Multimodal Interaction in Context-Adaptive Systems

© Photo Fraunhofer FIT

Working life is subject to constant change. These days, people work in different working environments often without having a permanent working place and with a plethora of devices. They may require support anywhere and anytime while working on different tasks. In such situations MICA aims to pro-actively provide adaptive multimodal support. MICA is an industry-funded research project on behalf of the SAP AG.

A first MICA prototype has realized an application for a middle-sized warehouse where unskilled workers get hands-free support while picking goods. During peak times warehouse employ unskilled workers to relieve the work load. The problem is that these workers are unfamiliar with the warehouse setting and don't know neither the products nor do they have the necessary skills to carry out the job on their own. The aim of MICA is to enable these workers to work efficiently without long vocational training.

In 2008, the prototype of the was field-tested at ART GmbH, Hockenheim. MICA uses WLAN and RFID technology to track trolleys and identify goods. It supports 'picking by doing' and automatically monitors what is being picked, spotting wrong items immediately and alerting the warehouseman. MICA presents navigating information on a tablet PC attached to the trolley and acoustically via Bluetooth headset, to guide the warehouseman along the shortest route to the next picking point. Large or heavy items in an order are the first destinations, so they are at the bottom of the container.

At ART GmbH, warehouse shelves, containers and goods are made from metal; picked items are placed directly on the pallet that is sent to the customer. This presented unexpected technical hurdles for the field test and forced us to develop a revised system. It uses RFID tags and readers working in the VHF frequency range. This allows reading tags on metal objects and at greater distances and lets us use RFID technology also to locate the trolleys and to provide precise navigating information.

In the evaluation interviews, the warehouseman expressed high levels of satisfaction with the MICA system, in spite of some minor bugs. Inexperienced warehousemen achieved the same zero-error performance as their experienced colleagues and filled orders almost as quickly.