Networking & Communications

The Ubiquitous, Invisible Sensor

April 1, 2005 By: Barbara G. Goode, Sensors Sensors

When I travel from New England to southern climes in winter and spring, I'd like to leave my bulky coat at home, and I don't want to freeze upon my return. I'd like to step from the terminal to the curb in comfort. That's why I'm inspired by the vision that Sensors reader Ron Liew holds out for 20 years hence. Ron says that sensors embedded in "adaptive clothing" will determine the best condition for the wearer. For me, an unobtrusive sensor system will compare my body temperature with the ambient temperature and adjust accordingly. For someone sensitive to the sun, it will block UV rays.

 Barbara G. Goode
Barbara G. Goode

When it's time to wash our adaptive clothing, Liew sees smart laundry aids stepping in. The washing machine will sense what types of clothes are in the machine tub and automatically select the best wash and dry cycles.

He says that by 2024 sensors will be ubiquitous thanks to advances in nanotechnology (not to mention power and wireless communications).

Essential, Everywhere

Well into the magazine's 21st year, Sensors readers have continued to share visions for the next 20 years of sensor development, and for the ways sensors will continue to impact our lives. And ubiquity is the most common theme.

Bill Kleinebecker says sensors will proliferate in autonomous mesh networks with embedded applications. Ed Ramsden agrees, saying that every electronic device will incorporate many sensors: "Embedded intelligence and sensory capabilities will make many future products seem more like smart animals bred for a particular function" than the large-overhead machines we now use. He adds,"As such, they will adapt to and learn from their users so as not to require any more attention than is desired. This will be different than the electronic devices of today that make great demands of their users—often to the point where the costs of use outweigh the benefits derived. The 'best' sensor-tronic products of 2024 may be utterly invisible to their end users."

Such invisibility will require more elegant interfacing of humans to computers. Robert Treen says, "By 2024 (assuming that I'm not dead by then!), I'll be able to talk to most devices" that currently require keyboard input. "Some devices will also speak to us and suggest what we should (or should not) be doing!" he adds. "The sensors required for this will not be limited to basic microphones; the devices will have to sense human presence by heat/IR and vision or touch recognition, e.g., your mobile telephone will work only if you pick it up . . . and if you want to loan it, you will have to override the security."

But Reed Grundy, having witnessed the technological struggles involved in delivering voice recognition capabilities, is not convinced. "If we work real hard and are real lucky," he says, "we will have voice recognition to text software by 2024." Perhaps we can bypass those struggles by going right to the source. Ken Wong predicts that computers will be controlled by thought processes, and G. Ramesh agrees, envisioning "sensors able to quantify and decipher the brain waves."

Barbara Goode
Barbara Goode

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