An EU project team is developing a new platform for delivering flexible services on your chosen communications device. And the technologies employed read like a hit-parade of what’s hot in hi-tech – the semantic web, intelligent agents, peer-to-peer (P2P) networks and more.
You're far from home, feeling sick and scared. You’re on holiday and vulnerable and you need medical attention immediately. What do you do?
If the CASCOM project succeeds, you would simply use your mobile phone’s intelligent agent to locate a hospital and contact a doctor on the line for an immediate assessment. If the doctor wants to dispatch an ambulance, you don’t even need your address. Your agent will supply the hospital agent with a GPS reference or your cell ID, so they can find you.
Once you reach to hospital, your mobile's agent can get your medical records from home (with your permission), and you can even hide information that’s not relevant, such as a psychiatric condition. It can make travel arrangements for your wife, cancel your flight home, and warn your employer that you’ll miss some days from work. All thanks to the CASCOM platform.
The CASCOM system will be able to coordinate context-aware business applications in both fixed-line and mobile environments. And across countries, networks, operating systems and different platforms; using a mobile, PDA, laptop, whatever.
This is a hugely ambitious aim, and one that the CASCOM team can only achieve thanks to two important innovations. First, the sheer variety of advanced technologies that CASCOM embraces, and second, the deployment of those technologies over intelligent peer-to-peer (P2P) networks.
“In general, P2P offers flexibility, mobility, autonomy, fault tolerance and scalability. Users can join, leave and rejoin the system at any time and any place, using the mobile or desktop devices of their choice,” explains Oliver Keller of DFKI (the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence) in Saarbrücken.
“On the other hand, the [software] infrastructure parts of the system can be distributed and also be moved when required. Thus, a couple of standard PCs, notebooks or even PDAs can host the CASCOM system as well as a dedicated server,” notes Keller.
That’s just the beginning. The list of technologies deployed in the CASCOM platform reads like a hit-parade of what’s hot in hi-tech – semantic web, intelligent agents, artificial intelligence, context awareness, mobile and fixed-line infrastructures and P2P. Privacy will be assured by using encryption, certificates and digital signatures
By combining these technologies, the aim of CASCOM is to leverage the strengths of each one to offer an all-in-one service. Integrating them effectively is the greatest challenge the project faces, but the team is working through the challenges.
Take the intelligent agents. The partners have developed several types of agent to fulfil different roles. A 'Service Matchmaking Agent'' hooks you up with what you need by checking out the semantics of the service. If the matchmaker fails, a 'Service Composition Planning Agent' will try to assemble one for you by mixing-and-matching component services.
“On the technical level, these tasks employ core techniques from artificial-intelligence research, such as automatic reasoning on formal logics or information retrieval methods,” says Keller. “The overall intelligent behaviour of the system then emerges from the collaboration of individual agents, employing methods and protocols from multi-agent systems.”
It is an exciting prospect, and Keller reports that work has advanced well since the project began in September 2004. The CASCOM team are now preparing a trial of the system for early 2007.
But the first demonstrations will come even sooner, at the IST 2006 conference in Helsinki. Here the team will show how the system can connect doctors and their patients using resource-poor devices and wireless networks.
It will be an important initial validation for CASCOM. But it is also just the beginning. The system is designed to work with any type of business. The project partners chose health services because they are challenging to deliver, and also because they are their primary area of interest.
“The impact that these technologies have in the healthcare domain has increased considerably in the last few years. They have the potential to significantly improve the quality, accessibility and cost of healthcare,” emphasises Keller.