Tomorrow’s e-services call for software engineering solutions today. Researchers under the IST programme are laying the foundation for new types of end-user service economies where innovative players can access the software infrastructure and tools they need.
For businesses, public services and governments, IT is revolutionising everything from the supply chain, processes, inventory management and marketing, to customer relationship management, innovation, healthcare, transport and utilities management. For individuals, new types of personal devices are replacing traditional tools such as maps, guides, journals, cameras and telephones.
The underlying components that deliver seamless, value-added services come from different infrastructures, including Global Positioning Systems (GPS), mobile networks, micro-payment services, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Web-based services. Successful, competitive service engineering means creating, discovering and delivering new and existing services while integrating their functionality within user-friendly devices and applications.
‘Just like a chameleon’
One example is the IST project CAMELEON that focused on user interface issues for mobile applications portable across different platforms. Project partners addressed the challenge of constructing multiple versions of single applications with the ability to dynamically respond to changes in context.
“Computer-based applications need to run on a wide spectrum of devices and should adapt their externally perceivable interface to changing contexts, just like a chameleon,” explains the project scientific coordinator Fabio Paternò of ISTI-CNR, Italy.
Paternò says the project’s main goal was to provide designers and software developers of interactive ubiquitous services with methods, models and tools that allow them to better address the new challenges raised by the increasing range of devices with different features and modalities that can be used to access such services.
The three-year project, which ended December 2004, focused on variation in the interaction resources available to an application such as basic platform capability, accessible display area, sound and speech interaction channels and network bandwidth. These resources vary according to the type of device on which the application runs and their use has to take into account the current environmental conditions. By using model-based approaches, project partners created tools for designing and developing usable multi-platform applications.
Several tools were developed; two are already publicly available. TERESA is an authoring tool that edits logical specifications of tasks and uses such information to create user interfaces. These user interfaces (they can be implemented in several languages: XHTML, XHTML Mobile Profile, VoiceXML, …) adapt to the features of the device at hand and are generated either automatically or semi-automatically. TERESA also supports automatic redesign of a desktop interface for a mobile device exploiting semantic information. ReversiXML is a reverse engineering tool that analyses a system's code, documentation, and behaviour to identify its current components and their dependencies to extract and create system abstractions and design information,to produce additional knowledge about the original system.
“We are developing a set of tools to design, analyse and develop usable multi-platform applications,” adds Paternò. “We are also creating a set of concepts and methods to allow designers and software developers to better understand these issues.”
‘Moby’ tackles utilities management
In industry the next step in the e-control of plants is ‘pervasive’ or ‘ubiquitous’ computing. Mobile workers need convenient access to relevant information with the ability to act on it anytime and from anyplace using a variety of devices. This access allows people to work faster and more efficiently, even beyond the boundaries of the facility.
An integrated informative system designed under the IST project MOBICOSSUM enables better management and maintenance of utilities facilities, particularly water and gas plants. Utilities in the water, gas and waste water sectors manage and control plants by processing data coming from several systems:
- The Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system, used to monitor and control industrial plants process.
- The GIS is a geo-referred database, used to manage a company's assets distributed over a wide area.
- The Decision Support System (DSS), used to plan interventions in the plants and to elaborate strategic planning.
The project’s main goal was to improve SCADA, GIS and DDS systems’ user friendly capability and usability by deploying mobile device and common Internet browsers to access stored data and to manage software services. A software platform based on standard information technologies was developed that simplifies access to complex technologies.
‘Moby’ is based on the interaction between a mobile operator (or operators) and a pervasive system of SCADA, GIS and DDS. It solves problems using Web services, and standard open and cross platform technology. The software architecture supports industrial sustainable development control and environmental human activities, from the management of the water integrated cycle to the control and management of the natural water resources, and the monitoring of water sources’ vulnerability.
Project coordinator Massimo Bosco, Proteo Spa, Italy, describes a field crew supervising a drinkable water network that uses a mobile device to transmit information about a leaking pipe or strange valve noise to the enterprise database. MOBICOSSUM could automatically create an anomaly report using the details provided by the crew. It transmits the information to a manager and facilitates communications with the field crew. By using SCADA, GIS and DSS, it provides the field crew with information on how to fix the system.
“‘Moby’ is unique because it is a middleware that easily implements the processes that manage a water/environmental system. It goes beyond managing the new communication standard among SCADA, GIS and DDS,” says Bosco. “We particularly addressed the automation of management processes to improve the performance of systems managed by mobile technicians, managers and field crews.”
Companies that use mobile workers to manage water, gas and environmental plant-wide systems, such as a regional transmission main could use MOBICOSSUM. The 26-month project ended October 2004. The consortium is searching for industry partners to help bring ‘Moby’ to market.
Empowering location-based services
Location-based services (LBS) is a family of services that depend on the knowledge of the geographic location of mobile stations. The driving force behind the development of LBS is accelerating market demand for more advanced, innovative personalised services. Increasingly connected consumers are becoming dependent on LBS to support busy lifestyles and businesses are discovering their flexibility and efficiency.
Partners in the 30-month POLOS project, which ended in February 2004, developed and validated open architectures, technologies and tools to facilitate providing a variety of applications as networked services over a commonly available infrastructure. Several features make the POLOS platform unique:
- Portability - it is independent of specific hardware/operating systems.
- Re-usability – it is a generic platform decoupled from service logic, which allows the dynamic introduction of new services.
- It is independent from underlying technologies. It covers both outdoor and indoor environments (GSM/GPRS/UMTS and WLAN) and is not coupled with a specific GIS. POLOS features open interfaces towards the GIS, the network and end-user devices.
- The platform supports many operation paradigms including server push, client pull and event scheduling.
- It allows roaming across different infrastructures, such as moving from an outdoor/GPS to an indoor/WLAN environment.
- There is separation between service creation, service provision and the network, which allows each function to be handled by independent, but cooperating, organisations.
The POLOS platform can be customised to serve a wide range of business domains such as emergency services, fleet management, medical tele-monitoring and automotive assistance.
Project technical manager Stathes Hadjiefthymiades, Assistant Professor at the University of Athens, explains: “A user can ask for the nearest gas station, hospital or particular type of restaurant. The system returns the information indicating the position of the user and the point of interest on a map. It could also be used by a university department to direct people to classrooms, auditoriums, laboratories or printing facilities. It is a natural for fleet management: a wireless device is mounted on a vehicle that transmits its position at regular time intervals to the POLOS platform.”
Members of the consortium plan to commercially exploit different components of the modular platform, for example, messaging gateways and positioning middleware. They also plan to market the entire platform to users and subscribers of mobile networks of WLAN infrastructures.
As IT increasingly becomes the backbone of our societies, unprecedented opportunities are opening new horizons for service engineers, software designers and developers. With help from the IST programme, these horizons herald a new dawn for Europe’s software industry.
Dr Fabio Paternò
Human-Computer Interaction Group
ISTI - CNR Institute
Via G. Moruzzi
I-56010 Ghezzano Pisa
Via Santa Sofia 65
I-95123 Catania (CT)
Lazaros Merakos/ Stathes Hadjiefthymiades
Professor/ Assistant Professor
University of Athens
Department of Informatics & Telecommunications
30 Panepistimiou Str.
Email: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Based on information from MOBICOSSUM, CAMELEON and POLOS