Ambient computing refers to technologies that allow people to use the features and functions of a computer, without having to sit in front of a device. It’s a computer you use without knowing it.
Ambient computing uses motion tracking, speech recognition, gesture recognition, wearable technology, and more to make digital interactions a natural part of our day. So natural in fact, that we don’t even realize we’re engaging with it.
What is it?
Users today must interact directly with their device when they want to use an application, make a search query or complete any other digital task. Ambient computing wants to keep these features but take the device out of the equation.
The likes of Amazon Echo and other smart speakers already show promise in this area. Instead of using a tablet or phone to search the web, users can shout a query into the air, and a virtual assistant will answer.
By linking more devices like this together, ambient computing aims to deliver a totally seamless connected experience. This is likely to be far more appealing to some customer groups than others but companies that can successfully package and deliver these ambient experiences can delight early adopters and establish their position in a market set to grow significantly over the next decade.
What’s in for you?
Ambient computing promises more convenient, connected experiences for users. And by bringing together multiple ambient devices, ambient computing can also offer businesses and their customers more personalized, tailored experiences that learn from user habits over time.
For instance, an ambient smart home system that takes data from microphones, and from devices like light switches and thermostats to automatically turn lights on and off, can automatically adjust the heating in line with the user’s schedule. Businesses and governments could deploy similar technology in buildings or on transport routes to optimize the flow of people and vehicles and reduce operational costs.
By offering these kinds of experiences to customers, you can bring exciting new products to market, or augment existing solutions to build new revenue streams and increase customer loyalty. And by bringing ambient computing to your own organization, you can reduce costs and deliver innovative employee experiences.
What are the trade offs?
Ambient computing is a relatively new concept, and one that has a broad remit. For these reasons, there’s no rulebook to read from and no roadmap to follow. Nonetheless, consumers will expect companies to adhere to privacy laws — and given the inconspicuous nature of these systems, you’ll need to thoroughly explore how you gain users’ consent when it comes to data and privacy.
While this means innovations are ripe for the taking, it also means there’s no easy wins to be found for businesses. The only route to success is paved with significant R&D investments.
As ambient computing relies on ambient devices placed in the environment, there’s also a challenge around unpredictability. How do you mitigate against road noise triggering a home smart speaker, or a smart camera misreading the environment and causing a system to misbehave? There are a lot of unknowns to consider.