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VTT: The physical and digital world merging into an intelligent environment



The next major change in ICT since the Internet and Web has already begun. According to VTT, the change will introduce a new type of connection between the physical and digital world. One can talk about real intelligent interaction between man and information technology equipment, which will change our use of time, actions, and even the way we think. Its effects should be seen already in 2015, though it has been estimated that the actual breakthrough will take place in 2020–2025. This will offer major new major business opportunities to companies.

Development targeted at the bridging, or connection, between the physical and digital world is known under the following terms: ubiquitous computing, ubicom, pervasive computing, ambient intelligence, and the Internet of things, which all mean the merging of concrete things (such as cars, homes, machines, and bus stops) with the digital world. Today, everyday things are commonly equipped with IT features. Some examples of the ongoing ICT change are NFC identifiers (Near Field Communication), through which information about a particular place (e.g., a bus timetable or theatre programme) can be obtained by touching it with a mobile phone.

In the world today, there are about twenty embedded computers per person, which are used in cars, domestic appliances, and mobile phones. In 10 to 15 years, there will be hundreds of embedded computers, even a thousand per person. This means 7000 billion embedded computers in the world.

The aim is to make those computers that are close to users at a given point in time and match their goals to understand each other. VTT is working towards this vision by developing a technology that will allow interoperability between different types of objects, equipment, and facilities containing information technology so as to make them, in a sense, understand each other. It is also developing interaction between man and information technology equipment towards real intelligent interaction.

Research and product development ensure the competitiveness of the ICT industry

An intelligent space providing the user with useful information and services in a particular environment through easy-to-use means and in an understandable manner enables the introduction of entirely new operating methods. Examples of already existing intelligent facilities are smart homes and smart cars. There are major actors in these sectors with whom VTT pursues cooperation. The ongoing ICT change does not offer opportunities to major household electronics manufacturers or vehicle manufacturers only. The embedding of information technology in everyday objects and processes affects practically everything. It offers new business opportunities to small innovative companies and traditional industry, services and agriculture alike.

One example of an intelligent environment can be a greenhouse. Different senses, or sensors, can be embedded in it to monitor the amount of light, temperature, water height, and the pH value, for example. The embedded intelligence makes conclusions on the basis of sense-based findings and learned information. Motors and equipment act as muscles that carry out the desired measures, regulating heat, lighting, ventilation, and water movement. The functioning of the whole is based on the fact that pieces of equipment traditionally regarded as separate, such electric motors, sensors, and computers, converse with and understand each other in order to work towards a shared goal.

The digitalisation of the world offers companies a major business potential, which Finnish companies cannot afford to neglect. Companies must launch more active product development measures and take advantage of the situation. It is important to invest in research, competence, and product development in the long term.

Greenhouse demo: