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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Smart Space: The Emergence of Ambient Ecologies

An important characteristic of Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp) environments is the merging of physical and digital space (i.e. tangible objects and physical environments are acquiring a digital representation). As the computer disappears in the environments surrounding our activities, the objects therein become augmented with Information and Communication Technology (ICT) components (i.e. sensors, actuators, processor, memory, wireless communication modules) and can receive, store, process and transmit information.

The true potential of all of these disappearing computers is realised once they are interconnected in digital space to form combinations of artifacts or services to accomplish the goal of its user(s). Because such units can be re-configured, or recombined either by people or another supervisory authority their collective behaviour is neither static nor random and collections of artifacts can evolve to produce new behaviours. Smart behavior, then, either at individual or collective levels, is possible because of the artifacts’ abilities to perceive and interpret their environment (peer artifacts being themselves a part of an artifact’s environment). Artifacts that is, everyday appliances, devices, and objects become context aware.

Thanks to developments in the field of electronic hardware, in miniaturization and cost reduction, it is possible nowadays to populate everyday environments (e.g., home, office, car, etc.) with “smart” devices for controlling and automating various tasks in our daily lives. At the dawn of the ubiquitous computing era, an even larger number of everyday objects will become computationally enabled, while micro/nano sensors will be embedded in most engineered artifacts, from the clothes we wear to the roads we drive on. All of these devices will be networked using wireless technologies evolved from Bluetooth, Zigbee or IEEE 802.11for short range connectivity. Furthermore, the omnipresence of the Internet via phone lines, wireless channels and power lines facilitates ubiquitous networks of smart devices that will significantly change the way we interact with (information) appliances and can open enormous possibilities for innovative applications.

We use the ambient ecology metaphor to conceptualize a space populated by connected devices and services that are interrelated with each other, the environment and the people, supporting the users’ everyday activities in a meaningful way. Everyday appliances, devices, and context aware artifacts are part of ambient ecologies. A context-aware artifact uses sensors to perceive humans or other artifacts and to respond sensibly. Adding context awareness to artifacts can increase their usability and enable new user interaction and experiences. Given this fundamental capability single artifacts have the opportunity to participate in artifact based service orchestration ranging from simple co-operation to developing smart behavior.

Through the ecology, appliances and artifacts become aware of each other. In general, the context information that the system uses in reasoning can concern a particular device, appliance, or user, or a collection of such entities. In turn, an entity might be aware only of its own context or that of a specific group of entities. Furthermore, an entity can respond individually to its perceived context or to the group’s, or a higher level application might coordinate a response among various devices.

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