ETH Zurich :
Computer Science :
Pervasive Computing :
Distributed Systems :
Distributed Systems Group
Ubiquitous Computing Infrastructures
Prof. Friedemann Mattern
The Distributed Systems Group conducts research in distributed algorithms,
Internet applications, middleware systems, and concepts to enhance reliability,
security, and privacy in distributed systems.
Of particular interest is the field of ubiquitous computing, which aims at
making computers available throughout the environment, while rendering them
effectively invisible. One of the main goals is to incorporate computing power
into everyday objects in order to create "smart things" real-world
objects that provide novel ways of accessing information, react to their
environment, or provide new emergent functionality when interacting with other
This vision of ubiquitous computing is grounded in the belief that
microprocessors and advanced sensors will soon become so small and inexpensive
that they can be embedded in almost everything. It is expected that billions of
such objects will be interwoven and connected together by wireless networks,
forming a world-wide distributed system several orders of magnitude larger than
To enable communication and cooperation among smart objects, new information
infrastructures are required. They have to cope with a highly dynamic
environment and should, among other things, provide location information to
mobile objects, represent context information, and enable reliable and scalable
service creation. The Distributed Systems Group addresses the challenges of
designing and implementing such infrastructures.
Figure 1: MICO is a
widely used open source CORBA implementation.
Application development for distributed systems relies on software
frameworks and middleware systems that provide high-er-level abstractions.
Based on our experience with the open source CORBA implementation MICO, we are
exploring novel middleware approaches for dynamic networks of
resource-constrained mobile computing devices. In particular, we are working on
middleware concepts for sensor networks and smart cards, and on frameworks for
remote identification of real-world objects.
Figure 2: The Smart-Its project was one of 16 projects
conducted under the European Union's Disappearing Computer initiative, whose
aim was to explore how everyday life can be supported and enhanced through the
use of collections of interacting artifacts.
We participated in the European Smart-Its project whose goal was
to develop unobtrusive, deeply interconnected smart devices that can be
attached to everyday items in order to support new functionality, novel
interaction patterns, and intelligent collaborative behavior. Eventually,
Smart-Its should be as cheap and as small as state-of-the-art radio tags
(RFIDs), but in addition they will also be able to communicate with peers, and
they will be customizable in their behavior. In order to facilitate a
meaningful integration in their environment, Smart-Its are equipped with
various sensors providing context information.
Building on our experiences in the Smart-Its project, we are participating in
the MICS (Mobile Information and Communication Systems) National Center of
Competence in Research (NCCR). The Center studies fundamental and applied
problems that are raised by new types of mobile communication and information
services and devices. Together with other research groups at ETH Zurich and
EPFL we are working on software architectures and infrastructures for mobile
networks of smart, location-aware devices. The BTnode platform, consisting of a
microprocessor, a Bluetooth radio, and various sensors is used as the basis of
several prototypes built within the scope of this project.
3: The second generation of Smart-Its prototypes, called BTnodes, are based on
an Atmel microcontroller with 128 kB of in-system programmable flash memory and
64 kB of SRAM. Bluetooth modules allow communication between different devices.
A sensor network consist of a large number of tiny autonomous computing
devices, each equipped with sensors, a wireless radio, and a processor. Sensor
networks are envisioned to be deployed unobtrusively in the physical
environment in order to monitor a wide range of environmental phenomena with
unprecedented quality and scale. The close integration of sensor networks with
the physical world imposes a number of challenging research problems.
Our group is working on basic issues such as energy-efficient and scalable time
synchronization and localization of sensor nodes, as well as on higher-level
mechanisms for integrating these basic services into a common framework for the
development of applications for sensor networks. For practical experiments we
use collections of cooperating BTnodes.
Implications of Ubiquitous Computing
4: A typical RFID tag has the size and flexibility of an address label and
allows remote reading and writing from up to several meters without requiring
line of sight. The rising use of RFID tags in both industry and retail has led
to a number of controversies over the impact of ubiquitous computing on society.
Ubiquitous computing technologies will have a strong impact on future society.
In a project funded by the Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz Foundation, an
interdisciplinary group of researchers explores its social, economic, and legal
implications. One of the main tasks is to communicate these findings to
relevant groups in society and politics. Within the project we are also
developing scenarios and building prototypes, demonstrating new types of
Security and privacy will be of prime concern in a world of highly
interconnected, invisible devices that will eventually permeate our everyday
lives. We are working on a privacy-aware infrastructure (based on P3P, a W3C
Web standard for exchanging privacy policies) that is able to keep track of any
ongoing data exchange, while providing the user with powerful means to
selectively manage such collected personal information. Also, with the growing
number of interacting devices and smart appliances, the probability of failure
for any single device increases. We are therefore investigating the role of
redundancy and fault-tolerance in ubiquitous computing, with the goal to
provide concepts for reliable infrastructures and services.
The M-Lab, a joint venture with the University St. Gallen, was created to bring
the ideas of ubiquitous computing into companies that could profit from the
availability of smart devices, radio frequency identification, and related
technologies. We are focusing on areas such as logistics, retail, life
sciences, and automotive. The M-Lab brings together researchers from academia
and practitioners from industry, contributing to the research area and creating
Besides teaching fundamentals of distributed systems, distributed algorithms,
and Internet technology, our graduate level curriculum focuses on
state-of-the-art research in ubiquitous computing. Lectures are accompanied by
hands-on programming experience. In-depth seminars allow students to
individually research and present fundamental works in the field, as well as
investigate recent developments. In our Ubicomp Lab, students can devise and
build their own smart environments using handheld devices, ID systems (e.g.,
smart cards or RFID tags), and wireless communication equipment such as
Bluetooth or WLAN.
on the Distributed Systems Group is available at
studied computer science at the University of Bonn and became a Faculty
Research Assistant at the University of Kaiserslautern in 1983. He obtained his
Ph.D. in 1989 with a thesis on distributed algorithms. From 1991-1994 he was
Professor of practical computer science at Saarland University, Saarbrucken,
and from 1994-1999 Professor of practical computer science and distributed
systems at Darmstadt University. He was appointed full Professor at the ETH
Zurich in July 1999.