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Pervasive Computing Lab

"The Grandfather of IoT "

PervasiveIn the late 1990s, IBM set up a world wide organisation involving a number of research and development locations, to look at things smaller than laptops.In part it grew out of an OEM organisation that was embedding IBM technology into other people's products. There were, as far as we can ascertain, four threads to Pervasive:

  • In car / automotive - eg in car voice demo - and the Norwich Union Pay as you Drive (early black box insurance) projects
  • In hand - Mobile phone applications - mainly around WAP (with Nokia) and J2mE embedded Java midlets etc.
  • In home - Items in the house... like security, smart TV (such as they were then) - home appliance monitoring
  • In industry - Embedded products for industrial automation


There were some IBM bits of hardware, but most of it was about embedded Java software on OEM devices. One of the earlier devices was an in car voice control demo shown at CeBit 1999. This included a dummy car console, complete with automatic gearbox gear lever. The 'driver' would log in using a smart card with his / her profile, and could then issue voice commands using ViaVoice to control car functions, like 'volume up,' 'play cd,' 'read mail,' 'delete,' etc. There was also a touch screen.

Other examples at Hursley included the IBM Pad, the Wearable PC (a ThinkPad repackaged in a small enclosure, Google Glass® years before), a black box for Norwich Union to charge car insurance according to driving habits (pay-as-you-go), a venetian blind that could be operated using a mobile phone over WAP and a remote controlled drink vending machine. The venetian blind demo was a key component of the HS&T (Hursley Services & Technology) [early ETS] group's demo lab, which resided for about 5 or 6 years in D-Block. An example of embedded Java were the Arcom Controls blue boxes used to develop the now industry standard MQTT software.

There are a few archived IBM adverts from the day on the museum's YouTube channel, showing some of the wider projects underway at that time:


In March 1999, InfoWorld published this article about IBM's Pervasive initiative. A slide from a 2000 presentation suggests 'it's not a passing fad,' (not to forget Alexa!) and showed a chart of how the industry would continue to change and move away from the PC. Later IBM web site content talks about IBM Mobile Software - WebSphere® MQ, MessageSight, Forms, Notes® Traveler and Lotus® Expeditor. ZDNet published this article early 2003.