Monday, February 07, 2011

The coming wave of sensors

I want my mobile device to have a ton more sensors. The iPhone’s GPS, compass, gyroscope, and accelerometer are just the beginning. How about some additional built-ins like:

  • Temperature, barometric pressure, altitude, humidity(obvious)
  • Near-field communications (already rumored)
  • Particulates (to measure air pollution)
  • Electromagnetic software radio (to detect and decode short-wave, TV, and anything else in the broadcast spectrum)
Better yet, give me a standardized interface so I can add my own sensors. A big part of the cost of specialized sensing devices is the electronics necessary to make them useful: a CPU/GPU, display, power supply. But my iPhone has all of that already.  Let me plug whatever I want with an easy-to-use, USB-like plug that enables options like:
  • Medical: Blood pressure, glucose, fever
  • Sleep device (like the Zeo)
  • Spectrometer
  • Geiger counter (radioactivity)
  • Weather (wind speed)
  • Radar/sonar/ultrasound
  • Light and optics, for microscopes, telescopes, infrared sensors, etc.
For each of these, the core electronics are cheap and easy-to-manufacture. Of course, more sophisticated and higher-quality industrial grade sensors are also possible at the high end, but think of what happens when millions of people are using them, and there’s a market for great apps to help analyze and aggregate the results.

That’s when things get especially interesting: combine with the rest of what’s on the device.  Now the sensing can happen in the background, as you’re going about your day. With the right privacy protections in place, we can build a map of everyone’s sensing information, updated automatically in real-time.

Remember that the iPhone and Twitter didn’t even exist five years ago, so something like the above revolutions are easy to imagine within the next five years. I can't wait!

Herbert George Ponting and telephoto apparatus, Antarctica, January 1912