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Monday, February 28, 2011

Cognition – When everything will be connected (Ubiquitous sensing, actuation, and interaction)

Think of future cities that have conserved their old character (today’s present situation) but will also have become a mixed reality built upon the connections between the ubiquitous Internet and the physical world. These connections will be made by a variety of different intelligent embedded devices. Networks of distributed sensors and actuators together with their computing and communication capabilities will

have spread throughout the infrastructures of cities and to various smaller objects in the everyday environment. Mobile devices will connect their users to this local sensory information and these smart environments. In this context, the mobile device will be a gateway connecting the local physical environment of its user to the specific digital services of interest, creating an experience of mixed virtual and physical realities.
Human interaction with this mixed reality will be based on various devices that make the immediate environment sensitive and responsive to the person in contact with it. Intelligence will become distributed across this heterogeneous network of devices that vary from passive radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to powerful computers and mobile devices. In addition, this device network will be capable of sharing information that is both measured by and stored in it, and of processing and evaluating the information on various levels. The networks of the future will be cognitive systems that consist of processes capable of: (1) perception of the physical world, through various sensory processes, (2) cognitive processing of information, which can be subdivided into attention, categorization, memory, and learning, and finally (3) action, i.e., the ability to influence the physical world. These systems will have different levels of complexity, varying from simple control loops to extremely complex and nonlinear systems. To achieve this vision we cannot limit ourselves solely to classical control systems, i.e., sensors, microcontrollers, and actuators. Data collection and feedback will have to become much more complex dynamical processes.

Below is an illustration that represents the complexity of the architectures of future sensing, processing, and actuation

represents the complexity of the architectures of future sensing, processing, and actuation. Primarily, multiple sensors and actuators are connected to local physical and chemical processes. These local sensors will probably be arranged into smart networks with some embedded information processing and memory. Local human interaction with such an environment can include direct responses augmented by the actuation mechanisms distributed in the environment. However, local interaction will become richer when it is connected via some kind of gateway to device networks with more information processing and communication power. These device networks could be based on the Internet, mobile communication, or some local connectivity protocols.

The device network has the dual function of providing a user interface with which to interact with the local physical world and linking the local physical world to the Internet and its services.

There currently exist several sensor applications in different devices, such as game controllers, sports gadgets, and mobile phones. However, our vision presents much more significant opportunities by enabling the connection of locally measured information to Internet services that are able to incorporate this local information into structured global information. Examples of benefits include the real-time tracking of the spread of a disease or epidemic, and interpretation of changes in traffic patterns on roads through the combination of local sensors and the Internet. The Internet is also becoming a massive store of heterogeneous data and information that is increasingly linked in various intelligent ways. Extremely efficient search and data mining technologies are creating a dynamic and real-time map of the physical world and the various economical and social networks.

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