When I attend trade shows such as
Looking first at features that are now more common, I talked with a number of companies that make accelerometers, gyroscopes, and similar sensors that enable our phones to tell us how many steps we’ve taken, etc. In general, these products are MEMS, or tiny electro-mechanical devices (as opposed to the standard transistors that make up most of the electronics in a device). Such technology is not only used in
Invensense talked about how it makes 3-axis accelerometers, 6-axis (which add a gyroscope), 9-axis (which add a compass), and other similar sensors. Some add a barometer to detect pressure, which is used for doing things like determining when you are climbing stairs. Its competitors include two much larger companies, ST and Bosch.
One interesting idea I heard from Invensense involves using a 9-axis accelerometer to augment GPS to improve function inside buildings, or to save battery by switching the GPS radio off. In addition, the firm showed an impressive electronic image stabilization solution to allow for smoother video capture.
Bosch was also showing 9-axis “absolute orientation” sensors, barometric pressure sensors, and integrated chips that measure pressure, humidity, and temperature. ST had many of the same concepts, but I was also intrigued by the idea of
Both ST and Hamamatsu had sensors for measuring distance, with the latter showing photonics-based devices for things such as time of flight image sensors and measuring blood flow.
Another sensor we’ve grown accustomed to in current phones is the fingerprint scanner.
I saw a similar concept from Synaptics at.
But if these sensors were typical, some of the others were much more unusual.
I was intrigued a couple of years ago when I first saw
Leman Micro Devices showed a sensor that could be incorporated into a phone to measure your blood pressure, heart rate, blood oxygen and more. In a demo, you squeezed the knuckle of your finger against a sensor on the edge of the phone. The company said it had a major phone provider as an investor, and suggested the sensor could be in a phone next year.
Another interesting idea came from CrucialTec, which makes a wide variety of sensors, including fingerprint sensors. They showed some of those plus sensors for heart rate monitoring, non-contact thermometers, and a gas analyzer that can measure contaminants in the air. I could see where these could be quite useful, whether in a phone or a stand-alone device.
Again, we may or may not see these sensors in mainstream phones anytime soon, but they give us an idea of what kind of functions could be added to the phones of the future.
Michael J. Miller is chief information officer at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Miller, who was editor-in-chief of PC Magazine from 1991 to 2005, authors this blog for PCMag.com to share his thoughts on PC-related products. No investment advice is offered in this blog. All duties are disclaimed. Miller works separately for a private investment firm which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.