• By Sin Mei C
  • June 23, 2014

Exploring Context for Connected Hardware

The first ever Connected Conference Paris, organised by Rude Baguette, can definitely be called a hit. For starters, Connected Conference brought together companies – big, small and start-up sized – from the complete spectrum of the connected hardware industry. A second win was their great line-up of speakers, which covered everything from ‘hardware startup: how to’ to the hardware ‘internals’, machine-to-machine communications, how the Internet of Things will help us achieve better ‘sustainability’, and – most important to us – how context-awareness is part of the brain behind the hardware.

What does Connected Hardware want with Context?

Although it isn’t always easy, it is invariably worthwhile to move slightly out of your ‘comfort’ zone to challenge your ideas and product offering. That’s exactly what we did at the Connected Conference. At Argus Labs we’re already used to dealing with all sorts of hardware-generated data – from the sensors in your smartphone, to some of the readouts from your car. Our machine learning platform can make sense of all this data, turning it into useful insights in human behaviour and our mindset. These in turn get used to optimise brand to consumer online communications, to improve user interaction in mobile apps and even as security feature.

Context, Human Behaviour and Brains for Hardware & Connected Dev

Connected, however, gave us ample opportunity to talk to hardware manufacturers and service providers working with devices that don’t necessarily have a display, or even direct interaction with their consumers. Here’s what they most want from us:

1. The complete context: knowing the context – both human and environmental – which influences the usage of their hardware. Not only sensor-fusion, but an interflow between the data generated by the device, and information about the user and the device’s surroundings. Knowing why user behaviour differences.

2. Human behaviour: learning to recognise and identify different users and usage patterns. There’s many devices -tablets, specialised activity trackers, cars, … – out there that are only semi-personal. Whilst they mainly belong to one person, they are frequently shared with a certain circle: family, colleagues or friends. Devices trained to recognise users and usage patterns can auto-adapt so time-consuming hindrances such as having to adjust a certain setting over-and-over can be skipped, so menus can be cut down to a minimum and so that even a hardware button or two might disappear.

3. Brains and a heart: assistance with making their devices think like a human, or at least understand us humans. Many hardware still requires users to learn how the technology thinks and thus works, if they want to master using a certain device. There was a significant interest and demand for the reversed process: learning technology how users think (and why they do something), so devices can anticipate and facilitate our actions. Objects that remember our preferences according to context and need, have a huge advantage over devices that require us to adjust our actions to the technology. Understanding why we do something and what mindset we find ourselves in, means that the hardware knows when (not) to correct our decisions.

Brain Behind the HardWare, Why Context MattersThese three main needs are in line with was said at the ‘The Brain Behind the Hardware: Why Context Matters’ panel discussion moderated by Romain Dillet (TechCrunch) in which our CEO our founder took part. Other panellists were Ami Ben David (EverythingMe) and Mathias Herberts, CTO of Cityzen Data.

The Brain Behind the Hardware: Why Context Matters

One of the major takeaways from this panel was the importance of data – the more data points, the more accurately you can anticipate future behaviour and make those actions as frictionless possible – to predict and to serve. “What blood is to the brain, is data to artificial intelligence,” is how our CEO worded it.

Privacy & Ownership
As usual, privacy was a hot issue, but there was a general consensus that trust, choice and transparency are of utmost importance.

Cityzen Data’s CTO went one step further, and stressed that in the era of the Internet of Things ownership of data is of utmost importance. We should make sure that the data generated by our devices, is also our data: “If you pay €20,000 for a car, you should make sure you own the data that your car generates too.”

I hope this panel will be continued next year, with some more time available to discuss putting context to work beyond optimising for display-oriented objects (such as the launcher on a mobile phone) and anticipating ‘digital-only’ actions. In the end, true context-awareness (environment, habits, expectations and mindset) should help us to design to disappear, and context’s true value is not about reordering the list of choices to display, but about making displays optional, if not redundant.

Last but not least, a shoutout to some great organisational forces behind this memorable event, Liam Boogar, Trista Bridges and the entire Rude Baguette staff, as well as to the coolest Nordic ‘Accelerator of Things‘ visiting Paris. We’re expecting the Connected Conference to quickly grow to become a prominent player – and connector – in the European ‘Connected Everything’ space, and we’re already looking forward to the Connected 2015 edition!

Edited June 26, as I learned the name of the mysterious third panelist, Mathias Herberts, CTO of Cityzen Data.

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