The Field Work of Ambient Computing


I explored several blocks closed to Foggy Bottom Metro Station.

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Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 11.06.09 AMHere is a photo I took from the outside of a dry cleaner. It was the first time I ran into this cleaner. But I can get much information about it through Internet by seeing the rate and reviews on websites. In this case, a new comer of the city will not feel lacking too much past experience of the city. She can get information from content-sharing platforms, which is created by other costumers. It is one kind of urban sensing: crowd-sourcing (Nabian & Ratti). The cities don’t unfold in front of people merely with their current look. They are also displayed on a timeline—extending into the past, as well as the future. By scanning the QR code posted. I can download coupons to my cellphone. I also got the information that the discount will end in the August. This cleaner also accepts payment by GW student card. I think it can be regarded as a viral sensing.Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 2.14.02 PM This method of payment didn’t built new infrastructure, but simply connected POS, Banking system and campus card services. This method provides conveniences by sensing consumers’ identities, and completing the payment at the discounted prices at the same time.

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 4.27.51 PMOn the door of a coffee shop next to the cleaner, more small posters can be found. One of them looks like a bottle. It means that this coffee shop is one partner of TapIt, which is an association who promote bottle-less life-style. They have bound many cafe into a network that lets those who want water find those willing to provide it. People can find the locations of TapIt partners on an online map.  It expands each citizen’s perceived sphere of responsibility from the domestic space, to the space of the city, which might result in a more responsible urbanity (Nabian & Ratti). Another of them informs people that there is a security system built inside. I went to the website of the security company. Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 4.32.47 PMIt provides security services by utilizing the existing equipment (Another example of viral sensing). It is claimed as a system that can deal with various kinds of threats and users can operate it with smartphone.

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Some databases have been created to let people make better sense of service providers. People who borrow rental bikes might meet problems that they cannot find docks at a bike station when they want to put the bike back. If we cannot create more docks immediately, citizens can become distributed. A mobile app shows many pie charts that indicate the locations and numbers of bikes and docks. Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 2.27.00 PMData might be collected by the sensors that were built at the bike stations. It enables people to make better decisions. Similarly, with another app, people can input the expected arrive and depart time, and compare the parking fee nearby. The once hidden information now become public accessible.

IMG_2109The control system of traffic light better displays Ambient computing system’s capability of actuation. People can touch the sensor to tell the system that they want to cross. The traffic light will “decide” to change or not based on several factors in the context. Intelligent and assistive devices provide a mechanism by which AmI systems can executive actions and affect the system users (Cook, Augusto & Jakkula, 2009). However, I can’t say that these ambient computing devices I saw have intelligence. AmI is considered as a new challenge for AI and is the next step in AI’s evolution (Ramos, Augusto & Shapiro, 2008 ). However, I doubt that the maturing ambient computing is generated from AI. These systems still don’t have the ability to make creative decisions as humans. At this stage, they don’t distinguish themselves from complicated operation systems that run well-designed algorithms.


The last picture that I want to put here is one I took at Healy Hall. The poster encourages people to come back to the “real world”. However, I don’t think technology is leading us toward sort of ”fake reality”, although maybe we will never walk outside Plato’s caves and see the reality. But putting this argument aside, I think ambient computing are not creating virtual reality, but just provides us with information in unconventional ways.

Works Cited

Cook, D. J., Augusto, J. C., & Jakkula, V. R. (2009). Ambient intelligence: Technologies, applications, and opportunities. Pervasive and Mobile Computing, 5(4), 277-298.

Nabian, Nashid & Ratti, Carlo, “The City to Come,” in Innovation: Perspectives for the 21st Century(OpenMind),

Ramos, C., Augusto, J. C., & Shapiro, D. (2008). Ambient intelligence—The next step for artificial intelligence. Intelligent Systems, IEEE, 23(2), 15-18.