Ubiquitous information technology is the invisible everyday helper

The goal of information technology development is that it will be ubiquitous and so easy to use that people barely notice using it. Ubiquitous information technology can be used to track the movements of a person with a memory disorder, make rocks talk, and develop collective intelligence.

The development of ubiquitous information technology is primarily based on different kinds of sensors which collect information from their surroundings. For example, there are a huge number of sensors in a mobile phone. Sensors collect large amounts of data from the surroundings, and by refining and returning this data, users can be offered lots of new information and services.

There is a project starting in the Center for Ubiquitous Computing research unit in the University of Oulu, which seeks to find ways to apply data collected by a phone to improve supported living. With a phone, it will be possible to anticipate, for example, an early memory disorder or depression once useful data can be extracted in the abundance of data collected by the phone.

Docent Susanna Pirttikangas describes that the phone will reveal a memory disease when it is discovered that the owner of the phone always returns from the front door to check if she left the coffee machine on, or if she starts walking a circle on her own yard. The phone will also show if the person forgets to eat, if she has insomnia, or if she doesn’t make contact with other people.

Docent Susanna Pirttikangas (left) and doctoral student Paula Alavesa show how 3D virtual technology can be used for operating on a virtual campus visually modelled from real campus facilities. Virtual technology for modelling facilities or a city environment can be used, for example, for altering the circumstances and planning how different changes made in the environment, traffic routes or buildings work.


The Center is also studying services which connect data behind different interfaces. One practical application is the MaaS service which connects various mass transport vehicles in the same information system. Then it will be enough that the passenger tells the system where from and where to he wants to travel. The system will decide which vehicles are best for the trip and charges only one fee, even if the trip takes many different vehicles, such as a taxi, airplane and bus.

Systems such as these are already in use for example in Ylläs and Hämeenlinna.

”Finland is a forerunner in this area as well. Interfaces between different services have studiously been opened here, and cities have eagerly participated in developing these services”, says Pirttikangas.

One interesting research topic can easily be applied to teaching, among other uses. Teachers can use it, for example, in making IT-assisted tasks for students by placing tags in different rocks for pupils to identify. The same technology was applied in the Zoological museum by placing tags consisting of animal sounds next to the animals.

”The entire museum came to life when students listened to animal sounds on their mobile phones”, says Pirttikangas.

Wisdom of the crowd finds answers to tough questions

In a room, an influential person with experience can often turn others on his side, whether his opinion is smart or not. For that reason, a group’s opinion is not always very sensible.

But when a large group is asked for information individually with the aid of information technology, they give smart answers to even the hardest questions. This is a modernized version of the old concept of “wisdom of the crowd”, which is investigated by postdoctoral researcher Simo Hosio in the Center for Ubiquitous Computing.

Hosio is developing a crowding method for collective wisdom with help of two topics: back illness and stopping racism.

In the back case there are two groups of hundreds of people each, one for health care professionals and the other for patients. Each group will answer questions on back symptoms and their treatments electronically and completely independently. The same groups will also evaluate the received answers based on, for example, if the suggestion is inexpensive or expensive, fast-acting or slow-acting etc.

The material collected this way can be mathematically modelled into a wisdom of the crowd, where anyone with back problems can pick the right answers according to their own criteria. The patient may, for example, only pick the treatments suggested by doctors, or only the self-care treatments.

”The wisdom of the crowd works especially well in solving questions where no one obvious answer exists”, says Hosio. “According to the theory, a single expert in the crowd is always on average more stupid than the collective opinion of the crowd obtained by this method”.

Hosio says that Google is one of the pioneers in the world in crowdsourcing with its own map service, for example. In Europe, the Center for Ubiquitous Computing is a frontrunner. The Center has, for example, the first postdoc grant by the Academy of Finland purely given for crowdsourcing.

Familiar end devices will soon disappear

Study and development of information technology have made the University of Oulu famous for decades. When there is a conference somewhere abroad on the field of future information technology, researchers from the University of Oulu show up as speakers. Oulu was a frontrunner already when the open-for-all wireless information network panOULU (public access network OULU) was constructed in the city, or when the UBI-hotspots came on the street scene. As comparison, New York City only recently installed their UBI-hotspots.

Susanna Pirttikangas and Simo Hosio have a vision where all the information technological devices we know best - mobile phones and tablets - will soon be a thing of the past.


The city environment already contains a huge number of different sensors and cameras, which collect a large amount of data from traffic and conditions. Sensors in vehicles also collect different kinds of data on the move. Useful service concepts for motorists can be realized from the processed data, such as information on traffic jams, ways to drive etc.


”When gadgets get smaller, all the technology that a mobile phone now has will fit inside a button”, says Hosio. He welcomes this devlopment, because it is not good for anyone to hunch over a phone in their hand.

Information technology networks and services are everywhere. Susanna Pirttikangas has a vision of being able to sit down in the near future on a railway station bench, and automatically and securely connect to the Internet. While waiting for the train she could then read her email or surf in the cloud without a device of her own, as her own glasses or some other surfaces will act as an interface.

Imagination is the only limit.


Text: Raija Tuominen


Last updated: 24.11.2016