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Ambient Intelligence - Experience Technology
Average reader rating: 1  
by Emile Aarts 35 Ambient Intelligence

The paradigm

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 background of the user's surroundings. Intelligence because the system is able to recognize the people that live in it, adapt itself to them, learn from their behaviour, and even show emotion.

Maximum enjoyment

Ambient Intelligence aims at enhancing our leisure experiences and enriching the quality of our lives. From choosing to record the TV programme 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. 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.

From vision to reality

Although turning this vision of Ambient Intelligence into reality involves some formidable challenges, Philips is in an ideal position to provide many of the solutions. For example, Philips is rapidly establishing itself as the world leader in set-top box technology for interactive TV. And it is the set-top box that will almost certainly evolve into the 'home beacon' that will use broadband communication channels to connect the Ambient Intelligence within our homes to that in the outside world. Philips is also a world leader in the RF communications technology required for wireless-based inhome digital networks, having developed low-cost silicon solutions for DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telephony) and Bluetooth. And for the display-centric environment of Ambient Intelligence, Philips has solutions ranging from LCD modules for handheld devices to large-area flat-panel displays that can be built into the walls of a room. There are also new and unsolved challenges imposed by Ambient Intelligence. 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.

A social system

Naturalizing the human interface poses even greater challenges. Not only must the technologies of speech, gesture and handwriting recognition be refined far beyond their current status, they must also be integrated into multi-modal models that combine information on gesture, voice intonation and facial expression to determine the semantics of conversational dialogues. Even the way we react to and use Ambient Intelligence, together with its social implications, will require considerable research. To investigate the practical, psychological and social implications of Ambient Intelligence, Philips Research will use its HomeLab, which is located at the Philips High Tech Campus in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. Comprising a fully equipped home, complete with living, sleeping and kitchen facilities, HomeLab will be equipped with a distributed embedded infrastructure in which Ambient Intelligence can be developed and investigated. As a window on how the home of the future might look, one thing is certain: it is sure to be an exciting place to live and work over the coming years.

Excerpt from Ambient Intelligence in HomeLab, 2002, Philips



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