Enabling Industry 4.0 with HoloBuilder

At this year’s INFORMATIK conference held by the GI in Cottbus, I had the chance to present a research paper (full text here) about HoloBuilder—officially titled “Enabling Industry 4.0 with holobuilder”1—that I wrote together with my colleagues Kristina Tenhaft, Simon Heinen and Harry Handorf. In our paper, we examine HoloBuilder from a research rather than a marketing perspective by explaining and demonstrating how it acts as an enabler for Industry 4.0.

The paper was presented in the session named “Industry 4.0: Computer Science Forms New Production Systems”, which featured a selection of renowned experts for Industry 4.0—including Prof. Dr.-Ing. Peter Liggesmeyer of TU Kaiserslautern, Prof. Dr. Jürgen Jasperneite of OWL University and Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jörg Wollert of Aachen University of Applied Sciences, among others. The presenters set a particular focus on topics such as Internet of Things, smart factories, wireless communication and OPC UA, with which our presentation fitted in seamlessly—as will be explained in the following. The feedback we received was consistently positive.

Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 was the original use case of our platform, i.e., the use case based on which the first prototypes had been created. From those, the current form of HoloBuilder evolved. The term Industry 4.0 was first coined in the context of the High-Tech Strategy 2020 of the German government. Basically, the smart factory, in which people, machines and products are ubiquitously interconnected, is at the center of Industry 4.0.2 Particular focus is moreover on cyber-physical systems, which merge the virtual and the real world.

HoloBuilder & Industry 4.0

From the technical perspective, implementing Industry 4.0 to a high degree means realizing the smart factory including cyber-physical systems. For this, two prime concepts to consider are Augmented Reality and machine-to-machine communication. Augmented Reality (AR) adds virtual objects to the real world in a see-through scenario, e.g., with smart glasses or a tablet PC. On the one hand, AR provides a “fusion of the physical and the virtual world”3 and thus forms a framework for cyber-physical systems while on the other hand it facilitates efficient human–machine interfaces. Yet, AR alone cannot realize a smart factory, because it only caters for displaying objects, which is a form of one-way communication. Hence, AR needs to be complemented with capabilities for machine-to-machine communication (M2M).

Current temperature of a machine displayed in AR.
Current temperature of a machine displayed in AR.

To enable the implementation of Industry 4.0, HoloBuilder has been designed as a platform that makes it possible for everyone concerned to create and consume arbitrary AR content. This is a particular advantage over other AR solutions, which require specific skills for creating the desired content, among other things. In contrast, HoloBuilder facilitates end-user design, which enables, e.g., engineers and mechanics without programming skills to create AR applications in the context of Industry 4.0. To also cater for M2M, the platform as well incorporates OPC UA capabilities, which is a standardized protocol. In this way, information provided by a machine (e.g., its current temperature) can be presented in terms of virtual objects in an AR scenario. Moreover, by manipulating such virtual objects, the user can also give commands to the machine via OPC UA. This makes it possible to, e.g., display a virtual button that can switch a machine on or off.

Design Principles

Hermann et al.4 define six design principles for Industry 4.0, upon which we build to show HoloBuilder’s potential for being an enabler of Industry 4.0:

  • Interoperability,
  • Virtualization,
  • Decentralization,
  • Real-Time Capability,
  • Service Orientation and
  • Modularity.


To summarize the above, Augmented Reality and machine-to-machine communication are two core principles to be considered when implementing Industry 4.0 in terms of a smart factory with cyber-physical systems. HoloBuilder, a platform for end-user design of arbitrary AR content, provides support for both. Our platform moreover fulfills all of the six design principles for Industry 4.0, which underpins HoloBuilder’s potential as an enabler.

Our paper has been published in the proceedings of the 2015 INFORMATIK conference and is also available via ResearchGate (including full text).

1 At the time the paper was accepted, we still had the company-internal convention to write HoloBuilder in lowercase letters, which has changed by now.
2 http://www.plattform-i40.de/
3 Kagermann, Henning: Chancen von Industrie 4.0 nutzen [Taking the Chances of Industry 4.0]. In (Bauernhansl, Thomas; ten Hompel, Michael; Vogel-Heuser, Birgit, eds): Industrie 4.0 in Produktion, Automatisierung und Logistik [Industry 4.0 in Production, Automation and Logistics], pp. 603–614. Springer, 2014.
4 Hermann, Mario; Pentek, Tobias; Otto, Boris: Design Principles for Industrie 4.0 Scenarios: A Literature Review. 2015. Working Paper No. 01/2015, Audi Stiftungslehrstuhl Supply Net Order Management, TU Dortmund.


The Search Interaction Optimization Toolkit – The Essence of my PhD Thesis

SIO Toolkit Logo
Logo of the SIO Toolkit.

My PhD thesis introduces a novel methodology that is named Search Interaction Optimization (SIO) and is used for designing, evaluating and optimizing search engine results pages (so-called SERPs). As a proof-of-concept of this new methodology, I’ve developed a corresponding SIO toolkit, which comprises a total of seven components1 (most of which have already been introduced in previous posts):

  1. Inuit, a new instrument for usability evalutation;
  2. WaPPU, a tool for Usability-based Split Testing;
  3. a catalog of best practices for creating better usable SERPs, which together with WaPPU and a special add-on forms
  4. S.O.S., a tool for automatically evaluating and optimizing SERPs;
  5. TellMyRelevance! (TMR), a novel pipeline that predicts the relevance of search results from client-side interactions;
  6. StreamMyRelevance! (SMR), a streaming-based version of TMR that works in real-time rather than batch-wise; and
  7. a set of requirements for current & future search interfaces, which has been derived from an empirical study with German-speaking users.
SIO Methodology Logo
Logo of the SIO Methodology.

Describing the design and development of the above components and evaluating their effectiveness and feasibility makes for a major part of my thesis. Now, I’ve finally managed to organize all of them in terms of GitHub repos2, which I make available through a new website I have specifically created for my PhD project: http://www.maxspeicher.com/phdthesis/. In particular, on that site you can filter the components depending on whether you want to design, evaluate and/or optimize a SERP. It also lists all of the related publications including links to the corresponding full texts (via ResearchGate). In case you are actually interested in all that fancy research stuff3—have fun browsing, reading & playing around! 🙂

1 The logo of the SIO toolkit features only six tiles because S.O.S. and the catalog of best practices are treated as one component there.
2 Because my PhD project was carried out in cooperation with Unister GmbH (Leipzig), unfortunately it’s not possible for me to provide the source codes of all components via GitHub, as some contain company secrets.
3 Which I doubt. 😉

INUIT: The Interface Usability Instrument

INUIT LogoAs one of the building blocks of my PhD thesis, I have developed a novel instrument for measuring the usability of web interfaces, which is simply called Inuit—the Interface Usability Instrument1. This was necessary because a usability instrument that is suited for the automatic methods for Search Interaction Optimization I have developed in my PhD project must fulfill three particular requirements, which are not met by any existing instruments:

(R1) A minimal number of items.
(R2) Items with the right level of abstraction for meaningful correlations with user interactions recorded on the client.
(R3) Items that can be applied to a web interface in terms of a stand-alone webpage.

The Instrument

Inuit has been designed and developed in a two-step process: First, over 250 rules for good usability from established guidelines and checklists were reviewed to identify a set of common underlying factors (or items) according to R2. From these underlying factors, a “structure” of usability based on ISO 9241-11 was created, which was then shown to 9 dedicated usability experts in the second step. The experts—all of which were working in the e-commerce industry—reviewed the given “structure” and proposed changes according to their perception of web interface usability. Finally, seven items have been identified:

  1. Informativeness
  2. Understandability
  3. Confusion
  4. Distraction
  5. Readability
  6. Information Density
  7. Reachability

These items can be translated to, e.g., the following yes/no questions for use in a questionnaire for determining the usability of a webpage:

  1. Did you find the content you were looking for?
  2. Could you easily understand the provided content?
  3. Were you confused while using the webpage?
  4. Were you distracted by elements of the webpage?
  5. Did typography & layout add to readability?
  6. Was there too much information presented on too little space?
  7. Was your desired content easily and quickly reachable (concerning time & distance)?


A confirmatory factor analysis based on a user study with 81 participants has proven that our instrument reasonably well reflects real-world perceptions of web interface usability. Inuit was first introduced at the workshop “Methodological Approaches to Human–Machine Interaction”, which was held as part of the 2013 Mensch & Computer conference. The corresponding paper is named Towards Metric-based Usability Evaluation of Online Web Interfaces (full-text here). The final version of the instrument has been presented at this year’s International Conference on Design, User Experience and Usability (DUXU), which has been held in Los Angeles. The full research paper is titled Inuit: The Interface Usability Instrument and available via Springer (full-text here).

Future Work

In the future, I intend to transfer Inuit into the context of my current work. That is, I intend to use it for evaluating the web interface of HoloBuilder, which enables users to create 3D content for the web, in contrast to the usual 2D content that is consumed nowadays. It will be particularly interesting to see whether both, 2D and 3D web interfaces can be meaningfully evaluated using the same minimal instrument. Furthermore, Inuit will be applied in the context of the research on evidence-based computing that is happening at the VSR research group at Technische Universität Chemnitz.

P.S.: Thanks a lot to Viet Nguyen for the awesome Inuit logo! 🙂

1 Please note the small caps!

S.O.S. Receives Best Paper Honarable Mention Award at CHI ’15

TrophyOur paper “S.O.S.: Does Your Search Engine Results Page (SERP) Need Help?”—co-authors are Dr. Andreas Both (Unister) and Prof. Martin Gaedke (TU Chemnitz)—has been awarded a Best Paper Honarable Mention Award by ACM SIGCHI, the Special Interest Group on Computer–Human Interaction of the Association for Computing Machinery. According to Wikipedia, ACM SIGCHI is “the world’s leading organization in Human–Computer Interaction (HCI), and essentially created and defined the field.”1 Our paper is to be presented at the 2015 edition of the CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems2, which is the premier conference in the field of HCI and takes place in Seoul, South Korea.

S.O.S., which is short for “SERP Optimization Suite”, is a tool for determining the usability of a SERP in terms of quantitative scores by analyzing user feedback and interactions. If suboptimal scores are detected for a certain factor of usability (e.g., readability), adjustments are automatically proposed based on a catalog of best practices (e.g., adjust font size, among others). The catalog contains sets of potential causes for suboptimal scores and maps them to sets of corresponding countermeasures. Determining usability scores is based on WaPPU.

S.O.S.’s GitHub repository can be found at https://github.com/maxspeicher/sos. It’s free for non-commercial use. Resources and results of the evaluation we describe in our paper are available at https://github.com/maxspeicher/sos-resources.

(CC BY trophy icon by icomoon.io.)

1 http://www.wikiwand.com/en/SIGCHI
2 http://chi2015.acm.org/program/best-of-chi/#honorable-mentions

Survey: Search Engines – Perception, Usage & Expectations

Search Engines: Perception, Usage & ExpectationsIn the context of my PhD thesis in Human–Computer Interaction, I currently conduct a survey concerning the use of search engines. With the help of this survey I hope to better understand how you perceive and use search engines and which expectations you have towards them. In particular, I focus on the use of search engines with smart phones, tablet PCs and other devices, such as Nintendo Wii U or PlayStation 4 (yes, you can actually browse the web with these!).

Automatic Approaches to Usability Optimization

The research for my PhD thesis is concerned with automatic approaches to optimizing the usability of search engines. To date, we have developed two core systems within the context of desktop PCs: TMR, which uses mouse cursor interactions to predict the relevance of search results, and WaPPU, which evaluates the usability of a whole web interface based on a quantitative usability score rather than qualitative assessments by individual experts.

With TMR, we evaluated 32 GB of tracking data from two German hotel booking portals. Using these data, we were able to learn models for predicting a completed booking process (which is a very strong indicator for relevance in the context of hotel search) from users’ interactions with the individual search results. The top models we learned reached correlation coefficients of up to 0.81.

WaPPU was involved in the redesign and evaluation of the web search results page of another real-world search engine. During an A/B test based on WaPPU’s usability score, we found the original version of the page to have a score of only 59.9% while the redesigned version reached 67.5% (the difference was statistically significant). We moreover detected significant differences for the individual usability factors distraction and information density.

My next aim is to transfer the above methods into the context of touch and other novel devices. That’s why I need your help with probing the current situation with respect to search engine usage on different devices.

Search Engines: Perception, Usage & Expectations

The survey will take about 15–20 minutes (partly depending on your answers). Since I’m writing my PhD thesis in cooperation with Unister GmbH in Leipzig (Germany), every participant receives a coupon worth 50 € for booking a trip on ab-in-den-urlaub.de. I want to thank my industry partner very much for providing this nice incentive 🙂

Please take my survey (see below) and also tell your friends and family about it (especially if you can’t make time for taking it yourself). In this way, you can contribute valuable data to my PhD thesis and help shape future search engines! Thank you very much 🙂

(Open survey in new tab: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1rX5EOQhzEXa-G-WxUz6aT5PKYb4ofVTPCGumO2h8Vtg/viewform?usp=send_form)

Umfrage: Suchmaschinen – Wahrnehmung, Nutzung & Erwartungen

Suchmaschinen: Wahrnehmung, Nutzung & ErwartungenFür meine Doktorarbeit in Human-Computer Interaction führe ich momentan eine Umfrage zur Nutzung von Suchmaschinen durch. Es geht mir in dieser Umfrage vor allem darum, herauszufinden, wie ihr Suchmaschinen wahrnehmt und welche Erwartungen ihr an sie habt. Besonderer Fokus liegt auch auf der Nutzung mit Smartphones, Tablets und anderen Geräten, wie z. B. einer Nintendo Wii U oder PlayStation 4 (ja, man kann mit Spielekonsolen mittlerweile ins Internet gehen!).

Die Umfrage dauert (teilweise abhängig von euren Antworten) nur ca. 15–20 Minuten. Da ich meine Dissertation in Kooperation mit der Unister GmbH schreibe, bekommt außerdem jeder Teilnehmer einen Reisegutschein im Wert von 50 € für ab-in-den-urlaub.de. An dieser Stelle vielen Dank an meinen Industriepartner 🙂

Bitte nehmt rege an meiner Umfrage teil (siehe unten) und verbreitet sie auch ein bisschen weiter (insbesondere, wenn ihr selbst keine Zeit zur Teilnahme habt). So könnt ihr einen wichtigen Beitrag zu meiner Forschung und Doktorarbeit leisten! Vielen Dank 🙂

(Umfrage in neuem Tab öffnen: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/14ViXK-Cl7liQmaR3K_KmJtt_4LK11Thy1pRz9dWJvGw/viewform?usp=send_form)

[offene Masterarbeit] Was that Page Pleasant to Use? Usability-Metriken in einer echten Suchmaschine

Es gibt viel zu viele schlechte Webseiten! Schon mal versucht, auf www.finanzen.sachsen.de die Tagessätze für Auslandsreisekosten zu finden? Falls nicht, einfach mal ausprobieren und viel Spaß dabei! Oder schon mal auf der Seite der Uni Würzburg versucht, herauszufinden, wie genau eine Bewerbung für den Bachelor in Wirtschaftswissenschaften abläuft? Nein? Ist auch eigentlich besser so, weil der Versuch einen leicht in den Wahnsinn treiben kann.

Motivation: Usability? Nein, danke!

Viele Webseiten (auch großer Unternehmen) beweisen keinerlei Gespür für grundlegende Usability-Prinzipen, welche weder sonderlich neu noch sonderlich kompliziert sind. Häufig sind z. B. Informationen, die eine Großzahl an Nutzern betreffen, nicht direkt über die primäre Navigation erreichbar, sondern nur über verschlungene Pfade und zahllose Klicks. Und das trotz einer Fülle an Frameworks und Content-Management-Systemen, die modernste Webdesign- und Usability-Prinzipien unterstützen. Der wohl häufigste Grund für mangelnde Usability einer Webseite ist die Tatsache, dass entsprechende Tests nur unzureichend oder gar nicht durchgeführt werden, häufig aus Kosten- oder Zeitgründen.

The WaPPU dashboardUm dem entgegenzuwirken, habe ich als Teil meiner Doktorarbeit ein prototypisches Tool namens WaPPU entwickelt, welches es ermöglicht, wesentlich günstigere A/B-Tests auf Basis einer neuartigen Metrik für Usability durchzuführen. Das heißt, die Usability zweier leicht unterschiedlicher Versionen derselben Webseite wird während der Benutzung durch echte Nutzer in Form von Metriken in Echtzeit erfasst und in einem Dashboard visualisiert (siehe Abbildung).

Ziel der Arbeit

Mein Dissertationsprojekt ist eingebettet in die Forschungs- und Entwicklungsabteilung der Unister GmbH in Leipzig, welche aktuell eine neuartige Reisesuchmaschine entwickelt. Der entwickelte Prototyp soll im Rahmen einer Masterarbeit in diese reale Suchmaschine integriert werden, um verschiedene Interface-Variationen im produktiven Betrieb anhand ihrer Usability bewerten zu können. Weitere Informationen können der offiziellen Ausschreibung entnommen werden. Interessenten melden sich bitte unter der in der PDF angegebenen E-Mail-Adresse oder über mein Kontakformular.


Ein Demo-Video zum WaPPU-Tool gibt’s hier.

Offene Themen für Masterarbeiten: Benutzbarkeit von Web-Interfaces, Evaluierung und Metriken

An alle Masterstudenten in Leipzig und an der TU Chemnitz, die sich mit Human-Computer Interaction, Web-Interfaces und Usability befassen oder gerne befassen wollen: Aktuell habe ich in diesen Themengebieten zwei spannende Masterarbeiten zu vergeben!

Vergleich eines Metrik- und Interaktions-basierten Ansatzes mit etablierten Methoden zur Bestimmung der Benutzbarkeit von Web-Interfaces

Im Rahmen dieses Themas soll ein neuartiges A/B-Testing-Werkzeug, welches auf Nutzerinteraktionen und Benutzbarkeits-Metriken basiert, empirisch mit etablierten Methoden zur Evaluierung von Web-Interfaces verglichen werden. Solche etablierten Methoden umfassen z. B. Experteninspektionen, Heuristiken und Checklisten. Es soll erörtert werden, inwiefern sich der neuartige, WaPPU genannte Ansatz bzgl. Effektivität und Effizienz von den bestehenden Ansätzen unterscheidet. Ein fertiger Prototyp des A/B-Testing-Werkzeugs WaPPU wird gestellt.

Link zur Ausschreibung der Masterarbeit

Usability as a Service: Entwicklung eines WordPress-Plug-ins zur quantitativen Bestimmung von Benutzbarkeit

Ziel dieser Arbeit ist die Überführung eines bestehenden A/B-Testing-Prototypen in ein WordPress-Plug-in, welches es ermöglicht, die Benutzbarkeit eines Blogs basierend auf clientseitigen Nutzerinteraktionen vorherzusagen. Basierend auf Trainingsdaten von bestehenden Blogs sollen in einem zentralen Repository Template-abhängige Benutzbarkeitsmodelle gelernt werden. D. h. mehrere Blogs, die dasselbe WordPress-Template verwenden, tragen Daten zu einem gemeinsamen Modell bei. Ein neu aufgesetztes Blog, welches auf demselben Template basiert, soll dann mithilfe des Plug-ins unmittelbar Vorhersagen zur Benutzbarkeit seines Interfaces erhalten können.

Link zur Ausschreibung der Masterarbeit

Beide Arbeiten werden in Kooperation mit der Forschungs- und Entwicklungsabteilung der Unister GmbH (Leipzig) im Rahmen eines echten Industrieprojektes durchgeführt. Falls ihr an der TU Chemnitz seid, müsst ihr dafür natürlich nicht extra nach Leipzig ziehen ;). Bei Interesse an einer der Arbeiten wendet euch bitte an die in den Ausschreibungen angegebenen Kontaktpersonen, d. h. mich selbst oder Dr. Andreas Both. Studenten der TU Chemnitz können sich auch an Prof. Martin Gaedke von der Professur für Verteilte und Selbstorganisierende Rechnersysteme (VSR) wenden.