April-June 2010 (Vol. 9, No. 2) pp. 2-3
1536-1268/10/$31.00 © 2010 IEEE
Published by the IEEE Computer Society
Published by the IEEE Computer Society
Making the Case
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Our field has always been driven by a desire to realize the vision Mark Weiser painted 1 —and many of us inform our work by studying that vision. Yet, as compelling as the technology aspects of his article are, its application examples leave something to be desired—persuading many people to get excited about new ways of finding missing books or empty parking spaces at work, for instance, is difficult. Of course, these examples aren't intended to be compelling on their own but rather help paint a picture of a ubiquitous computing world in which technology has become an integral part of everyday life. However, the lack of truly compelling applications in Weiser's original vision leaves us with a problem when motivating our work. In the current funding climate, this is a particular concern—when resources are limited and we're competing with projects from multiple disciplines, the need to articulate a clear, long-term, widespread benefit for research and development projects becomes crucial. More important perhaps is the need most researchers feel to be doing "something worthwhile"—something that will actually make the world a better place. How do we explain the importance of what we do?
I was having this very conversation during a postwork dinner with Joe Finney, a colleague at Lancaster University. The context was the ever-present need to describe the work we're doing to an external audience; the discussion quickly turned to identifying the so-called "important" challenges for the next 20 years. Rather than focusing on Grand Challenges that various bodies have proposed in the past, we decided to focus on challenges that people eating dinner around us would be able to identify with (that is, the general public). The UK is currently gearing up for a general election, so determining the issues that concern most people is a relatively easy task—you simply need to listen to the topics (if not the message) that the political parties are discussing in the news. While the economy is, as always, a dominant feature, identifying several other key areas at the top of many people's agenda is easy: health, security, transport, and energy are obvious examples. Each of these areas has active ubicomp research projects.
For example, in the health arena, ubiquitous computing has explored a broad range of topics such as collaborative tools to support doctors and nurses, health management systems, and remote monitoring and solutions for elder care. Health remains the top concern for many people as well as a rich source of new challenges.
In contrast to health, it's harder to pinpoint numerous ubiquitous computing research projects relating to defense and security. Of course, the very nature of the problem domain means that information is often less widely available, but on its own, this doesn't account for the relative lack of published work in this space. Topics such as improvised explosive device detection and avoidance are very timely and appear to be amenable to solutions drawn from our own research field.
While work in the area of defense can sometimes cause ethical dilemmas for researchers, few would have qualms about developing new solutions in transport or energy management and production. For both areas, the problems are well known, yet ubiquitous computing's impact isn't well publicized or understood. A recent funding program in the UK has focused on "Informed Personal Travel" ( www.innovateuk.org/_assets/pdf/competition-documents/informed%20personal%20travel_071008.pdf) in an effort to reduce congestion and improve the travel experience. Many of the problems of propagating timely and relevant travel information to users have direct parallels with the problems researchers were trying to solve with work on city guides in the late '90s.
One service IEEE Pervasive Computing provides is bringing together articles on a particular problem as part of a themed issue. For example, we explored health in our special issue on "Pervasive Computing in Healthcare" (vol. 6, no. 1), transport in "Intelligent Transportation and Pervasive Computing" (vol. 5, no. 4), and energy management for mobile devices in the "Energy Harvesting and Conservation" issue (vol. 4, no. 1). The call for articles for our future issue on smart energy (submissions due April 2010; www.computer.org/pervasive/cfp2) is currently being circulated. While these issues help by providing easy access to collections of related papers, I believe that as a magazine, and indeed, as a community, we can do more by working to collectively present clear cases for our work's importance and relevance to today's major problems. Such cases could benefit the whole community as we argue for increased resources in financially stringent times. Toward this end, we can publish a wide range of articles and content, and I will ask the guest editors of future issues to try, where appropriate, to include material to help us make such cases.
This issue focuses on the blending of physical and virtual through new ways of labeling the world. Labels are often an area of great concern for many people—from fears of being incorrectly labeled to the sense of ownership people attach to research project and group names. In this issue, we can start to see the potential for a world in which items are much more flexibly labeled, allowing many new forms of dynamic associations between the physical and virtual world to be established. Such flexibility and dynamism could lead to us finally breaking the bond we all feel to static labels (such as names) and moving to a world where we see a label simply as the index into an online presence. My thanks to the guest editors for putting together such a strong issue on this topic.
I have one change to the editorial board to report—after many years of service, Liviu Iftode is stepping down. On behalf of all associated with the magazine, I'd like to thank Liviu for his numerous contributions.