Although originally developed by Philips as a novel paradigm for consumer electronics, the vision of Ambient Intelligence should by no means be regarded as a proprietary, industrially owned concept. As a result of a major effort by the European Commission, and through the support of numerous industries and academia, the vision has grown into a mature concept that is driving innovation in an open context, thus allowing Europe to regain a major competitive position in the world.
The Vision and its Origin. Ambient intelligence refers to electronic environments that are sensitive and responsive to the presence of people. In the world of ambient intelligence, devices operate collectively. Lighting, sound, vision, domestic appliances, and personal healthcare products all cooperate seamlessly with one another to improve the total user experience through the support of natural and intuitive user interfaces.
The vision of ambient intelligence articulates a novel paradigm for consumer electronics beyond the year 2010 and was developed in the late `90s in a series of internal workshops that were commissioned by Philips management. The workshops were aimed at investigating a number of scenarios that would lead a high-volume consumer electronics industry from the current world, called fragmented with features, into a world near 2010 with fully integrated, user-friendly devices supporting ubiquitous information, communication, and entertainment. Over the past five years the vision grew mature. Inside Philips it largely contributed to the understanding of the need to put the user in the center of product development, and the company has positioned itself in the meantime as an enterprise with a mission to improve peoples’ lives, which is expressed by the three-pillar, company-wide strategy called Healthcare-Lifestyle-Technology, and by the brand promise launched in 2004 under the slogan "Sense-and-Simplicity." Several new products were developed, inspired by the vision including the Active AmbiLight Television and the MiraVision display mirror.
Although originally positioned as a future vision for consumer electronics, ambient intelligence has grown into a basis for novel visions in the medical, public, and productivity domains. Evidently these novel developments require further elaboration, but they are clearly in line with the long-term strategy of Philips.
Opening up the Vision. Along with the build-up of the vision for Philips, a parallel track was developed that was aimed at positioning the vision as an open initiative for the advancement of the innovation in information and communication technology in Europe. Following the advice that ISTAG, the Information Society and Technology Advisory Group, issued in 2001, the European Commission used the vision for the launch of their sixth framework (FP6) in IST with a subsidiary budget of 3.7 billion. The influence of the European Commission has been crucial for the development of the vision, and it is hardly conceivable that the paradigm could have grown in the strong way it did without the commission’s support. The reason for this is obvious. It soon had become evident that a single company, however big, could not turn a vision as broad as ambient intelligence into reality. A neutral and influential party was needed to bring the different stakeholders together and facilitate and manage the development processes. As a result of the many initiatives undertaken by the European Commission, the development of the ambient intelligence vision really began to gain traction. These initiatives resulted in the start of numerous research projects that were aimed at the development and realization of the vision. Last year’s IST Conference in Den Hague featured results of more than 30 major projects on a large diversity of applications, including personal health care, consumer electronics, logistics and transportation, and e-mobility.
Several major international initiatives were started over the years. Fraunhofer Gesellschaft originated several activities in a variety of domains including multimedia, microsystems design, and augmented spaces. Their InHaus project, which is similar to Philips’ HomeLab, a research facility that supports investigation into feasibility and usability aspects of ambient intelligence, can be seen as a first approach to user-centric design and engineering. MIT started an ambient intelligence research group at their Media Lab with a special emphasis on research in personal health care. More than 50 million worth of research programs on ambient intelligence were started at national levels in a variety of countries, including Canada, Spain, France, and the Netherlands. A novel European subsidiary instrument has been announced under the name Experience and Application Research Centers, which is aimed at the financial support of research facilities that conduct research into user behavior for the purpose of user-centric design and the co-creation of novel products and services inspired by the vision of ambient intelligence. Over the years, EUSAI, the European Symposium on Ambient Intelligence, has grown into the most interesting event for the exchange of novel ideas in ambient intelligence. In October of this year, the third edition will take place in Grenoble in a joint event with SOC, the Smart Objects Conference.
Open Innovation. Over the past years awareness has grown that the classical type of industrial research facility can no longer provide the technological innovation required to drive the world’s economical development. For more than half a century, industrial research laboratories applied the policy that hiring the best possible people and stimulating them to generate intellectual property would provide the most effective route to technological innovation.
Many of the existing industrial research laboratories consider the protection of their knowledge as quite important, and consequently, the nature of these laboratories reflects that of a closed facility. More recently, new models for industrial research were proposed that followed the developments of the networked knowledge economy. Based on the belief that tapping into as many bright people as possible can translate into more innovative ideas, industrial research has widened its scope to become more collaborative and open-minded.
Ambient intelligence has proved instrumental in the realization of open innovation. The broadness of the vision allows many different parties to contribute from within their own specific angles. Looking at Europe, we see again a number of interesting initiatives that are aimed at international collaboration. The AMI@Work group combines parties from both the public and the private domains to provide a forum for the discussion of the use of ambient intelligence to improve productivity and support health care and well-being. The European Technology Platform for the development of embedded systems called Artemis uses the vision of ambient intelligence to define their strategic research agenda. In addition to the many activities by the European Commission, there are also private initiatives that are aimed at international collaboration. As an example we mention AIR&D, the Ambient Intelligence Research and Development consortium in which INRIA, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, Philips, and Thompson jointly conduct pre-competitive research in ambient intelligence. These are just a few examples of a large variety of novel and promising initiatives that use the vision of ambient intelligence to support open innovation.
So after five years of successful developments, one may wonder which direction ambient intelligence will take from here. For the longer term, this question is hard to answer because its answer will be strongly influenced by the many external factors that determine the success, and hence the lifetime of a vision such as ambient intelligence. There are two key factors for success that can be mentioned. The first is driven by the extent to which ambient intelligence steers innovation processes that turn into business successes, and the second is determined by the length of time researchers remain inspired by the vision and willing to contribute to its realization. For the shorter term, that is the next one or two years, however, the answer is obvious and determined by output that will become available from the many initiatives that have been defined for this period of time.
All in all, the coming years promise to become very inspiring for the development of ambient intelligence, with many new challenging initiatives that carry the promise to contribute substantially to the fruitful realization of our ambient intelligence vision.
Philips Research Laboratories
About the Author:
Professor Emile Aarts is vice president and scientific program director of the Philips Research Laboratories Eindhoven, the Netherlands. He holds a Ph.D. in physics and for almost 20 years he has been active as a research scientist in computing science. Since 1991, he has been a part-time professor of computing science at Eindhoven University of Technology. He also holds a part-time position as senior consultant with the Center for Quantitative Methods in Eindhoven. Aarts serves on numerous scientific and governmental advisory boards and is the author of five books and more than 140 scientific papers. He founded Philips’ HomeLab in 2001 and his current research interests include embedded systems and interaction technology.
ICT&S, University of Salzburg
USECON, Vienna, Austria
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