MiMove’s research has a strong focus on mobile distributed systems and supporting middleware, with special interest in the aspects of emergence and evolution, very-large-scale mobile sensing, and mobile social crowd-sensing. Our research results can have an impact on various application domains; we focus in particular on the application area of smart cities, due to its growing social, economic and technological interest.

Context

Given the prevalence of global networking and computing infrastructures (such as the Internet and the Cloud), mobile networking environments, powerful hand-held user devices, and physical-world sensing and actuation devices, the possibilities of new mobile distributed systems have reached unprecedented levels. Such systems are dynamically composed of networked resources in the environment, which may span from the immediate neighborhood of the users – as advocated by pervasive computing – up to the entire globe – as envisioned by the Future Internet and one of its major constituents, the Internet of Things. Hence, we can now talk about truly ubiquitous computing.
The resulting ubiquitous systems have a number of unique – individually or in their combination – features, such as dynamicity due to volatile resources and user mobility, heterogeneity due to constituent resources developed and run independently, and context-dependence due to the highly changing characteristics of the execution environment, whether technical, physical or social.
The latter two aspects are particularly manifested through the physical but also social sensing and actuation capabilities of mobile devices and their users. More specifically, leveraging the massive adoption of smartphones and other user-controlled mobile devices, besides physical crowd-sensing, social crowd-sensing comes into play. In the former, a device’s sensor passively reports the sensed phenomena, while, in the latter, the user is aware of and indeed aids in the sensing of the environment. In addition, mobile distributed systems are most often characterized by the absence of any centralized control. This results in peer interaction between system entities, ad hoc or opportunistic relations between them, and relations reflecting the social behavior of the systems’ users. All the above features span the application, middleware and higher network layers of mobile distributed systems in a cross-layer fashion.
This challenging environment is characterized by high complexity raising key research questions:

  • 1. How to deal with the extreme uncertainty, when developing and running mobile distributed systems, resulting from the openness and constant evolution of their execution environment?
  • 2. How to manage the ultra-large scale and dynamicity resulting from millions or even billions of mobile devices that interact with the physical environment through sensing and actuation?
  • 3. How to leverage the social aspects arising out of billions of users carrying personal devices in order to enable powerful, critical-mass social sensing and actuation?

These research questions call for radically new ways in conceiving, developing and running mobile distributed systems. In response to this challenge, MiMove’s research aims at enabling next-generation mobile distributed systems that are the focus of the following research themes:

Emergent mobile distributed systems

Uncertainty in the execution environment calls for designing mobile distributed systems that are able to run in a beforehand unknown, ever-changing context. Nevertheless, the complexity of such change cannot be tackled at system design-time. Emergent mobile distributed systems are systems which, due to their automated, dynamic, environment-dependent composition and execution, emerge in a possibly non-anticipated way and manifest emergent properties, i.e., both systems and their properties take their complete form only at runtime and may evolve afterwards. This contrasts with the typical software engineering process, where a system is finalized during its design phase. MiMove’s research will focus on enabling the emergence of mobile distributed systems while assuring that their required properties are met. This objective builds upon pioneering research effort in the area of  emergent middleware initiated by members of the team and collaborators.

Large-scale mobile sensing and actuation

The extremely large scale and dynamicity expected in future mobile sensing and actuation systems lead to the clear need for algorithms and protocols for addressing the resulting challenges. More specifically, since connected devices will have the capability to sense physical phenomena, perform computations to arrive at decisions based on the sensed data, and drive actuation to change the environment, enabling proper coordination among them will be key to unlocking their true potential. Although similar challenges have been addressed in the domain of networked sensing and mobile robotics, including by members of the team, the specific challenges arising from the extremely large scale of mobile devices – a great number of which will be attached to people, with uncontrolled mobility behavior – are expected to require a significant rethink in this domain. MiMove’s research will lead to techniques for efficient coordination of future mobile sensing and actuation systems with a special focus on their dependability.

Mobile social crowd-sensing

While mobile social sensing opens up the ability of sensing phenomena that may be costly or impossible to sense using embedded sensors (e.g., subjective crowdedness causing discomfort or joyfulness, as in a bus or in a concert) and leading to a feeling of being more socially involved for the citizens, there are unique consequent challenges. Specifically, MiMove’s research will focus on the problems involved in the combination of the physically sensed data, which are quantitative and objective, with the mostly qualitative and subjective data arising from social sensing. Enabling the latter calls for introducing mechanisms for incentivising user participation and ensuring the privacy of user data, as well as running empirical studies for understanding the complex social behaviors involved. These objectives build upon previous research work by members of the team on mobile social ecosystems and privacy, as well as a number of efforts and collaborations in the domain of smart cities and transport that have resulted in novel mobile applications enabling empirical studies of social sensing systems.

Outcomes of the three identified research themes are implemented as middleware-level functionalities giving rise to software architectures for mobile distributed systems and enabling practical application and assessment of our research.Furthermore, although our research results can be exploited in numerous application domains, we focus in particular on the domain of smart cities, which is an area of rapidly growing social, economic and technological interest.

Application domain: Mobile urban systems for smart cities

The smart city vision anticipates that the whole urban space, including buildings, power lines, gas lines, roadways, transport networks, and cell phones, can all be linked together and monitored. Detailed information about the functioning of the city then becomes available to both city dwellers and businesses, thus enabling better understanding and, consequently, better management of the city’s infrastructure and resources. This raises the prospect that cities will become more sustainable environments, ultimately enhancing the citizens’ well-being. There is the further promise of enabling radically new ways of living in, regulating, operating and managing cities, through the increasing active involvement of citizens by ways of crowd-sourcing/sensing and social networking.
Still, the vision of what smart cities should be about is evolving at a fast pace in close concert with the latest technology trends. It is notably worth highlighting how mobile and social network use have reignited citizen engagement, thereby opening new perspectives for smart cities beyond data analytics, which has been initially one of the core foci of smart cities technologies. Similarly, open data programs foster the engagement of citizens in the city operation and overall contribute to make our cities more sustainable.
The unprecedented democratization of urban data, fueled by open data channels, social networks and crowd-sourcing, enables not only monitoring of the activities of the city but also assessment of their nuisances based on their impact on the citizens, thereby prompting social and political actions. However, the comprehensive integration of urban data sources for the sake of sustainability remains largely unexplored. This is an application domain that we focus on, leveraging our research on combined physical and social sensing.
In a first step, we concentrate on the following specialized applications, which we investigate in close collaboration with other researchers, in particular as part of CityLab, a dedicated Inria International Project Lab, which is currently under evaluation:

  • 1. Democratization of urban data for healthy cities. The objective here is to integrate the various urban data sources, especially by way of crowd-sensing, in order to better understand city nuisances, from raw pollution sensing (e.g., sensing noise) to the sensing of its impact on citizens (e.g., how people react to urban noise and how this affects their health).
  • 2. Socially-aware urban mobility. Mobility within mega-cities is known as one of the major challenges to face urgently, due to the fact that today’s mobility patterns do not scale and due to the negative effect on the environment and health. It is our belief that mobile social and physical sensing can significantly help in promoting the use of public transport, which we have started to investigate through empirical studies based on the development and release of dedicated apps.
  • 3. Social applications. Mobile applications are being considered by sociologists as a major vehicle to actively involve citizens and thereby prompt them to become activists. We study in particular this aspect in collaboration with the Social App Lab at UC Berkeley. Our objective is to leverage such vehicle from the ICT perspective, and in particular elicit relevant middleware solutions to ease the development of such “civic apps“.