“Ubiquitous computing names the third wave in computing, just now beginning. First were mainframes, each shared by lots of people. Now we are in the personal computing era, person and machine staring uneasily at each other across the desktop. Next comes ubiquitous computing, or the age of calm technology, when technology recedes into the background of our lives.”
— Mark Weiser
Mark Weiser, chief technologist at Xerox PARC, who died much too young this past April, coined the term
(see www.ubiquitous.com/ hypertext/weiser/UbiHome.html) in 1988 to characterize computing that is “in the woodwork.” The term foretells a time in which PCs will be replaced with invisible computers embedded in everyday objects. It heralds an era of “calm technology,” technology which does not panic us but rather helps us focus on what is really important to us. It was toward
this end that his efforts at Xerox PARC were directed.
Ubiquitous computing goes beyond embedded systems, a term not totally free from ambiguity itself. Implicit in Weiser’s vision is the idea of a computer “so embedded, so fitting, so natural, that we use it without even thinking about it.” It is a computer matrix to which we are completely oblivious. All we are aware of are its effects.
Executing visions requires more than great leaps of faith; it requires incremental advancements to
surmount each hurdle. Today you could say we are inching toward ubiquitous computing via what are termed Internet appliances, which can arguably be defined as interconnected embedded systems designed for a variety of applications in the consumer, communications, and industrial areas. These appliances aren’t invisible, though, and by and large they don’t have a calming effect on most people. But they do take computing off the desktop, and they do pave the way toward universal, transparent information
While this class of embedded system doesn’t represent the mainstream of embedded development, it is a trend to watch. And watch it we will. This month, we are debuting a new monthly section in
Embedded Systems Programming
that will explicitly address Internet appliance design. This section doesn’t subtract from the rest of the magazine; rather, it augments it. It represents our effort to contend with the growing breadth of what we think of as embedded systems. There
you’ll find a new column authored by technical editor Michael Barr that will define the scope of this section. Read his
description of what this class of products encompasses and see if it doesn’t at least hint at the invisible, calm computing that Mark Weiser foresaw.
Weiser’s vision extends beyond what we presently conceive of as connected embedded systems. It continues to point the way toward what embedded technology may look like a decade from now. It does not
look that way yet. While embedded technology is rapidly becoming invisible, it is not yet ubiquitous and we are certainly not oblivious to it.