Dark Sensors

A 6 axis accelerometer

We’ve all been pretty fascinated with our portable sensors for the last 5 years or so. By this I mean your cell phone. Yep that CMOS camera, microphone, 3 axis accelerometer, gyro, magnetometer, GPS receiver, light sensor, and cellular radio device is quite an array, and when put to good use, can offer it’s owner a lot of information that might be of value. Apps that can tell the user how far they walked, how many calories they burned, how many horsepower their car has, measure speed of a passing car, are all making use of these sensors to extract all kinds of useful facts.

Now we are starting to see these sensors appear in other devices besides cell phones. Childrens toys can become more interactive, and help promote healthy activities. Model airplanes can become easier to fly, and even fly themselves. Your laptop can tell when it has fallen off a table, and park the harddrive before it hits the ground.

However we think of all these activities that these sensors can monitor and analyze as affecting  our waking lives, but we don’t really think about what they can do for us when we are not awake. When we sleep, we shut down our own human sensors. Our eyes are closed, and our brain ignores pretty much everything else. This makes us very vulnerable, and unaware of our surroundings for about 1/3rd of our lives. But the world does not stop just because we fell asleep. Advanced sensors in small devices can compliment our catatonic state and offer us a lot of useful information that we never really thought of before.

Photo credit rachel CALAMUSA

Our health has a lot to do with our sleep, so gathering and analyzing information about how we slept can be very useful. There are some strange things that we do at night, like talking, walking, snoring, getting up to use the bathroom, midnight snacking. We can take this information, and have technology suggest improvements like when we go to bed, remind us when and how much we should drink or eat, and help regulate our sleep stages with stimulus. What happened overnight can be turned into actionable information to improve our daytime lives.

When we sleep, we are unaware of our surroundings. Not that it happens often, but sensors can help to warn us when danger is present. Most of us have a simple smoke alarm that does exactly that, but advanced sensors can detect motion, sense footsteps, listen for characteristics sounds like glass breaking, gunshots, and other imminent danger.

We can also combine this information for useful benefits. If our sensors detect a restless sleeper, maybe some soothing music, change of temperature, or turning on a fan will help. Maybe it’s getting close to the alarm clock going off, so lighting, temperature and other effects can help soften the blow of that first alarm.

The information is out there. Now it is easy to gather this information, and use it for our benefit. Over the next 5 years, you will see some innovative apps for smartphones, and some creative use of advanced sensors in various products in the bedroom. Soon enough, we won’t be able to live without them, or so it will seem.

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