When was the last time you called a repairman to work on the mattress for your bed?
At a recent hotel stay I found myself sleeping on a Sleep Number bed that seemed to adjust itself in the middle of the night. At times I’d wake up on a totally deflated bed and others it would be rock hard. Rather amusing, but not really very comfortable.
Naturally the value of a hi-tech bed is diminished when you lose sleep over it, and have to pay for repairs.
Next generation hi-tech beds will have ways of detecting failures remotely and will either alert the owners and schedule a repairman, or the bed will simply repair itself.
The same is true for any number of common household items that will soon have digital features added to them like spoons, forks, plates, shoes, coats, belts, scarves, and hats.
At first blush it’s hard to imagine why anyone would need a better spoon, but once digital sensors enter the picture, it will be hard to imagine how we got along without them. In the future it will be commonplace to have a spoon that tells you if your food is safe to eat, or what the temperature is, calorie count, ingredient list, dietary facts, and much more.
In fact, once digital spoons appear in the stores, the overall market for spoons will suddenly quadruple overnight. Flatware manufacturers will see an instant spike with hundreds of millions of new spoons, knives, and forks sold every year.
But the utility of these utensils will boil down to a few tiny new sensors that produce added capabilities.
The reason why adding sensors to common everyday items like spoons is so attractive is because it’s a known market with existing manufacturers, vendors, and consumer.
We are now set to reach the trillion sensor milestone somewhere between 2022-2024, but the center of activity for this projection will happen around ultrahigh volume sensors like those I mentioned for spoons.
Since sensors are expensive to develop, the quickest path to profitability is through products with high volume sales. To help you imagine where we’re headed with this emerging new industry, I’ll step you through four of today’s more imaginative uses for sensors and touch on 64 more possible uses.
Hosting the First Trillion Sensor Summit
In October of 2013, Janusz Bryzek, an executive at Fairchild Semiconductor, hosted the first ever “Trillion Sensor Summit,” an event designed around creating a roadmap for achieving the world’s first trillion sensors.
The 250 attendees, representing 100 companies in 40 different countries were focused primarily on the market for ultrahigh volume sensors, the ones in highest demand that could be efficiently produced.
As an example, the first iPhone in 2007 came with only five sensors – proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, accelerometer, magnetometer, and gyroscopic sensor.
Smartphones today come with as many as 21 by adding sensors for temperature, humidity, pressure, GPS, fingerprint, trilateration, ultrasound, touch, beacons, RFID, Bluetooth, and a variety of image and sound sensors to track depth of field, ambient light, audio clutter, dynamic range, focal distance, and more.
With sensors on smartphones doubling every 4 years, we should anticipate over 160 sensors on every phone in 2027.
With annual smartphone shipments projected to reach 2 billion in 2020, any new sensor that makes it as a standard issue feature will be part of this enormous 2 billion phone market.
Similarly, any sensor that becomes standard issue on every car will claim their piece of the 111 million-unit car market in 2020.
The same will be true for kitchen appliances like toasters, blenders, refrigerators, and freezers; or clothing like hats, shoes, shirts, and pants; or everyday products like Band-Aids, toothpaste, shampoo, and hairspray.
Cutting Edge Sensors
Breakthroughs in sensor technology are now happening very quickly due to advances in material science, data analytics, 3D printing, and a broadening array of tools for doing research.
Since sensors are expensive to develop, many of the new technologies are targeted at health-related applications for faster returns on initial investments.
Here are four rather unusual new sensor technologies.
Ingestible Stethoscopes – Recently MIT announced one of their research teams had developed a stethoscope that can be swallowed. This pill-sized device comes armed with sensors to measure your heart rate and breathing as it passes through your gastrointestinal tract.
Using a tiny microphone like the one in your smartphone, this little device can listen to your lungs and separate inhale-exhale sounds from that of your heart.
Being a new product, the actual market potential for ingestible stethoscopes is still unknown. But if it becomes a common substitute for medical checkups, numbers could mushroom quickly.
Handheld Ultrasound Imager – Following a similar path, in June of 2015, serial entrepreneur Janusz Bryzek (former executive at Fairchild Semiconductor) launched a company called eXo System Inc. to develop a handheld ultrasound imager that requires no training to produce textbook quality pictures and videos of internal organs at a very low cost.
Cosmic-Ray Moisture Sensor – An Albuquerque-based company, Hydroinnova, has developed a cosmic-ray sensor to measure how many neutrons are in the air, and that information translates into how much water is in the soil. A measurement with a low amount of neutrons indicates a high amount of water is present in the soil; a high neutron count suggests a low amount of moisture.
As the mobile sensor unit moves across a farmer’s field, it takes a measurement every minute and reads a 1,000′ radius circle, from about 1′ into the ground. Essentially, it takes a CAT scan of a field to measure neutrons and soil moisture. The rate of coverage depends on resolution, but on a 2.5-acre grid, the cosmic-ray neutron rover scans 4,000 acres per day.
Edible Food Sensors – Scientists at Tufts University have engineered a silk-based material into a fully chewable food sensors. Pasted onto eggs, stamped onto fruit or floating in milk, it can warn you when your fruit is too ripe, or when your milk has gone sour.
The silk film doubles up as the sensor’s glue, turning sticky when exposed to water. The sensor is then pasted directly onto the food that needs tracking, eliminating the need for additional glue to keep it clinging to the surface.
64 Future Uses for Sensors
In the past, our sensor market was focused on a few key points of detection like heat, light, moisture, humidity, barometric pressure, proximity, rotational movement, and chemical composition.
Even though these forms of detection will continue to make up a significant percentage of the sensor market in the future, the real potential for ultrahigh volume sensors will unfold in thousands of different ways.
Here are 64 examples of how the sensor market may unfold over the coming years.
Personal Safety Sensors
We are all concerned about what new kind of danger might be lurking close by.
- I’m-being-stalked sensors – Tracking reoccurring images of people around you.
- I’ve-been-data-mined sensors – Who is looking at my data and why?
- I’ve-been-hacked sensors – Someone is messing with me.
- Evil intent sensors – Spiderman has his famous “Spidey Sense” so why can’t we?
- Injury anticipation sensor – Many imminent dangers can indeed be anticipated.
- Bad air sensors – Is the air you’re breathing safe?
- Bad water sensors – How clean is the water you’re about to drink?
- Dangerous food sensors – There’s a big difference between bad-for-you food and dangerous food.
Smart Shoe Sensors
Shoes are one of the primary interfaces between our bodies and the physical world, just like chairs, beds, and pillows.
- Pressure point sensors – Dynamically adjust the contour of contact surface with expanding/contracting polymeric gels
- Optimal blood circulation sensors – Complete with size, fit, and tightness monitor.
- Sweat sensors – To open and close air vents.
- Deterioration sensors – To monitor wear and tear of the shoe.
- Pain monitors – Where does it hurt and what’s causing it.
- Slippage monitors – Anticipating blisters.
- Skin irritation trackers – Friction, rash, heat monitor.
- Find my shoes beacons – Geo-locator for shoes.
At one time or another we’ve all found ourselves in the middle of the dating scene, and virtually everyone wishes it would be easier.
- Personality matchers – Focus on key personality traits and how they pair up with your date.
- Experience matchers – How is your date reacting to your past experiences?
- Musical mood sensors – Does he or she like this music?
- Food mood sensors – What food will best match his or her mood?
- Taste matching sensors – What is their taste in art, entertainment, furniture, live performances, and literature?
- Anticipatory mood sensors – How is my date ranking on the fascination scale? How about the attentiveness, eye contact, or emotional engagement scale?
- Anticipatory behavior sensors – How will alcohol, smoking, loud noises, or bright lights affect his or her mood?
- Crowd happiness sensors – The overall happiness of a crowd can often determine the outcome of a date.
Smart Garden Sensors
In any agricultural setting the role of sensors can range widely. On one hand, sensors used to monitor pests like birds and squirrels that eat the plants, can be used to trigger a sound frequency that irritates the vermin and causes them to leave. In other cases, the right signal could be used to attract friendly birds that feed off of harmful insects.
- Moisture mapping sensors
- Chemical composition mappers
- Bug identifiers
- Rodent spotters
- Disease identifiers
- Fungus monitors
- Germination trackers
- Plant health monitors
Smart Student Sensors
The process of receiving information and turning it into a useful skill is still very much a mystery. While we know a few things that work (some of the time), the education process itself remains a crude, imprecise exercise. The right combination of sensors can indeed add some useful metrics to work with.
- Alertness/attention optimizers
- Discomfort/distraction calculators
- Oxygen level/blood flow monitors
- Optical/audio registers
- Discrimination/discernment analyzers
- Light-bulb-turning-on indicators
- Epiphany trackers/recorders
- Accomplishment mappers
Criminal Activity Sensors
Crimes come in many shapes and sizes. Here are a few thoughts on how future sensors can be used to alter the criminal landscape.
- Legal sensors – Is this legal? Will we soon be able to monitor and analyze the legality of virtually every transaction?
- Pipeline leakage sensors – Small holes have gone undetected for years.
- Data leakage sensors – Is someone stealing your data?
- Intellectual property loss sensors – Who is infringing and why?
- Illicit drug detectors – Detected from a distance.
- Fragility detectors – Expensive, fragile equipment will require a log of who-handled-what-when.
- Stability detectors – How stable is this person?
- Object recognition sensors – “These are not the drones you’re looking for.” Oh yes, they are!
Smart City Drone Sensors
Whenever an incident happens in a city of the future, their first response will be to “get eyes on it.” This will not only mean cameras, but sensors as well.
- Activity monitors – When a combination of people, motion, and emotion reach a critical stage, authorities will be alerted.
- Traffic analyzers – With automated stoplight recalculating algorithms.
- Bottleneck anticipator – Monitoring and projecting bottlenecks for auto, bike, and foot traffic.
- Fire spotters – With infrared and thermal detectors, cities will know about fires moments after they get started.
- Aging infrastructure analyzers – The flexing of bridges, swaying of buildings, structural integrity of power lines, and throughput of water and sewer lines can gives cities a minute-by-minute report on their ever-aging infrastructure.
- Weapon tracking system – Know where every weapon is at in the city at any time.
- Economic activity analyzer – What retail areas are increasing and decreasing, tracking the number of vacant houses, vacant storefronts, homeless people, car values, real estate values, and much more.
- Public health tracker – What neighborhoods have higher incident of flu, measles, cancer, diabetes, drug use, obesity, heart disease and why?
Smart Clothing Sensors
- Mood casters – When you walk into a building it will understand your mood and respond by adjusting the music, lighting, heat, cooling, entertainment, and much more.
- Identity casters – Rather than pulling out a driver’s license or passport, your identity will precede you.
- Photo/video shields – Anyone who doesn’t want to appear in a photo or video can simply turn on signal blocking tech to disrupt the visual spectrum around you.
- Metabolism sensors – Have you had enough food and water today? Have you had too much?
- Anticipatory weather sensors – Know in advance when the weather is about to change.
- Shaken-baby sensors – Find out if your nanny or babysitter is abusing your child.
- Whole health monitors – Monitor your galvanic skin response, neural activity, blood flow, glandular slowdowns, alertness levels, breathing-sleeping issues, and much more.
- Pet mood sensors – Know in advance if the dog you’re about to pet is friendly. Will we have a grading scale for pet happiness?
With sensors becoming very inexpensive, tiny, and easy to mass-produce, we will soon see them embedded into paints, varnish, and other coatings. We will soon have information coming from virtually every surrounding surface – sides of cars, sides of buildings, our clothing, and our homes.
The next time you need to determine the optimal level of crispness, smoothness, or ripeness you will probably use a sensor.
Engineers will use sensors to determine things like light seepage, sound seepage, or thermal seepage.
Doctors will use sensors to analyze things like restrictive hair growth, genetic predispositions, causes for hearing loss, and allergic reactions.
Sensors are about to enter our lives in a far bigger way than most of us can imagine, and the opportunities that are about to unfold are truly endless.
If you care to count them, we will reach our first trillion sensors on planet earth in about 6-8 years. Personally, I can’t wait!
Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything