Contract number: IST 004182
Full name: Ambient Intelligence for the networked home environment
For more information see Partners.
Figure 1 Examples of devices in the mobile, PC, CE and home automation domains
Most industrial players that were strong in one domain have had a hard time making inroads into another, except for a few “converged” products such as Smartphones or Mobile Digital Assistants that combine aspects of the mobile and PC domains, or media centres that combine aspects of the PC and CE domains. By introducing the networked home, also called connected home, that is a home in which several pieces of equipment are connected using a network, the traditional separation of domains is no longer valid (see Figure 2 ). Mobile devices can be taken with us, therefore extending our home environment. By extended home environment we mean bringing what is outside the home inside if we like that, as well as extending our feeling of being at home when we, ourselves, are on the move. The networked home offers great potential to improve people’s life, it will allow simple and seamless access to content throughout the home, it will allow much easier user interfaces even to program simple devices, it can use context information to predict and assist user actions, it can automatically detect and act upon situation that affect the security or safety of the home users. This networked home also represents a huge business opportunity, from selling devices and infrastructure through to the software and services. Already, the U.S. networking market is $1.4 billion [source: Cahner’s In-Stat group]. Within Europe, even now, a connected household spends on average 360 Euro a year on e-home-services , excluding infrastructure, device and software cost.
Merging these traditionally separated domains within the home goes quickly. In the year 2005 about 25 million households in Europe will have some local networking . This means that alone in Europe in 2005 the annual turnover for e-home-services will be some 10 billion Euros a year. The US, clearly ahead in this area, already has 32 million home networks in use today; this is forecast to grow to 125 million home networks in 2006 [ 3 ]. The same source foresees that these home networks will be entertainment centred. This is proof of a fast merger between the traditional CE and PC markets. In 2006, 80% of all broadband households will also have home automation systems installed . This forecast is underlies the assumption that an extra merger between home automation and home networking will take place.
Figure 2 Example of home network in which PC, CE, mobile and home automation domain are intertwined
Research today is typically performed for each consumer domain (home automation, PC, CE, mobile) independently, whereas the user moves continually between these domains. Creating consistent and intelligent support between these domains needs new solutions. One of the main challenges at this point in time is bringing existing research activities and domain expertise together to realize the needed total solutions. The networked home offers a huge potential for the improvement of our daily lives and should be seen as an important step towards Ambient Intelligence (AmI). The problem today is that the huge potential of a networked home system in particular and Ambient Intelligence in general is not fulfilled, as a consistent framework for a home system is not in place. Therefore end-users do not experience the benefits of home networking.
The main problems in home networking today are:
· Installation and use of the devices, infrastructure and services is not easy for the general public, together we call this the usability of the system.
· There are not enough attractive services to make it worthwhile to buy and install a complete home system, i.e. the user benefits are not clear enough.
That usability and attractive services are the main issues for user acceptances of home networking is not only our opinion, see [ 5 ] and [ 6 ], which raise the same issues for rapid user acceptance of in-home networked systems but add a third important parameter namely the cost of devices, infrastructure and services. It is thought [by the same authors as above] that cost of the system is for a large part determined by the amount of users, so rapid market penetration will automatically elevate this issue.
In our view, to reach the goal of usability three technical aspects are of major concern:
· The user interface has to be user-friendly, familiar, easy to use, robust against contradictory input, and it must respect the privacy and security of its users.
· Interoperability is necessary at all levels, despite the fact that devices are built by different manufacturers and use different communication standards and different hardware and software platforms. It is unlikely that all of these are going to be reduced to just one in the foreseeable future so agreement should be found in middleware standards that provide functional interoperability at a SW level. Standardisation of minimal interfaces of middleware components, basic services and protocols is therefore necessary. So far it has never been tried to offer a framework that leads to interoperability over all four, the CE, PC, mobile and home automation domains.
· Automatic discovery of devices and services as well as service composability and upgradeability and self-administration are a necessity for easy installation and use. Having an open middleware, which is flexible enough to integrate and compose heterogeneous services (heterogeneity including the base middleware relied upon by the services), and high-level enough to enable service description, recognition and composition up to the semantic level can achieve this.
To make home systems much more attractive for end-users, the benefits for the end-user of a combined home system must be evident, so the attractive services should clearly offer a surplus over what is offered by non-networked systems today. Most of these attractive services will use knowledge of the world around the device like the other devices in the system and the user. This is only possible in a networked system. This gathering and use of this context and user information leads to the development of new services for the end-user that greatly enhance the attractiveness of the system for the end-user. For example: use a display that is in the neighbourhood to display information instead of on a small PDA display, use the processing capabilities of the home server to do speech recognition and communicating the results back to the camera that has only small processing capabilities in order to combine user-related and context-related information.
Within the Amigo project these services that specifically use the knowledge of the world around the device and the user are called: intelligent user services as they make the system ‘intelligent’ to the end-user.
The Amigo project will provide solutions for the major problems that are encountered in the use of home networking today. The project aims to improve the usability of a home network by developing open, standardized, interoperable middleware and improve the attractiveness by developing interoperable intelligent user services. The project will show the end-user usability and attractiveness of such a home system by creating and demonstrating prototype applications improving everyday life, addressing all vital user aspects: home care and safety, home information and entertainment, and extension of the home environment by means of ambience sharing for advanced personal communication.
Technological and scientific objectives
To improve the usability and attractiveness of home networking for the end-user Amigo’s main objective is to research and develop open, standardized, interoperable middleware and intelligent user services for the networked home environment, which offer users intuitive, personalized and unobtrusive interaction by providing seamless interoperability of services and applications.
In order to fulfil this main objective we have the following project objectives:
i) Research and development of open and interoperable middleware for a networked home system that combines home automation, CE, mobile and PC functionalities that can be scaled up and down for use on any hardware and software platform within these domains. The project will describe the interfaces and protocols necessary to combine this software with the rest of the terminal software.
ii) Research and development of intelligent user services that combine user interaction, user preferences and context awareness. These services will keep the user in control and avoid cognitive saturation of the user, respect user privacy and address security issues.
iii) Guarantee interoperability within this home system between services even with the use of heterogeneous networking and diverse devices. The project will contribute and adhere to, preferably open, standards to enable true interoperability.
iv) Guarantee automatic dynamic configuration of the networked home system by developing high-level methods and concepts for dynamic integration addressing autonomy, scalability and composability aspects.
v) Verify the technical solutions with application prototypes and related demonstrators, and get usability feedback by user questionnaires, user tests and co-creative user evaluation. The prototypes will focus on home care and safety, home information and entertainment and the extended home environment. They will together form a full demonstration of an Amigo home system in practice.
Figure 3 Example architecture of Amigo device
Figure 3 shows an example of the high-level architecture of an Amigo device. It is highlighted to show those blocks and interfaces which will be (further) developed within the Amigo project. The white components shown are not the focus of the Amigo project and might or might not be present in an Amigo device.
As well as defining the infrastructure and associated interfaces the Amigo middleware consists of the following components:
The intelligent user services that Amigo will develop are:
The above core middleware (components and infrastructure) and intelligent user services will become available as open source software together with architectural rules for everyone to use.
In addition, the Amigo project will deliver, prototype applications to show the clear benefits for the end-user and technical proof of working. This shall clearly prove the business rationale for introducing the Amigo networked home system. The Amigo middleware will be built to overcome diversity in e.g. hardware and software platforms and networks. The intelligent user services will incorporated in the Amigo system, though this does not mean that they will be incorporated or run on all Amigo devices. Some devices will not offer enough capabilities to do so.