Department of Computer Science and Technology

Technical reports

Architectures for ubiquitous systems

Umar Saif

January 2002, 271 pages

This technical report is based on a dissertation submitted by the author for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the University of Cambridge.

DOI: 10.48456/tr-527


Advances in digital electronics over the last decade have made computers faster, cheaper and smaller. This coupled with the revolution in communication technology has led to the development of sophisticated networked appliances and handheld devices. “Computers” are no longer boxes sitting on a desk, they are all around us, embedded in every nook and corner of our environment. This increasing complexity in our environment leads to the desire to design a system that could allow this pervasive functionality to disappear in the infrastructure, automatically carrying out everyday tasks of the users.

Such a system would enable devices embedded in the environment to cooperate with one another to make a wide range of new and useful applications possible, not originally conceived by the manufacturer, to achieve greater functionality, flexibility and utility.

The compelling question then becomes “what software needs to be embedded in these devices to enable them to participate in such a ubiquitous system”? This is the question addressed by the dissertation.

Based on the experience with home automation systems, as part of the AutoHAN project, the dissertation presents two compatible but different architectures; one to enable dumb devices to be controlled by the system and the other to enable intelligent devices to control, extend and program the system.

Control commands for dumb devices are managed using an HTTP-based publish/subscribe/notify architecture; devices publish their control commands to the system as XML-typed discrete messages, applications discover and subscribe interest in these events to send and receive control commands from these devices, as typed messages, to control their behavior. The architecture handles mobility and failure of devices by using soft-state, redundent subscriptions and “care-of” nodes. The system is programmed with event scripts that encode automation rules as condition-action bindings. Finally, the use of XML and HTTP allows devices to be controlled by a simple Internet browser.

While the publish/subscribe/notify defines a simple architecture to enable interoperability of limited capability devices, intelligent devices can afford more complexity that can be utilized to support user applications and services to control, manage and program the system. However, the operating system embedded in these devices needs to address the heterogeneity, longevity, mobility and dynamism of the system.

The dissertation presents the architecture of an embedded distributed operating system that lends itself to safe context-driven adaptation. The operating system is instrumented with four artifacts to address the challenges posed by a ubiquitous system. 1) An XML-based directory service captures and notifies the applications and services about changes in the device context, as resources move, fail, leave or join the system, to allow context-driven adaptation. 2) A Java-based mobile agent system allows new software to be injected in the system and moved and replicated with the changing characteristics of the system to define a self-organizing system. 3) A subscribe/notify interface allows context-specific extensions to be dynamically added to the operating system to enable it to efficiently interoperate in its current context according to application requirements. 4) Finally, a Dispatcher module serves as the context-aware system call interface for the operating system; when requested to invoke a service, the Dispatcher invokes the resource that best satisfies the requirements given the characteristics of the system.

Definition alone is not sufficient to prove the validity of an architecture. The dissertation therefore describes a prototype implementation of the operating system and presents both a quantitative comparison of its performance with related systems and its qualitative merit by describing new applications made possible by its novel architecture.

Full text

PDF (2.4 MB)

BibTeX record

  author =	 {Saif, Umar},
  title = 	 {{Architectures for ubiquitous systems}},
  year = 	 2002,
  month = 	 jan,
  url = 	 {},
  institution =  {University of Cambridge, Computer Laboratory},
  doi = 	 {10.48456/tr-527},
  number = 	 {UCAM-CL-TR-527}