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image European Research News Centre > Information Society > The age of ambient intelligence
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image image image Date published: 07/11/02
  image The age of ambient intelligence
RTD info special FP6
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  For maximum economic and social impact, research on information society technologies must concentrate on the future so-called convergence generation. This involves integrating network access and interfaces into the everyday environment by making available a multitude of services and applications through easy and 'natural' interactions. This vision of 'ambient intelligence' (interactive intelligent environment) places the user, i.e. the human being, at the centre of the future development of the knowledge-based society.
   
   

The actions of the Sixth Framework Programme will support the technological priorities to make this 'ambient intelligence' possible. They will aim to mobilise researchers around targeted initiatives to achieve medium- and long-term objectives while at the same time meeting the new needs and demands of markets, public policy and citizens. The very substantial support being given to this area of the knowledge-based society – 20.7% of the budgets specifically allocated to research – aims to achieve a critical mass of resources by integrating public and private investment at European level.

European strengths

European industry has scored some major successes in the field of mobile telephony – in particular in developing the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) standard. It is also in a strong position because of technological progress in the fields of broad band and multiplatform access, in particular digital television and third generation mobile communication systems.

Other innovations are also taking shape, thanks in part to optical fibre technology. A team of British researchers into photonics has just broken the terabit (Tbit) per second barrier, while optical multiplexing technology brings the prospect of a theoretical transmission rate of 200Tbit/s. Also, the development of rapid optoelectronic routers and switches will permit connections between these information highways and local networks.

However, due to their prohibitive cost, these technologies cannot be used everywhere. This is why it is also important to develop the full potential of existing fixed networks (xDSL technologies), the local radio loop (BLR or high-speed wireless access) and satellites which are essential for serving zones with little or no network coverage. Wireless systems, whether UMTS (third-generation mobile telephony), W-LAN or Wi-Fi technologies, also offer potential for local applications.

Interfaces and applications

All these new and developing infrastructures must be accompanied by developments in interface technologies – the 'man-machine' interface. They also require user-friendly applications in all areas: security and protection of private life, education and training, access for elderly or disabled people, teleworking, electronic commerce and administration, on-line health care and intelligent transport.

A final area of research will be devoted to leading-edge research on the components and micro-systems of the future.


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Challenges

This interlocking of information and communication presents a number of challenges.

Interoperability – Given the multitude of transmission networks and communication platforms (PC, TV, personal assistant, mobile telephone, etc.), the question of network architecture and integration is crucial for telecommunication operators seeking to provide their customers with uninterrupted access of a high quality, whether through a fixed or mobile point of access.

Saturation – The constant increase in volume of information and users requires the development of new protocols (such as the Ipv6, new-generation Internet protocol). European research also needs high-capacity networks, whether in terms of transmission (GEANT project) or calculation (the GRID distributed calculation project).

Security – Information and telecommunication networks are at the centre of economic activity, communicating vast quantities of confidential information. Yet they are uniquely sensitive to pirating and sabotage which is why the search for maximum security is key to their viability. New solutions can now be envisaged with the development of quantum cryptography.

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eEurope, the backdrop to research aims

In March 2000, the Lisbon European Council adopted the development of the information society as a key priority in the strategy to make Europe 'the most competitive knowledge-based society in the world'. This took practical shape in the eEurope 2002 initiative, launched by the European Commission to promote 'the information society for all'. This operational action plan, which set three objectives – a cheaper, faster and more reliable Internet; stimulation of Internet use; and investment in people and skills – gave rise to a major coordination effort between the Member States to speed up changes to the legislation, reductions in connection prices, an increased supply of public and private services, and access to rapid Internet links.

By mid-May 2002, 40.4% of Europeans and 93% of schools were connected to the Internet, 55% of public services were accessible on-line, and more than 35% of doctors were using the web for professional ends. Europe is gradually catching up with its main rival, the United States, where the federal government and venture capitalists have invested massively in information society technologies.

In June of this year, the Commission launched a new action plan, known as eEurope 2005, designed to fuel the dynamic further. Its objectives, as ratified by the Seville European Council, are to encourage the essential parallelism between the costly implementation of communication infrastructures and the generation of advanced services – e-business, e-government, e-learning, e-health, etc. – which will use them and make them pay.

It is against this background that the Sixth Framework Programme plans to pursue its research priorities in information society technologies.

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To find out more:


Young researchers working on the DATAGRID project, at CERN in Geneva. With funding of nearly ?100 million under the Sixth Framework Programme, the development of this new Internet connection infrastructure will enable 'big science' computers to share and cumulate their computing power. (c) CERN

Young researchers working on the DATAGRID project, at CERN in Geneva. With funding of nearly €100 million under the Sixth Framework Programme, the development of this new Internet connection infrastructure will enable 'big science' computers to share and cumulate their computing power.
(c) CERN



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