Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Coming World of Mobile Sensors - ReadWriteWeb

The Coming World of Mobile Sensors - ReadWriteWeb

At Supernova 2008 this week we got a glimpse of what’s next for mobile; and it has little to do with hardware like the iPhone, software like Google’s open-source operating system Android, mobile platforms put forth by Apple, Google, Nokia, Research in Motion, and the carriers.

What’s coming is life profound. Put billions of sensors in cell phones - regardless of hardware, operating system, or carrier - and affect the way we understand traffic or the weather.

With continued advances in chipsets, accelerometers, compasses, we can change the way we interact virtually with the physical world around us. We can turn monthly cell phone bills, which are difficult to use beyond paying, into living information integrated into our working and personal lives and social networks.

“We’re just getting started,” said Bob Iannucci, Nokia’s chief technology officer.

Iannucci, a computer industry veteran, feels like “I am kind of watching the same movie” as the mobile industry transforms itself from early hardware and software into technology deeply ingrained into our lives and the world around us.

In one example Iannucci discussed adding mobile sensors in cell phones that can detect any number of things — location and movement, barometric pressure and the weather around us, even our own personal health. What we will have in the near future are near-field communication, indoor positioning, and environmental analysis.

Iannucci mentioned a recent project involving Nokia, the world’s leading handset maker, and students from UC Berkeley. Nokia planted 100 N95 smartphones into 100 cars used by 150 students. These cell phone “probes” were able to measure real-time traffic.

Imagine if tens of thousands of data points from motorists in an area were collected, anonymized, uploaded to servers for aggregation and analysis, then pushed back to individual users. The phone, which already knows your route to work and your daily schedule, will be able to tell you that a traffic snarl is forming on the 405 and that you’ll never make your 9:30 meeting with a client in time — so here’s an alternate route.

In another example Iannucci noted that barometric sensors could be placed in cell phones — you can already buy sports watches from Suunto with weather sensors — that will monitor the environment around you. Include your data point with billions across the U.S. and the science of weather prediction undergoes a profound change.

“The ability to move information changes societies and livelihoods,” Iannucci said.

Cell phones can also impact the world around us in ways we cannot see, at least physically. Dean Terry, the director of the Mobile Lab at the University of Texas at Dallas, demonstrated the use of mobile devices in augmented reality, or the ability of people to leave behind virtual artifacts like text, photos, video, avatars, and game clues for people to discover with their phones.

As an example, you can enter a building, view the lobby through your cell phone, and see messages and art pieces left behind by others for you to see and enjoy. Or, if you’re at a conference downtown, you can view a restaurant or bar through a mobile device and see comments made by other diners and patrons on food, service, atmosphere, anything they want to leave behind.

“Imagine what it would look like at the Washington Monument if people left behind their comments,” Terry said.

In a more practical, immediate example, Jason Devitt of Skydeck showed an example of data generated by your cell phone — the calls you make, to whom, when, how long — and how this information can be mixed with your address book and social network to become more dynamic.

“You can see who you talk to most frequently, who is most important to you, and you can drop out the noise,” Devitt said. “All friends are not equal. Some are more important than others.”

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