Touching hands
4.2Ubiquitous Computing (UC)

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"Ubiquitous computing will bring the Internet into our daily lives with less effort. Instead of keeping lists of pertinent URLs or 'favourite places' on our browsers, the devices that need the information can find it themselves. Instead of 'surfing' to find and sift through all of the information available to us, some other agent or device will do the searching for us."

The main aim of Ubiquitous Computing (UC) is to embed many small and highly specialised devices within our everyday environment in such a way that they operate seamlessly and become transparent to the person using them. One of the analogies that Marc Weiser uses to visualise this disappearance of computers is the way in which we use such devices as servo motors (and the like). There once was a time when such motors were of considerable size and they needed a lot of attention (or care). Nowadays, servo motors have become small and are so common (they are used in many ways and many devices such as our cars) that we no longer pay much attention to all these individual motors. When we start a car, we do not think of all those parts of the engine that make this possible. We only think of going somewhere, and do not pay that much attention to the technology that makes it all possible.
In short, the three main aims of UC products are to be everywhere (e.g. by being portable), to be small, and to be aware (of its environment, of its user, etcetera). These three aims give a user complete freedom of movement as well as freedom of interaction. One of the ideas behind these aims is that to many (non-technical) people, the current way of interacting with computers and networks is distant, foreign and not very inviting. Making computing ubiquitous should take away this feeling;

"Dwelling with computers means that they have their place, and we ours, and we co-exist comfortably. Unfortunately, our existing metaphors for computers [are] inadequate to describe the 'dwelling' relationship.

Over the next twenty years computers will inhabit the most trivial things: clothes labels (to track washing), coffee cups (to alert cleaning staff to moldy cups), light switches (to save energy if no one is in the room), and pencils (to digitise everything we draw). In such a world, we must dwell with computers, not just interact with them."

a quote from Marc Weiser

Although the idea of computers or computing devices being everywhere and inside everything may sound rather intimidating at first, UC could help us with the problem of 'information overload' in a very special way: "instead of filling our minds with all sorts of things to remember, the things could remember for us". For example, "your car could remind you that the oil needs changing".

"The idea of integrating computers seamlessly into the world at large runs counter to a number of present-day trends. 'Ubiquitous computing' in this context does not just mean computers that can be carried to the beach, jungle or airport. Even the most powerful notebook computer, with access to a world-wide information network, still focuses attention on a single box. By analogy to writing, carrying a super-laptop is like owning just one very important book. Customising this book, even writing millions of other books, does not begin to capture the real power of literacy.
Furthermore, although ubiquitous computers may employ sound and video in addition to text and graphics, that does not make them 'multimedia computers.' Today's multimedia machine makes the computer screen into a demanding focus of attention rather than allowing it to fade into the background.
" (from [WEIS91])

The first phase of Ubiquitous Computing will be one where there are hundreds of computing devices ranging from small ones the size of a memo pad to wall-size boards. Other techniques and applications as used in the first phase of UC are wireless networks (needed to connect the devices), shared meeting applications, and location-based services (e.g. telephone calls are re-routed depending on the room a person is in).
Marc Weiser envisions the future with UC as one where "imbedded computers [...] will bring other worlds to us in new ways - sometimes in ways so unobtrusive we will not even notice our increased ability for informed action." As an example of how this might work Weiser uses the kind of tune your wake-up device will play to wake you up: "the kind of tune [it] plays to wake me up will tell me something about my first few appointments of the day. A quick urgent tune: 8 am important meeting. Quiet, reflective music: nothing until noon". In this way, the computer "can be suggestive without being intermediating".
"Computers will act like books, windows, walks around the block, phone calls to relatives. They won't replace these, but augment them, make them easier, more fun. Dwelling with computers, they become part of the informing environment, like weather, like street sounds."
Thus, Ubiquitous computing could help us to free our minds from unnecessary work so we can focus on the things and issues that are really important, interesting and challenging.

To make true UC possible, research needs to be done to develop the required techniques, hardware and software. This research will include several research areas related to such issues as:1
Low Power2: one of the first requirements of small, ubiquitous devices is that they are inexpensive, low-power devices. No one wants to have to change the batteries in hundreds of devices every year. Therefore a source of cheap, inexpensive power is needed as well as the low-power components to match;
Low Cost: research is also being done in the hardware necessary to create low-cost devices which can connect to the Internet. The trend will be toward small, disposable computers;
Mobility: mobility of computers is the focus of much current research. In the end this will - among other things - have to result in a network which can support mobile applications and devices;
Mobile IP3: currently, the Internet Protocol (IP) assumes that the location and connection of a computer remains fixed. One aspect of current research in mobile computing is that of Mobile-IP where IP is enhanced to allow a computer to roam and keep the same IP address. Basically, Mobile-IP works by assigning a Home agent on the permanent network for a computer. When the mobile computer (or the 'mobile host') moves from one network to another, it notifies its home agent of its new location. The home agent then intercepts and forwards packets destined for the mobile host;
Mobile Applications: research is also being done to enable applications to move. Applications will need to move off of a workstation onto a tab, or perhaps the application will move with the user;
Effective User Interfaces: ubiquitous devices are meant to be practically invisible, and casually used. That means the user interfaces must be simple, apparent, and obvious as an awkward user interface could negate the whole purpose of the device.

1= A list of research projects related to mobility, active networks, and similar concepts, can be found at
2= An interesting article, describing one of today's advancements in power sources for low power devices, is "Los Alamos Physicist Creates New Energy Source for Cellular Phones, Other Portable Electronics" (source: Los Alamos National Laboratory).
3= More information on Mobile IP can be found on
The Mobile IP Home Page of the IETF can be found at:
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Chapter 4 - An Introduction to Ubiquitous Computing, Calm Technology and Augmented Realities "Desperately Seeking: Helping Hands and Human Touch" -
by Björn Hermans