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Seneca Brandi

Seneca Brandi

Akendi Alumnus

When Smart Becomes Genius: context aware computing

It seems like every day a new “smart” consumer product is released onto the market with the promise of revolutionary features and added convenience. From refrigerators… to door locks… to watches… and even light bulbs. But besides being a new and popular buzzword, what does “smart” actually mean?

What makes these products so “smart”?

In one word: connections. A smart device is generally connected to other devices or networks, giving them the ability to operate to some extent interactively and autonomously.

What does this mean for the consumer?

Sometimes you just can’t remember if you turned off the toaster oven before leaving the house. Sitting at work, you might wonder, “is my house burning down?” or “should I go home and check?” You could run home, of course, or you could just link that croissant cooker up to the Internet and switch it off from your phone.

Convenient? Yes!   Revolutionary? Not quite.

So why are companies like Cisco investing so heavily in connected devices? And why are consumers so eager to finance products like the Pebble smart watch, which raised over $10.2 million in crowd sourced funding? (especially impressive given their Kickstarter goal of only $100,000).

I suspect it’s because connected smart devices have only scratched the surface of their potential, and with time the possibilities for innovation could be endless. The key to unlocking that potential is through software, specifically through context aware computing.

What is context aware computing?

Defined as “software that examines and reacts to an individual’s changing context.” Context aware computing gathers environmental information: Identity, Activity, Time, & Location, and by making associations, is able to make reasonable assumptions about the real world.

Imagine driving home, an inattentive driver plows into the side of your vehicle. Before your wheels stop spinning, a sensor in your vehicle recognizes the severity of the impact and contacts 911 so emergency vehicles can be dispatched. While the ambulance is on route, your medical records and insurance information are communicated to the receiving hospital, your driver’s history is forwarded to the police, your auto insurance company has been notified, and your vital signs are sent from your body sensor to the approaching rescue vehicle. The EMTs know exactly how to treat you even before they arrive at the crash site and the police have contacted your family to let them know you have been in an accident.

The key here is the communication and collaboration between technologies; each system working together to create a solution far more valuable than they could manage on their own.

What does the future hold?

While most truly ambitious context-aware applications are still in the research phase, there are a number of applications that attempt to demonstrate the power and, more importantly, the future potential of context-aware applications. One example is EmotionSense, a mobile sensing platform designed to sense a person’s emotions and calculate how these emotions relate to their activities. Other, more popular applications such as Siri, and Google Now are bringing context awareness to the mainstream.

It’s clear these are still early days, and there are still many issues that will need to be address. However, the future is bright and I’m excited to see how this technology will continue to evolve.

Seneca Brandi

Seneca Brandi

Akendi Alumnus


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Akendi is a human experience design firm, leveraging equal parts experience research and creative design excellence. We provide strategic insights and analysis about customer and user behaviour and combine this knowledge with inspired design. The results enable organizations to improve effectiveness, engage users and provide remarkable customer experiences to their audiences.