Every year the CSIRO has a stand at CeBIT Australia. I was there to help, along with my colleagues at the CSIRO ICT Centre. This year we had some really funky technology, like the Colonoscopy Simulator. The goal of the simulator is to combine a photo-realistic visual simulation of a colon with a haptic (physical feedback) colonoscope simulator. At the moment you can thread the snake-like colonoscope through a box and watch the probe on the screen. Touch the colon wall and blood appears. The team is still working on modelling the physical properties so the haptic feedback is not realistic at this stage, but it's still exciting.
The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) display featured a program that allows the users to walk or drive their way around a simulation of the proposed Square Kilometre Array site in outback Western Australia. You can download this program for yourself.
Other displays included the Braccetto collaborative technology, autonomous helicopters and hot metal carriers, sensors for monitoring rivers, farms and prawn feeding, techniques for tracking people (I suggested dogs!) when GPS doesn't work, and even the first (to my knowledge) Mac fridge – using smart agents in electricity networks. I was very amused when a couple of promotions girls came up to chat with the guy manning our W3C display (the ICT Centre hosts the Australian W3C office). I had been asked if I could think of a way to make web standards sexy. Looks like they didn't need my help!
I also spent time wandering around CeBIT. Our competitors and collaborators NICTA had an interesting demonstration of their Universal Storage Scheme which enabled them to compress 18GB of Wikipedia data into a fully searchable 3GBs. They demonstrated accessing this compressed data through Internet Explorer on a Windows mobile phone and it was very fast.
I stopped by at the Open Source area and talked to the folk associated with the Drupal content management system, which is what this site runs on. Much of what we chatted about was unrelated to Drupal.
Despite our function as a research organisation there is what I see is an unhealthy fixation on reputations built through business over research at CSIRO and the ICT Centre in particular. This was brought home to me by the discussion I had at the Drupal booth. They had a lot of respect for one of our former employees through her papers and presentations at conferences, describing her as a heavy hitter in a field where there are many big names. Yet there is a feeling that she was encouraged to leave because her focus was on open standards rather than commercialising technologies, especially with the big corporations. If you want to be a player in the ICT industry you need to be respected and respect doesn't just come through selling off your knowledge to big-name multinationals.
Other open source content management systems were represented at CeBIT. I listened and participated in a Q&A session with representatives from Drupal, Joomla and Zope/Plone. It was good to hear how far they have come, especially as it is time to evaluate content management systems again. I'm especially looking forward to investigating new developments in Zope/Plone.
By the end of the day my feet were sore from standing so long, but it really was a worthwhile experience. So much so that I'm going back to help again tomorrow!