Friday, 6 November 2009

The next smartphone sensor...

Mobile phones have come a long way in the last few years. The high end so-called smart phones are now equipped with a range of sensors that once upon a time no-one associated with phones at all. There are the obvious location sensors such as GPS receivers so that the phone knows precisely where you are (not just roughly from cell towers). Video CCD sensors have adorned phones for some time but have mainly been confined to the obvious camera picture taking application. These can also sense light levels, read barcodes, and provide the means to recognise gestures and expressions. Many high-end phones also know what orientation they are in and how they are being moved through the use of accelerometers. And some know which direction they are facing through magnetometer sensors. This is important in augmented reality applications as well as useful in mapping. In the former it allows the phone to deduce which buildings the camera is seeing for example, while in the latter it means displayed maps can be automatically oriented the right way for where the user is facing.

So what will be the next sensor that we see incorporated in the high-end phones? It could well be the near field communications technology which can form the basis for radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and readers. This would allow a whole host of new application types. In addition it will enable e-commerce on the phone; ticketing and small value purchasing by simply waving you phone over readers, much like the Oyster card is used by Transport for London as an e-ticketing alternative around the UK Capital. The future for smarter phones is bright.

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