It is hard to think of an area of consumer technology that has NOT been affected or advanced by the application of sensing technologies. We now take it for granted that our cars and even mobile phones are capable of pinpointing themselves, anywhere on the surface of the earth, to within a few meters at any point in time. Most people know this is down to GPS integration but that’s not the whole story. These systems increasingly contain 9-axis sensing systems; 3-axes each (up-down, forward-back, left-right) for acceleration, rotation and compass direction. It is this ‘inertial’ sensing which maintains the accuracy of location even when you temporarily lose the GPS signal. The speed with which all of this gets its first lock on position when you switch it on, is greatly enhanced by the telephone part. Knowing the location of the cell transmitter the phone is connected to is one of the key pieces of information that means the first fix time can be reduced from minutes to seconds.
Other examples abound. Our phones, laptops and televisions dynamically adjust screen brightness dependent on the ambient light level. The reason the person you are talking to from that busy lobby can make out a word you say, is due to the sensing and signal processing going on in your phone to filter out background noise but leave your voice intact. You may well know someone that has had a home blood pressure monitor for a while. They may also now have a set of scales that will weigh you, measure your body fat and water content, identify that it is you who has stepped on the scales and automatically upload this new information to your choice of online health tracker.
Chemical sensing is reaching a level of maturity where it is having increasing impact on consumers. Carbon monoxide sensors are now electronic devices, similar to smoke detectors, both of which are now commonplace. Carbon dioxide sensors have now reached a point that they can be incorporated into ventilation and air conditioning. The huge advantage here, is that CO2 is a highly effective indicator of air quality allowing huge energy savings by only running ventilation when required, whilst at the same time making sure that it does run when needed and so provides improved air quality. The impact on concentration and attention levels is so significant, all school classrooms in Scotland will shortly have this technology linked to an indicator and in 2015 it will be mandatory for every new car to monitor cabin CO2 levels and have the ability to turn on the ventilation when the level exceeds a threshold.