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The recent confluence of embedded and real-time systems with wireless, sensor, and networking technologies is creating a nascent infrastructure for a technical, economic, and social revolution. Based on the seamless integration of computing with the physical world via sensors and actuators, this revolution will accrue many benefits. Potentially, its impact could be similar to that of the current Internet. We believe developers must focus on the physical, real-time, and embedded aspects of pervasive computing. We refer to this domain as physical computing systems. For pervasive computing to achieve its promise, developers must create not only high-level system software and application solutions, but also low-level embedded systems solutions. To better understand physical computing's advantages, we consider three application areas: assisted living, emergency response systems for natural or man-made disasters, and protecting critical infrastructures at the national level.