Context Awareness

Modern smartphones now come equipped with up to 18 different, pre-installed sensors. However, most of these sensors are engaged only with when the user is directly interacting with the phone which, for a typical user,  amounts to only about 6 percent of the time.  Sensor Platforms believes that a new generation of consumer devices, enabled with context aware software, will engage some sensors 100 percent of the time: monitoring and learning about the consumer so that the device can actively “proact,” rather than passively interact, with its owner.

Using sensors to detect user context need not compromise battery life. Many sensors, including accelerometers, magnetometers and barometers combined, draw less than 1mA. Leaving them active constantly for a day would consume less than 1 percent of the battery of a smartphone. To interpret sensor data in this most power efficient way, Sensor Platforms has created a proprietary layered framework.

The foundation of the framework is the Resource Manager, which uses an efficient algorithm that takes a broad high-level view of incoming sensor signals. Its primary role is to identify significant changes in the sensor data that suggest the user context may be changing. This allows the context detection algorithm to focus computing resources when such attention is more likely to yield useful information.

Indeed, Context Awareness can actually contribute to prolonging battery life by allowing more aggressive system power management. For example, knowing that the user has not moved from his seat or has stayed close to a fixed location, means the smartphone would not need to turn on the GPS at all to maintain location services. So, a context aware power manager can turn off the GPS and make the assumption that available Wi-Fi connections have not changed.  Battery power is conserved without any intrusion into user experience. And in another case, when contexts indicate that the user is clearly not looking at the screen, for example if the phone were  in a pocket, the backlight would never be turned on. An aggressive power manager can even set a very short time-out period for turning off the backlight normally.  And yet, when context suggests the user is reading the screen, it would automatically extend the time limit in order not to annoy the user.

Today iPhone and Android smartphone users still have to interrupt their own lives to support their devices: entering preferences for different modes of operations; checking in with the device when eating at a restaurant or shopping at a store; and launching apps before going jogging or working out. Context awareness promises to move us closer to the time when our devices proactively support our lives rather than the other way around: requiring us to feed our devices with every input they need.  And we will see a new landscape of applications and systems that will improve people’s lives without intruding on their activities.

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