ERCIM News No.47, October 2001 [contents]

Contextualisation in Nomadic Computing

by Markus Eisenhauer and Roland Klemke

Contextualised information presentation and interaction gives Nomadic Computing its backing. At the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology (FIT), prototypes and services are currently being developed in the framework of the project ‘Situation Awareness in Motion’ (SAiMotion), a cooperation between FIT and other Fraunhofer Institutes that concentrates on context modeling and Human-Computer Interaction.

The baseline for the acceptance of information and communication systems is a simplified information presentation adapted to situation, task and user. On the one hand, simplified means a reduction of information by adapting the information presentation to the context (a task, situation and user adapted choice of information) but on the other hand, it means driving at an intuitive interaction with the SAiMotion-system itself. This article will concentrate on the first aspect of information adaptation. In SAiMotion, simplified information presentation is achieved through automatic proactive selection of information and context-sensitive presentation of the contents with explicit consideration of important environment variables, like daytime, noise, and the situation of communication.

Context in Nomadic Computing
For context adapted information presentation and interaction the development of a suitable context and process model is vital determining the individual information needs on the basis of location, environment, situation, user, task and activation features. In most context definitions four dimensions of context are considered (Klemke, 2000; Schilit, 1994): the location of the user in either electronic (eg an URL) or physical space, the identity of the user implying a user model with information about the user’s interests, preferences and knowledge, the time (day/night time working hours, weekend, etc) and the environment (the task or activity in a current situation; other users). Approaches that take context into their account usually focus one or only few aspects like the users current position in physical space to adapt the information selection and presentation. Beyond to these approaches SAiMotion aims to provide an exhaustive situation model identifying and using all relevant situative parameters for proactive information supply and user interaction.

The process of information contextualisation requires filtering, annotating and aggregation of information contents. The identification of the relevant situative parameters in agreement with the above described context dimensions help to solve this task. The information need of the user is determined by the primary task as well as his present location. The objective is to assist the user by a proactive supply of actually relevant information (and functionality) so that the search and selection of information does not distract him from the primary task. Information and communication systems thus are being used to enrich the professional and personal weekday with useful additional information.

Information Selection and Anticipation
Context adapted services are dependent on the reception of the situation of the user implying the physical environment (location, objects in the vicinity, light intensity, volume) actual tasks and targets of the user, the current state of affairs in the processing of the task, the characteristics of the device – concerning in- and output of information, as well as the user’s profile of interests and preferences. Depending on the present situation the probable current information need is narrowed down – and is possibly predictable, so that the information needed could be anticipated by the system.

Additionally the emerging contexts create a framework for user coordination at different locations allowing an implicit coordination of location independent communication and cooperation of users. As already mentioned the problem of privacy is to be taken into account since users are not always willing to disclose their situation or parts of their situation (eg their location) to the SAiMotion-system or other users.

In contrast to location and situation independent information access determining the paradigm of ‘anything, anytime, anywhere’ it is vital for the above described activities to provide information dependent on the present location and situation and to support suitable methods of user interaction and information presentation: The SAiMotion-system provides support for the completion of a task, by providing navigation help, information about nearby local resources that are useful for the completion of the task, selecting information adapted to the particular situation, task and user preferences, monitoring the current goals and sub goals including a warning of possible conflicts and adapting the interaction with the SAiMotion-system to the modality appropriate for the context. Moreover the SAiMotion-system is capable pursuing multiple tasks: at the counter it reminds the user of an overdue cash transfer and presents the current balance, at the supermarket it provides the shopping list and the current special offers, in an exhibition it provides a tour or information about the exhibits, on a journey it provides useful information about the city, including map, hotel information, transportation, current events, sightseeing, and culture etc.

The most important advance will be anticipated information supply: Relevant information will be proactively selected for the present task sequence or interest of the user. With the help of user, situation and task monitoring it will be possible to reduce the information explosion to information that match the interest and needs of the user to anticipate the next interaction with the SAiMotion-system and the possible content of the next request. The SAiMotion-system proactively scans for useful information and has it ready for the next request.

Context Typology Context Typology

SAiMotion will lead to a great improvement in the efficacy of the user interaction with the system. Time saving and information focusing contribute to a greatly improved interaction and to greater contentment of the user. Moreover multimodal interaction and pro-active presentation mechanisms that adapt to environmental variables like daytime, noise, situation of communication will lead to context sensitive interaction. The SAiMotion-system on its own will meet a situation- and user-adapted interaction. Several partners are involved in the activities like Fraunhofer-Institut für Graphische Datenverarbeitung IGD), Fraunhofer-Institut für Arbeitswirtschaft und Organisation (IAO), Fraunhofer Institut für Zuverlässigkeit und Mikro-integration (IZM), Fraunhofer Institut für Integrierte Schaltungen (IIS); Fraunhofer Institut für Publikations- und Informationssysteme (IPSI).


Please contact:
Markus Eisenhauer - Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology
Tel: +49 2241 14 28 59
E-mail: markus.eisenhauer@fit.fhg.de