GLOBAL – Every handset is already wired up like a mini-nervous system with hundreds of sensors – many you’re probably completely unaware of. We can use a GPS to figure out where we are, a camera to capture what we see and a microphone to record what we say.
If we want to, we can plot our position with a compass, or tilt the screen with the accelerometer. Soon, with the next generation of phones, we could have sensors that take our blood pressure, or alarms to warn us that grandma needs help.
So if phone sensors can add an extra layer to our current abilities, what would be the six senses we need next?
Mobile heart monitors could be big business if the estimates of 20 million heart deaths a year by 2015 are correct.
Researchers have been using mobile ECG machines for a while, but until recently they could only record data to be reviewed later by a doctor.
Now scientists in the UK, and a team at the University of Pittsburgh, have been developing a cell phone monitor that also checks for heart abnormalities and, if necessary, calls your doctor – or an ambulance.
Smoke detector sensors could save thousands of lives a year – and do away with deaths caused by faulty home smoke alarms and flat batteries.
Incorporating a smoke detector into a handset has been in development for almost ten years.
In 2003 Romanian inventors, Marian Gavrila and Garbriel Patulea, designed a prototype with a sensor that spotted a change, and either sounded and alarm or linked directly to the emergency services.
A sensor that senses smoke could also detect chemicals in the atmosphere, or high levels of carbon monoxide – which is a silent, odorless killer.
Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley are already working on a carbon monoxide sensor for cell phones which would also monitor pollution and C02 emissions in urban areas.
Pollution sensors have already been on trial in London and the Far East, and will be very familiar in the smart cities of the future.
Barometers have been measuring atmospheric pressure since the 17th Century and warn when severe weather is approaching.
One tablet launched this year mysteriously includes a barometer, but no one has been told what to use it for.
Speculation includes a global plot by a software company to predict the world’s weather, or the ability for mobile devices to recognize a change of pressure on a plane and switch to safe mode.
We can already tell how hot it is in any city of the world, but it would be really useful to use an inbuilt thermometer to take a person’s temperature, and transmit the data to the nearest doctor or medical centre. Thermometers could be the next big step in mobile health, which is already transforming millions of lives across the developing world.
A biometric phone sensor would be the ultimate in security. Imagine an app that used facial recognition software, or an iris scan, to confirm your identity. Bank of America and Heathrow Airport already use it, but would the technology be a help or a hindrance on a cell phone?
Civil liberties campaigners complain about misuse of data, but growing concerns about identity fraud means the market for biometrics is set to shoot up to $10 billion in the next five years. Improving technology, which makes iris scanning possible from further away, together with falling costs, makes it more likely that this is a sensor that’ll be appearing on your handset in the not too distant future.