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Ubiquitous Computing Examples in 2020 [Updated]

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Luke Driscoll
Java Specialist

Today, you're going to learn about some ubiquitous computing examples from around the world.

You might not know it yet, but ubiquitous computing truly is everywhere.

From smartwatches to self-driving vehicles and everything in between, so much of modern life is part of a ubiquitous computing-oriented way of thinking – but it’s the sort of phenomenon that often only the experts know about in detail.

Which is where I step in.

Searches for ubiquitous computing have steadily declined since 2014:

 


Which seems strange, as the amount of ubiquitous computing devices available to us seems to have increased.

You can also find out how businesses can use ubiquitous computing in this other article.

This article is intended as a guide to all things ubiquitous computing and is designed for those who want to learn more about how it works.

I will start by looking at the history of the phenomenon, and then I'll move on to look at some ubiquitous computing examples and some of the most popular ubiquitous computing devices.

I will finish by thinking about what the future of ubiquitous computing might look like.

Let's get into it:

 

So what is ubiquitous computing, and where is it used?

Ubiquitous computing is a paradigm, a lifestyle and a technological innovation all at once: it essentially refers to the sorts of technologies which can reach every aspect of a user’s life and then operate in the background of their activities, providing value without getting in the way.

It’s sometimes referred to as pervasive computing.

The idea of ubiquitous computing first came about in 1988, when a scientist by the name of Mark D. Weiser first brought it to the computing community’s attention.

Born in the US in 1952, Weiser was an employee of Xerox PARC at the time – but he would later go on to become known as the father of ubiquitous computing, and would be credited with having the foresight to develop a theory that would apply for years to come.

Ubiquitous computing quote

But in 1988, computing was far from ubiquitous.

Think about it:

Personal computers were only just on the cusp of becoming popular, and a world where smartphones and tablets were so pervasive that they were in everyone’s bags and pockets seemed a long way off.

Weiser suggested that computing could go one of two ways.

It could become, as he termed it, “dramatic” – in the sense that manufacturers and computer scientists would begin to create products so intriguing and unusual that they would stand a good chance of bedding into a user’s life permanently and unavoidable.

But instead, Weiser reasoned, there may be another way.

Instead, personal computing could become popular by being useful in a non-intrusive manner, working for its owner largely in the background rather than the foreground – or, even, largely out of their sight.

And at that moment, ubiquitous computing was born.

Since then, there have been a whole host of ubiquitous computing-related events and institutions, including conferences like the Ubicomp event, and the idea has gained lots of traction.

Artificial intelligence plays a part in ubiquitous computing, and the future of the frontend side of web development is also uncertain due to advance in the artificial intelligence industry.

We have an article which discusses when will artificial intelligence replace web development and frontend developers, which you can read here.

Anyway:

 

Ubiquitous computing applications are everywhere

Fast forward to the modern-day, and Weiser’s original prediction that the world of computing would evolve to work for us in the backgrounds of our lives has largely come true.

As the name suggests, of course, ubiquitous computing applications are everywhere.

Have you noticed? Probably not.

And that’s what they’re supposed to do: exist all over a room, a building, a system or even a community without intruding.

Great examples are:

  • NEST (which is now owned by Google)
  • Apple Watch or Fitbit
  • Smart speakers like Amazon Echo, Google Assistant or Apple HomePod (does anyone own one of those?)
  • Self Driving Cars
  • Smart Bulbs
  • Smart Locks

Another example that a person is likely to come across is home automation systems which allow for remote monitoring of properties.

Drivers, in particular, are likely to start seeing the effects of ubiquitous computing soon.

From self-driving cars to road toll systems which rely on smart, electronic systems to work, this area is particularly in demand.

Wherever a piece of technology is used to enable a smoother action to take place, then, it’s likely that a ubiquitous computing-focused thought process has contributed to making that happen.

As if that's not enough:

The range of devices which are compatible with ubiquitous computing systems, meanwhile, is wide.

Smartphones are perhaps the most obvious and immediate example, as these are often the tools of choice for people who want to control their home automation systems and other ubiquitous applications.

But many other devices are used as part of ubiquitous computing networks, too.

Sensors, for example, are classic nodes in a ubiquitous system, as they are often activated by movement rather than when a conscious, user-directed input is detected.

But that's just part of the story:

 

Information being collected everywhere is worrying in today's world

A tech user only has to look around to see how Mark Weiser’s legacy has been largely vindicated. And as time goes on, this will likely continue to be the case.

But there are also likely to be challenges to the dominance of ubiquitous computing ideas, though.

Because ubiquitous computing applications are everywhere, they inevitably are going to end up collecting more and more data on their subjects – and in today’s rightfully data security-conscious society, the prospect of information being collected every time one of several ubiquitous devices fire is worrying.

In my experience:

This is already becoming an issue.

Services like Apple’s iCloud, which allow users to seamlessly access their data from a range of devices no matter where they are, are obvious parts of the ubiquitous computing paradigm.

But recent incidents like the iCloud hack of 2017 show that ubiquitous computing applications can actually be a target as well as a beneficial product.

It does get better, though:

With data protection regulations like the European General Data Protection Regulation coming into force in recent years, meanwhile, there’s no indication that the focus on data security is likely to soften any time soon.

For ubiquitous computing providers, then, the most pressing need is now likely to be ensuring that adequate data security features, such as encryption and two-factor authentication, are built into their interfaces as standard.

Ultimately, however, there is no doubting that the convenience and ease which ubiquitous computing platforms can offer are going to continue to provide value for many years to come.

The NEST smart home system alone, for example, includes everything from automatic energy use regulation when on holiday to handy temperature scheduling systems, so it’s easy to see why the popularity of ubiquitous devices is on the rise.

And with so many other providers offering similar benefits, the benefits of ubiquitous computing are likely to, on the whole, outweigh the negatives every time.