Creating intelligent environments

Ambient intelligence is likely to be a novel concept for many but perhaps others will link it to advances in IC technologies. In fact, ambient intelligence wishes to create active environments capable of adapting at all times to the needs of the end-user. To achieve this aim, techniques based on context aware ubiquitous computing are used.

But, what are the needs of the end-user? And does a handicapped person have the same needs as others? Or an elderly person? The University of the Basque Country (EHU-UPV), together with those of Zaragoza and Seville in Spain, is developing the Heterorred project taking precisely these questions into account. The IT engineers wish to create a net which all can use but taking into account that each one of us has different needs and that all needs have to be considered on developing the bases of the technology.

Heterorred is a net for all

To date technology development has not taken into account the needs of handicapped persons or of those of the elderly. Given all this, the EHU-UPV wish to create a net for all kinds of users and for all possible devices.

This intelligent network has to have certain features. On the one hand, it must provide the user the possibility of connecting from any point, whatever the electronic device may be – a computer, a PDA, a mobile phone – and, on the other hand, these devices have to be able to control all the other devices connected to the net: household electrical goods, computers, wheelchairs.

In the second place, these services afforded by the net do not require any special effort or skill from the user, i.e. it is an invisible network. The user automatically connects to the net on entering an environment where this is installed. Moreover, depending where the user is, he or she may choose between services.

A limitless base

All these features of the Heterorred net require the development of a new technological base. Currently, researchers are undertaking this task, defining the base for the net, so that interconnections between the various platforms used today –networking by cable, infrared, radio and so on– will be possible. To this end, bridges (hardware) are to be designed as well as the appropriate software for the translation of the protocols. Moreover, middleware programmes will be constructed to control the network devices and offer services for the user’s electronic equipment. All this taking into account the requirements of handicapped and elderly persons.

The researchers recently presented the proposals to normalise this type of network at a conference organised by the European standardisation institutions (CEN, CENELEC, ETSI). In this case, it involves a network without limits, creating a really open net, both for new devices that are yet to be developed in the future and for all kinds of end-users.

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Garazi Andonegi Basque research

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