Computing Community Consortium Blog

The goal of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is to catalyze the computing research community to debate longer range, more audacious research challenges; to build consensus around research visions; to evolve the most promising visions toward clearly defined initiatives; and to work with the funding organizations to move challenges and visions toward funding initiatives. The purpose of this blog is to provide a more immediate, online mechanism for dissemination of visioning concepts and community discussion/debate about them.

Towards Smarter Cities and Homes

April 2nd, 2012 / in research horizons, Research News / by Erwin Gianchandani

This week’s Science magazine features two perspectives (subscription required) authored by three computer scientists — Diane Cook (Washington State University), Michael O’Grady (University College Dublin), and Gregory O’Hare (University College Dublin) — describing visions for future “smart” homes and cities and, notably, the computing research challenges that must be addressed for these visions to become reality.

In the first piece about smart homes, Cook writes:

Coming soon to your home? In an ambient intelligent home, sensors collect information about the environment and the residents. An "intelligent agent" uses this information to decide whether actions need to be taken to adjust, e.g., temperature or lighting. From How Smart Is Your Home? Diane J. Cook Science 30 March 2012: 335 (6076), 1579-1581. [DOI:10.1126/science.1217640]. Reprinted with permission from AAAS.Individuals spend most of their time in their home or workplace; for many, these places are their sanctuaries. Over the course of the 20th century, technological advances have helped to enhance the comfort and shelter provided by our homes. Insights gained from capturing and modeling behavior in these places may be useful in making our environments more intelligent and responsive to our needs. Recent advances are bringing such “ambient intelligence” in the home closer to reality [more following the link].


Since the miniaturization of microprocessors, computing power has been embedded in familiar objects such as home appliances and mobile devices; it is gradually pervading almost every level of society. Ambient intelligence extends the notion of computing to provide customized, automated support that is so gracefully integrated with our lives that it “disappears.” In the home, the idea is that computer software playing the role of an intelligent agent perceives the state of the physical environment and residents using sensors, reasons about this state using artificial intelligence techniques, and then takes actions to achieve specified goals, such as maximizing comfort of the residents, minimizing the consumption of resources, and maintaining the health and safety of the home and residents…


From How Smart Is Your Home?, Diane J. Cook, Science 30 March 2012: 335 (6076), 1579-1581. [DOI:10.1126/science.1217640]. Reprinted with permission from AAAS.

Cook elaborates about the opportunities in sensing and control devices; data mining, machine learning, and predictive modeling; human-computer interaction; and peer-to-peer networking. She notes the promise not just for smart energy management through nonintrusive load identification and estimation, but also functions like automated health monitoring, assessment, and intervention. And she highlights the possibilities in “social interaction in daily life, understanding socialization within the home (such as entertaining guests, interacting with residents, or making phone calls) and examining the correlation between socialization parameters and productivity, behavioral patterns, and health” — all to design better products and behavioral interventions.

But “the dream of ambient intelligent homes is … hampered by some formidable challenges,” Cook notes, including implications for privacy and security, and the ability to provide intelligent support seamlessly both inside and outside the home.

In the second perspective about smart cities, O’Grady and O’Hare comment:

The idea of ambient intelligence implies an intrinsic link between individuals and their environment, enabling individuals to access and interact with computing artifacts in ways that are intuitive and do not disrupt everyday activities. Given the many different environments encountered as part of everyday life — within the home as well as beyond it — enabling such interaction is a formidable technological challenge. The reward may be an environment that is safer, uses less energy, and responds to the needs of all individuals… Recent advances in embedded systems, robotics, and sensor technology suggest that ambient intelligence may indeed be realized, particularly if crucial privacy and security concerns are addressed.


From How Smart Is Your City?, Michael O’Grady and Gregory O’Hare, Science 30 March 2012: 335 (6076), 1581-1582. [DOI:10.1126/science.1217637]. Reprinted with permission from AAAS.

They present three examples that “illustrate the potential of ambient intelligence across different domains”: information filtering and personalization in museums; autonomous mobile robotic services; and simple ambient intelligence smart-phone services that improve the quality of life of patients afflicted with dementia.

The major challenge, beyond privacy and security, in their eyes: how to power these remote devices.

Check out the two perspectives here and here (subscription required).

And be sure to read the CCC’s white paper articulating the role of information sciences and engineering in sustainability, published last February following an interdisciplinary workshop.

(Contributed by Erwin Gianchandani, CCC Director)

Towards Smarter Cities and Homes

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