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M-Zones – Smart Spaces for an intelligent world

By: Rob O’Connor
Whenever I mention that I work with TSSG to people around Waterford, I usually get a standard response – “Yeah, I’ve heard of the TSSG, but what do you actually do?” Rather than going into technical (and boring!) details, I just tell them about one of our projects. Explaining something by example is generally the best way of illustrating a concept, so usually they go away with some idea of what goes on out here. In accordance with that methodology, in this article I will attempt to give a broad overview of Smart Space technology and the M-Zones project that is running here at the TSSG.
“It is 7am and Eoin’s personal digital assistant (PDA) broadcasts instructions to Eoin’s smart pyjama to wake him without making any noise so as to not to wake up his wife. After being woken, Eoin gets up and makes his way to the bathroom. While Eoin gets ready, his PDA broadcasts messages to the coffee machine and the toaster in order to have his breakfast ready when he comes down to the kitchen. After getting dressed, Eoin goes down to the kitchen to find coffee and toast ready. In the meantime, his PDA has wirelessly downloaded the latest business e-mail and compiled today’s appointments and to-do list ready for viewing on the kitchen’s Skypad. After breakfast, he gets into his car to drive to work. Eoin’s car scans the traffic reports to see if there are any delays on his usual route to the office. The car informs Eoin of an accident up ahead and suggests an alternate route to save time”
Ubiquitous Computing; Pervasive Computing; Smart Spaces – these are all terms used to describe the strongly emerging trend in Information Technology towards highly dynamic, heterogeneous, computing environments. The basic premise behind Smart Spaces is that areas exist that have knowledge or information about their environment and surroundings and can deliver dynamic services based on a contextual understanding. As computing power increases, hardware size decreases and programming techniques become more accessible, the potential for truly mobile computing is growing. Within Smart Spaces everything has the possibility of being a computer, as can be seen from the short scenario outlining Eoin’s day. Pervasive Computing is about creating such technologies and infrastructures and developing the devices and services that will deliver this ubiquitous computing experience.
M-Zones is a Higher Education Authority (HEA) funded project running at the TSSG here in WIT, in conjunction with Trinity College Dublin and Cork Institute of Technology, to undertake research into management infrastructures that enable collaboration and management between and within Smart Spaces. Across the globe, there are numerous research centres developing technologies that implement Smart Space ideologies. With many prototype environments being deployed across various test locations, one aspect of pervasive computing is now identified as being of critical importance – how will all these systems work together? This is where M-Zones comes in. The goals of the project are:
* To develop technology that aids in the management of people, devices and smart space infrastructures
* To develop management and control systems for integrating multiple smart spaces
With these objectives realised, users will be able to migrate seamlessly between smart spaces. People will be able to move from their smart home, to their smart office, to the smart shop and have a range of services available to them, without requiring any technical effort on their part. As Pervasive Computing moves to the forefront of cutting edge technologies, the M-Zones project is establishing itself as a world leader in Smart Space Management Technology. For more information regarding the M-Zones project, please visit www.m-zones.org. For information on other TSSG projects, visit www.tssg.org/projects.htm

GPRS – Something to do with my phone, right?

By: Rob O’Connor
You might be forgiven for thinking that the letters GPRS are just another acronym the mobile operators use to confuse you. But really they’re not…honestly.
GPRS, or General Packet Radio Service, is a relatively new way of sending and receiving information to and from a mobile phone. It operates similarly to the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) in the fact that web pages may be viewed on your telephone screen, but they differ in the way they use a dial-up connection. With WAP a user dials-up their service provider, does whatever they want to do and then disconnects. The user is then charged for the duration of the phone call. A GPRS-enabled phone however, offers users an “always-on”, high-capacity, high-speed connection to Internet-based information and services. Charging is based on the amount of data the user sends/receives. So imagine this scenario:
Fintan is an engineer working on-site somewhere and is waiting for an important email to arrive from his boss. With his standard WAP phone, he must dial up every time to check his email for new messages. Each time he does this, he incurs a charge. However with his GPRS phone, he just sits there and when his boss sends the email, he is notified instantly. He is only charged for reading this one email. Using GPRS it is far quicker, easier and (most importantly) cheaper to use the Internet from a mobile device.
So how does it work? GPRS is built on the idea of a packet-switched network. Packet-switched networks have often been described as comparable to moving a building from one location to another. So let’s say we want to move a house from Dublin to Waterford. It would be impractical (and practically impossible) to transport the building in one go. The solution is to disassemble the house, label the various bricks, components, etc, load them onto trucks and begin transportation. The bricks may not arrive in Waterford in the same order that they were sent, since the drivers may take different routes to deliver their
loads, some may drive faster than others or for various other reasons. However, this doesn’t really matter since we know the order that the bricks are to be put together based on the labelling structure we devised in the beginning. And soon after all the bricks have arrived, we can reassemble the house perfectly in Waterford (in theory at least).
Now apply this system to moving data around a network. A Server receives a request from a Client for a block of information. The Server breaks up the information into packets and begins transmitting the data across the network. The Client starts receiving these packets and put them back together so as to produce the requested information. If a packet gets lost along the way, the Client can ask for it to be re-transmitted, thus ensuring the Client receives all the data it needs. The best example of an implementation of this type of network is the Internet. So you could have been using a packet-switched network all this time without realising it! GPRS uses this type of system to transfer data between mobile phones and other networks.
GSM (Global System for Mobile) is the 2G of mobile phone networks and 3G networks are a little bit away yet. GPRS sits somewhere between the two of these and so has been dubbed 2.5G. So now you know a bit about GPRS, how can you use it? Both Vodafone and O2 offer GPRS services to customers with GPRS-enabled phones, such as the Nokia 6210, 6310, 8310, or the Motorola V66, V80.
So should you use GPRS? Well if you use WAP regularly, you could probably reduce your costs by switching to GPRS. If you foresee the need for a mobile data connection in your near future, GPRS might be for you.

The Future of Telehealth

By: Keith Hearne
“Imagine a world where no matter who you are or where you are, you can get the health care you need when you need it.”
- Quote from opening page of the Office of Advancement of Telehealth website An appealing idea; the notion that if you are in a remote place and are in need of medical assistance or need access to medical knowledge that you can get it when you need it, no matter where you are. Fortunately telehealth is already more then a notion. Indeed in some places it is alive and well and in use.
So what is telehealth? Telehealth is the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration. And with the latest movement in mobile communications to the third generation (3G) technology; where Internet and mobile technology are converging, it’s possible that telehealth just may be able to offer that little bit more.
First generation (1G) mobile communications systems started in the early to mid 1980s, offering simple wireless voice services based on analog technology. These systems provided low quality voice services, were very limited in capacity and did not extend across geographic areas. Our current mobile phone services work on digital second generation (2G) systems, which were developed in Europe (mainly Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM)) and the U.S. to provide better voice quality, higher capacity, global roaming capability as well as lower power consumption. 2G systems also offer support for services like short messaging (SMS).
However, the low transmission (bit) rate of 2G systems (9.6kbps for GSM) cannot meet demands for new and faster non-voice services on the move. 3G systems aim to solve the problems encountered with 2G, by promising global roaming across 3G standards, as well as support for multimedia applications by using Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) technology. UMTS technology will also offer increased bandwidth and better Quality of Service (QoS). With the UMTS technology, telehealth will take on a whole new life and offer much more efficient medical services.
Telecommunications and Internet services currently facilitate telehealth by allowing the transfer of patient and other related medical data between health care professionals. However consultation and treatment are the major areas of health care at the moment. In the coming years we will see our current mobile communications systems extended with UMTS technologies, and as a result we should see consultation and treatment being provided virtually in any location where access to a mobile communications system is available. This kind of technology should offer dramatic improvements to areas like emergency and home treatment, as well as routine check-ups. This will lead to considerable cost savings to different stakeholders in the healthcare system. For hospitals it will mean reduced cost and bed stay; GPs will have greater reach of consultancy services; and most importantly for the patients, telehealth will mean independence and fewer doctors’ visits.
Let’s take a couple of scenarios where UMTS technology and teleheath will be able to offer us improved medical assistance.
Patient Monitoring: We are already seeing new integrated technologies being introduced to the mobile market place, with the latest mobile phones offering a still camera, allowing you to take still pictures and send these to friends. With improved integration we will see mobile devices that offer live feed video streaming via inbuilt cameras. With this in mind patient monitoring could be easily implemented by a GP. With monitoring equipment being set up at the patient’s home or on the move, the GP can keep an eye on the patient’s progress without having to be there.
Emergency Care: Imagine a person was in a car accident and he or she was physically uninjured but a fellow passenger had some trauma and injury. Miles from the nearest hospital or doctor, the person, however, has a mobile device with phone and live feed capabilities. She can ring the doctor who can provide invaluable on the spot advice for the person to administer, possibly saving the victim’s life. This can be extended to doctors advising nursing staff or ambulance staff while en route to hospital.
Consultations and Call Out: It’s 3:00am and you’re woken by your 3 year old daughter who is crying, feverish, coughing heavily and complaining of an upset stomach and you don’t know what to do. It’s a fairly common situation where you have to call a doctor out to your house late at night or early in the morning. But what if the advice needed could be administered over your video/phone? The doctor can see the patient through a live stream and determine whether the situation warrants a house call and if not can give detailed information of treatment over the phone. Once the consultation is at an end you can even pay for the treatment using your mobile UMTS device.
All the technologies needed for mobile health care or telemedicine are already in place. With the expansion of UMTS and 3G technologies in the coming years, we will see these types of services extended and greatly improved. UMTS technology will also see the ability to pay for access to services through your mobile. This ability to handle payments will be a catalyst to bring healthcare services to the mobile world.
These are just a few of the possibilities of telehealth that we may see come into operation with the introduction of UMTS technology. One thing is clear though that the advancement of telehealth will more than likely come into all of our lives in the coming years, making our medical systems more efficient and more patient friendly and will provide a vehicle to improve healthcare service delivery.
See also:

http://telehealth.hrsa.gov/

http://telehealth.net/

http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/

pmd/telehealth/about/about.htm

George Boole – An unsung hero

By: Rob O’Connor

Unless someone has been living on Mars for the past 15 years, they would know that Ireland has shown phenomenal economic growth in the recent past. This has been due to, among other things, government subsidies in higher education, increased foreign investment and the cultivation of domestic business. At the forefront of Ireland’s economic revolution was its strong position in the Information Technology market, so much so that we were known as “the silicon valley of Europe.” However, not many people are aware that Ireland’s presence on the technology map is not a new development; in fact every computer circuit in the world is based on mathematical theories developed by a mathematics professor in Cork in the mid-19th century.

George Boole was born in the English industrial town of Lincoln in 1815. His parents were members of the lower working class and in an age so driven by class-structure and social standings, it is quite remarkable that Boole eventually achieved what he did. As a young boy he showed an unusual intelligence and curiosity, which was nurtured by his father who passed on his knowledge and love of mathematics to his son. As he grew older, his father arranged for a friend to teach the boy Latin and by the time he reached adolescence, Boole was fluent in German, Italian and French. When he turned 16 he began working as an assistant teacher and at the age of 20 (after deciding not to enter Church service) he opened his own school.

As well as running his school, Boole continued his private study of mathematics. He became friendly with Duncan Gregory, the editor of the recently founded Cambridge Mathematical Journal who encouraged Boole to undertake a formal degree. However Boole needed the income he earned from his school to support his parents, so a penniless student life was not viable. He carried on his research and at ripe old age of 24 published his first scientific paper – Researches on the Theory of Analytical Transformations – in his friend’s periodical. Over the next ten years he produced a steady stream of papers that gained the attention of intellectual groups and in 1844 he was awarded the Royal Society Medal for his contributions to mathematical analysis. In 1849, he was offered a position on the faculty of Queen’s College Ireland (later to become University College Cork) where he remained for the rest of his life.
As a member of a respected academic institution, Boole found it easier to delve into research and concentrated on refining his methods. He set himself the task of developing a mathematical description for natural-language logical arguments, which could then be manipulated and solved. He came up with a type of linguistic algebra, the three most basic operations of which were (and still are) AND, OR and NOT. With these three functions, he discovered it was possible to perform comparisons or simple mathematical operations. His findings were published in his 1854 work An Investigation of the Laws of Thought, on Which Are Founded the Mathematical Theories of Logic and Probabilities where he gave a detailed description of his binary approach of only processing two objects at any one time, always yielding a Yes/No, On/Off or 1/0 result. As most people know, computers are binary machines and since everything is reduced down to 1s and 0s, all mathematical operations are based on Boole’s work.
Boole’s laws are incredibly simple – but that’s what’s so good about them! They may seem obvious now, but 150 years ago this type of thinking was unheard of. Boole’s work is well-documented elsewhere and any interested individuals can find very good explanations on the Internet (e.g www.kerryr.net) or in mathematical logic textbooks.
Sadly Boole’s career came to an untimely end, when he died at the early age of 49. According to reports, he walked a distance of two miles in the pouring rain from his home to Queen’s College and delivered his final lecture, soaking wet. He developed a feverish cold and soon his lungs became infected. His wife Mary (who was the niece of the explorer Sir George Everest) believed that the remedy for her husband’s illness should resemble the cause. She put him to bed and threw buckets of water over him. He died a few days later.

Mind your own business – or someone else will

By: Jonathan Brazil
Computers are everywhere. It’s a modern fact that cannot be argued with. Convenience stores, supermarkets and even pubs all have computer-controlled cash registers. They have been introduced to make our everyday lives more efficient. Or have they?
Most regular shoppers are loyal to a particular store where they do their weekly shopping and other bits and pieces. As a result they will at some stage have been offered a loyalty scheme option such as a clubcard. Every time they make a purchase they present the card and get rewarded in some way for the purchase that they have made.
However, it doesn’t stop there. All the details about your purchases have now been stored in your profile somewhere on the store’s server. Remember when you signed up for the card, you gave your details to the store? Well, you did and now that you have started to use the card a database is storing your purchases and building up a character profile of your shopping habits.
Every once in a while you will receive a personalised booklet of vouchers offering you discounts on various items. Isn’t it strange how these random discounts often have a lot in common with your regular purchases combined with some impulse items? I sometimes purchase items online such as DVDs, books, CDs, etc. One of the requirements now is that you specify an e-mail address so that you can be notified that your order has been received and also to update you on the status of the order. Now every time there is a new release, special offer or other such event it will be emailed to
me. Also every time you log into your account on that site you will be given a list of titles that might be of interest to you based on past purchases. Every time you buy something you are being tracked and you are saving these companies thousands in marketing surveys. Of course you are being rewarded for this in the way of discounts and such.
If you’re not happy with the fact that so many companies might be building up a highly detailed profile of your shopping habits or general interests you can comfort yourself with the thought that somewhere in the small print there is probably a legal notice stating that your information will not be shared with any other outside company. But what happens if the company’s policy changes on this matter some time down the road? Suddenly a selection of companies know what you have been buying for the last number of years and how often you have been buying it and even how much you are prepared to pay for it if you shop in multiple stores.
We as consumers have signed away a part of our privacy in exchange for small discounts on our purchases. The question we have to ask ourselves is: Are we fuelling a market, which is already one of the highest priced in Europe, with information that reflects our inclination to pay more for certain items? Personally I’d rather keep what I eat for breakfast a secret.

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