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Pervasive Computing

"Things that think want to link", Nicholas Negraponte of MIT Media Labs is quoted as saying. The doctrine of pervasive computing!

Talking about pervasive computing raises many questions - Will pervasive computing simulate the super-intelligent HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, written by Arthur C. Clarke? HAL seemed an affectionate and intelligent fellow at the outset, but then morphed into a sinister and powerful controlling intelligence with a hidden agenda. Will pervasive computing impinge on our privacy or be a harbinger of Ďconvenience and convergenceí. And will we have to make a choice or can we marry the two in a rational manner?

What Pervasive?

Letís take a look at what pervasive computing means and what it portends for human kind in the next few years. To put it simply it is computation thatís freely available everywhere. A scenario where all devices are networked, human-centric, communicate and interact with each other without any hiccups; their primary objective being to bestow quality life to the user. Whatís so beautiful about pervasive computing is that it is an important part of our lives even now, but in ways that we donít really notice. Earlier, television used to be a source for entertainment while the computer was used for work-related functions only. But, today, their functions donít adhere to any rigid boundaries anymore. What this suggests is that pervasive computing is soon going to be invisible. The way it interfaces with users will also become intuitive. Progress has continued up to a point where the greatest innovations transcend our personal notions of personal computing.

Pervasive speak

The underlying premise of pervasive computing is compelling: simplicity of use, and the user spending time completing the task, not learning the application and how to configure and troubleshoot it. The user experience is the message that the brands of pervasive computing devices will promote.

The ďauthorized access to anytime-anywhere-any device-any network-any dataĒ, the 6As model of pervasive computing propounds a new paradigm in convergence and networking. Apart from making a userís life more easy and convenient, the global nature of these applications, their 7*24 ubiquitous access on a PC or a Palm/PDA or cell phone of email, Internet and other data makes them an imperative requirement that will increase revenues, improve customer service and decrease costs in any application.

Nomadic computing

What pervasive devices do is to connect nomadic users. They can access different locations, URLs that point to specific content through barcodes, electronic tags, optical recognition methods and infrared and radio frequency transceivers available on PDAs (personal digital assistants) and laptops through direct or indirect sensing methods.

Any user can monitor his household utility consumption through reports on how the household generates electricity. Data are analyzed by time, appliance and weather conditions to discover trends and generate suggestions about efficiency levels, etc. Even the refrigerator knows when itís running out of lemonade and sends an alert to a system that can tell the grocer to supply lemonade. When returning home from work, the user can remotely switch on the air-conditioner while in his car and create the desired ambience/temperature even before he reaches home. A web tablet that moves from car to home and office and helps a continuum of devices interact and communicate effectively helps achieve this.

Old age home residents and babies in a day-care center can be tracked through a radio-frequency infrared badge that the residents wear. When the button is pressed, an alert is conveyed and the request is relayed to the concerned people at their respective locations. Even the tossing and turning of a child can be tracked effectively.

Pervasive technology

In itís essence, pervasive computing uses web technology, portable devices, wireless communications and nomadic or ubiquitous computing systems. The web and the simple standard HTTP protocol that it is based on, facilitate this kind of ubiquitous access. This can be implemented on a variety of devices Ė PDAs, laptops, information appliances such as digital cameras and printers. Mobile users get transparent access to resources outside their current environment.

New environments can be accessed without requiring a global wireless connection like a cell phone and even without networking with the immediate surroundings. In other words, the infrastructure needed to interact with local users can be minimized to a great extent. Or even made invisible!

A pervasive system is unobtrusively embedded in the environment. The emerging technologies that will prevail in a pervasive environment of the future are wearable computers, smart homes (that can control temperature gauges, control lighting, program a home theatre system and indulge in other activities of home automation), speech and gesture recognition sensors, optical switching devices and imbedded sensors.

For example, a mobile user should be able to print a document at a nearby printer without necessarily having to contact a global service. All they may need is a local web server that helps them discover these local resources without having to reconfigure their devices as they move from place to place.

Lets talk about a few emerging technologies.

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