Saturday, September 20, 2008

Context Aware Communications

This paper presents research activities into the field of Context-Aware Communication, which is considered as a subset of context-aware computing applications. The authors structure their presentation into five main categories: routing, addressing, messaging, caller awareness, and screening. Routing involves directing communication (phone calls, text messages) to physical devices in close proximity to the callee, and has been successfully implemented by combining Xerox PARC's Etherphone and Olivetti's ActiveBadge system. Addressing uses context information (“is this user in the building?”) to dynamically adjust traditional email mailing lists. Messaging is similar to context-aware call routing, but will instead route text messages to any proximal device capable of displaying text information. Caller awareness provides callers with information on their contact's context, so that they can actively choose not to call at inappropriate times. Screening is an approach that works in contrast to caller awareness; it filters out incoming calls based on the callee's context.

The authors presented several insightful technologies which were eventually adopted by modern day ubiquitous systems. The first of note was customizable phone ringers, depending on context. In the example, these ringers were used to distinguish callee, even though they have been successfully applied to determining caller in current applications. MIT's Active Messenger bears a striking resemblance to modern cell phone SMS capabilities. Also, AwareNex's context feature has been replicated in countless instant messaging systems. A possible extension of this idea is to incorporate automatic context sensing, via ActiveBadges or some other comparable technology, into current applications which would benefit from context information, such as an instant messaging system. Thereby, instead of manually setting one's IM status to 'on the phone', all one would have to do is simply pick up the phone. Not sitting at your workstation would change your IM status to 'away'.

The primary limiting factor in the applications presented in this paper is the technology that was available at the time it was written. Although the devices developed successfully demonstrated the concepts intended, further effort needs to be made to make these devices more marketable before they will be widely adopted, and form the ubiquitous network required for the proposed applications. It is entirely possible, however, that these advances have been made between the time this paper was published and present day.

Also, the authors made mention of certain situations where the context-aware communication applications would, for example, hold or screen incoming traffic because the callee is at the movies or eating dinner. This was only speculated at, because at the time of publishing the context sensing network wasn't pervasive enough to determine a user's location outside of the office (with the exception of GPS, but that won't work indoors). I propose that this limitation should be included in future systems which can determine a users' context outside of the workplace, to add a measure of privacy to the system.

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