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Ambient Intelligence

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Ambient intelligence is a term used to describe an environment that is surrounded and integrated by technology. It precisely describes the technology as being part of the environment and at the same time creating the environment in which we live. With this kind of intelligence around us, the environment is able to sense our presence and react to us just as people do.

The need for communication creates the basis of Ambient Technology. In the present world, the most thought of machine as being intelligent is a computer but research shows that computers are indeed not intelligent enough. Computers do things for us only when we program them to do so. We have to do a lot of typing, moving and ‘clicking’ of the mouse before we actually get what we want from these computer machines.

A view of our environment

Anyone who has been to a gymnasium with well-fitted pulse points will agree that some of the training machines such as the trading mill are somehow capable of giving information about the people using them. This information includes measuring the heart rate, the distance covered by the person using the machine and the time taken. It is not well known if all the trading mill machines in the gyms around the world operate in the same way or rather give approximately correct information. For such a working-out station to be reliable one might suggest that regular checking, testing and calibration is to be done on the trade mill machines by a professional cardiologist. Not an Engineer amazingly, unless they claim to know about heart rates. This arguably still does not make the machines intelligent enough though, since working-out machines only respond to particular activities and not others. They will not give information on the calories lost while one was walking to the gym for example.

Currently we are surrounded by technology that is ‘waiting’, one that does nothing until we interrupt its coexistence. Most of machines we see and use today are not completely independent of the human touch, even the best known autonomous ones still have to behave in an acceptable way. People still have to operate the machines in order for them to respond to our needs. We predict, see, hear, talk, and take actions more often everyday, whether using computers or dealing with people. On the other hand, computers do not have all these qualities, so there is still a big gap between the real world and that of computers. The study of Ubiquitous Computing emphasises on linking the two worlds together.

Aim of Ambient Intelligence study

Ambient Intelligence technology is intended to provide us with information whenever we need it, wherever we are in the globe, without too much handwork and searching. The study intends to solve the problem of merging technology and real life, basically

making life much easier. As a topic it goes further into discussions on how to make our surroundings ‘alive’, in a way that we are recognized when using different equipments, entering rooms or when on our way home walking or driving. The study of Ambient Intelligence also supports the fact that human feelings, needs and emotions will affect the way in which the computer relates to us. This is well visited in the study of Ubiquitous Computing where the computer learns to live in the real world as opposed to having it’s own interpretation of life as in ‘Virtual Reality’.

Example Application of Ambient Intelligence

Philips Home-Lab – Bringing the Home to Life

Philips Home-Lab in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, Amsterdam was officially opened in April 24, 2002, as a permanent fully functional home laboratory built to study how people interact with prototypes of intelligent technology in a real-world environment. The information published on the Internet, Philips web page:, gives a short introduction of what is currently taking place in the study of Ambient Intelligence, with Philips laboratory.

Philips’ characterization of an Ambient Intelligent environment is explained as that in which intelligent technology will anticipate and respond to personal human needs. Philips believes that this quality of technological application will be available in the year 2020, and that ‘technology will be invisibly embedded into everyday household objects that respond to our voices and gestures, store and display data more naturally and seamlessly and interact and connect with other intelligent household items.’

Philips has come up with a ‘Home-Lab’, an actual living laboratory where students can learn how to apply Ambient Intelligence technology and study in-depth how people experience it. The current technologies force humans to conform to them, but over time, in the Philips Home-lab, the technologies can be taught to conform to humans instead.

Philips is driven to do these experiments so as to have a good understanding of the way technology and humans relate, in order for the company to bring this new technology to market sooner.

The Philips Home-Lab is a working two-story house complete with bedrooms, a bathroom, living room and kitchen. It is a modern furnished home, but the technologies such as multimedia systems and computers that are in our houses are noticeably absent. An example application of invisible technology.   Cables and equipment are transparent to the human eye, creating a more natural, relaxing and personalized environment. Each floor has two observation rooms fully equipped for studying families living at Philips Home-Lab.

The research infrastructure includes: 270 GB Storage Area Network, Ethernet, Gigaport wide-band Internet, Video and RF tagging tracking system. For user interfacing there are 20 Cameras, Person identification systems and Speech and gesture recognition. Other common devices such as 16 Observation Monitors, Flat ScreensandPCscan also be found in the laboratory.

Technology Experiments

Technology Experiments as published by Philips on the web page: states that Philips will rotate technology experiments in the home for intensive study.  Some of the new technologies currently under study at the Home-Lab include:

POGO – an interactive game for children that helps them stretch their imagination by merging fantasy and reality into an environment where children can play and act out stories together.

Connected Planet – scenarios and wireless connectivity solutions based on a network of IP-enabled interfaces embedded into physical community landscapes that allow for knowledge exchange in real communities.

WWICE – an interactive user interface called Window on the World of Information Communication and Entertainment that consolidates the number of home devices into a single system for managing typical digital activities such as recording a voicemail, watching a video or listening to music from any room in the home.

Health Coach – an “intelligent mirror” based on LCD technology that becomes a full service personal care environment that can monitor and coach a user on various health and personal care related items such as weight, dental hygiene and much more.

Other Applications

Smart Phones

There are human-computer systems that not only allow humans to see, but also feel. The handshake telephone system uses robot hands through which users can shake hands with each while talking on the phone. The robot hand has one degree of freedom and is made of silicon rubber in order to get the natural feeling, similar to the human’s hand (Ouchi and Hashimoto; 1997). Although this example fits more onto the topic wearable computers, it still affects ambient intelligence, as we shall see in the topic wearable computers and ubiquity.

Interactive TV

The interactive TV idea introduced by Philips is one of the ideas that Philips have as a first step in moving Ambient Intelligence into people’s homes. This is likely to use broadband communication channels to connect the Ambient Intelligence within homes to that in the outside world.

Hand held Devices

The current hand-held personal digital assistant seems to match Mark Weiser’s description of a hand held inch-scale. Other applications include, digital tablets, laptops, and wall sized electronic white boards. These applications to this point may not appear to affect the policies of Ambient Intelligence but the ease in feasibility of building and using such devises is essential for a start. For example, the computer had to be one huge box weighing so much at some point in the history of computers. In the real world, Atoms seem to form the basic building blocks of almost everything we know, while in the digital world, it is the bits that make everything tick. Now the computer has evolved into a much manageable size and the next step is to make it’s operation a more natural one  (linking bits to atoms).

BarcoViewPress Information

  3 May 2002


BARCO Launches PIN Concept for Ambient Intelligence in Softcopy Reading Environment

CLEVELAND, OHIO, USA, 3 May 2002 — BarcoView announces PIN, a revolutionary integrated Product Intelligence concept, which ensures worry-free diagnostic reading and image distribution, by means of “intelligent” medical display technology.  The system’s intelligence creates a smart background, which offers radiologists and administrators professional comfort by bridging the gap between people and technology.

Paul Matthijs, General Manager Medical Imaging Systems, states: “Barco’s PIN creates ambient intelligence by setting up a smart prescient environment, thereby achieving worry-free filmless perfection.”  Moreover, Matthijs points out: “Barco’s innovative PIN concept drastically reduces lifecycle cost, even up to 80% for digital display systems.”

Barco’s product range for PACS includes LCD and CRT medical displays, display controllers and QA and display management software.  These PIN-compatible products form a distributed network of web-enabled, intelligent devices, which constantly monitor diagnostic image quality.

Barco’s display systems have embedded intelligence through the I-Guard® sensor for LCD display systems, and WAVE II functionalities for CRT display systems.  I-Guard® and WAVE II are smart sensoring devices, constantly monitoring image quality.  Data from these smart sensors are processed and logged with the MediCal® and Sentinel® software.

Supported by this integrated technology and vast knowledgebase, Barco’s PIN concept automatically ensures high-level diagnostic quality.  The surrounding network of invisible, intelligent devices offers administrators the advantage of being informed about the display system’s consistent quality on a continuous basis.  In case the imaging chain fails, administrators can intervene from their own location via a user-friendly web interface, without disturbing normal radiology activities.

About BarcoView:

BarcoView with operation facilities in Kortrijk (Belgium), Toulouse (France), Atlanta, Georgia and Portland, Oregon (USA) designs and manufactures high-resolution display systems, displays, graphics controllers and display subsystems for highly demanding niche markets such as C4I, avionics, vessel and air traffic control, vehicle electronics, and medical imaging applications.

Alongside Barco Projection Systems and BarcoVision, BarcoView is one of the three strategic activities of the BARCO Group, which are all active in Image Processing. Barco Projection is in various markets of large screen visualization, whereas BarcoVision develops systems for visual inspection and quality control.  In 2001, the entire BARCO group delivered a turnover of 792 million EURO. BARCO has a network of subsidiaries, distributors and agents in 97 countries throughout the world. BARCO has been quoted on the Brussels Stock Exchange since 1986, and is now quoted on Brussels/Euronext.  BARCO is a BEL 20 and a Next 150 company and is a component of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes.

At the University of East Anglia in Norwich there are a number of projects exploring the growth of technology towards Ambient Intelligence, eg ViSiCAST at

More generally within the UK the terms pervasive and ubiquitous computing are more prevalent than Ambient Intelligence, but the vision features strongly in a number of recent reports on the future of ICT in the UK. For example, an influential UK government report envisages the following developments during the next 5 years:

  • UK-based firms taking leading positions in the development of mobile computing, and contributing to new global standards in the area
  • A further improvement in the availability of venture capital, and in experimentation with new business models
  • Strong UK ‘content’ companies emerging in fields such as
    E-education and E-health
  • Cheap access combined with demanding consumers for ICT services which creates a population which is also skilled and innovative in ICT innovation
  • Government agencies leading the way in releasing the commercial value of under-utilised information through the Internet
  • Rapid growth of B2B and B2C e-commerce.

UK Basic and Applied research in ICT is also being increasingly guided by the general vision of Ambient Intelligence: indeed ‘Pervasive Computing’ is one of five key research challenges identified in a recent report on UK Computing Research (see

Other key challenges identified include System Design, the Information Powered Society, Devices and Theory, and many of the issues covered within these topics have a close match with research issues relevant to Ambient Intelligence.

A flagship UK research activity which has similar motivations to the Ambient Intelligence Vision (although with perhaps more of a Virtual Reality flavour than Mark Weiser would have liked) is the EPSRC funded EQUATOR Interdisciplinary Research Challenge (see for a brief description). EQUATOR spans eight sites, including the Universities of Lancaster, Bristol, Nottingham, University College London, Sussex, Glasgow, Southampton and the Royal College of Art, and will involve academics from traditionally disparate disciplines such as computing, sociology and design. To quote Tom Rodden (project leader, now at Nottingham University): “Rather than leap on every small technological step forward, the project will think about how the world might be in five or ten years time, and aim to design and build devices for that moment. We have the opportunity to realise some of the things which technology futurists talk about, but to do it in a very reasoned way. The Equator IRC will investigate all aspects of the development of future devices: the fundamental computational infrastructure required, the theories and concepts that underpin it, the product design that will most enhance the device’s function, and the likely ways in which it will be used. We’re looking at discovering and meeting future needs: what should be developed and how it might fit with the way people live now, and how they might wish to live in the future. We’re looking to see what may or may not be the future.” (The author participated in several of the ISTAG meetings which developed the Ambient Intelligence Landscape vision).

by Ronan Sleep

The notion of Ambient Intelligence was developed during a series of ISTAG (Information Societies Technology Advisory Group) and other meetings as a guiding vision to give an overall direction to Europe’s Information Societies Technology programme. Ambient Intelligence is essentially an elaboration of Mark Weiser’s vision of Ubiquitous – but Calm Computing which stresses the importance of social and human factors as well as developing the base technologies on which aspects of the vision are founded.

The ISTAG meetings culminated in an IPTS (Institute for Prospective Technology Studies) document which develops a number of scenarios illustrating Ambient Intelligence: as published at These scenarios illustrate the breadth possible applications. Some are relatively near term and are based on applying intelligent agent technology via an extension of mobile communications systems, for example to support a busy executive perpetually travelling from meeting to meeting as in the ‘Maria, Road Warrior’ scenario. In contrast the ‘Ambient for Social learning’ is much more technologically demanding, assuming for example holographic projection and the ability to manipulate an individual’s sound field within a room.

Future Applications


Hum a few bars

So what kinds of systems is Boekhorst envisioning? Music retrieval and playing for one. Boekhorst sees a time in the not-too-distant future in which a DVD, thanks to increased density and better compression technologies, can hold thousands of songs. Paging through an index would be tedious, so accessing songs by humming is a consideration. That “search” mechanism is intuitive enough but is estimated to take 3 giga-ops (GOPS) computing power to search a database of 20,000 songs with a half-second response time.

Aspects of another application, 3D television, could take 10s of GOPS computational power.

Boekhorst envisions platform architectures with clusters of embedded processors and memories operating autonomously as subsystems, cooperating through an on-chip network—or networks-on-silicon.

The researcher said ambient-intelligent systems won’t occur as a “Big Bang” but will gradually blend into our lives.

“The concept is attractive because it melds together computing, communications and consumer electronics, enabling new functionality that can stimulate further market growth,” he said.

By Brian Fuller

February 6, 2002 (6:04 p.m. EST)

SAN FRANCISCO — Future electronic systems will bring ambient intelligence into everyone’s lives, adapting and responding to humans and objects, but not without extraordinary improvements in circuit and system design, an ISSCC keynoter said Monday (Feb. 4).

Fred Boekhorst, senior vice president of research at Philips (Eindhoven, The Netherlands), told an audience here that power, die size and cost need to be pushed down dramatically for ambient-intelligent systems to become ubiquitous.

“In the near future, cars offices and homes will have a distributed network of intelligent devices that provides information, communication and entertainment,” he said. “These systems will adapt to the user in a context-aware fashion and will differ substantially from contemporary equipment.” The concept seems plausible enough: billions of tiny devices packed into hundreds of millions of systems handling any number of tasks. But Boekhorst cautioned that such systems will have to serve many masters at the same time, straining clever design techniques.

“At one end of the spectrum, low data rate sensor and actuator control signals form as low as 1 b/s or less,” he said. “At the other end of the spectrum, there will be need to interface large HDTV displays with data rates as high as 5 Gb/s.”

Ambient intelligence will require subsystems that span 9 orders of magnitude in bandwidth or computational load and 6 orders of magnitude in terms of allowable power dissipation, he added. Many will be required to trim power consumption to just 100 microwatts, whereas a contemporary Bluetooth device now consumes at least 50 milliwatts, he noted.

And where Bluetooth designs now are targeting the magic $5 cost point, ambient-intelligent devices must scale to a few 10s of cents. “Within a five-year timescale, a bill of materials comprising 20 cents for the IC, 10 cents for the battery and 10 cents for the packaging seems plausible,” he said.

Figure 1: Towards unobtrusive technology. Here a prototype TESSA system for assisting the hard of hearing is being trialled at a Post Office Counter. Later generations of such technology should merge entirely into the background.
Figure 2: A signing avatar from the prototype TESSA systems.


Engineers are driven to enhance people’s lives and thus the need to fully understand how people interact with technology. Further more if this technology is to be embedded onto the environment, household equipment and daily tools, at home or office, studying how people relate to each of these features can be a good start. Learning form people through experiments and case studies can help in this form of technology. It is vital to be able to know people’s everyday activities and preferences in order to fit technology into their surrounding. As published by Philips Research for the occasion of the opening of Home-Lab on April 24, 2002, Philips seem to be ready to take the challenge to ensure that their innovations work for the people.

According to Philips home-lab, the tremendous advances in wireless connectivity, speech technology and design has enabled them to bring advanced intelligent technologies into people’s homes while being fully integrated in their personal environment.

‘Ambient Intelligence is the vision that Philips uses to denote this new paradigm in consumer electronics, which completely changes the way we communicate and live’. Philips presented the very first multimedia presentation ever at the 1958 World Fair: Le Poème Electronique, created by the world-famous architect Le Corbusier, futurist Iannis Xenakis and composer Edgar Varèse, hence its long tradition in ambient intelligence.

Philips envisioned a world striving for ‘newness and harmony’ using multimedia – at the time a brand new way for creative artists to express themselves. The three artists took it even a step further by integrating all the electronics into the pavilion’s walls, making the experience ‘ambient’ and revolutionary for its day and triggering a whole new way of communicating ideas. Adapted from Gerard Kleisterlee’s report CEO Philips- the invisible experience.

When realizing Ambient Intelligence vision there is need in combining a broad range of technologies with service design and innovative products. In an environment embedded with intelligent devices, all electronic features and functions are integrated into people’s backgrounds. This is done skillfully and demands full control over a wide spectrum of enabling technologies. The devices range from micro-sized radios with autonomous power systems, through portable and wireless interconnected devices used in personal communication, large amounts of distributed data storage functions, up to large, wall sized displays which support virtual and multimodal interaction. Adapted from Huijser CEO Philips Research, CTO Philips.

Wearable computers

These are gadgets embedded with computing devices that, measure, collect and store data on the human activities on a daily basis.  A wristwatch is an old example of this, as it helps us tell the time, keep the time and manage other activities. It is important to discuss wearable computing as this directly or indirectly affects the operation of intelligent devices fitted onto our surroundings. The devices installed in a room can detect wearable computing devices such as self-recognition processor chips worn on rings, watches, spectacles or budges, and accordingly some information will be sent across the room on entering. Disabled people who cannot use keyboards and mouse can find this form of technology quite handy. There is still more work and research to be done on ambient intelligence and wearable computing and this so far has led to the development of other forms of machine training schemes such as speech related interfaces and perceptual interfaces. With the help of wearable computing devices the computers surrounding us can learn from us by detecting and recording the way we use these devices.

According to Mark Weiser ubiquitous computing forces the computer to live in this world with people as opposed to virtual reality. Virtual reality puts people into the computer world.

Ambient intelligence is an elaboration of Mark Weiser’s vision of ubiquitous computing. It can easily be interpreted as one of  the topics that arise when trying to justify the role of a computer in the society, by looking beyond the keyboard and the monitor screen. Ambient intelligence can be developed within us, as part of everyday life, it need not await the time when we will be literally surrounded by the technology which may turn out to be useless due to ignorance. The mobile phones for example have lost the meaning of  ‘phone’ gradually with time as the phone technology is geared towards more user friendliness and application of GUI (graphical user interface). Alongside GUI, comes tangible interfaces and 3D vision. Now mobile phones are capable of sending text messages and taking photographs.

Using a technique such as ethnographic in conjunction with other known techniques, ambient intelligence can be studied by people in everyday life. This does not only create consumers of the technology but also producers of new ideas to improve the technology by studying user requirements.

RF communications technology is required for wireless-based in-home digital networks. Industries have developed low-cost silicon solutions for Digital Enhanced Cordless Telephony and Bluetooth. For the display purposes LCD modules for handheld devices and large-area flat-panel can be built into the walls of a room. In terms of the computer science, issues such as quality of service, graceful degradation and load balancing need to be addressed. Protocols need to be established for peer-to-peer communication between computing nodes in self-configuring networks, algorithms need to be developed for resource location and management, and ‘intelligent agent’ technology needs to be developed so that applications can move around freely to locate resources and follow the user from one location to another.

Ambient Intelligence & Pervasive Computing

This theme title captures a new paradigm for interactive systems, which moves computers into the background whilst using them to support everyday activities and interactions. Essentially, computing technology is embedded into the environment, or even the individuals’ clothes, in such a way as to be transparent to the individual.

Much of this work is dependent on being aware of individuals and the activities they are engaged in, so that for example medical implants can automatically call for medical assistance and context aware services can support the elderly. But the applications seem to be limitless and the scope for truly making the environment aware of the ‘user’ whether at home, at work or at play is leading to fascinating research projects.



There are quite a number of problems associated with ubiquitous computing and these are mainly triggered by the human factor. Critical mass acceptance and rescaling for wearable computing for example may be a problem since every individual has a special definition of what they can wear and where they can wear them. Not everyone wears the same size of shoes for instance. Colour and traditions are other factors that one might have to consider. The time dimensions are to be revisited while the absence of keyboard and mouse poses new problems. The pen-based shorthand language unistroke for the PARCTab, and recognising handwritings. Some peoples hand writings change with time as they grow older or wit mood.

Infrastructure for general use has to be interactive and this has to be designed and changed from the way we normally perceive it. There should be constant revisiting of the technology for instance the wearable computer

Context Awareness

When and where? This is a big question when it comes to dealing with autonomous machines. Automatic call forwarding for a phone system, automatically updated maps of user location in an office, Control systems and autonomously guided satellites and missiles. All these items need to be aware of location and time just like humans. This calls for the need to link human behaviour to computers and this is the only way in which smart rooms, smart cars and other intelligent devices can work with us and be more like us. When all this is achieved computing devices will start being eligible to visibility, awareness and accountability.  Visibility stands for the socially significant information that is visible, for example a moving machine can stop moving immediately someone crosses its path and should do this even at random encounters. Humans are perceptually attuned to movement and human faces and figures. The way we respond to other people differs to the way we work with machines. We notice and react to people more readily than we notice and interpret a printed sign. With people there can be room for affection and change of voice tones and body language depending on whom we are talking to or working with. Computers don’t have much of these qualities yet and hopefully the study of ubiquitous computing will eventually render these performances to computers.

Unlike the paradigm of the desktop computer, which knows little more about us than our log-in name and password, Ambient Intelligence systems must know who we are and in which context we operate them. When we turn on our PC, for example, it has no way of knowing whether we are angry, sad or elated. And for most of the things that we do with our PC it does not matter. But for an Ambient Intelligence system that greets us when we get home, selects suitable background music and lighting, or advises us on the state of our health, recognizing what sort of mood we are in will be vitally important. The system must know when to keep quiet and when to speak up, what to say and what not to say, and it must recognize those times when we need to be left alone with our thoughts.

The role of Artificial Intelligence in Ambient Intelligence

Greater challenges come when trying to naturalize human interface. In addition to refining the technologies of speech, gesture and handwriting recognition beyond their current status, the technology must also be integrated into multi-modal models that combine gesture, voice intonation and facial expression information to define the semantics of conversational dialogues. Even the way we react to and use Ambient Intelligence, together with its social implications, will require considerable research.  This calls for some knowledge of Artificial Intelligence. Artificial Intelligence can simply be defined as that form of intelligence that is put into a machine so that it can perform certain tasks meant to be performed by humans. For example a cash machine replaces the person behind a cashier desk in a bank, and performs most of the tasks meant for a person. The only deference between this form of task handling and that of human is that it follows step by step rules and cannot give answers to spontaneous questions that a bank customer may want to ask.

Emile Aarts of Philips research describes Ambient Intelligence as an Experience kind of technology, for maximum enjoyment as he puts it.

Emile wrote that Ambient Intelligence aims at enhancing our leisure experiences and enriching the quality of our lives. From choosing to record the TV program that it knows we like to watch, to monitoring the efficiency of an exercise workout in order to improve our athletic performance. Ambient Intelligence systems will operate quietly in the background to make the experience more enjoyable.

by Ronan Sleep

As the scenarios meetings progressed, participants became increasingly concerned with possible impacts of the technology on both individuals and societies. At one extreme, access to the ‘ambient intelligence landscape’ could be restricted to those engaged in high powered decision making involving much travel and many meetings. At the other extreme, the technology could be used in a much more diluted fashion to make small, but ubiquitous improvements in the lives of most citizens. By no means all uses of an ambient intelligence which are possible are desirable: issues of privacy, choice, and trust of human, organisational and artificial actors become paramount: an ill-considered rush into exploiting the technology before it is both desired and trusted is all too likely to foster the sort of reaction faced by the promoters of GM foods.

Although Ambient Intelligence covers a large range of concerns, both human and technical, there are some technologies which might be excluded. They are characterised by Mark Weiser’s statement about Ubiquitous computing: “Ubiquitous computing is roughly the opposite of virtual reality. Where virtual reality puts people inside a computer-generated world, ubiquitous computing forces the computer to live out here in the world with people.”. Seen in this light, Ambient Intelligence is the limit of a process which introduces the technology into people’s lives in such a way that the introduction never feels like a conscious learning curve: no special interface is needed because human experience is already a rich ‘Manual’ of ways of interfacing to changing systems and services. Somehow, we need to create technology that leverages this powerful human resource rather than trying to suppress it by requiring humans to participate in inflexible interaction protocols of the sort supported by current call centre technology.

From this perspective, realising Ambient Intelligence need not wait until we are literally surrounded by the technology: it can begin by studying normal life, using ethnographic and other techniques, and then exploring acceptable ways of using the technology to enhance everyday experience. As people become increasingly empowered, a point is reached where as with the original telephone and its recent mobile offspring it becomes possible to do things that were not possible without the technology.


As a result of the ongoing miniaturization of electronic circuits and the corresponding exponential increase in embedded computational power, we have reached the point where it has become possible to integrate electronics into people’s environments. However, the way we experience that computing power is about to change. The awesome buttons and menu options of present day equipment will disappear, to be replaced by intelligent systems that we operate through user interfaces that are an extension of our natural speech and movements, through touch panels, heat and weight sensors, and intelligent cameras that track our eyeball movements. The intelligent system responds to and even anticipates our needs by the sound of our voice, the gestures of our hands and the expressions on our face. The corresponding paradigm is called Ambient Intelligence and it refers to electronic environments that are sensitive and responsive to the presence of people. It improves the quality of life by creating the desired atmosphere and functionality via intelligent, personalized interconnected systems and services. Ambient Intelligence environments are characterized by their ubiquity, transparency and intelligence. Ubiquity because the user is surrounded by a multitude of interconnected embedded systems. Transparency because the equipment is invisible and integrated into the user’s background. Intelligence because the system is able to recognize the people that live in it, adapt itself to them, learn from their behavior, and even show emotion.

The future will be about transparency of bits and added values to meet customer needs. The systems will be capable of understanding and speaking to the customers or people using the services offered by the surrounding technology. Prediction and decision-making, which is currently missing in the machines already designed, will have to be a subject needing dire attention. The companies responsible for building and installing intelligent devices onto our environment will need to inform the consumers of the benefits of this form of technology and possibly the dangers involved if not utilized properly. Failure to do so, the technology will not take course, as most people are subject to inertia. They are slow to change. Potential customers may continue to live comfortably as before in the privacy of their own homes. At the moment we all have the knowledge on the feasibility of Ambient Intelligence, and knowledge without application is termed useless on all accords. This calls for more information and research. In the present world of computers, we find that 90 percent of the population is forced into computing because of job markets. Finding work this days has become more and more challenging as the emphasis on computer knowledge peaks day to day. The number of students studying computer related subjects has increased over the years, and now the study of computers doesn’t seem to stop or decline at any stage in the current student records. Ambient Intelligence installation especially at our own homes will not take the same trend as computers have done. In order for people to buy this of technology, it has to be a requirement, especially if it is job related. I would not personally go into buying an expensive intelligent house if I only need it for accommodation.

Some systems may be over featured and some may not do exactly what we want them to. Monotony and hence boredom will be subject to users, since machines and computers are used to routine work. Every time I walk into my house, the lights come on, the computer boots, the telephone rings and I am subjected to information, relevant or not, I have to read mail, receive messages and this goes on and on. If this sequence of activities occurs in the same way every time I walk into my house, the chances are that the house may not last any longer than the first day I move in. This is because the human mind is not fixed into doing the same things for a lengthy period of time. We love to play we can be angry sometime and at times we feel good about our selves. May be a silent house, which seems to be dead with no form of intelligence whatsoever will suit most of those who need a peace of mind.

So far we cannot conclude that have met the human needs as these vary form person to person and from time to time. The best computers can do is the same thing in deferent formats over and over again. For example people don’t have to shake hands every time they meet other people. If however this form of intelligence is installed on to a system (shaking hands), then whenever we come to the vicinity of this system we are forced to send some form of acknowledgment willingly or unwillingly. Not everyone enjoys repeating  this sort of activity all day long.

In the new millennium ubiquitous computing begins to take a new shape, in a way that not only will computers strive to start ‘living’ with us, but also we humans will need frequent research and examinations externally and mentally. This is because the computer has to collect enough information about us in order for it to be of any use to us in terms of ubiquity. Hence the introduction of wearable computers. Take for instance the heart pace maker, which has been designed in the same way as any wearable computer device. This device has to decide when to raise or lower heartbeat rates for cases where the heart beat rate is not uniform.

The instance of Ambient Intelligence may eventually lead to networked homes and offices just like the current Internet services. Some household equipments will be able to communicate with other household equipments through the network. A consequence is that computing will become pervasive, with networks supporting a wide range of nodes from very powerful servers, through context aware palm-tops, to intelligent devices and smart fabrics.


Ambient Intelligence

by Jari Ahola

Ambient Intelligence builds on three recent key technologies: Ubiquitous Computing, Ubiquitous Communication and Intelligent User Interfaces – some of these concepts are barely a decade old and this reflects on the focus of current implementations of Ambient intelligence. Ubiquitous Computing means integration of microprocessors into everyday objects like furniture, clothing, white goods, toys, even paint. Ubiquitous Communication enables these objects to communicate with each other and the user by means of ad-hoc and wireless networking. An Intelligent User Interface enables the inhabitants of the Ambient Intelligence environment to control and interact with the environment in a natural (voice, gestures) and personalised way (preferences, context).

Making Ambient Intelligence real is no easy task: as it commonly takes place with a new technology, soon after high-flying visions we are demonstrated with the first pieces of hardware for the intelligent environment. However, making a door knob able to compute and communicate does not make it intelligent: the key (and challenge) to really adding wit to the environment lies in the way the system learns and keeps up to date with the needs of the user by itself. A thinking machine, you might conclude – not quite but close: if you rely on the intelligent environment you expect it to operate correctly every time without tedious training or updates and management. You might be willing to do it once but not constantly even in the case of frequent changes of objects, inhabitants or preferences in the environment. A learning machine, I’ll say.

The Feasibility of Ambient intelligence

Today’s technology is almost tangible, miniaturized, light and can fit on to us, cars, streets, homes offices, seamlessly merging into our environment. The huge machines used in the past and some of those that are still in operation in today’s world will disappear as this trend of innovating new technologies with particular interest on the size, weight and speed is taking place rapidly.

This leads us to embedded computing where these devices are hidden in other objects, containers, ornaments, and the walls, floors and roof that protect us from the elements. So instead of having a computers processing unit as placed on a desk top with this big bulky looking casing, we might as well have the components of this box (hard drives, mother board) embedded onto something else. This could be a wall or a bed, or the desk we are using. The only aspect that will be remaining to make this whole architecture intelligent is to incorporate the functions of a computer to that of the bed, or the wall. For example the wall might have the ability to detect shadows of people inside the room with the help of some luminous light source. These images can then be processed separately and used in a very different setting to that of just being in the house such as providing information for art students, interested in study of human figure and character. 

The development of ubiquitous computing is geared towards more human friendly computation, context awareness and the capturing of live experiences to provide flexible and universal access to those experiences later on.

There are few problems though with the kind of approach we might have towards Ambient Intelligence. In order to make things work some data must be collected repeatedly and frequently. The diversity of one type of data can creates a stream of problems as the wide variety of sizes, heights behavioural characteristics, distances and geographical descriptions known to man seem to dominate the current possible design features. All this information needs to be collected and put into relevant context and matched with the design features before consumption of the technology.

 This can be explained as a problem of context awareness. For example a smart shoes can only be of one size and it will only benefit that person who fits into it. To summarise the areas of mass acceptance, scaling, time and dimension need to be visited skilfully in order to move any step further into real Ambient Intelligence.



Alison Cawsey  (1998) The Essence of Artificial Intelligence.  Prentice Hall Europe, 1,100.

Neil Gershenfeld  (1999).When Things Start to Think. Coronet Books, Hodder and Stoughton,230-245.

John M. Carroll, Norbert A. Streitz, Peter Tandler, Christian Müller-Tomfelde, Shin’ichi Konomi (2002) Human-Computer Interaction In The New Millennium. ACM Press, New York. 25, 553-576.

John M. Carroll, Gary M. Olson, Judith S. Olson (2002) Human-Computer Interaction In The New Millennium. ACM Press, New York 18, 409.

John M. Carroll, Henry Lieberman  (2002) Human-Computer Interaction In The New Millennium. ACM Press, New York 21, 475485.

John M. Carroll, Gregory D. Abowd, Elizabeth D. Mynatt  (2002) Human-Computer Interaction In The New Millennium. ACM Press, New York. 23, 513-534.

John M. Carroll, Kevin L. Mills, Jean Scholtz  (2002) Human-Computer Interaction In The New Millennium. ACM Press, New York. 24, 537-549.

Websites visited: nal/newslin16/smarter.htm
Following are some excerpts from Mr. Magalhães’ speech: (Translated from Portuguese)
On Ambient Intelligence
“Ambient Intelligence is very difficult for most people to imagine. But then, the future is always difficult to imagine, isn’t it? Look around at our homes and offices. Today, we are surrounded by keyboards, remote controls, cables, and boxes of electronics. But very soon they will all disappear. They will be gone, as surely as telephones that needed to be cranked by hand, or television aerials that once perched on rooftops. What’s more, these keyboards and boxes will become irrelevant as the technology itself becomes smarter and reacts to our needs in a more intuitive way. The elimination of this visible hardware is how we will know we are on our way to an Ambient Intelligence future.”
Ambient Intelligence’s Impact on the IT World
“Consider technology that can learn new things and relate to people. For many people, this is the most ‘science fiction’ aspect of Ambient Intelligence. But for the people in this room, you know that computing power and new advances in machine intelligence have brought us closer and closer to making this reality.
The impact on IT is enormous. Rather than battling computers, workers will relate to them – almost personally. Take for example a technology that we are already testing in our state-of-the-art HomeLab facility in The Netherlands. It’s an advanced database-voice recognition tool called ‘Easy Access’ that recognizes the melodies and voice patterns of a person humming a tune. So, for example, if I walk into my home and want to hear a song but I can’t recall the name of it, I can simply hum the melody and the software instantly recognizes that I am singing and plays the song. Imagine the translation of this technology to the workplace for time-consuming tasks such as database queries and information searches.
Also think about the concept of ‘Context Awareness’, which provides information that is filtered through stored user profiles. You are probably familiar with Bluetooth technology, a wireless system with a range of about 10 meters. By placing a Bluetooth transmitter throughout a factory production line, we can send specific information to a single user. I think you can see the Ambient Intelligence concept at work here: when everyone is connected, devices will behave in a more personalized way. This behavior will become more anticipatory and personal as time goes on, and as we get better at making the connections faster and the devices smarter. The ultimate goal, of course, is Ubiquitous Connectivity through wireless technology, which will include text, video, audio, and telephony. The possibilities are endless.”
On how will we achieve an Ambient Intelligent workplace
“First, we must consider the evolution of computing. It began with mainframe CPUs to terminals, evolved to desktop PC programmed in high-level languages, then to personalized devices connected to the Internet, and now to clusters of computing devices, with intuitive input/output devices, where the computing power resides within the Internet.
Today, the globe is filled with devices of more or less intelligence, and ever-expanding and interconnected networks. In other words, the stage has already been set for the rise of Ambient Intelligence.
But there are some important steps we must take to get there. In order to make devices and appliances communicate across different technology platforms, we must agree on universal standards. These are the languages in which technologies can speak to each other. Many of you are familiar with the standards that are being developed today such as Bluetooth, ZigBee, IEEE 1394 — the list goes on. It’s important to understand that there is no “one” standard that will bridge the technology gaps that exists today. And, in order to make our technologies work in harmony, which is really the basis for Ambient Intelligence, we must cooperate with one another.
Cooperating with competitors is not a bad thing in some cases. Take, for example, the compact disc. That was a result of a cooperative effort between Sony and Philips. We continue to ‘cooperate’ with Sony and others today. Again, it’s not about giving away technological patents or sharing secrets. It’s about putting people first and building the infrastructure to support that. This is the direction that the technology world must take in order to create valuable products.”
Three ways to impact the Ambient Intelligent Workplace
“I’ll leave you with three ways that you can make Ambient Intelligence a reality in your business. 1. Look at people for the source of innovation. By that, I mean really engage with them for extensive research to discover their true technological needs and preferences. 2. Forget about technology for technology’s sake. Don’t invent without regard for people’s needs; if a simple technology answers your core need, by all means use it! 3. Consider cooperation as a means to improve your business processes, and to, more importantly, make better technology for people.”

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