We live in an era where computer applications are no longer constrained by the close proximity of big and expensive computers, but extend to larger common spaces due to the ubiquity of sensors, electronics, and their ever decreasing sizes and costs. This computing evolution has fueled an emerging concept of smart environments with applications such as context-aware computing, building and personal informatics, mental and physical health monitoring, and accessibility for the elderly and handicapped. However, smart environments are only as smart as what they can sense -- the key to realizing this future is the development of accurate, reliable, and versatile activity sensing technology.
In this dissertation work, I identify the critical challenges of current activity sensing, and propose a new direction to tackle these challenges with fewer but more powerful sensors -- wide-area sensors. I built five systems based on capacitive sensing, radio frequency sensing, energy harvesting, and laser vibrometry. On a high level, these systems achieve room-, building- and city-scale sensing through adapting everyday objects for sensing with low-cost instrumentation in concert with signals that can travel long distances. Additionally, I have conducted a series of background investigations and system performance evaluations to prove that such wide-area sensing systems can be low-cost, low-maintenance, general-purpose, while being able to sense rich signals. Finally, I summarize the contribution of this thesis and propose several future research efforts.
Chris Harrison (Chair)
Gregory Abowd (Georgia Institute of Technology)
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