Ambient Systems

The notion of ambient systems captures the idea of large-scale heterogeneous systems used to sense, network, inform, actuate, or interact with the physical environment and the humans present in the environment. These systems are at the heart of the next generation information technology, which will no longer be limited to dedicated infrastructures, such as the Internet, but will be embedded in artifacts and the environment and will consist of highly distributed, networked, heterogeneous, and largely self-organizing devices.

Ambient systems research will address three specific fields:

  • Environmental monitoring by measuring, analyzing environmental data over an unprecedented range of space and time scales using very-large-scale sensor networks, in order, for instance, to accurately assess the impact of global warming, recognize and predict natural hazards (i.e. avalanches, floods, dangers, earthquakes, diseases), and, last but not least, support and manage sustainable land , water, and resource use.
  • Ambient intelligence embedded in smart buildings for optimal monitoring and control (e.g., intelligent thermal monitoring for energy efficiency and pollution reduction), as well as for the security and safety of the individual in the workplace and in the home (i.e., smart environments that assist their inhabitants at all times and that are able to interact with various information systems, sensors and actuators to provide customized personal safety).
  • Virtual world applications, i.e., the creation of simulated environments in which individuals interact through graphical images and other synthetic means, while being cognizant of real situations (and their abstractions) in the surrounding world (e.g., traffic). Specific objectives are both environmental protection and security of the individual.

The scientific challenges in ambient systems are multifaceted, and range from sensor integration to information management. The design of such ambient systems amounts to the engineering of complex systems, which consist of very large numbers of largely autonomous components that interoperate in a self-organized manner, while enabling meaningful and efficient transmission and processing of the information in the system and ensuring reliable and secure operation.

In order to understand and develop such complex ambient systems, major challenges need to be tackled in the research and development of the five fundamental enabling technologies, namely micro/nano-electronics, sensors, MEMS/NEMS, systems and software, information and communications:

  • Micro/nano-electronics: Individual sensor nodes of the considered ambient systems will have to combine functionalities as diverse as sensing, wireless communications, data processing within the tightest confines. Hybrid and heterogeneous micro/nano-electronic systems will be investigated to allow each of these tasks to be performed using the optimal technology and to combine the corresponding sub-systems using different technologies in one system.
  • Sensors: Be it for buildings monitoring, health risk management or food quality control, major scientific and technological challenges have been identified to be able design innovative sensing devices and integrate them into reliable lab-on-chip micro-systems. In particular, our research will focus on the detection of gas in the air, and bacteria in the air and the water.
  • MEMS/NEMS: To enable and support the aforementioned innovative ambient systems, we will seek to design and engineer NEMS/MEMS devices, with special emphasis on sensing, micro-fluidic support and mixed micro opto-mechanical devices.
  • Systems and Software: In order to establish public trust into the forthcoming ubiquitous ambient wireless systems, the key aspects of security, software reliability and information and network management need to be addressed: (1) to avoid possible undesirable behaviors, security issues such as privacy protection, secure association between wireless peers and secure cooperative routing in multi-hop wireless networks need to be addressed; (2) the reliability of these systems must be guaranteed through research and development of high-quality software, fault-tolerant and highly available systems (3) to manage highly-decentralized ambient systems, several issues need to be addressed such as distributed processing and trading off local computation for communication efforts.
  • Information and Communication: Information exchange is a central task in the envisioned large-scale distributed ambient networks. Nevertheless, the legacy network design philosophy, which decomposes the traffic into point-to-point connections, is not well suited for ambient systems, where components may need to interconnect into very large heterogeneous networks over unknown and time-varying communication channels, and still offer transparent high-quality support to end-user applications. This new paradigm calls for the design of novel fundamental information processing algorithms and primitives. New exciting research directions include, but are not limited to: (1) network coding; (2) distributed source compression and (3) advanced distributed sensing methods. Moreover to enable and manage a distributed and self-organized Ambient Web, several issues need to be tackled such as modeling, tracking and maintenance of self-organizing logical overlay networks on top of heterogeneous wireless and wired networks, as well as development of integrated frameworks for data management that will present a real-time overview of the monitored environment or situation, through the fusion and consolidation of information from all available sources (e.g., in emergency situations, energy management for buildings).

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