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Context Awareness
Making machines aware of their contexts is not a new concept. A lot of applications already use sensors to get an idea of what is happening in the surrounding environment. However, the number and variety of sensors is usually minimal and the recognition process is kept very simple and compact. Establishing a high-level notion of context, based on the output of a group of simple sensors is not very common. The field of robotics started very early with this approach (subsumption architecture for autonomous robots) and has probably been responsible for most of the progress that has been made so far.

Characteristics of Context Awareness  
The notion of context awareness for devices itself can be split up into three components: activity, environment and self. The activity describes the task the user is performing at the moment, or more generally what his or her behaviour is. This aspect of context is focused on the user of the device, and his or her habits. The environment describes what the status is of the physical and social surroundings of the user. The current location, the activities in the environment and other extern properties like for instance temperature or humidity belong to this axis. Finally, the self component contains the status of the device itself. This third point of view on context awareness has not been researched as much as the other two, but is a very interesting one in the scope of cognitive sciences. 

Why Context Awareness
Appliances are becoming increasingly ubiquitous, increases in the use of portable computers and cellular telephones are clearly visible and the image of having a portable device is not anymore reserved to a restricted group of people. Research and development in information technology is moving away from desktop based computing towards more portable and task specific applications. Most of these portable devices should behave differently depending on what situation they and their users are in. 
Along with the sales-figures and the popularity of these devices, the importance of the usability and functionality is increasing as well. Appliances that know more about their environment will be able to function better and will give their users a better service. A device that knows about its own environment and that of its user could transparently adapt to the situation, leading to the idea of the invisible computer. Improving the interaction with such a device is not possible without augmenting its context awareness. The appliance will be capable of giving better defaults for the situation and could automatically make choices that the user normally would have to make.

last update: 27/06/2000 by Kristof Van Laerhoven the previous sites can still be found here and here