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DCE Magazine

Wiring the World

Fall 2017

Ambient Computing and Internet of Things are igniting a new tech boom.

Imagine a map layered onto your car windshield, showing the way to your destination, and then locating the closest parking space. Or a refrigerator that can monitor your food inventory and order groceries when running low — maybe even suggest recipes. How about an app that turns your surroundings into a Pokemon Go-type environment full of 3-D digital enhancements?

Welcome to the world of Ambient Computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), the next step in the digital revolution that will link us with our environment in heretofore unimaginable ways. Not only will it make our lives easier, safer and more fun, it's on track to create a tsunami of new business and career opportunities.

“Technologies and applications are changing rapidly,” said Tom Jannett, instructor for UCI Division of Continuing Education's Ambient Computing and IoT certificate program. “These devices will span industrial, commercial and consumer markets and, via Ambient Computing, will be able to intelligently communicate with each other and intelligently respond to human interaction and business needs in a remarkable variety of ways.”

The first wave is already here in the form of voice-interactive systems like Amazon's Echo, Apple's Siri and first-generation Smart Home systems. Now get ready for the field to expand at an exponential pace that's simply breathtaking.

Consider this: By 2020, more than 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet — more than 100 times as many as existed just 10 years ago. And you better believe Apple, Google, Microsoft and all major players have big plans for this dynamic sector.

“Consumer applications draw a lot of attention, but business may benefit the most,” Jannett points out. Indeed, 75% of U.S. executives are currently pursuing Ambient and IoT-related solutions to drive business value, according to the Gartner research organization.

Ambient Computing/IoT is projected to grow into a $15 trillion industry in the next five to 10 years. That means exceptional opportunities for anyone seeking a career in this nascent field. And UCI Division of Continuing Education is addressing the need with a program that prepares participants for success in this brave new digital world.

Internet everywhere

Ambient Computing and IoT encompass a wide range of technologies, often utilizing Big Data and the Cloud to create interactive systems that link us to appliances, devices, home security and more — a union of increasingly sophisticated (and small) embedded microprocessors and sensors with myriad apps and devices.

Not only can they do our bidding with lightning-fast speed and vast memory, AC/IoT can learn our habits, patterns and tastes, keeping a step or two ahead in some cases. Think of it as Internet Everywhere, an engine for layering Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality into our lives in often spectacular ways.

“Augmented Reality will enable more sophisticated, interactive, and powerful user experiences for advanced applications of Ambient Computing,” Jannett said. “For example, Facebook is developing software to allow digital effects or artifacts to be laid on top of real-world images or videos seen through a smartphone camera. This technology could be used to place a menu image on a restaurant table, or users might leave notes for others to see.”

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently demonstrated an app, still in development, that can overlay colorful 3-D murals with motion onto a blank wall, attach virtual notes to a refrigerator door or elsewhere, all with a smartphone.

And that's just the iceberg tip. There are so many potential consumer applications, including games and home entertainment options, Jannett points out.

Augmented living

Smart Home systems are especially fertile ground for AC and IoT. They allow us to set thermostats, control lighting, see who's at the door and unlock it from remote locations. But that's just a taste of what's to come.

“A smart home of the future might maintain comfort while minimizing costs and energy expenditure using algorithms that account for the temperature preferences and routines of the occupants,” Jannett said. “They'll utilize knowledge of weather forecasts, seasonal motion of the sun across the sky, thermal characteristics of the home, energy demand and energy costs.”

Ambient Computing and IoT also have great potential to streamline our unwieldy healthcare system, with some providers relying on data analytics to respond as government and private insurers shift to provide incentives based on health outcomes and cost.

“In the future, IoT technologies could reduce cost of care, improve health and improve treatments,” Jannett said. “They may allow early detection of complications and help change living habits to improve wellness by tracking and modifying diet and exercise routines.” Big Data is already being mined to determine the most accurate diagnosis and treatments for some diseases. Devices such as Google Glass can layer enhanced images on lenses to assist surgeons during operations. Robotic systems are being developed to administer medication, assist with procedures, and process information far more efficiently than humans alone.

“These improvements should become even more important as the population ages,” Jannett points out.

Leading the charge

The Division of Continuing Education's online specialized studies program — Ambient Computing and the Internet of Things: Applications and Opportunities — provides students with the engineering and design background required to be on the leading edge of this epochal leap.

Participants will learn how to leverage this digital revolution to create solutions that focus on the benefits of interactivity and large-scale connectivity, with three individual courses that explore the tools, technologies and platforms used to create innovative new connected devices.

The first course provides an overview of the subject and reviews specific applications. “The program includes exciting project opportunities, hands-on work, and practical knowledge,” Jannett said. “In a course project, participants will propose their own idea for an Ambient Computing/IoT device.” EECS X480 Ambient Computing and the Internet of Things starts on September 18 and runs through November 26, 2017. More information can be found at ce.uci.edu/IoT.

The second course gives participants hands-on training with hardware/software platforms that can sense and control their environment through sensors. And the final course takes a deep dive into potential security pitfalls and networking issues that can occur with IoT devices.

“Security and privacy issues are important concerns,” Jannett said. “As sensors and devices increase in number and become more connected, energy and environmental concerns also come into play.”

Making the world greener, safer and more connected is a worthy goal. And it starts by taking the first step on a journey to the future of Ambient Computing and Internet of Things.

Learn more at ce.uci.edu/IoT