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About This Technology

Pervasive computing in this Technology Map is the use of information technology and networks to monitor and respond transparently to everyday human needs and wants. Businesses see opportunity to supply digital and connected systems in great abundance, extending to virtually everywhere that people in developed nations spend most of their time. In its simplest form, a pervasive-computing environment senses and understands a limited number of variables that relate to a user's needs to which the system can respond. In a most basic example, consider a thermostat that recognizes when the temperature in a room drops below a preset level determined by the user and responds by turning on the heat. Pervasive computing in this Technology Map focuses on more advanced—or stronger—pervasive-computing technologies that can recognize user needs with minimal action by the user through various sensors and artificial intelligence in a largely transparent fashion. Strong pervasive-computing systems could significantly improve the quality of life for many people whose needs are complex and constantly changing or for people who by virtue of their age or health cannot modify their environments for their own needs. As technology developers enable more advanced pervasive-computing environments that are always on, always available, unobtrusive, and self-adjusting to meet people's wants and needs, the way that people relate to their surroundings will shift dramatically. Greater safety, comfort, and efficiency will produce a variety of dividends. Nonetheless, pervasive computing—like other significant technologies—may also alter human notions of privacy, safety, and perhaps even liberty.

Businesses supply billions of connected devices annually, plus tens of billions of embedded computers that are part of stand-alone appliances, vehicles, and other products. Yet many obstacles impede progress in pervasive computing. Technology for many envisioned products and services simply does not yet exist. In other cases, available technology is too expensive to allow for reasonably priced commercial products. Another difficulty is lack of interoperability, given that many of the goals of pervasive computing require providers to network multiple devices. Standards and standards bodies (either through proprietary or through open-source-software development) may provide a route toward improved interoperability, which will be a determining success factor for pervasive computing. Despite the challenges facing progress in pervasive computing, the potential benefits of the technology guarantee continued development. Some mildly pervasive systems already exist for use in constrained environments, but the development of stronger pervasive-computing solutions will offer opportunities to provide a great variety of hardware and software for manufacturers and application developers alike.

Pervasive computing and the technologies that enable pervasive computing will provide business opportunities for suppliers of a wide range of devices, networks, and services. Some of these opportunities already exist; others await invention and development. As the number of wearable, mobile, and embedded sensing and computing devices continues to increase substantially, opportunities for pervasive-computing solutions will grow as well. Many of these devices will have human interfaces, and demands on networks will increase. These network requirements will create opportunities for infrastructure providers and systems integrators. Most or all of the businesses that supply devices or services to military forces, industries, governments, health-care providers, and consumers will have new opportunities for profit.