Providing information in real time in crowded places, like the Paris metro, or connecting smartphones and servers, regardless of their pre-installed operating systems - this is now possible, thanks to new digital technology that allows mobile devices to reconfigure themselves, to adapt to a changing environment, automatically.
MUSIC - which stands for Mobile Users In Ubiquitous Computing - is a new middleware platform developed by European researchers.
The project is working on a new generation of adaptive software mobile applications, able to share applications and services between devices using different operating systems.
The result of this cooperation between 14 partners from European and not-European countries is a bundled software package on which any mobile devices with Java technology can run different applications.
MUSIC makes it possible to develop several services and applications: from resources and contents sharing in a local network, to helping passengers with reduced mobility, to providing information of interest to a tourist.
The Passengers with Reduced Mobility apps is designed to help people travel more easily on public transport - showing the most suitable routes and asking for assistance in real time when necessary.
Hossein Rahnama from Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada, said: "We are focusing on an area that we call Context Aware Computing, so we will be able to understand the social profile of the passenger, location of the passenger, how fast the connection is in the metro system, and then send services to the passenger's mobile phone. I can click on each station, see the profile of the passenger, see who they are, what type of a mobility they have, if they are elderly passengers, and I can send a message to the passengers".
Tourist Travel Assistant can provide tourists with a smart route to visit key sites in a town. Even better, it can combine tourist information with a GPS system - in other words it can tell when you arrive at a site of interest and give you information on it.
It can also tell you how long the queue is for a particular museum and let you know how you can book or buy tickets online.
Jorge Lorenzo from Spanish telecommunications firm, Telefónica, said: "The MUSIC platform allows various mobile phone applications to interact. For example Travel Assistant, which is specifically aimed at helping tourists reach their destination can also interact with other applications like, for example, applications that deal with situations such as "there is a person with a problem" or "there is a delay" or "the line is busy"."
When the MUSIC project started in October 2006, its targets were ambitious - even visionary.
Even just four years ago the computational power of mobile devices were much lower than today, and many products that are extremely popular, even commonplace today, simply did not exist.
The challenge was to manage increasingly complex systems while simultaneously reducing their instability, as research coordinator Geir Horn, explains.
"When we started with the project, nobody had heard of iPhones or Androids," he explained. "These smartphones were just something that we imagined would come one day because we were using phones, we were using other intelligent smart devices, and we envisaged some day we would be able to put them in our pockets.
"The key to the future development in computing is adaptation, because the systems become more and more complex. And they are now so large that it is impossible for one programme or even a group of programmes to overview all aspects of the system. So inevitably in the system there will be errors, there will be errors in the coding of the system, and the system should be able to adapt to overcome these problems when they arise, instead of just crashing like often happens today."
The project began in Trondheim -Norway's third largest and home to major science and technology universities.
Work on MUSIC was coordinated in the woods around the city. The initial aim was to develop free software that could be easily modified at no cost to end users.
They chose to work in an Open Source environment.
"By adopting an Open Source approach, we could at least have a chance to create communities that will sustain the development of the technology after the end of the project," said Svein Hallsteinsen, Senior Research Scientist
In Trondheim you can use MUSIC on some public transport. This is the Instant Social, an application that allows passengers to have a sort of chatroom, through which they can share content like photos and videos.
Groups form dynamically based on shared interests. Once a passenger gets off the bus, they leave the group.
"Our technology, is using a particular service discovery protocol that is called SLP (Service Location Protocol), such that applications running on one device can discover and talk to applications running on other devices. And we use this to create groups of people connected together if they are interested in the same topic. I can start the application on my device and create a group so when another person enters the bus and starts up this application, on his phone it will appear that there is a group already that he can join," explained Hallsteinsen.
The platform automatically establishes a network between all local devices. This network operates using a pee-to-peer approach rather than a central server.
MUSIC is currently working on taking the project to the next level with a solid platform for software developpers. Future applications will increase the information flow, giving smartphones new practical functions.
"The next step now, we will try to use this in other types of application. We are looking at intelligent bank applications, and we are looking at intelligent homes, so that your home is adapting to your wishes your needs and your preferences," said Horn.
According to experts, MUSIC has a good chance of becoming one of the most prevalent platforms, paving the way for an adaptable and dynamic technology.
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