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Number 53
April 2003:
Special theme:
Cognitive Systems

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< Contents ERCIM News No. 54, July 2003
SPECIAL THEME: Applications and Service Platforms for the Mobile User

User-Centric Peer-to-Peer Service Environment for Interaction with Networked Appliances

by Daniel Pakkala, Pekka Välitalo, Pekka Pääkkönen and Juhani Latvakoski

The focus of research at VTT has been to design a service platform for the future wireless world. Special attention has been paid to user centricity in the design of future service platforms.

The mobile Internet is now being realised and launched on the market. It enables different kinds of mobile terminal to be connected to the Internet anywhere and at anytime. However, due to the massive amount of information content and the number of devices connected to the Internet, users’ lives are becoming more and more complicated. Consequently, in the future, user centricity requirements will become increasingly important, making this an essential research challenge.

User centricity and the flexibility to deal with multiple use scenarios have been starting points for the development of the service platform. We have chosen the future residential home environment for the validation of solutions because it is a good example of a future intelligent environment using many networked appliances with different capabilities. In a residential home environment, some networked appliances can be very simple and it would not be cost effective to implement the control channels of these devices based on Internet Protocol (IP). Instead, these simple appliances - like X.10 light switches, for example - can be controlled via a service gateway from the IP networks. For devices like alarm systems or remotely controllable devices with more processing capabilities and functionalities, it is reasonable to implement the control channels based on IP. This variety of appliances creates the need for flexibility and transport layer protocol independence for the service platform.

The problem to be solved by user centricity in service platform design can be compared to the situation some of us already have in our living rooms. For example, owning a TV, VCR, hi-fi system and DVD means there are at least four different remote controls to manage. Even with this relatively small number of devices, the separate remote controls present an annoying configuration from the user perspective. In future homes there could be many more appliances that need to be controlled and managed by the user. The purpose of user centricity in the service platform is to make the control and management of future networked appliances (NAs) as easy as possible for the end user. For example, a single button press on a mobile terminal (MT) can display a floor plan of the home that shows all the appliances that the user is able to control. When a user selects, for example, a living room lamp, the user interface (UI) of the living room lamp appears on the screen and the user can then remotely control it.

Figure 1: Approaches for controlling networked appliances.
Figure 1: Approaches for controlling networked appliances.

In Figure 1, two different approaches for controlling networked appliances are presented. On the left is the legacy independent UI approach, and on the right, the applied user centric peer-to-peer approach that we have used in the developed service platform. In the legacy approach, the user interfaces of the IP-capable appliances are located at the MT, whilst those of the non IP-capable appliances are located at the service gateway. This kind of approach to controlling system design will lead to a non user-friendly situation in the future, when the number of NAs will grow fast. In the applied user centric peer-to-peer approach, all the devices should be represented in the service gateway by their agents or control software, and the UI components of all the NAs present in the system should be available at the service gateway. The final UI that is uploaded to the user’s mobile terminal is generated from these UI components. The UI components contain the address information of the NAs providing the service in question. After the final UI is activated at the mobile terminal, it automatically establishes the control connections needed and becomes visible to the user.

Figure 2: Demonstration system.
Figure 2: Demonstration system.

In our latest demonstration we introduced the concept of the User Centric Peer-to-Peer Service Environment (see Figure 2). In the demonstration we controlled two X.10 devices and a remotely controllable car with a video camera through the service platform. The X.10 devices represented simple non IP-capable devices and the car represented a more complicated device with IP capabilities. The configuration of the demonstration, final data channels and use cases are presented in Figure 2.
The work described in this article has been carried out in a strategic project OmniPresent rEference seRvice Architecture - OPERA at VTT Electronics during year 2002.

Please contact:
Daniel Pakkala, VTT Electronics

Juhani Latvakoski, VTT Electronics

Pekka Välitalo, VTT Electronics

Pekka Pääkkönen, VTT Electronics