As the Program Director of the newly launched Intel Science and Technology Center for Pervasive Computing, I am awed at the amazing new possibilities of applying computing to improve our everyday lives. The first wave of sensing-based computing has made possible many useful devices and services, like GPS, calorie counters, and gaming devices. These require active human input, and this first generation of pervasive computing is aptly described as the push, touch and click generation of sensor-augmented computing devices. Now a second wave is starting to emerge where computing will get integrated into our lives seamlessly and perform many tasks without active intervention. Sensing and computing infrastructure in our environment will detect, analyze, relate and learn human intent without the need for constant poking. Truly pervasive computing blended in our environs, holds the promise to facilitate important services such as health and well-being, provide smart task-spaces, and improve family life coordination. And don’t worry, security and privacy will be part of system design, and not an afterthought.
To make this vision a reality, the ISTC for Pervasive Computing brings a uniquely qualified team of academics from top US universities together with Intel researchers to conduct research and guide this nascent field. The center is co-led by Prof Dieter Fox from the University of Washington at Seattle and Intel Principal Engineer, Anthony LaMarca. The center participants include other UW faculty, and professors from several top-tier schools (Cornell, Georgia Tech, Rochester, Stanford, and UCLA). Together with their bright young students, these thought leaders have laid out an exciting bevy of applications-based research topics. These are organized into the following ISTC-PC themes:
- Low Power Sensing and Communications: Enable continuous unobtrusive awareness of people for long periods of time by adapting a system-level approach to power management including energy harvesting from ambient sources.
- Understanding Human State and Activities: Recognition of the context of a user’s interactions with other people, smart objects and sensors in the environment. And get this, all in real time.
- Personalization and Adaptation: Continuous learning of user’s preferences and adapting to new activities.
These technology themes are essential building blocks to enable the pervasive computing applications of the future. Great thing about this center is that realistic scenarios from everyday lives will be used to drive the research. More concretely, following are the 5 projects that the ISTC-PC researchers plan to focus on:
1. Mobile Systems for Improved Health and Wellness: Most peoples’ lives have fairly predictable daily patterns and activities. This project aims to develop mobile systems that are able to learn the user’s routines and goals using a variety of sensing platforms. Using stress sensing modalities, it aims to help users manage stress in their lives, and improve their overall well-being.
2. Learning and Labeling Family Routines: Modern living is adding new complexity around family coordination, scheduling of activities, and interaction amongst family members. This project aims to track and understand these routines.
3. Pervasive Perceptual Activity Sensing Infrastructure: This project aims to develop human activity sensing infrastructure that is capable of perpetual operation, using power harvesting from ambient sources.
4. Task Assistance and Learning in Smart Spaces: Are you stumped by the complex set of instructions with tens of small parts like in assembling a home office furniture set, or making a cheesecake? Wish there was a guide alongside watching and advising, and suggesting a solution if you are stuck. This project will create local task spaces capable of helping users with physical tasks, by combining the user’s context, gestures, and voice inputs, and helping them complete a multi-step project.
5. Understanding Objects, Scenes and People in Activities: This project will research computer vision-based approaches to enable rich and robust recognition of objects, scenes, and human actions in the context of daily activities.
One key aspect of this research funding from Intel is that it is open and truly collaborative and all IP will be dedicated to the public. The idea is to conduct research and foster an ecosystem that encourages new computing paradigms with new usages which have the potential to make a large societal impact.
Who knows, in the not so distant future we may have homes with walls and countertops that just do the right thing – facilitate our cooking, help organize and coordinate family activities, or sense our bad day at the office and welcome us home with soothing music. I am really looking forward to the exciting new developments at the ISTC for Pervasive Computing.