A Mirror that Can Help Tie a Necktie

CITEC researcher Alexander Neumann is working on an intelligent mirror that can provide support for completing daily activities. In the long term, it could also be used to collect and analyze health-related data.

Alexander Neumann shows how to operate the mirror. Photo: CITEC/Bielefeld University A house is not a home without a mirror: virtually every household has at least one, and many homes even have several. Glancing quickly at yourself in the mirror before leaving the house is something we do every day. “It quickly becomes apparent that not having a mirror disrupts our daily routines,” says Alexander Neumann of the Cluster of Excellence CITEC.

It is their very ubiquity that helps make mirrors a popular field of research, including at Bielefeld University. “Mirrors are deeply engrained in the activities of daily life,” says Neumann, who is part of the Ambient Intelligence research group, headed by Dr. Thomas Hermann.

Currently, Neumann is working on a prototype of a smart mirror called KogniMirror. This mirror was developed as part of the KogniHome, one of the cooperative projects between regional industry and academic partners funded by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF, Federal Ministry of Education and Research). There are dozens of sensors and drive elements embedded in the frame of the mirror, which can be selected and activated via various interfaces.

“Having functionality that has been tailored to the area of application is particularly important to us,” says Neumann. In the bedroom, for instance, KogniMirror can help with getting dressed: users can test out how their shirt would look on them if it were a different color. Another idea is to show different outfit possibilities using articles of clothing they already have. “For a mirror located in the hallway, however, it would make more sense to display the next bus and train connections,” says Neumann. The smart mirror can access this type of information on public transportation or the weather forecast directly from the internet. “Ultimately there are many processes in daily living that could be shown in the mirror.”

The mirror can display information about the weather or public transportation schedules. Photo: CITEC/Bielefeld University

The mirror is also fitted with an illuminated frame. “We realized that having the right lighting is very important,” says the 34-year-old. The mirror can therefore produce a warm, pleasant light that softens the face, but it can also generate a very bright light, which is useful for seeing tiny details, such as when shaving, putting on makeup, or doing your hair.    

In one of their projects, the researchers are working specifically on the question of how the mirror can help to better organize one’s daily life. For this, computer science student Stefanie Fritz expanded the mirror’s capabilities as part of her thesis project, enabling it to help tie a necktie. “The mirror provides the user step-by-step instructions to help them tie the necktie correctly,” says Neumann. The advantage is that the user stands directly in front of the mirror, allowing him or her to directly see their progress. “There is a video and illustrated instructions for tying a tie,” explains the computer scientist. It stands to follow that the mirror could also be used in a similar manner to provide assistance in other everyday situations.

Another idea is to use the mirror to provide medical support: “One example of this would be monitoring the long-term effect of medications, such as those used to lower blood pressure,” explains Neumann. If a person were to stand in front of the mirror every day, changes in their skin tone and blood circulation could be detected over a long period of time. “And if the mirror is equipped with the right sensors, it could also collect data on the person’s pulse or respiration.”

At present, the Bielefeld researchers are conducting basic research with their mirror. “Our aim is first to find out what areas of application could be useful, and what provides real added-value for the user,” says Neumann. “If the mirror isn’t seamlessly integrated into daily life, no one will use it.”  

Contact:
Alexander Neumann, Bielefeld University
Cluster of Excellence CITEC / Ambient Intelligence research group
Telephone: +49 521 106-12163
Email: alneumann@techfak.uni-bielefeld.de

Written by: Maria Berentzen