Sensors, Sensors, Everywhere

Tom Dietrich, senior vice president and general manager of the RF, Analog, and Sensor group at {complink 2134|Freescale Semiconductor Inc.}, joined {complink 7526|Semico Research Corp.} at its annual summit to talk about his company's vision of a sensor-based future.

Freescale sees sensors helping to change the world over the next few years, and the company hopes to lead the charge by focusing on four growth markets: automotive, networking, industrial, and consumer. The company believes three growth trends are moving the world towards a future where sensors help determine and coordinate what we do and how we do them. These include: the Net (Web) effect; health and safety; and going green.

For the consumer market we can see how sensors are changing the way we interact with our electronics just by looking at the iPhone and the top-ranking apps. Games now rely on the touchscreen, some rely on tilting the phone, others respond to shaking. Add this in with networking and we have cloud computing.

In Japan today, a good way to use sensors in cellphones is to have an earthquake app that can send data from everyone's phone to a central hub where the data will be analyzed to predict more accurately when and where the next earthquake will occur. And considering that seismologists are warning of another magnitude-8 quake, this is a feature of sensors that can help save lives.

Another feature for the consumer market Dietrich discussed was “augmented reality” for games. For example, with sensors, a gamer at home may play with the pros on the course, using the pros' real-time moves to compete against their game.

Dietrich discussed how sensors are being used in the automotive industry to have what we describe as cooperative highways, where cars — using radar — will monitor other cars' locations in order to stop accidents before they can occur. This is another life-saving feature changing the way we interact with hardware.

Even the healthcare industry benefits from sensors, with in-home monitoring becoming more widely available, allowing doctors and nurses to monitor a patient's health and quickly react to changes.

While all these ideas are exciting to the average consumer, Freescale is focusing on how to add more capability to sensors while continuing to rely on minimal power. I believe they are up to the challenge.

19 comments on “Sensors, Sensors, Everywhere

  1. Ariella
    May 18, 2011

    Sensors are even built into today's high efficiency washing machines. They are designed to sense how much water is needed and at what point the water rinses clean.


  2. AnalyzeThis
    May 18, 2011

    This is a very interesting topic to me, Michell! One more thing to think about: as we truly get to the point of “sensors, sensors, everywhere” there's going to be an overload of data available.

    I think there are some fascinating opportunities for companies to step in and figure out ways for consumers and businesses to organize and analyze all this new and detailed information that was previously unavailable to them.

    Think about it, if all your appliances have sensors, each individual appliance could be collecting hundreds of different pieces of data (perhaps I'm being a bit excessive there, but still), but to truly get a complete picture of your home's electrical use you'd probably need something that brings all that data together, preferably in an easy to decipher way.

    Anyhow, just one more thing to consider… I'm very curious to see how sensors impact our lives in the future.

  3. Hardcore
    May 18, 2011

    This is why at the recent Google I/O developer conference google was promoting the use of  Android within non-phone/non-tablet markets.

    Google is attempting to be first off the mark with a system that will allow them to gain  in-depth  details on the daily activities of people utilizing the  Android O/S.

    We have seen the oferings from microchip: 

    Plus we have seen the recent examples related to smart 'E-cigarettes', again with integral sensors that allows the device and its 'pack' to track  other smokers as well as retail outlets  selling refills for the device.

    The issues related to all these smart sensors being deployed is one of personal privacy, currently there are no laws that prevent say a  sensor that 'collects  DNA' materials as you pass by the device, or sensors to evaluate the content of toilet water shortly after the toilet has been used.

    Potentially we are entering dangerous times, in which companies such as Google will be leveraging the internet and closed software such as Android purely for the purposes of turning a profit at the expense of private individuals, yes there are two sides to any coin ,but it just seems that in todays society most profit can be gained from invading other peoples privacy then selling the details to the highest bidders.

    Currently it seems as if Apple is not to interested in this area, specifically because it would require them to either give access to their closed OS or for them to enter into the Home appliance market, unfortunately google does not see this as a major barrier and I suspect that once they have all their chess pieces correctly in place then it is going to be a case of  'check mate'



  4. Mydesign
    May 19, 2011

          Michell, sensors are playing a vital role for both electronic equipment and appliance manufacturing. They are widely used in medical imaging technology also. Most of the sensors are of transducer types, which can convert the sensed signal to some other forms of energy, which can cater the input requirements for processing. When devices are becoming smarter and automatic, sensors are becoming the key components. The roles of sensor are at par with the functionality of gyroscope in unmanned aerial flightier.

        After the tsunami in  2005, sensors are much using for early warning systems and disaster management centre. Sensors deployed in different parts of the sea, detect the variation in ocean/sea currents and sent alert to the disaster management centre for processing. This will help the team for sending an early alert or warning. Now a day’s sensors are also used for creating applications in ubiquitous computing system.

  5. prabhakar_deosthali
    May 19, 2011

    On the negative note, it is quite alarming that there will be sensors everywhere , in your mobile, in your appliances, in your sofa and toilet seats, in your automobiles and where not.  You as a person are going to become a guinea pig for all those marketing reserach firms, scientists, law enforcement agencies and the private detectives. You will never come to know what parameter of your body physics and chemistry was measured by whom and to what advatange that uinformation was put to use. You won't know which detective agency monitored your location and movements. You won't know how  your school going kid is tracked by a potential hijacker for a hefty ransom.

    In the name of offering some advanced technology solutions to your simple daily life these sensors are going to bring more hazards to all of us withput being even aware of them. What do you say?

  6. Parser
    May 19, 2011

    Freescale challenge is something every engineer would dreams of. Designing new capabilities and keep minimal power. Truly new capabilities are buried in nano-devices. Some phenomenas within nano-devices are totally out of this planet. Wikipedia has a good writeup on nanosensors. If Freescale would combine nano-devices with digital interface it would give them industry lead.

    May 19, 2011

    We have seen a “sensor in a pill” that is swallowed and then measures a particular chemical  transmitting data to the host PC as it passes harmlessly through the patient's body.   Heart patients routinely depend on embedded sensors to either control their heartbeat or defibrillate their heart when something goes awry.  These sensors have to be tiny, ultrareliable and extremely low power.   Companies with the expertise to cover all the necessary technical bases in house using a top down systems design approach will have a definite advantage.

  8. Daniel
    May 19, 2011

       FLYINGSCOT, In Health care sector sensors are used for wide variety of applications. We can say sensors are the input or contact points with human body. For human behavioral sleep study, normally sensors are embedding in matrix and pillows, along with the cameras. Am not sure about sensor pills, but normally an electric die is used for the study of internal organ movements and behavior.

  9. Anna Young
    May 19, 2011

    @Prabhakar, I understand your point, however, I think the benefits of sensor at present out weighs the disadvantages. For example, law enforcement agencies already apply sensor to speed cameras, to cut down on road accidents and other related road issues.

    In homes or outside in public toilets, sensors are readily available in most places.  This to me helps more when using public toilets, where physical contact is minimized to   reduce cross contamination etc.

    Whether we like it or not, all the concerns you've raised already applies. We are not just going to be “guinea pigs”; we have gone past this stage, as technology innovations have reached all these areas.

    What's new?


  10. SunitaT
    May 19, 2011

    “Potentially we are entering dangerous times, in which companies such as Google will be leveraging the internet and closed software such as Android”

    There are both pros and cons of using sensors everywhere. Although there are lot of potential applications of using sensors, we need to make sure that users privacy is not violated.

  11. hwong
    May 19, 2011

    What would be really cool is if we can embedd a sensor into our body that keeps track of our calories intake and calories expenditure. That way we can know at any point in time how much excess we have to burn or how much more we can eat. That way alot of the obesity problem can be controlled.  I wonder if there is such technology out there. I'd be the first one to buy!

  12. Nemos
    May 19, 2011

    Computers, computer systems, systems, mobiles, automated systems, etc. are nothing without  the embedding sensors inside them. Sensors give to our device some human characteristics and the ability to “sense” . Without sensors, we can't control, measure and calculate things. More sensors mean more options and more features to do with our products.  Adding with small cost some sensors we can give to our product bigger value. 

  13. Hardcore
    May 20, 2011


    “There are both pros and cons of using sensors everywhere. Although there are lot of potential applications of using sensors, we need to make sure that users privacy is not violated.”

    Unfortunately most of the abuses are by big business and generally governments tend to regulate after the fact, that is to say laws are not generally made to cover fantasy situations but real live situations, this is where the whole system fails, because in many cases we  are dealing with fantasy. consider the naughtiness that google got up to recently with scanning the WIFI networks , legally there is nothing to stop them performing this action, but as a result they now have a geo-location system based on WIFI routers acting as the homing beacons.

    Then there is the issue related to Android, which is based on the open source Linux kernel, but Google did not want to play that game, so they closed off part of the operating system(what happened there !!), specifically the part that allows them to track you, delete your software, revoke your licenses and potentially many other things that have not yet come to light.

    Yes  technology can be used for good or bad, but unfortunately 'bad' is where it is at right now, specifically because theft of personal information is currently BIG business, adding cheap sensors into that, will only extend the ways in which Google/facebook/Linkedin and any number of future startup companies can invade your privacy, and all for the want of making a quick buck, or in the above cases a few billion bucks.

    These clown need to be reined in and fast, but again we see that there has been a consolidated effort by the big abusers of technology to try and block a Californian discussion on laws enabling parents to find out and control what their children are doing, why?, because they know children are easy targets and lack the social skills of knowing when to keep their mouthes closed, as a result children are a massive source of information.

    Things will really take a sinister turn once they produce toys that are sensor enabled and linkable to the internet.



  14. Adeniji Kayode
    May 20, 2011


    I agree with you and you are right but can we really do without them in thia age?

  15. Adeniji Kayode
    May 20, 2011

    Good idea hwong, but what happens when the sensor go bad?

  16. Himanshugupta
    May 21, 2011

    Adeniji, the answer is obvious 🙂 but the chaces are rare as with normal day electronic items. But for a sensor industry the solution can be to put another sensor to monitor the first one. The chances that both the sensor will fail simultaneously are even rare.

  17. Adeniji Kayode
    May 23, 2011

    I agree wih you but i wasthinking in line of how many major or minor surgery a person has to under go every time there is a need to maintain the sensor (s)

  18. mario8a
    May 24, 2011


    in our company we are developing sensors that are located in your hands free or Headset and your boss will be able to know when you are in front of your PC and for how long you've been away of your work station, great tool for micro-management.



  19. seel225
    May 25, 2011


    Sensors plays a key role in every day activities, such as temparature control, traffic control, blood pressure monitering and many more. In short with out sensors we can not imagine the present world.


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