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Friday, June 17, 2011

Device federation in Ubiquitous Communication environment

An emerging area within UbiComp with respect to human-computer interaction is involves the combination of small, portable devices with ambient computing and interaction resources in the user’s environment.

This concept is an attempt to balance the dual problems of portability and usability through a new model for mobile interaction, called device federation.

The idea of device federation is to augment small, portable devices such as smart phones (called personal devices) with ambient computing resources, such as large displays, printers, computers, PDAs, and keyboards. The personal device can be used to establish the user’s identity, run applications, or connect to back-end databases and servers, while ambient resources are leveraged to provide usable input and output. Conversely, personal devices can be connected to external sensors that have minimal or no user interfaces of their own, allowing the user to view or manipulate data that would otherwise be hidden within the environment.

Device federation is a broad concept, which covers a wide range of federation types. An obvious example is federating large displays with small mobile devices.

Other types include federating sensors and other resources with limited human interaction capabilities with mobile devices, federating portable user devices with audio output, and federating portable input devices with ambient computers to provide accessibility.

Ad hoc Wireless federation
Device federation promises the ability to augment the large amount of computing resources found in today’s portable devices using the ambient devices found nearly everywhere in the Western world. More and more offices, coffee shops, airports, and other locations contain large displays, speakers, and keyboards that could be used to make up for the limited input and output capabilities of mobile devices. Within the context of business usage, goals include allowing users to federate keyboards or other input devices with a personal mobile device to enhance input, or allowing voice input through a mobile device to be recognized and sent to a federated large-screen display. It is already possible today to connect input and output devices to mobile phones and PDAs. USB and other wired connections provide a standard interface for keyboards, mice, displays, and other devices to connect to personal devices in a fairly seamless manner. However, wired connections require device proximity, which can be problematic for some use cases, such as connecting a mobile phone to a large-screen display. It would be preferable to be able to connect to the display from anywhere in the room, without having to be right next to it. In addition, some phones may not have standard wired connection points and instead use proprietary ports and connectors. Therefore, device federation holds wireless connectivity as one of its main goals. The second main goal of device federation is to allow ad hoc connectivity. Many common wireless standards, such as Bluetooth, use handshaking and pairing protocols that are far too cumbersome to be of value when a personal device is to be connected to a particular ambient resource only once or twice in its lifetime. These protocols are also not very user-friendly, especially for inexperienced users.

One concern regarding ad hoc wireless federation is, of course, security. Devices that can easily connect and disconnect can also be easily compromised. Unfriendly devices could be used to snoop on data connections, or to grab computing resources. However, the need for security must be balanced with usability, so that the benefits of federation are not compromised.

Data source federation
Data sources, in the form of sensors, RFID tags, and other “smart items” are becoming more prevalent in today’s environment. Sensors and tags can be used to track objects and provide realtime information. Federated devices can provide new opportunities to access these nearly invisible information sources by federating them with other devices (such as PDAs or laptop computers) that can display their state, or even modify their behavior. Federating with data sources can also be used in ubiquitous computing environments to provide support for context-aware applications. Knowing what data sources are currently in proximity to the user’s personal device can give a good sense of location, and data such as noise level, temperature, and other environmental factors can be used to modify the interaction. For example, if the noise level reported by nearby sensors is very high, a mobile device can make the decision to present information using the visual and haptic channels, rather than using audio. In data source federation, it is important to investigate the process of connecting and disconnecting devices.

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