Industrial design expert Stefano Marzano said the time for 'ambient intelligence' had finally arrived, as wireless broadband internet links literally had become part of the fabric of people's lives - their clothes, their homes and their workplaces. 'Ambient intelligence can be thought of as an extension of the internet, which is expanded, customised and localised to suit specific situations, societies and markets,' Mr Marzano said. 'Its aim is to improve people's lives.' The idea of an all-encompassing internet connection that serves people any time, anywhere is behind the 'Connected Planet' strategy of Royal Philips Electronics. The Dutch conglomerate hopes to foster a wider application of online services through a new range of broadband-ready consumer electronics products and its alliance with telecommunications network operators and other relevant partners. It is an initiative Mr Marzano has been part of since his appointment in 1991 as chief executive and chief creative director at Philips Design, an independent unit of the Philips Group that provides design services to its companies and other enterprises. Mr Marzano started a new era of design at Philips with his pursuit of a 'human-focused, multi-disciplinary and research-based' approach to design that results in the creation of new businesses. He has also championed the cause of making technology as unobtrusive to people's lives as possible. 'Much of the current technology we have in our homes and offices is obtrusive, in the form of boxes - the television, computers and appliances,' he said. 'These are set to disappear as technology becomes incorporated into our clothes, our furniture, and the walls and ceilings in our environment.' The increased availability of high-speed internet connections, wireless and fixed-line, in many countries is credited with growing the potential of Philips' ambient intelligence agenda. 'Broadband's power is not in its speed but in the flexibility of the applications,' said Lynda Starr, vice-president at New Jersey-based Probe Research. 'Current applications are geared more toward communications than content [such as e-mail and home networking].' Ms Starr believes that broadband must be viewed as a technology that can help us do more rather than as just another application. Probe Research sees broadband connections as growing rapidly in Asia, with subscriptions dropping for low-speed, dial-up internet access services in markets such Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Hong Kong, for example, had more than a million households with broadband connections in May this year. Mr Marzano said that Philips' endorsement of ambient intelligence, through its broadband-based Connected Planet strategy, had resulted in key developments that had become commercially available, or were soon to be released. In 2000, Philips and Levi Strauss launched a partnership called Levi's ICD+ that focused on 'wearable technology'. Products included jackets tailored to carry MP3 players and phones with voice-recognition dialling. Microphones are hidden in the collar and earpieces are stitched into the hood. Last year, Philips teamed up with Nike to develop and market a line of shock and sweat-resistant MP3 players, headphones and other audio products designed to be used for athletic activities such as running. Mr Marzano said the vision for ambient intelligence differed with each company. He pointed out that Sony and Samsung had their own initiatives. 'What is important to remember is that ambient intelligence is more than just embedding technology into objects,' he said. 'It involves human culture in its broadest sense - universal desires, complex social relationships, different value systems, individual preferences, codes of ethics, conduct and communication - in society and in business. 'The more we understand all these aspects, the better we will be able to provide people with an ambient intelligence they feel comfortable with and can welcome into their lives as something that truly improves their quality of life,' he said.