“Hey Siri, What’s the time?” — isn’t this bit old fashioned?

Of course, it is history now. Since we’re living in a digitally evolved era, now it is a connected world, more, a connected house, more, it is even a connected kitchen. All the tools, instruments, vehicles and things we use on the daily basis are now talking to each other. Yes, they actively communicate.

So the idea of the is embedding the computational capability into the everyday objects to make them effectively communicate and perform useful tasks in a way that minimizes the user’s need to interact with computers as computers. Unlike the desktop computers pervasive computing can occur at any time, with any device, in any place, with regardless of the data type on any given network. So this leads enabled devices to perform actions while understanding the context. The goal of pervasive computing is to make these devices smart, adapt to their surroundings and improve the human experience in day to day life.

Bit of the history..

Pervasive computing was first started in early 90’s at Olivetti Research Laboratory in Cambridge, where actually a ‘clip’ sized device passed the information about its location and the active status. (At that time this was called as ‘ubiquitous computing’ and the term of pervasive computing was formed lately) The device helped employers to track the location of the people in the building and the computers which they were attached.

Mark D. Weiser, a chief scientist at Xerox PARC (lately an IBM wing) is considered as the father of ubiquitous computing. So soon thereafter Mark and team at the labs started making the prototypes of the devices which could be considered as early incarnations of ubiquitous computing.

Weiser mentioned ubiquitous computing will evolve with the time:

For 30 years, most interface design, and most computer design, has been headed down the path of the “dramatic” machine. Its highest ideal is to make a computer so exciting, so wonderful, so interesting, that we never want to be without it. A less-traveled path I call the “invisible”: its highest ideal is to make a computer so imbedded, so fitting, so natural, that we use it without even thinking about it. (I have also called this notion “ubiquitous computing,” and have placed its origins in postmodernism.) I believe that, in the next 20 years, the second path will come to dominate. But this will not be easy; very little of our current system’s infrastructure will survive.

The term pervasive computing was formed lately after IBM started their own division for such technologies named exactly the similar in the late 90’s.

Internet of Things (IoT)

As evolved from the pervasive computing, IoT or the Internet of Things is a hot topic now. So if you’re from a non-tech background and still didn’t get what the hell is IoT and this guy’s talking about, I got you fam.
Here you go with a bunch of familiar devices which are enabled with IoT.

Apple HomePod — Credits: Marques Brownlee (MKBHD)
Ecobee 4 — Smart Thermostat
Garagio — Smart door controller
Google Home — Smart speaker family
Philips Hue — Smart light bulbs

IoT enabled devices collect data from their surrounding and provide usable information to the user while adapting to their day-to-day needs. From getting information like weather, traffic-free routes, recipes to handling thermal devices in the house, watering the plants, locking doors and remotely activate cameras; IoT enabled devices are capable of doing smart things to make our lives much easier. Some of them are bit advanced among others and use machine learning (ML) algorithms to keep track of our likings, behavioural patterns to make their decisions accordingly. Most of the time, these devices are controlled through a voice interface (VUI) and I’ll come back to this and the designing for IOT later in the article.

Gartner’s 2016 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies — ML at the top while IoT related techs on the up-slope.

ML with IoT = Cost effective solutions 💸

When it comes to the industrial applications with IoT devices (yea, you read it right, IoT devices are now even landed in the industrial settings too) it is much important to have predictive capabilities in the devices they use. As an example; let’s say there are 1000 machines running in a warehouse and you need to check one-by-one to acknowledge the maintenance team about the next maintenance. So it seems difficult to check them each and decide the upcoming risks, doesn’t it? That’s where IoT devices are powered with Machine Learning coming to help. By drawing data from multiple sensors in or on machines, machine learning algorithms can “learn” what’s typical for the machine and then detect when something abnormal starts to occur. So they can learn and predict upcoming risks, and convert it to actionable data.

Here’s an awesome example. A company called Augury does exactly similar with vibration and ultrasonic sensors installed in equipments. They states;

The collected data is sent to our servers, where it is compared with previous data collected from that machine, as well as data collected from similar machines. Our platform can detect the slightest changes and warn you of developing malfunctions. This analysis is done in real-time and the results are displayed on the technician’s smartphone within seconds.

On the technical side, IoT devices are always landing on Low-Power Wide-Aria (LPWA) connections as most of them are on-the-go gadgets. In fact, according to James Brehm & Associates, 86% of IoT devices consume less than 3MB a month. This is better when comparing to the other emerging technologies in the sense of sustainability. So as Weiser mentioned this will be the dominant technology from within a 20 years (or less) in time.

Designing for IoT

As I promised it is time to talk about the design phase of the IoT devices. Most of the time such tools/devices use VUI or voice user interfaces to control actions within. So for more than 2 decades UX/UI and digital product designers are used to create interfaces and experiences for either tangible clickable buttoned inputs or touch interfaces. With using Low Power resources and connections it is bit hard to implement such functionalities to the IoT devices. So it is bit of a challenge to the designers to overcome these drawbacks and create intuitive experiences. So as a shining spark, voice UIs land on the stage.

Apple Siri interface on CarPlay

Without touch inputs or buttons you can trigger several actions with voice UIs. IoT devices use Natural Word Processors to process our vocals/words and identify what we need. As advancements done to these processors, now they can actually identify multiple user inputs and trigger various actions based on respective request from the each user. So in the perspective of a designer this will be challenging because of the lack of visual activity and much of the process is done with the tech itself. So the main attribute to consider here about is the empathy or the scenarios in different user journeys.

There are few tools exist to build VUIs now and still they’re in bit of a primitive stage. Invocable is highlighted among them as it provides visual platform to build Amazon Alexa skills as part of the voice UI.

Apart from talking about VUIs, here are some heads-ups for designing better experiences with IoT devices.

Importance of Contextual Experiences

IoT devices and actions done within it should be timely and purposeful to the user. This mean the experience should adapt to the user’s surroundings and responds accordingly.

Evolving User Actions

As pinching, scrolling, force touching, etc. are introduced within the touch interfaces get ready to think outside the box for create functional and purposeful actions for IoT devices. As most of they don’t have a screen or a touch based navigation, experiment things like vocal, hand gestures, eye movements and so on.

Predictive Actions — Predictive Input

As I mentioned earlier predictive actions are useful feature with IoT technologies. So why not design side-by-side? The existing model we use for designing I/O scenarios; singular actions driving singular responds seems outdated with these IoT devices. Now we can see interfaces that can predict a series of steps for the user. A simple gesture, movement, or word will initiate a series of useful events. As designing the UIs for this new dynamic, we need to understand that user views will change constantly, and the device itself takes the decision to respond to the predicted action respectively. Being dynamic in design is bit challenging, but it’ll be the future.

Wrapping up..

As Isaac Asimov, Sir Arthur C. Clarke and many sci-fi writers predicted, the intelligent device driven autonomous world is not so far. Currently we’re just scratching the surface of it with the pervasive computing and its applications. There will be more dynamics with the phase of designing and developing applications for IoT technologies in the next coming years. Getting ready for those and thinking outside the cube is the best way to lean to the top!

//Thanks for stopping by as usual. Round of applause if you found this interesting. Visit me at madebylahesh.com
Gracias 🙌


Pervasive computing: an IoT story was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this .

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