Emerging technologies help shape Environmental Intelligence

Smart Living: A Vision of the Future Home
Cristina De Luca -

October 09, 2023

Since the dawn of the Information Age, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have been characterized by cyclical transitions between centralized and distributed computing models. From the first mainframes to personal computers, from the cloud to smartphones, the focus has been shifting.

Now, the emergence of ubiquitous and inexpensive sensors, which can be easily integrated virtually anywhere, is accelerating the growth of Ambient Intelligence, which refers to the system’s ability to sense the environment and respond to the presence of people and certain events or conditions.

Ambient Intelligence will possibly represent one of the biggest advances in people’s lifestyles, influencing more and more aspects of society. The way people perceive technology will change: as these devices become smaller, more connected and more integrated into the environment, traditional ICT technologies will become increasingly invisible to ordinary users until only the user interface remains perceptible to them. Users will interact directly or indirectly with system interfaces that respond to people’s presence, actions and decisions, offering integrated solutions and improving Quality of Experience (QoE).

The idea of Environmental Intelligence is not new. What is new is that we can now seriously think of it as a reality. Most of us have seen science fiction films in which doors opened when someone approached or computers were able to identify the interlocutor without their name being explicitly mentioned. Some of these features were far-fetched for the technology available at the time. Not any more.

By enriching an environment with technology (for example, sensors and devices interconnected via a network), a system can be built in such a way that it acts as an “electronic butler”, which detects characteristics of users and their environment, reasons about the accumulated data and finally selects actions to be taken to benefit the users in the environment.

To ensure the reliability of Ambient Intelligence, different layers will need to be monitored — network (e.g. WSAN, RFID, NFC, BLE, ZigBee, IEEE 802.11ah and 6LoWPAN), Operating System (e.g. TinyOS, Contiki and FreeRTOS), Service Layer and middleware platforms (e.g. FIWARE and CityPulse), among others – in order to guarantee security and high availability.

Against this backdrop, Gartner points to five technologies that will shape the digital future of companies in their digital offerings:

  • Digital Humans: According to Gartner, digital humans are interactive representations based on Artificial Intelligence that imitate human characteristics. They range from humanoid robots to chatbots, but bring challenges such as unethical applications, inappropriate behaviour and prejudice. Gartner advises evaluating social and regulatory issues before adoption.

  • Satellite communication: The growing interest in satellite communication in low earth orbit (LEO) is driven by the democratisation and commercialisation of space. LEO satellites will provide global broadband with low latency, connecting IoT devices globally. Gartner recommends a cautious approach due to the complexity of the market.

  • Tiny Ambient IoT: This technology makes it possible to tag, track and detect anything without the complexity or cost of battery-powered devices, in a more accessible and efficient way, opening up opportunities for new business models. However, social and regulatory issues must be assessed before adoption.

  • Secure Computing: With increased connectivity and access to personal information, secure computing is vital. Gartner suggests that emerging technologies, such as optical accelerators, will be crucial for implementation.

  • Drones and Adaptive Autonomous Robots: Autonomous systems capable of learning and adapting are essential, but they present challenges. Gartner recommends testing these technologies in complex environments and considering aspects such as risk management and ethical and legal consequences before implementation.

All five of these technologies are potentially transformational. According to Gartner, digital humans will redefine assistants, robots and services; Tiny Ambient IoT will detect and track anything at low cost; satellites will revolutionise communications between people and things; drones and autonomous robots will learn as they automate tasks; and secure computing will enable new digital ecosystems.