone. However, background tasks, such as printing and downloading, may continue while the PC is locked.


Re:Didn't Xerox PARC do this first? (1)

swinge (176850) | more than 13 years ago | (#374026)

actually, I did a search, and you know what came up first? this page at the same AT&T group [] saying that Xerox uses this system.

Re:Didn't Xerox PARC do this first? (1)

swinge (176850) | more than 13 years ago | (#374027)

Sure, I remember it. But great technology appearing somewhere outside of Xerox is the first sign that it will be popularized and we'll get cool stuff and Xerox will get to kick themselves. Again.

Nerf wars will never be the same (1)

ElVee (208723) | more than 13 years ago | (#374029)

Build a wireless tracking device (a la "Aliens") out of a spare laptop and a wireless PCMCIA network card and you'll be able to track down and frag your fellow cube farmers like the dogs they are.

Sounds like a legitimate business expense to me..

I can hear it now... (1)

Bistromat (209985) | more than 13 years ago | (#374030)

the call comes in on my cell phone:

"ROGERS! Get the hell off the can! You've been in there for an *hour and a half*!"


Re:This is ANTI-Big brother.... (1)

vinnythenose (214595) | more than 13 years ago | (#374031)

Except for one problem, if anyone wants to do a video conference and the computer selects the camera that shows them your bat sitting in your chair, but no you. Then you might be in trouble for abuse of the system.

I figure as long as you aren't required to use it. There would be times in the day when I don't want anyone to follow me around as I'm pacing the halls tearing hair out because of a project that just isn't working. In which case, I leave the bat in my office and put a message or something on it "Storming around in anger, Please Do Not Disturb". Problem solved.

Does This Mean (1)

Fatal0E (230910) | more than 13 years ago | (#374032)

That they now yell "CLAP ON" instead of clapping on?
"Me Ted"

So now we have bigger and better surveilance (1)

ishrat (235467) | more than 13 years ago | (#374033)

And obviously with the good comes the bad. The story is a great read and inspite of the disadvantages it's a great idea.

Ideas are always great in themselves, it's only how we use them.

OHSU Has had this for a while... (1)

alptraum (239135) | more than 13 years ago | (#374034)

OHSU (Oregon Health Sciences University), the same guys that cloned sheep and genetically altered monkeys, have had this for some time. All the doctors have badges that allow everybody else that has a badge to locate there current location in real time, contact them, and I also believe send a doctor a patient's data file so while they are walking to the a patient's room they can look at that patient's statistics. I guess what I think is rather scary about the tech is the fact I used to work for a company that was super anal retentative about making sure employees took breaks that were *exactly* 15 minutes long and lunch breaks that were *exactly* one hour long. I can just imagine my ex-boss coming up to me saying "according to your badge data, your average time sitting in the lunch room has been 63 minutes long, that is three minutes over". Then go to correct this then get admonished by "Well last month you were over by 3 minutes on average, this month your average lunch has been 56 minutes. That is four minutes short, make sure you take your full lunch period." Also imagine about working technical support, atleast the place I used to do tech support for was total draconian, since you'd always be "in", can you imagine being on the pot and having to still take customer calls? "Hello this xxxxxx technical support, can I *sigh* whoops where was I? Oh yeah, how can I help you?"

Myabe I'm skipping a step... (1)

Scratch-O-Matic (245992) | more than 13 years ago | (#374035)

It seems to me that a truly integrated system would care much less about your physical location than this model seems to. If I want to contact Bob and the network can do that for me, do I really care whether he's in the coffee room or in Taiwan? Seems like good work, though.

Re:Bell Labs has been doing this for some time... (1)

plcurechax (247883) | more than 13 years ago | (#374036)

Sounds like ActiveBadge, also of AT&T Cambridge. Active Badge [] .

Re:Olivetti on Discovery years ago (1)

plcurechax (247883) | more than 13 years ago | (#374037)

Yes, Active Badge [] goes back to 1989-1992, which uses infrared for location-determining. There is also the related Active Bat [] which uses ultrasonics.

The Sentient project extends this, it ties together the locator, the computer, the "model world" and communication systems.

BTW, To leave the system, simply leave your badge on your desk.

Re:Can you turn it off? (1)

epicurus (252619) | more than 13 years ago | (#374039)

exactly what I was thinking...I haven't read the artical yet, but I figure they must have some sort of device that you either attach to yourself, carry around, or is implanted, that tells the system where you're at...that doesn't seem too good -- "Yeah, Boss, Jim's been in the toilet for three hours..."

I'd rather... (1)

epicurus (252619) | more than 13 years ago | (#374041)

I'd personally rather have a system that did some of these things w/o tracking where I am. Why does it care where I'm at? What's it gonna do, pop a terminal out of the wall in front of me when I get a new email? Screw that. Why not just have a system where you login to whatever terminal you're in front of and your stuff shows up there...actually, lots of normal networks are like that already...may be more convienient, but I'd rather have Big Brother watching somebody else.

Sentient? (1)

OpCode42 (253084) | more than 13 years ago | (#374042)

Its really self aware?

"Dave... I don't want you to log out Dave. You can't go home... I couldn't possibly let you do that..."


I HIGHLY agree with that...but... (1)

FKell (253556) | more than 13 years ago | (#374043)

if it was done right, it would be really cool. If it could be proven to me that there was no logs being kept and no way to sit and monitor a specific user of groups of users, then this would be a good idea. To bad no corporation will ever set it up that way, if they are going to spend money for this they are going to want to be able to monitor everyone (the true benifit of installing this type of system).

and besides, how do I screw off then? (1)

aileon (311642) | more than 13 years ago | (#374045)

Now that would really suck. Dammit, I work hard and fast (um... ) really, I do. I get a ton of work done, I never leave a job unfinished. If I complete something I get more to do and keep going. Sometimes, though, I like to screw off. On a friday afternoon when I'm a weeks worth of work ahead of my co-workers I might finish something and say "Hey, I'm gonna go outside and smoke a butt, drink a coke, and blink at the bright sunlight that is hurting my poor flourescent adjusted eyes" Or I might have the shits one day. I like spicey food - it happens. don't laugh dammit. Do I really want my boss popping into the shitter saying "Hey, um, I noticed you've been in here over 15 minutes, is everything okay?" "uh, yeah, I, um, well, ate burritos last night" "Well, don't eat burritos on a work night, okay? It cuts into your productivity" F that. I fought tooth and nail to not carry this f-ing beeper around (and lost) ((btw, my job, webmaster, has no use for a beeper)) If they tried to spring this crap on me I would just have to quit.

Re:I can hear it now... (1)

tb3 (313150) | more than 13 years ago | (#374046)

I have a friend at Nortel who has a hands-free wireless extension to his desk phone. He told me he once went to the can in the middle of a conference call. He blamed the noise of the toilet flush on 'Static'.

Didn't Xerox PARC do this first? (1)

tb3 (313150) | more than 13 years ago | (#374047)

I'm sure I saw something on TV years ago about a similar concept at Xerox PARC. Your wore a little badge, and the system followed you aroung the building. Any terminal you used became 'your' terminal, with your preferences, email and so forth, and and phone calls were automatically forwarded to the nearest phone.
Anyone else remember this?

Just what I need... (1)

Patrick McRotch (314811) | more than 13 years ago | (#374048)

Great, now I can't duck into the bathroom when the boss comes looking for me. And I though my cell phone added a lot to the leash factor.

Ubiquitous Computing (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 13 years ago | (#374049)

Wasn't much of this started by Xerox at PARC in the 80's? Only they called it 'ubiquitous computing' -- far more accurate than 'sentient'.

Phones would follow you etc, your desktop could move with you (I think). here [] is one paper on it for example

Cool, but... (2)

jd (1658) | more than 13 years ago | (#374050)

There'll be no more hiding in the coffee room, or in the bathroom. It'll destroy civilization! (Or, at least, the managerial part.)

Re:Cool, but... (2)

Sabalon (1684) | more than 13 years ago | (#374051)

Why not?

Oh crap....that stupid bat must have fallen out of my pocket onto the floor of my office. Again.

Even better, hook it up to an RC car and race it through the halls. Your boss will think you really wanna get things done.

Stupid Monitoring Tricks (2)

maggard (5579) | more than 13 years ago | (#374052)

Many moons ago I worked for one of the first companies to roll out "active badges" (the first on East Coast USA.) Along the way we discovered a few interesting things:
  • It could be annoying. Yes it was kewl that whenever the phone in the hall rang as you passed you knew it was for you. It was a feature to the VC folks that customers could reach us continiously. On the other hand it meant you were continually being interupted, often when you didn't have the resources to make sense of the call. Since our system was overseen by the company operators we soon settled on popping into their pen and explictly telling them when we were "unavailiable" or eventually just ditching our cards in our desk when we wanted to be 'offline'.
  • Our system showed how long one had been in a location with a five-minute line trailing behind us. This proved to be a great way for monitoring (spying) who was meeting with who and for how long & where. It also proved to be a great way to 'look busy' whenever one's boss came down the hall.
  • We quickly killed the transponders in the bathrooms - we all felt there was a limit to the services we would need in there (aluminum foil works nicely over these devices.)
  • Many of the staff had half-height offices; imagine cubes but with real wall open on two sides. I recall one way 'seeing' one of my co-workers (a rather sturdy woman) suddenly 'leap' from her own half-height office directly into the adjacent one without going into the hallway. Curious as to why (the fellow in the next office wasn't a prize) I walked down only to discover her missing. It turned out she'd snuck out for an extended lunch (to pick up a gift we'd all chipped in for) and her badge was being tossed around to make it look like she was still around.
  • Since most of us had multiple systems in our offices (3 & 4 wasn't unusual, 7 & 8 were getting extreme simply due to heat-issues) it was typical to keep one window open monitoring the badges. It soon got so we could tell at a glance who was each track simply by their habits - so & so always walks clockwise around the building,it must be noon since A has gone to B's office, they usually eat together, etc. It was amzing how much detail on eachothers personal habits we all quickly absorbed, often times more then any of us cared to know or have known.
Frankly it was interesting but I'd not be enthused in using such a system again.

To a large extent cellphones with text-messaging & email gateways have replaced much of the functioniality (it's easier to reach us at our designated phone then have a nearby one ring for us plus we can accept/decline the call based on who it is and recieve simple text-messages.)

Corporate directory services & biometric logins have replaced another large part of the functioniality. It's not much more of a bother to stick one's thumb in the reader then to walk into the office & since the system was sometimes overzealous (I just walked in to talk, not to log out some poor coder halfway through a thought simply 'cause I was Sr.) this feature was soon turned off.

What's left is more of the Big-Brother people-tracking features that weren't so appreciated.

Frankly while I think it's a neat technology much of it will probably appear in a less-automated way. We'll be able to adjust common things using our phones / palmstops / whatever using a virtual dimmer / volume control / etc. and come up with a room consensus, or at least local variations. Secured doors will unlock automagically as we push against them instead of requiring an explicit keycard swipe.

But tracking, thanks, been there / done that / not interested.

Re:Olivetti on Discovery years ago (2)

maggard (5579) | more than 13 years ago | (#374053)

Actually you're recalling a program on Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and their pervasive computing model.

Phone transfers nothing new... (2)

ArthurDent (11309) | more than 13 years ago | (#374054)

My company has been doing the phone transfers to where ever you are in the building for quite a while now using pagers. [] Now the teleporting desktops thing however, is a Really Cool Thing (tm). Ben

Olivetti on Discovery years ago (2)

xrayspx (13127) | more than 13 years ago | (#374055)

I recall this from a show on Discovery (I think, or PBS), well before AT&T bought them. They would wear little badges around and the building could tell where they were. Yes, even in the bathroom.

It's a pretty swell idea, you never miss phone calls. But then you can never AVOID phone calls either, which I guess would suck.

Re:AT&T Didn't give us VNC (2)

TeknoDragon (17295) | more than 13 years ago | (#374056)

who needs vnc anyways?

what bennefit does it have over ssh + X11 forwarding? (besides running on windows)

Re:Sun Microsystems has a similar system (2)

gattaca (27954) | more than 13 years ago | (#374059)

It's a great system, but I don't much like being a nomad.

I don't get the motivation behind hot-desking - it seems a really good way of demoralisng your entire workforce for very little gain. We're naturally territorial - as are most living things. The first thing anybody ever does is to define a bit of sapce in the world as their own by putting up pictures, unpacking their favourite coffee cup/stuffed lizard/electric pencil sharpner. Living in hotel rooms is miserable (even if your significant other is there too) simply because it's impersonal and dehuminising. Hot-desking is, for this reason alone, a really bad idea.

Interesting you're at Sun - another thing that didn't quite work out was the diskless computer. I wonder if part of this is for the same reason - I know you get your filestore, desktop and so on, but its still not your computer with its own local drive, humming power-supply fan, and (goddam it), smell.

Do you try to book the same cuboid every day?

Seems to know which way people are facing... (2)

gattaca (27954) | more than 13 years ago | (#374060)

... so how does it manage that then? I would have thought an ultrasonic 'ping' will just give you a point, not a direction...

I wonder how much of this is inspired by cheap science fiction programs - all the user interfaces in Space 1999 were made out of paper too...

Can you turn it off? (2)

fluffhead (32589) | more than 13 years ago | (#374061)

I don't know, sounds a bit 'Big Brother' -ish to me.

#include "disclaim.h"
"All the best people in life seem to like LINUX." - Steve Wozniak

Yeah... (2)

cr0sh (43134) | more than 13 years ago | (#374062)

IIRC, it was called Tabs, Pads, and Boards. Basically, the badges were the Tabs - that tracked you through the building. The Pads were essentially wireless network palm style devices (maybe Newton sized, IIRC). They could communicate between each other, so that if one person wrote on his Pad, others in the "meeting" could see his ideas, etc. The "Boards" were large electronic whiteboards, also networked to the Pads, to allow everyone to "collaborate" in the meeting, and carry the data back with them (how often have you wished you had what was on the whiteboard? Sucks to redraw it out).

This was MANY years ago - at least 10 years ago. I remember seeing it while I was in high school. Only now are the pieces really falling into place.

I just wonder why it takes so damn long for these type things to catch on (like multimedia - started in the mid-80's with the Amiga, didn't become popular until the mid-90's with the PC).

Worldcom [] - Generation Duh!

Bell Labs has been doing this for some time... (2)

devphil (51341) | more than 13 years ago | (#374063)

...if I recall correctly. It might be somebody else, but I distinctly remember reading an article about this many years ago.

The one I remember works like this (I can't get to the linked article, bad network today). An embedded chip in the company ID badge serves as the locator, but only functions while on campus. When sombody dials "your" number, the system finds you, finds the telephone nearest to you, and rings that 'phone.

Like I say, this isn't new, but I cannot recall whether that place was Bell Labs or somewhere else. Almost certain it was Bell Labs. And, of course, that was only the telephone system -- nothing about VNC, etc, etc.

ugh! (2)

bungalow (61001) | more than 13 years ago | (#374064)

Sounds a bit creepy to me. In order for your computer profile to "follow" you, you have to use tracking technology (called "bats" here).

The truth is, people don't like to be tracked, at home, or at work (privacy, anyone?) We reluctantly accept the fact that we have to wear badges to work, and scan into locked doors, et cetera, but I do not want my employer to have the ability to determine my physical location every second of the workday. $megacorp does have the right to make sure that I am being productive, but that can much more easily be done by using performance metrics (you pushed 4000 papers today!) and, ideally, with the employee's direct relationship to his/her supervisor.

Furthermore, tracking users is not "sentience." this is simply determining the presence or absence of a value given a location. Granted, they took a n additional step in making someones' computer profile follow them wherever they go, but even NT can do that! (to a much lesser extent, but still roaming profiles)

Re:Can you turn it off? (2)

Lxy (80823) | more than 13 years ago | (#374065)

From the looks of it you can. Sort of like leaving your pager or cell phone at home when you just don't want to be found. It does kind of look like someone was watching STNG for a little too long, which bugs me because on the USS 1701D You can just say "computer, locate my slacker employee" and it tells you what they're up to. Kinda scary, but as long as there's an off button, I would REALLY find this handy at my office.

That being said, there's another issue of PHB policies of "from 9 to 5 don't even think about turning it off" etc. I'd say I'm more concerned about that then the actual device. Sort of like Mr. Spacely following George around the office. That would be the only reason I wouldn't one. Fortunately I don't work for Mr. Spacely.

"You'll die up there son, just like I did!" - Abe Simpson

On second thought Big Brother is a good thing (2)

Rares Marian (83629) | more than 13 years ago | (#374066)

It's becoming impossible to get a job without losing intellectual property rights to your employer, which suggests that the only way to have such rights is to be an employer.

Well to be an employer man you gotta have money.
Cuz once you got money, all the wannabes will back you up no matter what shit you pull. If you can get away with it they figure someday they will too or they'll just invest in your little racket and profit regardless whether you ever get caught or not. If people can't control their spending, fuck it gimme every dime. Why? So I can buy a couple of public libraries, build a house on a mountain, grow a forest around it and make scary noises in the middle of the night to keep the fearful away.

Then I can go back to being a normal techie interested in learning and can keep the little brethren at arms length.

C'est la vive.

Re:AT&T Didn't give us VNC (2)

Richy_T (111409) | more than 13 years ago | (#374067)

Resumable desktops? I can kill an vnc client here, go over there, start a new client and my desktop is exactly as I left it.

It has a few disadvantages too. It's flaky on windows (Can't hook into the graphics context so has to take screen snapshots) and a bandwidth hog but remember, the task is not to find the "best" way to implement a user interface to a computer but the one most suitable for the job (I've found it a godsend when debugging keyboardless kiosk applications)


Sentient, yeah, right (2)

Animats (122034) | more than 13 years ago | (#374068)

"Sentient computing" seems a bit much. This thing isn't even vaguely intelligent; it's just a tracking system.

Much more powerful people tracking systems exist. The prison industry is big on this stuff. This system [] has a particularly cool animated graphic.

The real utility here is to have a system where anybody can use any computer in an office and see their environment, just like the old dumb terminal days. Somebody should put that into a Linux distro. It would give Linux something that Windows doesn't have, and given Microsoft's pricing model for software, won't have.

Re:I don't like it (2)

SuiteSisterMary (123932) | more than 13 years ago | (#374069)

Remember, it was The Consipiracy that coined the term 'paranoid' to discredit people who know the truth. :-)

Re:Sentient, yeah, right (2)

SuiteSisterMary (123932) | more than 13 years ago | (#374070)

It would give Linux something that Windows doesn't have
Out of curiousity, Windows Roaving Profiles don't count?

Get over your obligation to answer the phone... (2)

clary (141424) | more than 13 years ago | (#374071)

Why do people feel the need to explain themselves when they do not immediately satisfy the whim of someone who rings their phone or sends them email?

When I get back to someone, I just say "Hi, I'm returning your call." I don't feel the need to explain why they got my voicemail, because I am not obligated to pick up the phone whenever it rings.

I guess I am pretty lucky in the workpace. I have told our CEO when he knocked on my door that I was in the middle of a design discussion, and could I catch him in his office in a little while? I can do that because he understands I have tasks to do, and wants me to do them effectively. Others' mileage may vary.

Re:Of course the real question here is... (2)

seanmeister (156224) | more than 13 years ago | (#374072)

Hehehe.. I was thinking []


Re:Of course the real question here is... (2)

seanmeister (156224) | more than 13 years ago | (#374073)

Hehehe.. I was thinking almost the same thing! []


BFG in the ol' briefcase (2)

seanmeister (156224) | more than 13 years ago | (#374074)

Finally, meetings are fun again! [] (No goatsex!)


A few thoughts.. (2)

PopeAlien (164869) | more than 13 years ago | (#374075)

Hm. Well that first diagram on the page looks like some new age/ societies of the mind mesh illustration, and I cant figure out if the 'The world as seen by the sentient computing system' is creepy or just funny, it looks a bit too much like some sort of Quake office shooter.

..Oh.. and that 'bat' tracking device looks kind of big and lumpy, especially if you've allready got a high batman factor to your belt. Wouldn't it be more convenient if they just implanted tracking chips in your neck?

Dark Futures? (2)

Alien54 (180860) | more than 13 years ago | (#374076)

Well the only way the future could be all that dark, for this to happen, would be if:

1) Lan intergration into houses was a routine low maintenance item
2) The Software for the servers were well maintained, and did not require the home owner to intervene
3) The home owner would be educated to not mess with the system (think of your usual riff-raff of corporate users. Now remember that a lot of these folks own homes.
4) The default failure mode for these system is not life threatening, but allows basic manual operation of things like heat, etc.
5) the home owner is sold on the idea that he never messes with the system.
6) The homes in a neighborhood and across the town and state, etc are integrated into a flawless system not subject to weather conditions, earthquakes, and other natural disaters.
7) Political parties would have to cooperate like factions of a mafia family, without greed, to make sure that the system is maintained in perfect harmony.
8) Commercial interests who want their fingers in the pie are kept in line
9) ETC.

Sounds easy to me

General pager/cell-phone rant (2)

DeadVulcan (182139) | more than 13 years ago | (#374077)

Seems like whenever there's an article that has something to with pagers or cell-phones, someone says something to the effect of "I don't carry any of these things because it's an intrusion of my privacy, and besides, I like interacting with people the old-fashioned way." Often, it's said in a holier-than-thou way that I find really annoying.

Now, I'm not accusing you (JJ) of saying this; the way I read your post, you were just stating your own opinion, which is quite fair enough. And you did add a bit about how you interact with your co-workers, which is positive for this discussion.

But all too often, people say things which basically boil down to "I don't like pagers and cell-phones!", which is not particularly insightful or illuminating. Giving a personal opinion is all well and good, but this opinion has already been said by zillions of people zillions of times, on Slashdot and in countless other forums. Why not try and add something more original to the discussion?

(After all, if you don't want to be disturbed, you can turn it off.)

Sorry for the slight rant.

(For the record, I don't carry a pager or a cell-phone, but I have nothing against them.)


Re:AT&T Didn't give us VNC (2)

Erasmus Darwin (183180) | more than 13 years ago | (#374078)

what bennefit does it have over ssh + X11 forwarding?

Besides, the Windows deal, X forwarding doesn't let you take control of a program session that's in the middle of being worked on. As such, the project mentioned here (namely, having your desktop follow you around from machine to machine automatically), Just Wouldn't Work with X forwarding. (2)

SubtleNuance (184325) | more than 13 years ago | (#374080)

Looking at this screenshot [] I would guess that to the left of our Mr.RMC is actually the Coffee Pot.

Overall - Pretty scary idea, how would you like the %time spent in the bathroom appearing on your performance review, or within 5ft of the printer, or 5ft within the coffee pot.

Does anyone have to say "Big Brother"?

I have this now (2)

sulli (195030) | more than 13 years ago | (#374081)

it's called a cell phone

Re:I don't like it (2)

bmongar (230600) | more than 13 years ago | (#374082)

"It smacks of Big Brother. Personally I do not tend to be (overly) paranoid"

No one intends to be "Overly Paranoid"

This is why I don't own a cellphone (2)

Bonker (243350) | more than 13 years ago | (#374084)

I don't need the stress of having to be responsbile for my job while I am shopping/pissing/viewing pr0n... I certainly don't need to be responsible for actually *doing* my job when I am walking around to different parts of the building. That's just nuts!

Of course the real question here is... (2)

Bonker (243350) | more than 13 years ago | (#374085)

How hard is it to convert those realtime maps into Q3 levels?

"Where's Jones?" my boss says as he walks down the hallway.

"Oh, I saw him in the cube farm. Look's like he's working on the 3d building graphics project."

Of course, the boss would never know that what I was really doing was waiting for him around the corner with the rocket launcher and a good ol' boom-stick as backup.

Uhmm... sentient? (2)

TDScott (260197) | more than 13 years ago | (#374086)

Sentient (adj.) : possessing consciousness or the ability to think for itself.

While well programmed, this lab isn't sentient or even intelligent...

Re:ugh! (2)

TGK (262438) | more than 13 years ago | (#374087)

The truth is, people don't like to be tracked, at home, or at work (privacy, anyone?) We reluctantly accept the fact that we have to wear badges to work, and scan into locked doors, et cetera, but I do not want my employer to have the ability to determine my physical location every second of the workday

See, I'd qualify that. People don't like being tracked if it dosn't benefit them. Try to pass a law requiring GPS locators in cell phones and you'll have a war on your hands. Make nice nice and say it's really a measure that can allow you to be located if you've been in a car accident or some other dangerous altercation and no one (except us paranoid geeks) will even blink at it.

The fundamental difference is that you and I (and the majority of the Slashdot community) live in an environment where, for some reason or another, paranoia is rewarded, either by our peers or our employers (indirectly). Neal Stephenson does a good job with that concept in Cryptonomicon.

In the end though, we don't make up a substantial part of a voting block. So if "They" decide to really press this technology, there's little short of massed civil disobediance we can really do about it. On a corporate level it's a different story. Leave your "bat" in your cube. Clip your chip laiden ID to your coat and forget to take that with you to the bathroom. If even being in the system bothers you, just don't work there. This kind of thing has to be expensive as hell, not every corp can afford it.

Back to the basic point though. People like being tracked and monitored if they feel like they get something out of it. Why are websites that remember our personal information so successfull? Sure, it's a lesser manifestation of corporate tracking, but we --like-- that sort of personalization. The illusion that the computer remembers who we are and what we like and "cares" enough to make it that way (pretend you're a luser for a sec here ok?) makes the luser feel distinctive. It's a gimic, and it apeals to something deep within our psyche. It is, quite frankly, bunk... but it appeals to us anyhow.

Just be carefull before you say "the people won't stand for this" or "people don't like this" argument. In my experiance capitalism is a really good way for dealing with products no one likes. They don't sell and they die. If people really have as big a problem as you say with this the corporations that use it will flounder and die. The system will die with them and we'll all go home happy.

Ok... I'll shut up now.

This has been another useless post from....

Re:Sun Microsystems has a similar system (2)

infinite9 (319274) | more than 13 years ago | (#374088)

I wonder if part of this is for the same reason - I know you get your filestore, desktop and so on, but its still not your computer with its own local drive, humming power-supply fan, and (goddam it), smell.

Well, I have my own development server locked in a room somewhere. I can't hear or smell it, but it's still mine.

Do you try to book the same cuboid every day?

You can only reserve them for five days at a time so I mostly stay in once place all week. But I often don't get the same room. And some rooms are better than others. I can look down a long hallway at the moment, 45 degrees to me left. It's an annoying visual distraction. There's good sound-proofing though. The reservation system also has a few bugs so sometimes, there are collisions. I got bumped a couple weeks ago by another person while I was at lunch. We both had valid reservations. The most annoying thing, though, is that I can't keep my reference books handy. They have lockers (just like high school, no kidding) but that's annoying. And I also can't keep my small lego collection handy.

Not my Cup o' Tea (3)

JJ (29711) | more than 13 years ago | (#374089)

I carry no pager. I don't have a mobile phone. I walk away from my desk and go outside to get some fresh air and resolve the issues that come up during my programming duties. I talk to people in other departments to find out what the issues there are and how my work should help solve them. These are all things that make me successful. The last thing I want is the whole building following me around.

No slacking! (3)

micromoog (206608) | more than 13 years ago | (#374090)

Damn, no more "Sorry I missed your call, I was away from my desk".

Also, I like the Sims-esque 3D image. I bet it's a farking blast to watch your coworkers on this thing in realtime.

Cool, so can I? (4)

hardaker (32597) | more than 13 years ago | (#374091)

1) Start napster at my current desk
2) walk into a bathroom stall
3) use the terminal on the back of the door to start playing my newly downloaded song(s)
4) answer the phone there when the RIAA calls?

Big Brother vs. Enabling Technologies (4)

BlackStar (106064) | more than 13 years ago | (#374092)

Ok, before we get into the "They know everything I'm doing!", we're already there if you company wants to be, so relax.

I think this is a really interesting evolution of the smart-card identifier for terminals, creating a mobile desktop. This starts causing the environment to react to the specific presence of the user. From the JavaOne JavaRing demo of knowing what your coffee preference was, up to this system with speaker-specific transcription services, we may finally get to a technological workplace that enables us rather than causes us to conform to yet another interface.

And as the point to ponder, we are going to need to look at the intent more carefully in legislation. Is is now possible to profile people so completely via spending patterns, location, communication tendencies, etc. that unscrupulous corporation could manipulate trends in people reasonably easily. The laws need to adapt to prevent this misuse, and yet enable honest companies and people to provide legitimate, privacy-ensured services to people that want them without fear of this manipulation.

I'm not a lawyer, but that's how the laws started, was to uphold the moral views of the majority. It appears to me that we will need to return there soon, or we will be forced to forego these types of enabling technologies as are shown by AT&T and these other companies.

You wanna rant, do it offline.

You wanna think, do it here.

Re:AT&T Didn't give us VNC (5)

indecision (21439) | more than 13 years ago | (#374093)

This really highlights a weakness of the Slashdot system - what looks "insightful" to an intelligent but uninformed (on this topic) moderator, is actually misguiding.

The Olivetti and Oracle Research Labs were acquired by in January 1998 by AT&T Research to form AT&T Labs Cambridge. The same guys work there, doing the same research, under a different banner.

Perhaps moderators need a "This guy is well-meaning but misinformed" option, which demotes the comment, but doesnt detract from the guy's karma? Hmm...

Sun Microsystems has a similar system (5)

infinite9 (319274) | more than 13 years ago | (#374094)

I'm working on a contract at Sun Microsystems at the moment. I have a five-digit phone extension and this thing called a sunray card, but no real cube. Instead, I reserve a cube (really, it's more like a cross between a shower, closet, and phone booth with a patio door) with an intranet application. Then I go to the room with a thin client machine and a 21" monitor. I put the sunray card in and it instantly displays my X session from yesterday. No logging in. All my windows are still open. I can do my work and move to another machine if necessary. Without loggin out, I can pull the card and move to another machine or come back tomorrow. And for the phones, I log in with an access code. My wife can call me at a specific number that doesn't change and the phone system rings the phone I'm next to. It's a great system, but I don't much like being a nomad.
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