Research advances in Participatory Cyber-physical Computing resulting in innovative applications in Monitoring Biodiversity, Healthcare, Urban Development, Transportation and Art
Submitting InstitutionBirkbeck College
Unit of AssessmentComputer Science and Informatics
Summary Impact TypeTechnological
Research Subject Area(s)
Mathematical Sciences: Applied Mathematics
Information and Computing Sciences: Distributed Computing, Information Systems
Summary of the impact
Research undertaken between 2002 and 2012 at Birkbeck has helped
establish a participatory approach to cyber-physical computing as the
predominant methodology for the construction of mobile and pervasive
computing systems. Cyber-physical systems intimately interlink material
entities and their information representations as existing on the
Internet. Our specific research contributions in systems architecture,
privacy protection and human dynamics have demonstrated how the user's
activity can be exploited as the core ingredient in building such systems.
Our research has resulted in the implementation of applications that are
used to monitor biodiversity across the globe, to assess and support
Parkinson's disease patients in the UK, to improve the well-being of
office workers in London, to engage the public in a debate about the costs
and benefits of pervasive computing, and to inform legislatures in the UK
and the US.
Sustained advances in microelectronics have enabled the integration of
miniaturised information- processing and communications devices into a
wide range of physical objects. This enables direct inter-linking of
material entities and their information representations as existing in the
Internet. In recent years, a range of approaches have been proposed for
the design and development of pervasive computing systems, for example
Ambient Intelligence, Smart Dust and the Internet of Things, each giving
priority to different concepts and adopting distinct viewpoints.
The Pervasive Computing group at Birkbeck has pioneered Participatory
Cyber-physical Computing as a distinct methodology for the
construction of mobile and pervasive computing systems, starting from the
premise that users and their actions are an integral component of such
systems. In our approach, patterns of users' behaviours dynamically steer
the systems' operation, enabled by data gathered through one or more
personal devices, such as mobile phones, and supported by distinct
software architectures. Since these mobile and pervasive computing systems
transparently capture users' behaviours, they also offer a method of
observation and measurement of human dynamics, including patterns of
individual and social interaction.
Our research has made specific contributions in three key areas:
Systems Architecture: Our research on networked radio-frequency
identification (RFID) addresses the unique requirements of pervasive
computing systems at scale, specifically the very high velocity of unique
item observations, and the prominent role of edge networks that provide
entry points into enterprise core systems. We establish a multi-level
sensor observation-processing pipeline for the transformation of raw
observations into meaningful events and the separation of concerns between
edge and core. This work supplies the blueprint for the design of the
current generation of RFID-based enterprise resource management platforms
. Exploring further the relationship between cyber-physical systems and
mobile networks, our research identifies effective and efficient
mechanisms to support users' authoring, sensing, and software
orchestration in pervasive computing systems, including the participatory
methodology introduced in  and location-aware information transcoding,
delay tolerant communication strategies and service composition in
low-power personal area networks highlighted in .
Privacy protection: Our research on RFID also identifies the
multiple ways in which user control must be exercised over such systems in
order to compensate for their unsupervised and transparent operation, and
specifically quantifies the trade-off between privacy, functionality and
rewards . We relate these findings to ethics and legislation with a
view to increasing the acceptance of pervasive computing systems by the
general public .
Human Dynamics: Participatory approaches inevitably lead to the
collection of detailed records of human activity. Our research identifies
a coherent set of attributes computable from such records that capture its
dynamic properties and we employ these as the foundation upon which to
construct abstract models of individual and social behaviour and to
undertake inferencing via machine learning [3,1]. Notably, by extending
classic suffix-tress we introduce a runtime-efficient data structure to
represent human behaviour according to our model, and we develop novel
clustering algorithms which employ trails of landmarks in order to
calculate similarity between individuals.
Research findings early in the development of our participatory approach,
especially in the Urban Tapestries project undertaken in collaboration
with Proboscis, an artist-led studio, highlighted its distinct advantages
in terms of rapid deployment, adaptability and manageability and elicited
considerable interest within the research community. Our work inspired
numerous research projects adopting the same methodology, including
MobiTOP (Korea), TUCANS (EPSRC-funded), Ubirock Machine (Akademy of
Finland) and most notably the NSF-funded Participatory Sensing, as well as
our own projects Feral Robots (EPSRC), Snout (Art Council of England) and
Sensory Threads (EPSRC). Our subsequent research showed how to combine
multiple unreliable signals to construct accurate co-presence networks
linking individuals who regularly share the same physical location, and
how to merge these with online social networks in order to reconstruct
users' social behaviours, resulting in models of cyber-physical social
network evolution  and leading to the registration of a UK patent
Founded in 2002, the Pervasive Computing group is led by George Roussos,
Professor in Pervasive Computing. His collaborators at Birkbeck include
Professor Mark Levene (joined 2001); Research Assistants D. Diall
(2005-2007), G. Papamarkos (2006-2008), J. Taylor (2007-2009) and D.
Airantzis (2005-2010); and Research Students M. Zoumboulakis (2005-2010),
K. Raja (2005- 2006), R. Baker (2003-2006) C. Kim (2005-2007) and D.
Papadogkonas (2003 - 2008). The group maintains an extensive network of
worldwide research collaborations with academic partners (including UCLA,
Tokyo, Aalto, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Athens, Rome Tor Vergata, Beijing
University of Posts and Telecommunications, UCL and Cambridge), industrial
partners (including IBM TJ Watson, Orange, Vodafone, EDF, Lockhead,
Balfour Beattie, FEIG, and Smiths Detection) and application stakeholders
(including UCLH, Probosics, inmidtown, Brompton Hospital, TfL, and the
Zoological Society of London).
References to the research
Publications (Birkbeck authors shown in bold)
1. V. Kostakos, E. O'Neill, A. Penn, G. Roussos and D.
Papadogkonas, 2010, Brief encounters: Sensing, modeling and
visualizing urban mobility and copresence networks, ACM Transactions
on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI), 17(1), pp 2:1-2:38. DOI:
2. Angus, G. Lane, K. Martin, D. Papadogkonas, G. Papamarkos,
G. Roussos, S. Thelwall, Z. Sujon and N. West, 2008, Urban Social
Tapestries, IEEE Pervasive Computing, 7(4), pp. 44-51. DOI:
3. D. Papadogkonas, G. Roussos and M. Levene, 2006,
"Analysis, ranking and prediction in pervasive computing trails," Intelligent
Environments, 2008 IET 4th International Conference on, pp.1-8,
21-22 July 2008. IET Conference Publications. ISSN 978-0-86341-894-5
4. G. Roussos, S. Maglavera and A. Marsh, 2005, Enabling
Pervasive Computing with Smart Phones, IEEE Pervasive Computing,
vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 20-27. DOI: 10.1109/MPRV.2005.30
5. G. Roussos and T. Moussouri, 2004, Consumer Perceptions of
Privacy, Security and Trust in Ubiquitous Commerce, Personal and
Ubiquitous Computing, vol. 8, pp. 416-429. DOI:
6. P. Kourouthanassis and G. Roussos, 2003, Developing
Consumer-Friendly Pervasive Retail Systems, IEEE Pervasive Computing,
Vol. 2, No 2, pp. 32-39. DOI: 10.1109/MPRV.2003.1203751
1. DeTaLe Project: EPSRC, October 2007-May 2010, £455,000.
2. GeoSciTeach Project: JISC, January 2011-October 2011, £165,000.
3. Visitor Studies with the Experience Recorder: EPSRC Ubicomp Challenge,
November 2008- May 2009, £9,000.
4. MyGrocer Mobile Shopping of Electronically Referenced Products: EU FP5
IST (IST-2000- 26239), Jan 2001-Aug 2002, 450,000 Euros.
5. Panaceia-ITV: EU FP6 IST (IST-2001-33369), Jan 2001-Jan 2004, 650,000
Details of the impact
Our research in systems architecture, privacy protection and human
dynamics has been applied in the development of five systems supporting
applications relating to environmental sustainability, healthcare, urban
development, transportation, and art:
- Environmental Sustainability. In response to the call by the
Convention on Biological Diversity of the United Nations, the Bat
Conservation Society established the Indicator Bats (iBats)
biodiversity-monitoring programme (http://www.ibats.org.uk). We applied
our work in systems architecture to design and develop a smartphone app
employed by citizen scientist volunteer groups to collect evidence
quantifying bat populations from echolocation signals, subsequently used
by the iBats software to infer ecosystem health. According to statistics
provided by Apple Market and Google Store, over 7,000 volunteers in 65
countries across the globe have deployed our app on their smartphones.
The extended reach of the app has become possible through the
application of the techniques described in , replacing an assortment
of data collection equipment previously employed at a cost of £1,000 per
person by the user's smartphone and an ultra-sound microphone costing
less than £100. Extensive coverage of what the press has named the Bat
Phone has resulted in greater public engagement with the iBats
programme. This work was a Medallist for Environmental Project of the
Year at the 2011 BCS UK IT Industry awards.
- Healthcare. Our work on system architecture  and human dynamics 
has been applied to extend the standard Universal Parkinson's Disease
Rating Scale (UPDRS) to assess the severity of symptoms of Parkinson's
sufferers. Our system employs the advanced inertial sensors, audio, and
touchscreen of a smartphone to automatically capture motor performance
indicators, which are then made available through secure transmission to
the hospital for analysis and safekeeping. By enabling the
administration of tests at home, our system reduces the frequency of
hospital visits, thus improving the quality of life for sufferers and
leading to reduced overall cost of care. Moreover, the assessment of the
patient's condition is more precise than using standard UPDRS, which
means that the dosage of medication is better controlled. Our system has
been validated in a preliminary clinical trial at the National Hospital
of Neurology and Neuroscience with a sample of 100 patients and is
currently seeking a full clinical study to achieve CE certification for
use with the general public.
- Urban Development. We were commissioned by inmidtown, the business
development district of Bloomsbury, Holborn and St. Giles, to apply our
research on human dynamics [2,3] in order to develop a participatory
sensing system providing evidence of carbon savings as relating to green
initiatives being co-ordinated by them. Our system collects location
tracking information from a sample of 3,000 volunteers from the 350,000
who work in the district. Our software identifies patterns of users'
behaviour, which are employed by inmidtown to inform the redesign of
urban flows in the area, specifically aiming to improve the well-being
of the working population.
- Transportation. We have used our models of human dynamics  to
develop and release a mobile app on Google Play that allows London
commuters to optimise their travel expenditure. The app is free and
allows any of the 22 million Oyster Card users who choose to download it
to save up to 20 per cent of their monthly travel costs. The app has
generated significant income for the department through advertising
using the Google AdMob system.
- Art. Our research in participatory cyber-physical systems [2,4] has
been employed in collaboration with Proboscis for the creation of
community and performance works of art. These works have been exhibited
at several national and international events, attended by over 5,000
participants in total, including Surface Tension (Science Museum, London
2009), Digital Cities (The Building Centre, London 2009), Mobilefest
Festival (Sao Paulo, Brazil 2009), Dislocate08 Festival (Yokohama, Japan
2008), and Art and Cartography Exhibition (Wien, Austria 2008).
- Since 2008, we have engaged with the general public by discussing our
research in several trade and general science blogs, magazines and
newspapers including Information Week, Financial Times, Daily Mail, New
Scientist, Tech Radar, RFID Journal, AIM News, Stern (Germany), and Vima
and ERT (Greece). Collectively, these media reach an audience of over 5
Sources to corroborate the impact
iBats Project Leader, Bats Conservation Society.
The iBats application for Android http://goo.gl/b4fgio and iOS
http://goo.gl/l4QMo has been downloaded over 7,000 times (July 2013).
Head, Physiology and Pathophysiology of Human Motor Control, National
Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.
The UPDRS http://goo.gl/nxDlo application has been released on Google
Play in restricted beta release.
Managing Director and CEO, inmidtown.
The Inmidtown https://github.com/gkroussos/eco-app application is
currently in early beta release, so has a limited number of downloads at
The TfL Fare http://goo.gl/EqEWr application has been downloaded over
4,000 times (July 2013) and has generated income recorded by Google's