What is ubiquitous computing

Ubiquitous Computing

Term and synonyms

In contrast to the classic desktop paradigm, in which a single user consciously uses a certain end device for a specific purpose, in ubiquitous computing the use shifts to many digital end devices and systems, which are simultaneously and seamlessly integrated into everyday activities without each other the user is necessarily aware of this. Due to its ubiquity, the computer disappears from the user's perception, the focus changes from an explicit to an implicit use of information technology.

Due to the close coupling of information technology and everyday activities, ubiquitous computing is an interdisciplinary research area from (business) computer science, sociology, and perceptual and social psychology.

The term “Ubiquitous Computing” or “UbiComp” for short was coined and published in 1988 by Mark Weiser during his work at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) together with John Seely Brown [Weiser, 1991].

In industry terms, the terms “pervasive computing” and “ambient intelligence” are synonymous with ubiquitous computing. Researchers at MIT MediaLab coined the concept of the “Internet of Things”, Adam Greenfield of Nokia Research introduced the term “everyware” in 2006 [Greenfield, 2006]. All concepts are closely related or synonymous.

Basic technologies

Ubiquitous Computing does not have the development of new basic technologies in the research focus. Ubiquitous Computing combines existing technologies and brings them to use in business and private environments.

The basic technologies used can be divided into four upper classes:

(1) sensors and actuators. Mechanical, electrical and optical actuators and sensors are used here. If sensors detect everything that can be measured, actuators generate everything that can either be measured or perceived by users.

(2) Auto-ID systems. Auto-ID systems based on e.g. RFID or NFC technologies play a major role in supply chain and inventory management. They enable the automatic identification of one or more objects equipped with identification tags (tags) at the same time, at high speed and without visual contact. Auto-ID systems are used on the one hand to identify objects, but can also be used to determine the relative position of objects.

(3) positioning systems. The “location” dimension plays a major role in ubiquitous computing. Common positioning technologies are GPS, GSM and WLAN triangulation, but also relative methods using Auto-ID systems. By recording the position, location-based services can be offered. Location-based services are an important application class in mobile or ubiquitous computing.

(4) wireless networks. Wireless networks enable the users' end devices to communicate with one another, but also to allow end devices to communicate with the sensor network embedded in the user environment. Wireless network technologies enable the ad-hoc establishment of complex networks of sensors and actuators without complex cabling. They guarantee the greatest possible mobility of the end devices and thus also of the users. Established wireless technologies are: 802.11 (WLAN), Bluetooth, GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, and HSDPA.


Areas of application for ubiquitous computing are logistics, supply chain management, SmartHome and SmartOffice, augmentation, knowledge management, security and emergency management, medicine and entertainment.


The embedding of information technology in everyday objects and practices enables the design of new interaction modalities that go beyond the possibilities of established input and output methods.

Proven requirements analysis and development methods must be supplemented by participatory methods, taking into account the everyday reality of the users, in order to avoid negative interferences between proven everyday practices and information technologies. In particular, the balance between adaptivity (automatic adaptation to user needs) and adaptability (system adaptations by users) of ubiquitous systems is an important acceptance resource. Customizable context awareness and options for the ad-hoc establishment of UbiComp environments enable users to participate in the design process at the time of use.

Publication media and conferences

Important publication media in the field of ubiquitous computing are:

(1) Journal on Personal and Ubiquitous Computing

(2) IEEE Pervasive Computing Journal

(3) International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing

(4) International Conference on PervasiveScientific American, Computing

(5) International Conference on Computer-Human Interaction CHI

(5) MobileHCI Conference


Greenfield, Adam: Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing. New Riders Press 2006.

Weiser, Mark: The computer for the 21st century. Scientific American, 265 (1991), No. 3, pp. 94-104.



Prof. Dr. Volkmar Pipek, University of Siegen, Institute for Information Systems, Hölderlinstr. 3, 57068 Siegen

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