Recently, I used my newly downloaded Zipcar app on my iPhone to unlock and honk my booked vehicle from several yards away. It was more novel than useful, but a tall tale example of the countless invisible interactions we're having with sensing, inferring, and data transferring machines every day. It's also a good sign that ubiquitous computing (ubicomp) has arrived.
New to ubicomp? Here's a quick refresher: The concept of ubiquitous computing (also called pervasive computing) centers on information processing bridging the gaps between the digital and physical worlds. It includes all intelligent device communications and connected services that utilize sensors and devices across wire-line and wireless networks. That includes, but is not limited to, Industrial Ethernet, cellular, satellite, wireless LAN, and Bluetooth.
A recent conference dedicated to ubiquitous computing is another example of the multidisciplinary field anchoring in as the center of our computing future. Hundreds of researchers and students gathered at the11th International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp '09) at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando to present their ideas for the gadgets of tomorrow.
Here are a few of the notable examples that made it into the Miami Herald:
- The "Cheeron++" is a fluffy color-changing robot built by students in Japan that cheers after a day of exercise, and gets mad when you haven't been active enough.
- Another student from Ochanomizu University in Japan put computer chips in clothes hangers that could help a computer keep track of your outfits and share it with a social network like Twitter to help you coordinate your wardrobe.
- Students from Tsinghua University in China used cellphone cameras and a projector to let passersby use a phone to brush the air and paint on the projected image.
- A group from Carnegie Mellon University proposed sensors in cellphones to test the air quality.
Eric Paulos, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon, told the Miami Herald; "We're used to using our mobile phones as a communication tool, but it can also be a measurement instrument. We know what happened when people added a camera, we got citizen journalism. . . . What happens if you could measure things? You could talk about the air quality in your neighborhood."
The combination of technologies that continually provide real time information at the point of task and distribute updates to where we are and what we are doing will change our behaviors and make ubiquitous computing indispensable.