Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hand held devices and sensors

With the continuous size reduction of electronic chips, hand held devices have more and more power: higher speed, more memory, multiple communication mechanisms, lower energy consumption. These devices can now carry more sensors [1, 2] and what was just a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) has now phone capabilities, what was just a phone can be a 8 Mega Pixel camera [3, 4], what was just a digital camera use now a Global Positionning System (GPS) to geo-tag pictures [5, 6], etc.

Just because hand held devices have extended features, the latest ones like the iPhone or G1 [7, 8] are called smart phones. The devices themselves are not smart, it is only the programs they can run that allow them to deliver smart experiences. Especially the two mentioned phones because end-users can easily get third party tools (already with Apple AppStore and Android Market [7, 8]). Now, end-users will not be just limited to a handful set of applications, anyone can develop and download its own applications. If simple users can, corporations can do it too!

Here are two fun scenarios:
  • I am in the street, driving to meet friends at a restaurant I have never been before. All of us use a Instant Messaging (IM) client that updates each one status with our location (thank you GPS sensor).
  • Because I am a little bit late, I query an online map service to get the directions up to where most of my friends have been standing for the last 10 minutes (thank you 3GSM connectivity).
  • I do not want to have a problem parking my car, so I use the map service to get the nearest parking with free slots (thank you Internet services).
  • When I enter the parking, I pass my phone near a detector and the barrier gets up (thank you Near-Field Communication, or NFC [9]).
  • During the diner, I can use the camera to capture a scene, and the video is streamed up to Qik servers [10], being then visible by friends who could not join (thank you Digital Camera and Internet services).

  • I work for a wholesale enterprise that proposes smart phones to any employees.
  • Anonymously, the enterprise gather information to figure out what is going on and how to push information to its employees.
  • When the system detects that some trucks are stuck in the traffic (few vehicles following the same directions but going very slowly - thank you GPS [2]), it informs drivers in the area about better routes to follow.
  • When there is a fire alarm, the system can verify that mobiles move (thank you accelerometers [11]), that people go to identified areas. If one phone stays behind while near the owner desktop, the system calls both of them, just the cell phone otherwise. If no one responds, the security team is immediately informed, especially if the temperature near the phone goes high (thank you thermometer) and while someone is going to go the phone and the owner near the phone, the owner will be searched among people having reached the safety areas. In such an extreme situation, the system can turn on the phone camera and stream the video to the emergency team...
  • To control the energy consumption in the buildings [12], the system can turn off the lights when people leave them, and can decrease the temperature. In the morning, detecting that employees leave their place to come working, it can raise the temperature to have the place just warm (for sure, the use of statistics or fuzzy logic will help detecting false signals).

IMHO, if the mobile market can become open (no-more locked-in phones, less 3 years plan, etc.), if more operators adopt real standards [13], if the development tools are freely or cheaply available, smart enhanced devices are going to be omnipresent. And it is good for all parts of the planet, rich and poor countries, dense and sparse one. Information will flow everywhere, come from everywhere. That is an amazing perspective!

A+, Dom

  1. Tim O'Reilly at Web 2.0 Expo in New York.
  2. Future of mobile, by Google.
  3. Digital Imaging Systems announces 9 MP camera for mobile handsets.
  4. Nokia Photos 1.5 announcement.
  5. Global positioning: GPS and Galileo.
  6. How pictures are geotagged. How to geo-tagged pictures cheaply ;)
  7. Apple iPhone and Apple AppStore.
  8. HTC G1 (with Android and offered by T-Mobile) and Android Market announcement.
  9. Near-Field Communication presentation on Wikipedia.
  10. Qik: share live video from your phone.
  11. Apple iPhone Accelerometers, and optional API for Android accelerometers (because hardware dependent).
  12. Lighting system automatically adapted in AĆ©roports de Paris: already 1.8 million kWh saved (in French).
  13. Telus and Bell adopt HSPA for their 4G networks (extension of GSM instead of CDMA).
  14. Video with Google's mobile product cheif on mobile productivity.

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