Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The Internet of Things Comes to the Smartphone

Infrared Sensors for iPhones
For sometime now I have been pondering how the use of additional sensors on smartphones might be useful.  Today many smartphones contain the following sensors:
  • Proximity sensor
  • Motion sensor/accelerometer
  • Ambient light sensor
  • Moisture sensor
  • Gyroscopic sensor
  • Magnetometer
Those listed sensors are incredibly valuable, but there are more coming.  I read today about 3D photo sensors that Google is testing for smartphones, and other sensors like barometric sensors to help determine what floor of a building you are on, and biometric sensors to recognize finger prints for security purposes.  The 3D sensor would enable intelligent applications to understand the shape and layout of a room, the barometric sensor would help identify the floor of a building and the magnetometer to help an application to understand the direction the room is facing.  All of these sensors could contribute to interesting indoor retailing apps. They convert the physical into digital.  They represent the tip of the spear for digital transformation.  Once that is complete, software algorithms can be programmed and intelligence added to support revolutionary new business processes.

Evolution in Sensor Sizes
At the Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona last week I discovered more interesting sensors.  I saw a sensor, the size of a pin head, for monitoring and reporting humidity and temperature (Sensirion). It connected to smartphones via bluetooth.  My favorite though, was the Thermal Imager sensor from Flir that connects to an iPhone via a sled (with extra batteries).  It let's you, among other things, point at a person walking by to see their body temperature (a must for determining the living from the dead and the human from an android), plus you can see warm blooded animals and warm objects light up your iPhone screen even in complete darkness.

Imagine you hear a loud noise in your backyard at night.  Reach for your thermal imager enabled iPhone and scan your backyard.  The mountain lion hiding behind your shrubbery is instantly exposed.  This can be useful in my neighborhood (see http://magicvalley.com/news/local/mountain-lion-killed-in-idaho-neighborhood/article_7b8e91ce-902a-11e3-a505-001a4bcf887a.html).  You can also scan your hardwood floor to see if a giraffe or anyone has walked across it in the past few minutes.

These sensors are just the tip of the iceberg.  There are hundreds of sensors that are being miniaturized today (see the Evolution in Sensor Size photo above I took at MWC14).  They capture information about your physical world and can wirelessly transmit this information to your smartphone or enterprise server.  How fun!

The Internet of Things is already massively increasing the amount of data flowing into servers from the physical world.  Our big task in 2014 is imagining all the ways this data can be used to make our world a better place.

Kevin Benedict
Senior Analyst, Digital Transformation Cognizant
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I am a mobility and digital transformation analyst, consultant and writer. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.