Ambient Intelligence - Online Article


What is Ambient Intelligence ?

The information society is expected to evolve in the direction of the proliferation of computational systems that integrate a range of networked interactive devices embedded into a physical context (in either indoor or outdoor spaces). These systems will provide hosting for a broad range of computer-mediated human activities and access to a multitude of services and applications. Such systems are based on the distribution of computers and networks in physical environments and are expected to exhibit increasingly intelligent and context-sensitive behavior.

The concept of Ambient Intelligence (AmI) provides a vision of the information society, where the emphasis is on greater user-friendliness, more efficient services support, user empowerment, and support for human interactions. People are surrounded by intelligent intuitive interfaces that are embedded in all kinds of objects and an environment that is capable of recognising and responding to the presence of different individuals in a seamless, unobtrusive, and often invisible way.

In computing, ambient intelligence (AmI) refers to electronic environments that are sensitive and responsive to the presence of people. Ambient intelligence is a vision on the future of consumer electronics, telecommunications and computing that was originally developed in the late 1990s for the time frame 2010–2020. In an ambient intelligence world, devices work in concert to support people in carrying out their everyday life activities, tasks and rituals in easy, natural way using information and intelligence that is hidden in the network connecting these devices (see Internet of Things). As these devices grow smaller, more connected and more integrated into our environment, the technology disappears into our surroundings until only the user interface remains perceivable by users.

The ambient intelligence paradigm builds upon ubiquitous computing and human-centric computer interaction design and is characterized by systems and technologies that are:

  • Embedded: many networked devices are integrated into the environment.
  • Context Aware: these devices can recognize you and your situational context.
  • Personalized: they can be tailored to your needs.
  • Adaptive: they can change in response to you.
  • Anticipatory: they can anticipate your desires without conscious mediation.

The interest in user experience also grew in importance in the late 1990s because of the overload of products and services in the information society that were difficult to understand and hard to use. A strong call emerged to design things from a user's point of view. Ambient intelligence is influenced by user-centered design where the user is placed in the center of the design activity and asked to give feedback through specific user evaluations and tests to improve the design or even co-create the design together with the designer (Participatory design) or with other users (End User Development).

In order for AmI to become a reality a number of key technologies are required:

  • Unobtrusive hardware (Miniaturisation, Nanotechnology, smart devices, sensors etc.) 
  • Seamless mobile/fixed communication and computing infrastructure (interoperability, wired and wireless networks, service-oriented architecture, semantic web etc.) 
  • Dynamic and massively distributed device networks, which are easy to control and program (e.g. service discovery, auto-configuration, end-user programmable devices and systems etc.). 
  • Human-centric computer interfaces (intelligent agents, multimodal interaction, context awareness etc.) 
  • Dependable and secure systems and devices (self-testing and self repairing software, privacy ensuring technology etc.) 

If we catch our friend in his office talking this way not with his secretary, but with his fax
machine, we would in best case consider him a very lonely man. Nevertheless, in some ten
years this might be just an ordinary scene taking place everyday in millions of offices
worldwide. Well, this is, approximately, what this report is about.

Ambient Intelligence (AmI) is a striking and to some extent provocative vision of the future
society. Here are some definitions of this term:

  • “Ambient Intelligence is a distributed network of intelligent devices that provides us with
    information, communication and entertainment.”
  • “Ambient Intelligence is a network of hidden intelligent interfaces that recognize our presence and mould our environment to our immediate needs.”
  • “Ambient Intelligence refers to an exciting new paradigm in information technology, in which people are empowered through a digital environment that is aware of their presence and context and is sensitive, adaptive and responsive to their needs, habits, gestures and

All this implies that the near future will bring us kitcheners that automatically switch off hot
plates when we leave the apartment or, even more astonishing, TVs that automatically switch
to another TV channel if it “judges” by our facial expressions that we don’t like the show
which is on at the moment.

Ambient Intelligence is based on three key technologies:

  • Ubiquitous Computing,
  • UbiquitousCommunication, and
  • Intelligent User Interfaces.


The early developments in Ambient Intelligence took place at Philips. In 1998, the board of management of Philips commissioned a series of internal workshop to investigate different scenarios that would transform the high-volume consumer electronic industry from the current “fragmented with features” world into a world in 2020 where user-friendly devices support ubiquitous information, communication and entertainment. In the years after, these developments grew more mature. In 1999, Philips joined the Oxygen alliance, an international consortium of industrial partners within the context of the MIT Oxygen project, aimed at developing technology for the computer of the 21st century. In 2000, plans were made to construct a feasibility and usability facility dedicated to Ambient Intelligence. This HomeLab officially opened on 24 April 2002. Along with the build up of the vision for Philips, a parallel track was started to open up the vision. Following the advice of the Information Society and Technology Advisory Group (ISTAG), the European Commission used the vision for the launch of their sixth framework (FP5) in Information, Society and Technology (IST), with a subsidiary budget of 3.7 billion euros. The European Commission played a crucial role in the further development of the AmI vision. As a result of many initiatives the AmI vision gained traction. During the past years several major initiatives were started. Fraunhofer Society started several activities in a variety of domains including multimedia, microsystems design and augmented spaces. MIT started an Ambient Intelligence research group at their Media Lab. Several more research projects started in a variety of countries such as USA, Canada, Spain, France and the Netherlands. In 2004, the first European symposium on Ambient Intelligence (EUSAI) was held and many other conferences have been held that address special topics in AmI.

Features of Ambient Intelligence

The main high-level design requirements of a system with ambient intelligence are that it be unobtrusive (i.e., many distributed devices are embedded in the environment, not intruding upon our consciousness unless we need them), personalized (i.e., it can recognize the user, and its behavior can be tailored to the user's needs), adaptive (i.e., its behavior can change in response to a person's actions and environment), and anticipatory (i.e., it anticipates a person's desires and environment as much as possible without mediation). Some of the important features of ambient intelligence are as follows:

  • Services are dynamic and can be reconfigured or recombined at runtime to accommodate the needs of different users in different contexts and environments.
  • There is no clear distinction between interpersonal communication and access to information; different components, using different media, are interconnected to allow a free intermixing of these functions.
  • Services are highly interactive, and interaction is complex in terms of the functionality offered, input required, output provided, dialog structure, and configuration capabilities.
  • Most services utilize multimedia content, providing information in multiple media types (e.g., sound, graphics, video, text, animation, etc.) simultaneously and in an integrated manner.
  • Interaction is often multimodal, using different sensorial and motor abilities concurrently, and is based on more natural forms of dialog.
  • Communication and access to information are concurrently used to solve common problems in a cooperative manner. Moreover, cooperation may take place among human users themselves or among user representatives (agents and avatars), to whom variable degrees of trust can be assigned.
  • Computing is progressively more social. Access to information and communication are no longer the task of an individual and a contact between two people, respectively, but extend to communities of users, who have at their disposal common (sometimes virtual) spaces in which they can interact.
h2>Emerging Oportunities

Ambient intelligence is anticipated to have a profound impact on the everyday life of people in the information society and to potentially permeate a wide variety of human activities. This section discusses the potential benefits of ambient intelligence from the point of view of universal access, focusing on both interaction devices and paradigms and emerging applications. Some of the issues most relevant for people with disabilities are also pointed out.

Automation versus Human Control

Providing effective and efficient human control for the dynamic and distributed system will also become critical. In particular, it will be necessary to establish an appropriate balance between automated learning on the part of the intelligent environment, human behavior patterns, and human intervention aimed at directing and modifying the behavior of the environment. This aspect of the emerging technologies needs to be carefully taken into account, particularly when elderly people and people with cognitive disabilities are involved, as services that monitor the health status or the location of users may also interfere with their ability to make decisions.

Content and Fuctionality

A prerequisite for the successful development of the ambient intelligence environment is that future computing needs in everyday life are appropriately anticipated.35 An in-depth understanding of the factors that will determine the usefulness of interactive artifacts in context is required. These requirements are likely to be more subjective, complex, and interrelated than in previous generations of technology. For example, elderly people and people with disabilities will need personalized navigation services, including location-, content-, and disability-dependent accessibility information.

Ambient Intelligence : Some Ideas

Over the 110 years of our existence, Philips has enabled people continuously to use new technologies to their benefit. Breakthrough projects, developed around people's ideas for their future, let's us explore how we can help shape the future. The Philips’ vision for 2020 is that we will live in a world of interconnected, smart, distributed, responsive devices and services. Some of their current ideas are listed below.

  • Philips Research Robotics (iCat)
  • Ambilight - the new TV experience
  • MiraVision - the intelligent mirror
  • Virtual Fitness Coach
  • Easy Access - taming your music collection
  • amBX - Living the game
  • PHENOM: Perceptive Home Environments.

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