Ubiquitous computing/Ambient intelligence

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Ubiquitous computing (or "Ubicomp") is a model of human-computer interaction in which information processing has been thoroughly integrated into everyday objects and activities. As opposed to the desktop paradigm, in which a single user consciously engages a single device for a specialized purpose, someone "using" ubiquitous computing engages many computational devices and systems simultaneously, in the course of ordinary activities, and may not necessarily even be aware that they are doing so.

Other terms used to describe this paradigm

many of them are associated with a particular institution or perspective

  • pervasive computing
  • ambient intelligence
  • everyware
  • physical computing
  • the "Internet of things"
  • haptic computing
  • things that think
  • "spime"= theoretical object that can be tracked through space and time throughout the lifetime of the object (see Wikipedia explanation)


  • a new interest emerged around this novel forms of computation/interaction in the mid 80s.

“Ubiquitous computing enhances computer use by making many computers available throughout the physical environment, but making them effectively invisible to the user.”

  • He proposed his reflections on the need for understanding and designing new ways of interacting with the new technology. To refer to this he coined the phrase "Ubiquitous Computing".

What is the metaphor for the computer of the future? The intelligent agent? The television (multimedia)? The 3-D graphics world (virtual reality)? The StarTrek ubiquitous voice computer? The GUI desktop, honed and refined? The machine that magically grants our wishes? I think the right answer is none of the above, because I think all of these concepts share a basic flaw: they make the computer visible.A good tool is an invisible tool. By invisible, I mean that the tool does not intrude on your consciousness; you focus on the task, not the tool.

Eyeglasses are a good tool -- you look at the world, not the eyeglasses. The blind man tapping the cane feels the street, not the cane.

Of course, tools are not invisible in themselves, but as part of a context of use. With enough practice we can make many apparently difficult things disappear: my fingers know vi editing commands that my conscious mind has long forgotten. But good tools enhance invisibility (Mark Weiser).

  • In the early 90s, IBM started an advanced research programme, called Pervasive Computing, dealing with these issues and trying to provide technical innovation.

The developments that made it possible

  • Commercial development of novel technologies and appliances
  • Creation of software, hardware
  • Standards
  • Miniaturisation
  • Sensing Technologies
  • Novel input/output devices
  • Wearables

Related topics

  • Sentient computing - a form of ubiquitous computing which uses sensors to perceive its environment and react accordingly.( For example, locative games)
  • Wearable computer - computers that are worn on the body. They have been applied to areas such as behavioral modeling, health monitoring systems, information technologies and media development.
  • Context-aware pervasive systems - refers to a general class of mobile systems that can sense their physical environment, i.e., their context of use, and adapt their behavior accordingly.
  • Ambient intelligence (AmI) = electronic environments that are sensitive and responsive to the presence of people.
  • Virtual reality - is a technology which allows a user to interact with a computer-simulated environment, be it a real or imagined one.
  • Ubiquitous service - A service refers to a software component that performs computation or action on behalf of a system entity. This entity can be the user or another service. Services are usually well-defined in their functionality as well as their inputs and outputs
  • motes - tiny wireless microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) sensors, robots, or devices, installed with wireless communications, that can detect (for example) light, temperature, or vibration.
  • Augmented reality - a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated sensory input such as sound or graphics. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality.


  • Invisible technology
  • Integration of virtual and physical worlds
  • Throughout desks, rooms, buildings, and life
  • Take the data out of environment, leaving behind just an enhanced ability to act

Development of UbiComp

Phase I

  • Smart, ubiquitous I/O devices: tabs, pads, and boards
  • Hundreds of computers per person, but casual, low-intensity use
  • Many, many “displays”: audio, visual, environmental
  • Wireless networks
  • Location-based, context-aware services
  • Using a computer should be as refreshing as a walk in the woods

Smart objects: Real world objects are enriched with information processing capabilities

  • Embedded processors in everyday objects - small, cheap, lightweight
  • Communication capability-wired or wireless
  • spontaneous networking and interaction - Sensors and actuators
  • Can remember pertinent events -They have a memory
  • Show context-sensitive behavior - They may have sensors
  • Location/situation/context� awareness - Are responsive/proactive
  • Communicate with environment - Networked with other smart objects

What does UbiComp change?

  • space
    • new layer of info
    • being here and there
    • hybridization - physical&digital
  • interaction
  • production and use of traces of interaction
  • privacy

What are the problems yet to be solved?

  • digital is material
  • people's needs and desires are balanced between utilitarianism and playfulness

Slides from the lecture




  • Explain the Ubicomp paradigm and give at least 3 examples.
  • List other terms that refer to the same computing paradigm.
  • Give one example of ubiquitous applications for each of the following categories:
    • location-based services;
    • identity management;
    • smart houses.
  • What are the major changes brought in by Ubicomp compared to desktop applications?
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