Introduction to Pervasive Computing

The concept of pervasive computing, or ubiquitous computing as it was originally coined, may be attributed to the researcher Mark Weiser and his UbiComp team at Xerox PARC. Weiser [13] was a zealous advocate for finding alternative solutions to the PC, which he deemed to be counter productive to getting more technology support integrated into people’s daily lives. Indeed, Weiser envisioned the proliferation of technology throughout the workplace to allow for tighter integration with the actual work tasks. Amongst the technology solutions Weiser and his colleges produced for supporting this vision, was the concept of “Tabs, Pads & Boards” devices, communicating with each other through a wireless network, and the ability to track the location of a user within his ubiquitous equipped laboratory and support work tasks in novel ways.

This technology vision has now become a commercial reality. PDA’s and cell phones, able to run applications and communicating using WiFi or mobile networks such as the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) or Universal Mobile Telephone System (UMTS), are now available at a cost that may be considered negligible by most in the industrialized world.

Weiser’s main vision was that of “calm technology”. Letting the technology disappear from our attention, and instead let the technology help us, rather than allow it to be in our way. A design goal also discussed by Norman in his book on “the invisible computer” [15].

Much of the current research literature on pervasive and ubiquitous computing in general, and pervasive healthcare in particular (which we shall cover in the next section), considers the mobile phone to be the essence of Mark Weiser’s vision, solving all the pervasive tasks we might imagine, including healthcare related tasks. We tend to disagree with those people, however. To Mark Weiser, the notion of tabs (which has some resemblance with the mobile phone of today), pads and boards, was only the “ends to a mean”. As Norman stated, a device to “rule them all” – or a device that handles everything, being both a phone, a walkman, a calendar, a camera and a healthcare hub, is not a usable product – or at least not a product usable by all. And if we consider some of our target groups for this project, namely the elderly (and perhaps) cognitive impaired, one should be very careful to be considering the mobile phone as the perfect ubiquitous device for solving pervasive computing tasks. Most commercially available mobile phones are not in any way a “calm” experience for many elderly users, and in fact, applications for mobile phones does often not work as easy and painlessly as expected.

So, pervasive computing technology implies many other things than just being mobile and being able to access data anywhere, anytime. It is also about creating contextual awareness, and about being proactive, and perhaps more important, about being user friendly to the extreme. If we need to harness the power of technology out in the homes of potentially cognitive and physically impaired people, we must exploit the full potential of Weisers original ideas. Sensors must be aware where the user is, what the user is doing, and perhaps what the user should be doing. If he for instance is in the bathroom, and he has not taken his medicine as prescribed, the system should be aware of his position, and be able to provide him the info in the context he is in. It is no use that his phone is vibrating to remind him to take his medicine, if he is sitting in his bathtub.
Pervasive computing is about sensing and intelligent decision making. Contextual awareness and of course, access to data and the flow of data. If the elderly patient (from before) did not take his medicine, then someone should be informed of it. It might be his doctor – which he will see next month – or it might be a simple text SMS message sent to one of his relatives, friends or spouse.

Pervasive computing enabling technologies include sensors and actuators, regular PC’s, embedded computers and mobile devices. The use of wireless technologies is of major importance in pervasive computing. Technologies include WiFi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, RFID, NFC, TCP/IP, while sensors might be everything from accelerometers or visual movement trackers to measure movement, heat sensors, pressure sensors and more. Speech and voice recognition technology certainly also goes under the notion of pervasive enabling technology, allowing for a calmer and more natural user interface – as is the use of touch screens and other direct manipulation interfaces.


  • [1] US Census Bureau, International Database. Accessed via Internet:, November 2008.
  • [2] T. Ezzati-Rice, D. Kashihara and S. Machlin, “Health care expenses in the United States, 2000”, Agency for Helatchare Research and Quality, Report 04.0022, 2004.
  • [3] J.E. Bardram, A. Mihailidis, D. Wan, “Pervasive Computing in Healthcare”, CRC Press, p.6, 2006.
  • [4] “Scaling Mount Proteome to bring down chronic disease”. The Pfizer Journal®, Global Edition Volume 1I, Number 2, 2001, 4-9.R.
  • [5] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, Health United States, “Limittation of acitivity caused by selected chronic health conditions among working-age adults, by age United States, 2004-2005.”, 2007, Figure 16. Data from the National Health Interview Survey. Accessed via Internet:, November 2008.
  • [6] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, Health United States, “Limittation of acitivity caused by selected chronic health conditions among older adults, by age: United States, 2004-2005.”, 2007. Data from the National Health Interview Survey. Accessed via Internet:, November 2008.
  • [7] J.E. Bardram, A. Mihailidis, D. Wan, “Pervasive Computing in Healthcare”, CRC Press, 2006.
  • [8] S. Candrili, J. Mauskopf, “How much does a hospital day cost?” Presented at: 11th Annual International Meeting of the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research May 20-24 2006. Philadelphia. PA
  • [9] L.M Tolstrup, A. Bonne, Dansk Regioner, Note on the Estimated Average Value of 1 Day of Hospitalization in a Danish Public Sector Hospital, data drawn from , November 2008.
  • [10] R. Bennefield, R. Bonnette, “Structural and occupancy characteristics of housing: 2000”, United States Census Bureau, Report No. C2KBR-32, 2003
  • [11] J. Keye, T. Zitzelberger, “Overview of healthcare, disease, and disability”, in “Pervasive Computing in Healthcare”, CRC Press, p. 3-20, 2006.
  • [12] R. Thractenberg, C. Singer, J. Kaye, “Symptoms of sleep disturbance in persons with Alzheimer’s disease and normal elderly”, Journal of Sleep Research 14, 177-185, 2005
  • [13] M. Weiser, “The computer for the 21st century”. In Scientific American, September, 1991.
  • [14] M. Weiser, “Some computer science issues in ubiquitous computing”. In Communications of the ACM, July 36, vol. 7, 1993.
  • [15] D. A. Norman, “The invisible computer: why good products can fail, the personal computer is so complex, and information appliances are the solution”. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, 1998.
  • [16] H. Kautz, L. Arnstein, G. Borriello, O. Etzioni., D. Fox. “An overview of the assisted cognition project.”, AAAI-2002 Workshop on Automation as Caregiver: The Role of IntelligentTechnology in Elder Care, Edmonton, Alberta, 2002.
  • [17] Seon-Woo Lee, Yong-Joong Kim, Gi-Sup Lee, Byung-Ok Cho, Nam-Ha Lee, “A remote behavioral monitoring system for elders living alone”, Control, Automation and Systems, 2007. ICCAS '07. International Conference on, pages 2725_2730, Oct. 2007.
  • [18] C.Y. Huang and J.L. Su, “A middleware of dicom and web service for home-based elder healthcare information system”. Information Technology Applications in Biomedicine, 2007. ITAB 2007. 6th International Special Topic Conference on, p. 182-185, Nov. 2007.
  • [19] DICOM. Accessed via Internet , Nov. 2008
  • [20] NEMA. Accessed via Internet November 2008
  • [21] U. Varshney, “Pervasive healthcare and wireless health monitoring”, Mobile Networking Applications, 12(2-3)113-127, 2007
  • [22] A. Bamis, D. Lymberopoulos, T. Teixeira, A. Savvides, “Towards precision monitoring of elders for providing assistive services”. In PETRA '08: Proceedings of the 1st international conference on Pervasive Technologies Related to Assistive Environments, pages 1-8, New York, NY, USA, 2008. ACM.
  • [23] D. Kirovski, N. Oliver, M. Sinclair, D. Tan. “Health-os: a position paper”. In HealthNet '07: Proceedings of the 1st ACM SIGMOBILE international workshop on Systems and networking support for healthcare and assisted living environments, pages 76-78, New York, NY, USA, 2007. ACM.
  • [24] L. Schwiebert, S.K.S. Gupta, and J. Weinmann, “Research challenges in wireless networks of biomedical sensors”. In MobiCom '01: Proceedings of the 7th annual international conference on Mobile computing and networking, pages 151-165, New York, NY, USA, 2001. ACM.
  • [25] M. Rodrig, A. LaMarca. “Oasis: an architecture for simplified data management and disconnected operation”. Personal Ubiquitous Computing, 9(2):108-121, 2005.
  • [26] J. E. Bardram, C. Bossen, A. Thomsen, “Designing for transformations in collaboration: a study of the deployment of homecare technology.” In GROUP '05: Proceedings of the 2005 international ACM SIGGROUP conference on Supporting group work, pages 294-303, New York, NY, USA, 2005. ACM.
  • [27] Telcomed, “About us”, Accessed via Internet:, November 2008
  • [28] Corscience, “Telemedicine”, Accessed via Internet: , November 2008
  • [29] Tunstall, “Telehealth Monitors”, Accessed via Internet:, November 2008
  • [30] Intel, “Intel Health Guide Overview“, Accessed via Internet:, November 2008
  • [31] Continua Alliance, “Home Page”, Accessed via Internet:, November 2008.
  • [32] Continua Alliance, “Overview”, Accessed via Internet:, November 2008.
  • [33] Continua Alliance, “Delivering on the promise of modern medicine: the need for interopable health & medical devices”, Accessed via Internet:, November 2008.
  • [34] Continua Alliance, “Continua Overview Presentation”, Accessed via Internet:, November 2008.
  • [35] Linux Information Project Definition. “Vendor lock-in definition”, Accessed via Internet:, September, 2007. [35]
  • [36] S. Wagner, "Towards an open and easily extendible home care system infrastructure”, Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Pervasive Computing Technologies for Healthcare, Tampere, Finland 2008
  • [37] S. Wagner, “Zero-configuration of pervasive healthcare sensor networks” Proceedings of the The Third International Conference on Pervasive Computing and Applications (ICPCA2008), Alexandria, Egypt, 2008.
  • [38] R.A. Soerensen, J.M. Nygaard, “Distributed zero configuration base station”, Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Pervasive Computing Technologies for Healthcare, Tampere, Finland (2008).