Beijing wireless card for public transport

Beijing Yikatong Card

On my desk is a souvenir from Beijing: a so-called Yikatong card. You can pay subways, buses and also taxis with the card. It works as prepaid card, the card is charged with credit at special machines. When entering the bus you tap card to a reader and at the exit you will tap it again to a reader. The fare is calculated and deducted from the balance. In contrast to the many “Mobile Payment” attempts here in Germany this system is used by millions of people each day for some years now.

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Smart City, the IT perspective

From the perspective of a computer scientist, a city is also an information-processing entity. And so when IT talks about “smart cities” they usually talk about a system of many data sources and actuators distributed in the city, and the infrastructure to use them meaningfully.

Data sources are things like a sensor temperature sensor, or a bus which reports that it arrives at a certain bus stop. And last but not least the smartphones of citizens can also be viewed as data sources.

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Smart City – one term, many concepts

The term “smart city” is en vogue. Every city that is proud of itself would like to be like a city smart. But most citizen con not connect a clear idea with this term. Sure, there are definitions of the term. Just for new terms it is crucially how they are used.

Where there is something new, and where is somebody just trying to sell really simple apps or other services? What are the subjects where something is happening? I have analysed documents by various actors to create more clarity.

EU level

The European Commission has created a multi-stakeholder platform, connected to the ‘digital agenda’:

Smart City Infografik
A infographic published by the EU shows problems, actors and tasks of the Smart City Innovation Partnership

On this platform, there are three thematic working groups:

  • Energy efficiency and building
  • Power distribution networks
  • Mobility and transport

There are also some cross topic groups, dealing with IT or financing, but this was all the topics that were connected to “smart city”. Recently there was added a topic with a broader view called “citizen focus”.


The senate of Berlin has established a working group Smart City Berlin (SCB). In a position paper this working group defines smart city as “Cities and regions which have set itself the task to identify future issues of the city and then to solve these issues”. So identifying the problems is a separate step. Different cities have different objectives.

These self given objectives should than be addressed by the interaction of various actors (politics, administration, economy, society, science)

The Smart City working group claimed a holistic approach and chose as objectives the creation of a higher quality of life, as well as strengthening of innovation (i.e. meta-innovation).

As a slightly more specific topics, the position paper names again environmental, energy and mobility, and in addition health, security and demographic change.


Container vessel in the port of Hamburger
Container loading at the port. For several years there are autonomous vehicle for container transport. In future, the feeder traffic will be further cross-linked.

Smart City is apparently occupied by the authority of “Economics, transport and innovation” in Hamburg. On the Hamburg web page smart city is defined as “intelligent and networked city

Objectives are

  • Improve quality of life
  • Efficient mobility,
  • Environment (use less resources, less pollution)
  • Utilise the benefits of “innovative infrastructure”

I can recognize these fields of work:

  • The port (smart port). Here sensor networks will probably be employed.
  • Street lighting and traffic lights
  • Detection and control of traffic flows
  • Citizen kiosk (a kind of container with video connection to other authorities)

Although “quality of life” was the first item in the list of objectives, smart city seem to be driven by the economy (more precise: individual economic actors). Especially highlighted is a partnership with the American network equipment manufacturer Cisco.

Amazingly, not mentioned at all is everything that happened for the international building exhibition (IBA) from 2006-2013. After all, the IBA has defined itself also as a city laboratory: “in the middle of Hamburg IBA sought answers to the most pressing questions of the modern city of projects for the future of the metropolis.”

Paris / San Francisco

Centre Pompidou in Paris
Centre Pompidou: a bold architectural concept. The square in front of it is used as a meeting place.

Here I have found a nice summary by Marie-Perrine Durot, Technology Partnership Director  the”PRIME transatlantic innovation platform”. (Interview published in “Atelier”, Publisher: BNP-PARIBAS). Mrs Durot designs the following program under the term smart city:

…first and foremost all about getting sectors which have up to now been working independently to dialogue and work together …

…A second revolution is needed to de-compartmentalize the roles of decision-makers, experts and citizens in the way our cities are run….

… A third move is for cities to break out of their geographical isolation. Cities have so much to share…

Part 2

The second part of this analysis discusses the use of the term smart city in the IT scene.

How does the NFC-Hunt App from Google works?

Google organized a kind of scavenger hunt for the developers conference IO 2013 to demonstrate the practical use of NFC. Participants needed an NFC-enabled Android and then installed an app called “NFC Hunt”. The app gives clues where to find specific NFC tags in the real world. The user has to find and scan these tags, and then the app give clues for the next station.

Google has published the source code of NFC Hunt app. So we developers have a fine example of a complete NFC application. But when I tried to understand the source code I noticed gaps in the documentation. Just the interesting parts are not explicitly explained: how can I make my app listen to NFC tags and how do I respond to the detected tags. Here now is the result of my research:

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Reversed sound volume controls

Sometimes when I want to adjust the volume on my electronic devices, I push the loud button instead of on the quiet button. Why do I get confused? Let’s look at the assignment of the volume buttons to the volume control for a Android tablet nexus 7, second version:

volume controls of a tablets
Assignment of the volume buttons for the Nexus 7

When I press the left button, the sound becomes louder and the slider on the screen moves to the right. When I want to move the slider to the left, I must press right. What you see is the opposite of what you get. (WYSITOOWYG). It reminds me of German dadaism poetry.

Why does somebody assign the keys like this? Continue reading “Reversed sound volume controls”

Video about Handylearn Counter

Counter with pie chart

Just created a new video and uploaded it to YouTube, it shows the Android port of Handylearn Counter. I especially like how the pie chart dynamically changes with presses of the buttons.

The original J2ME version has now six-digit download numbers and is particularly popular in India, Mexico and Argentina.

The android version let you swipe between the counting screen, a bar chart screen and a pie chat screen

New features for enterprise users of Android

Google announced new features for Android specifically aimed at improving the usage in companies. The next version of Android-L Android 5 will contain these improvements.

When employees access corporate data with the smartphone, you want a strict separation of corporate data from private data and a foreclosure of privately used services. Even if you trust your employees, you don’t want to risk that privately installed apps access your corporate data secretly

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Android in the Enterprise

Two lectures at Droidcon

Companies with mobile workers can optimize their business processes with mobile devices. At the conference droidcon 2014 in Berlin, I was able to listen to a practice report and a manufacturer lecture.

Android devices have been designed by Google as personal devices. So they offer a wide range of entertainment and social networking options. But we have very different requirements to support mobile workers. Continue reading “Android in the Enterprise”


CoObeya is a network of experts for innovations. I am a member, and now our website is online. The Co stands for Co-Operation, Co-Laboration, Co-Creation, Obeya is a culture of innovation used in the Japanese high-tech industry, where the development of new products happens in a large room and intersects departments and even company borders. CoObeya Banner