10 years ago

Ubiquitous Computing: What is it and what are its challenges


An example of ubiquitous computing applied on home appliances.

The tech world is filled with buzzwords and new technologies that sometimes it is difficult to keep track of what is new, what is trending and what is happening.  One of these trends is “ubiquitous computing”.

Ubiquitous computing (a.k.a. pervasive computing) involves putting microprocessors into everyday objects.  These microprocessors allow these objects to transmit information.  And as the term ubiquitous conveys, these objects would be everywhere.  That is, think about little computers everywhere inside any device.

Ubiquitous computing devices are also connected and always available.

There are three things that make ubiquitous computing possible:

  1. The Internet
  2. Wireless technologies
  3. Advanced electronics

In ubiquitous computing, you put microprocessors, sensors, middleware, mobile code, I/O interface and other electronics inside a refrigerator, for example.  You put tagged items into your refrigerator and the refrigerator would be able to plan your meals for you, suggest recipes that make use of the food you store in it, or even alert you that the cheese you are planning to eat might be stale.

To do this, the refrigerator needs to be connected to the Internet.  And it is not limited to just what you store in it, you can also run apps on your refrigerator and connect it to your social media sites.  There are washing machines that “talk” to their companion dryers to “tell” them how wet the clothes are and how long the drying cycle should be.  Plus, there are now appliances that help you diagnose what is wrong with your appliance so that you could troubleshoot it.  This means that you no longer have to wait for long for a service technician to come to your house in order to do minor repair with your appliances, saving you both time and money. (Source)

The challenges

It is easy to see the benefits of such connected ubiquitous computing products.  Your appliances and things at home stop being just these.  A refrigerator, for instance, and its functionalities and features are extended.  You get to do more with your appliances and it makes your life easier and everything will be much more efficient.

But these ubiquitous computing devices also have their downsides.  For one, these devices have the ability to gather data about your behavior.  A smart thermostat would be able to keep track of your car to know where you are so it could turn on the air conditioning and your house would be sufficiently cool by the time you get home.  And because the device is connected to the Internet, it means that it could be hacked into and used for sinister purposes.  A thief would be able to hack into your thermostat to know where you are and steal from your house.  A hacking incident in late 2013 revealed that smart TVs and smart refrigerators may be used to send malicious emails.  According to a Business Insider report, up to 300,000 malicious e-mails were sent daily and hacked appliances sent a fourth of these e-mails.  The worst thing about this piece of news is that it was amazingly simple to hack into TVs and refrigerators.

More than being used as a spamming tool, privacy is also a big concern.

And, on top of that, ubiquitous computing devices tend to be more expensive.  But that would hopefully change in the future.  In the future, these ubiquitous computing devices would be able to communicate autonomously with each other, allowing you to save time, money and effort without you even knowing it.

Photo courtesy of samsungtomorrow.

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