Electronic Design

Pervasive Computing/Smart Spaces Pose A Host Of Challenges

Over the years, the computing arena has seen three major trends: the decreasing size of computers, the increasing number of computers per person, and the enormous growth of the Internet. Those trends also will lead to the next major phase. People will casually interact with portable or invisible computers in their environment, and all of these computers will be networked to each other and to the Internet.

Computers will be everywhere, helping people manage their lives. They'll be embedded throughout the environment in offices, classrooms, homes, vehicles and roads, factories and fabrication facilities, chemical plants, military command posts, and hospitals. They'll be in equipment and in people's clothes.

Portable computers will be used in everyday activities, helping people perform tasks like electronic commerce. Both portable and stationary computers will be networked together and with the Internet through both wireless and wired communication modes. Information will be instantly accessible anytime and anywhere that connectivity is available. The computers also will have unprecedented capabilities to sense their environment and react intelligently.

Traditional PCs running Windows, MacOS, Linux, or equivalent operating systems won't disappear. But many users will find that their needs are best met by one or more specialized devices that take advantage of the growing Internet, along with platform-independent software such as Java. These devices will be more reliable and easier to use than personal computers, as well as smaller and less expensive. In other words, "one size fits all" won't be the prevailing paradigm. This natural evolution began with the migration away from large centralized computing and toward more individualized computing and solution platforms.

These trends represent a potentially enormous global market. High-performance computers will be placed in virtually every device, appliance, and piece of equipment, leading to an era of "pervasive computing" and "smart spaces." Smart spaces are work spaces embedded with computers, information appliances, and multimodal sensors that allow people to work together or individually, efficiently, through unprecedented access to information and help from computers.

In these two areas, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, Md., puts an ongoing effort into assisting private industry. The field of pervasive computing is still in its infancy, and many of the technologies needed to make it a reality are immature and involve high risk. NIST's role is to develop unbiased tests and standards that will help push the underlying technologies forward and help the pervasive computing field mature and grow.

To reach that point, the availability of essential reference data and measurement capabilities must be ensured. NIST's Information Technology Laboratory (ITL) plans to develop metrics, test methods, and standards that will aid the development and integration of emerging and existing technologies. The technologies initially being explored by NIST include advanced forms of human-computer interaction and information access, integration of pico-cellular wireless with dynamic service discovery and automatic device configuration, and software infrastructures for programming pervasive computing applications.

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