Section: Overall Objectives

Overall Objectives

Three key phenomena have been changing the nature of computing over the last few years. The first is the popularity of portable devices such as mobile telephones and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). Today, around 80% of the French adult population possess their own mobile phone and there is a large variety of smartphones on the market that integrate PDA functionality. The second phenomenon is the large number of embedded systems; these are everyday devices that have their own processor and memory. Estimates suggest that more than 98% of the world's processor's are in embedded system, thus facilitating the deployment of a variety of information systems that control physical objects. The third phenomena is the increasing variety of wireless networks available for personal and embedded devices, e.g., Bluetooth, Wifi, cellular networks, etc.

The combination of these three phenomena has permitted the emergence of context-aware person-centric applications and collaborative personal environments. These services complement a person's physical ability to interact with her/his environment. They are tailored to the needs, preferences and location of each person carrying a device, and are continually available. Services range from critical, e.g., remote health monitoring, to utility, e.g., navigational help, etc. to value-added, e.g., virtual museum guides, smart home, etc.

The domain of person-centric computing is known in research circles as ambient computing and several significant research challenges remain. First, to facilitate mobility, ambient computing services should require minimal device manipulation by the device owner. It is crucial that the computing device operate as an extension of the person rather than as a tool. Second, there must be a way of modeling the physical environment so that applications can seamlessly import data from the environment and modify the environment when possible. Third, applications must be able to adapt to the rather limited storage and processing capabilities of mobile devices, as well as to variable and intermittent wireless network coverage.

The TACOMA group is addressing research from one main angle: Programming Models for Ambient Computing. We have looked at ways of modeling the physical environment in the virtual environment of programs in order to facilitate ambient application development. The goal is to be able to write programs that address and navigate through objects in the physical world as elegantly as a program traditionally manipulates a computer's main memory.

This document overviews our activities in more detail. The section Scientific Foundations gives some background to our work in person-centric computing. The section Application Domains describes the importance of our research agenda through the presentation of several applications, some of which are being developed in our group. The group's recent results are presented in the section New Results.