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Project Bundles Ambient Intelligence (AmI)

Adaptive work assistance systems (AAS) - Ambient Intelligence in the world of work

In its research and development programme for 2010 to 2013 Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) has announced as one of its priority research topics new information and communication technologies in the working environment (Ambient Intelligence - AmI). It is thus tackling the need for research highlighted in the future report "Work in the Future - Structures and Trends of Industrial Work" of the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag (TAB) with respect to the two key technologies of "bio- and nanotechnology" and "ambient intelligence". This was developed further with a view to occupational safety and health and occupational medicine. The focus of the research at BAuA will be the technology assessment with respect to opportunities and risks of new I&C technologies in the working environment and their impact on work systems.

Research funding to date in relation to the subject of ambient intelligence has concentrated, especially in the sixth framework programme of the EU (2002 to 2006), primarily on developing basic technologies (e.g. hardware: sensors and actuators). In the recent past questions of software and the impact of invisible, ubiquitous technologies have played an increasingly important role (see the EU's seventh framework programme [FP7]). In the consumer domain a field of research has now become established bearing the description AAL (Ambient Assisted Living). Central to this is the development of I&C technologies and services for the everyday living of elderly people. In contrast, for the area of work it can be said that practice-oriented, work science-relevant questions in the field of AmI are only considered at present in isolated cases and unsystematically.

One major reason for this is certainly that there is still a manageable number of realistic application scenarios militating against establishment of the term ambient intelligence in policy and research funding. But BAuA sees here a special opportunity to grasp developments in the field of ambient intelligence as work assistance systems. It also sees the chance to be able to influence the impact on man-machine interactions, working sequences and processes and the efficiency of the work system as a whole, not correctively but prior to any widespread introduction into the world of work.

Work assistance by means of ambient intelligence

For all the considerable attraction of the field of ambient intelligence from various points of view, the term as used only has a vague definition. For practice-oriented research it is important, however, that concrete I&C technologies (e.g. wearable IT - smart clothes) or work science-relevant fields (e.g. augmented reality) have to be seen as a relevant subject area for ambient intelligence. With this in mind BAuA bases its research on the following, both pragmatic and practice-oriented definition of ambient intelligence.

The term "ambient intelligence (AmI)" subsumes research and development activities whose objective is to extend the living and working environment to include so-called intelligent functions. This is done by networking sensors, actuators and computer processors by means of telemetry so that well-being, health and efficiency in one's working and personal life are supported and promoted by technology.

For BAuA's practice-oriented research there are features of AmI which can be highlighted:

  • the information provided by telemetry which is intended in particular to give support in working life and
  • the provision of information which depends on the state of the user and/or the working environment (including the specific task).

Both aspects of the definition stress the assistance function of ambient intelligence-based I&C technologies. BAuA thus emphasizes the anthropocentric approach of technological development where products and environments change adaptively and (largely) autonomously to fit the user's conditions, needs and goals.

Overview of BAuA's research activities in the field of Ambient Intelligence (AmI) including six project bundles

This figure gives an overview of the current project bundles or projects relating to the focal topic of "ambient intelligence". It also makes clear that BAuA distinguishes between AmI-based products and the application of AmI systems in the working environment, at present primarily environmental control. Higher level questions concern the work-psychological and medical impact of AmI-based technologies, the safety of such systems and ethical matters relating to their application.

All project bundles subsumed in the focal topic of AmI pursue the common objective of ascertaining and evaluating opportunities and risks of AmI-based work assistance systems in terms of work science and occupational medicine. This should be taken to cover effects both on people in the work process (health and performance) and on the work system (safety, efficiency). In this respect all projects or project bundles make a contribution to the technology assessment of AmI-based systems.

Below the individual project bundles are characterised briefly. Most of the projects are handled as BAuA's own research and supported by external research contracted extramurally.