Shaping the future with ambient computing

Published Wed 21 Mar 2018

If you're anything like me, you hate adverts, alarm clocks, and the seemingly never-ending email notifications that pop up at work all day. Sudden, unexpected interruptions to whatever you're doing are inherently unpleasant. What if we could do away with some of those interruptions? Imagine a world where you never had to stop writing a report to check notifications from all your apps... where you could walk into an office room and have your meeting room start automatically, with your preferred settings for lighting, temperature and even your Outlook availability automatically set.

None of that for me, thanks...

Enter ambient computing. If you’re keeping your finger on the pulse of technology trends in 2018, you should already be clued up about ambient computing. Gartner has even listed ambient computing as one of its top trends for 2018. If you’re not an expert yet, read on to learn how the Internet of Things is combining with AI and smart devices to create a seamless digital experience in the home, at your workplace and even on the go.

What is ambient computing?

Ambient computing encompasses the idea that devices in our environment should be able to sense and respond to our presence and needs. In the ambient paradigm, instead of seeking out information, it's presented to us when we need it; instead of opening apps and scrolling through pages of updates and notifications, our devices know what we want, when we want it. Gartner describes this as a ‘digital mesh’ – a seamless, underlying web of connections which allows data to flow freely across a range of smart devices.

The Internet of Things (everyday objects connected to the internet that can “talk”) has created a backdrop to our daily lives, helping us to accomplish tasks more easily. Sensors embedded into connected devices provide real-time information on both physical and virtual events, which AI powered 'smart' devices can process to provide a seamless, interruption-free experience.

Building from this, smart hubs such as voice assistants and home automation devices unite these IoT devices, and act as a single point of contact to the invisible layer of smart devices underneath. Not only that, but such devices are also capable of talking to each other without human interaction. Home automation devices are reaching the point where our homes, appliances, cars and devices can talk to each other and respond to our needs - without us even knowing.

In the now

Amazon's Alexa, Google's Assistant and Apple's Siri are three of the most well-known ambient computing systems for the home in the market today. Devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home have garnered astonishing popularity in a short period of time, leading the way for the development of more connected devices which can work with the 'smart home' ecosystem. Boasting features such as artificial intelligence, natural language processing, voice recognition and machine learning, these smart devices are available in the home, on your mobile and even on wearable devices like smartwatches.

The array of connectable smart devices is also growing rapidly – from lightbulbs to washing machines, there are a litany of IoT devices available on the market which can talk to each other as well as to smart home hubs, designed to make life easier. In some cities, smart devices are also being used to improve public infrastructure. Bins in Melbourne have sensors to determine when to activate an in-built compressor, and when the bin is full and needs emptying; this triggers an alert centrally to notify waste collection services.

Coming soon to an office near you

More and more, ambient computing is working its way into the office environment. Amazon Alexa's skills store has created a huge opportunity for businesses to join the fray of a connected office, and companies can even create their own skills to control smart devices specific to their workplace. In the near future, it's likely we'll see voice activated assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home devices throughout offices, with connected devices such as lightbulbs and office conferencing equipment making our workdays easier.

Applications such as Digital Assistant can enhance the ambient office experience even further. Digital Assistant is an app for your desktop or smartphone which integrates seamlessly with Alexa devices via the skills store. Just as smart home hubs control all your smart devices, Digital Assistant acts as an interface between you and all your enterprise data sources – whether that's Salesforce data, Slack channel updates or meeting notifications.

At home, ask Alexa to request sick leave or when your next payday is. In the office, ask Alexa to create a new meeting and the invisible Digital Assistant works behind the scenes to orchestrate your request. Or while you’re in a meeting, ask Alexa to give you information about one of the attendees or one of your customer’s SLAs. With smart hardware and smart software, the sky is the limit on what you can do and where you can do it.

More generally, the evolution of ambient computing will likely lead to less dependence on devices such as smartphones to operate; as smart devices become more pervasive and intelligent, ‘smart offices’ will become the norm. Connected devices empowered by software like Digital Assistant will improve the digital experience for employees, as well as providing valuable enterprise insights to management. Devices around us could require less human interaction than ever, and businesses could change the way they operate all together. Are you prepared for a future with ambient computing?

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