Pervasive Computing Pervasive computing is a rapidly developing area of Information and Communications Technology (ICT). The term refers to the increasing integration of ICT into people’s lives and environments, made possible by the growing availability of microprocessors with inbuilt communications facilities. Pervasive computing has many potential applications, from health and home care to environmental monitoring and intelligent transport systems. Introduction Eight billion embedded microprocessors are produced each year. This number is expected to rise dramatically over the next decade, making electronic devices ever more pervasive. These devices will range from a few millimetres in size (small sensors) to several metres (displays and surfaces). They may be interconnected via wired and wireless technologies into broader, more capable, networks. Pervasive computing systems (PCS) and services may lead to a greater degree of user knowledge of, or control over, the surrounding environment, whether at home, or in an office or car. They may also show a form of ‘intelligence’. For instance, a ‘smart’ electrical appliance could detect its own impending failure and notify its owner as well as a maintenance company, to arrange a repair. Pervasive computing history Pervasive computing is the third wave of computing technologies to emerge since computers first appeared: • First Wave - Mainframe computing era: one computer shared by many people, via workstations. • Second Wave - Personal computing era: one computer used by one person, requiring a conscious interaction. Users largely bound to desktop. • Third Wave – Pervasive (initially called ubiquitous) computing era: one person, many computers. Millions of computers embedded in the environment, allowing technology to recede into the background. Pervasive computing technologies Pervasive computing involves three converging areas of ICT: computing (‘devices’), communications (‘connectivity’) and ‘user interfaces’. Devices PCS devices are likely to assume many different forms and sizes, from handheld units (similar to mobile phones) to near-invisible devices set into ‘everyday’ objects (like furniture and clothing). These will all be able to communicate with each other and act ‘intelligently’. Such devices can be separated into three categories: • sensors: input devices that detect environmental changes, user behaviours, human commands etc; • processors: electronic systems that interpret and analyse input-data; • actuators: output devices that respond to processed information by altering the environment via electronic or mechanical means. For example, air temperature control is often done with actuators. However the term can also refer to devices which deliver information, rather than altering the environment physically. Applications for pervasive computing Pervasive computing could have a range of applications, many of which may not yet have been identified. Applications in healthcare, home care, transport and environmental monitoring are among the most frequently cited. Healthcare Pervasive computing offers opportunities for future healthcare provision in the UK, both for treating and managing disease, and for patient administration. For instance, remote sensors and monitoring technology might allow the continuous capture and analysis of patients’ physiological data. Medical staff could be immediately alerted to any detected irregularities. Data collection on this scale could also provide for more accurate pattern/trend analysis of long-term conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and epilepsy. Wearable sensors may offer greater patient mobility and freedom within hospitals and save both time and money by reducing the need for repeated and intrusive testing. Environmental monitoring Pervasive computing provides improved methods to monitor the environment. It will allow for continuous realtime data collection and analysis via remote, wireless devices. However, this poses significant challenges for PCS developers. Devices may be required to withstand harsh environmental conditions (such as heat, cold and humidity). There is also a risk that devices, once deployed, may prove too costly or impractical to recover; thus they will have to be cheap and, where possible, environmentally sensitive. Power is also a challenge as systems will need to operate over long periods of time, requiring high levels of energy efficiency and robust energy supplies. Intelligent transport systems Pervasive computing technologies are being employed in the development of intelligent transport systems. Such systems seek to bring together information and telecommunications technologies in a collaborative scheme to improve the safety, efficiency and productivity of transport networks. Electronic devices could be directly integrated into the transport infrastructure, and into vehicles themselves, with the aim of better monitoring and managing the movement of vehicles within road, rail, air and sea transport systems. Computers are already incorporated into modern cars via integrated mobile phone systems, parking sensors and complex engine management systems. Intelligent transport systems take this process further by introducing 'intelligent' elements into vehicles. Vehicles could become capable of receiving and exchanging information ‘on the move’ via wireless technologies and be able to communicate with devices integrated into transport infrastructure, alerting drivers to traffic congestion, accident hotspots, and road closures.